Kamen Rider. One of Japan’s longest running franchises. Since 1971, there’s been a Kamen Rider exploding the forces of evil by kicking them in the chest. Twenty-eight main Riders have fought for justice, a number that will continue to rise as this franchise shows no signs of slowing down. And though its sister franchise, Super Sentai, has a similarly long history, Kamen Rider has snagged the top ratings for the last decade. It appeals to a broader demographic, bringing in teenagers that don’t tune in for the “kiddier” Sentai series.
Yet, while Sentai has gained exposure through its adaptation into Power Rangers, Kamen Rider remains relatively unknown in the US. How is it that American kids have been deprived of watching super-armored heroes take on the forces of Shocker or eliminate Gurongi? When you take a look back at the history, you see there’s one company to blame.
Yes, the same company that brought us Power Rangers, VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs also tried to bring over this beloved franchise. But they didn’t get what makes Kamen Rider, well, Kamen Rider. So when Saban released an adaptation called Masked Rider…uh…it didn’t go so well.
Many mistakes were made. The original series, Kamen Rider Black RX, was a sequel. They didn’t bother with the original series. Black RX had a very dark tone. Getting rid of that edginess required going from an adaptation to a hack job.
Oh, and the writing was just plain bad.
With the US already in the midst of a Power Rangers craze, Masked Rider really needed to stand out if it wanted to secure a foothold. Instead, it slipped off the foothold, broke its rope and plummeted down the steep cliff face, the bones in its body snapping, dissolving into a fine mist until the series impaled itself on a sharp rock, where its then lifeless corpse was ripped apart by a pack of rabid chipmunks.
The bomb that was Masked Rider killed any chance of a Kamen Rider series being seen stateside for over a decade. Then, in 2009, Adness Entertainment secured the rights to Kamen Rider Ryuki and started work on what they promised would be a more faithful adaptation. Thankfully, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight succeeded where Masked Rider failed. The story remained true to the original plot, the characters were interesting and the writing wasn’t a steaming pile of moose dung. By putting together a solid show, they introduced a batch of fans to the world of Kamen Rider.
But despite the show’s success, it wasn’t the start of a franchise. Adness didn’t have another series lined up to follow their hit, and the call for a sequel wasn’t very loud. Though Dragon Knight did pique interest, it failed to draw people into the mythos and legend of the entire Kamen Rider franchise. This failure had less to do with the adaptation and more to do with a fundamental flaw with the source material – too many Riders.
Ryuki worked in Japan because it didn’t need to present the very idea of what a Kamen Rider should be. But when it was adapted into Dragon Knight, it introduced American audiences to a plethora of “Riders,” each with their own attitudes and motivations. There was no way for a newcomer to figure out what the drive of a “typical” Kamen Rider would be.
But that’s the type of knowledge that builds a franchise.
In order for an IP to last beyond five years, it needs to have a simple, yet powerful, core that audiences can easily tap into. The “core” of Batman is revenge. The “core” of Power Rangers is teamwork. The “core” of Dr. Who is wonder. And the “core” of every Kamen Rider, since Hongo Takeshi in 1971, is self-sacrifice. A Rider goes through emotional, mental and physical pain in order to fight for justice.
Dragon Knight was a great effort, but there were too many characters to use it as a base for creating the prototypical American Rider. In hindsight, Kuuga or Agito would have provided better source material, a fact that’s hopefully taken into consideration when there’s another adaptation on the horizon.
For me, Kamen Rider’s the ultimate hero. He’s an inspiration in the same way that Superman’s an inspiration for my DC friends. Until this series gets another chance in the US, I’m going to keep importing DVDs, e-mailing YouTube clips and making sure to spread the Rider love wherever I can.
It’s the least I can do for the lonely warriors of justice.