Thursday, 1 November 2012

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider OOO


When making a television series which makes most of its money from toy sales, what are the first themes that come to mind? Why, greed and desire of course! Ironic as it may seem, this was the core of Kamen Rider OOO, the 21st Kamen Rider series and successor to Kamen Rider W. The 2010-2011 series ran for a total of 48 episodes, and the character was featured in three feature films during its tenure before returning during Fourze's run in Movie Wars Megamax.

When medal-based monsters the Greeed awaken from their 800 year slumber, the proceed to wreak havoc on the world by creating monsters named Yummies from humans that spawn from the desires of their hosts and carry them out to create cell medals which the Greeed feed upon. However one Greeed, Ankh's, awakening doesn't go as smoothly and he wakes up as a disembodied arm. He presents a mysterious belt to the happy-go-lucky traveller Eiji Hino, providing him with medals to fight the monsters as Kamen Rider OOO.

But they aren't the only ones interested in the Greeed, as the Kougami foundation and its loud, birthday-obsessed president approach Eiji with extra resources to fight in exchange for the cell medals they receive from defeating Yummies. As they too join the fight with their own Kamen Rider Birth, Eiji learns more about the history of OOO, the Greeed and the importance of his own desires.

Eiji with the disembodied Ankh hand

This series main strengths lie in its cast, particularly between the four male leads. Our rider Eiji is a naive traveller with a traumatic past and no desires to call his own.  Meanwhile Ankh is a monster composed entirely from desire, and merely sees both Eiji and the rest of the human race as tools that can be used to achieve his goal of reclaiming his body. These two very different ideals regularly clash, the series never letting you forget that should circumstances be different Ankh could certainly be classed as a villain.

The second strong bromance in the show is that between Date Akira and Gotou Shintaro, the two men that become Kamen Rider Birth. Gotou is introduced from the very beginning of Kamen Rider OOO and built up to be the ideal secondary rider, but his pride gets him in the way of achieving his goal and the unknown Date is brought in as Birth. Following that Gotou undergoes development cultivating with Date taking him under his wing to raise him as the next Birth.

The many faces of Kamen Rider OOO

Following on from a series that used two items for transformation, here its taken the next step with three core medals powering Kamen Rider OOO. With the TaToBa combo as the base (Takka = Hawk, Tora = Tiger, Batta = Grasshopper), OOO is then able to switch out a core medal to change either the head, torso/arms, or legs of the suit. Each Greeed has three different variety of core medals, which makes for a potentially huge variety of combos. Matching sets make up the "power up forms", and then a final set of dinosaur-themed medals make up the final PuToTyra combo. Unfortunately the show's narrative constantly has the characters losing and gaining medals, so certain combo appearances are fleeting and a lot of it feels like wasted potential.

Birth: Now in standard and prototype flavours

In contrast to OOO' use of the core medals to transform, the Kamen Rider Birth system uses cell medals for power while also contrasting OOO' alchemy themed powers with a more tech-based approach. Since the system was used to fight yummies rather than the Greeed themselves, Birth does sometimes come across as weak in the more high-profile battles. However this only adds to the strength of the character as he persistently fights against villains he may have no chance of winning against (which is only excelled by the dynamic between Date and Gotou).

The Greeed: Gamel, Kazari, Mezool and Uva

Then  we come to the Greeed, who are the main villains of the show and all in all a mixed bag. The opening sequence of their reawakening followed by them tearing through the Ride Vendor squad is a good display of their power and just how good the designs look, but as the episodes go by it becomes painfully apparent how one dimensional they are. Kazari is trecherous, Mezool emotional (her two most memorable scenes both involve her going crazy), Gamel simple and Uva...well, Uva mostly skulks around until his purpose becomes clear in the end. The in-fighting and differences of opinion on how to harness the core medals make for interest dynamics, but Kazari and Uva are the only ones that get any real screen time and (very shallow) development. When Lost Ankh, a consciousness habiting the rest of Ankh's Greeed body, comes onto the scene things take a more interesting turn, but even his end left me feeling more could have been done.

Doctor Maki with President "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" Kougami 

Eventually they are joined by Doctor Maki, a former Kougami scientist (and creator of the Birth driver) who wishes to become a Greeed himself and cause the end of the world as only then will its true value have been seen. He has all the potential to be a chilling and competent villain, but is spoilt by the doll he keeps on his arm at almost all times. As an incredibly shy child, the doll was the only thing he was able to talk to properly and this is still reflected in his adult life (if you look closely he's often looking at the doll when talking). It's a great character trait, but one that's used for laughs far too often. Taking the doll away from him puts Maki into a crazy fit where he is unable to do virtually anything until its retrieved, and the doll is also regularly seen in ridiculous poses. The worst moment is that following a highly emotion-driven scene in the penultimate episode, the audience is treated to Maki flopping about in the water looking for it. It ruins the credibility of both him as the main villain and the cast that none of them thought to just destroy the thing and see what happened.

Kamen Rider OOO is a great series that has its problems here and there and a laggy middle section, but the variety of the Rider suit itself and the strong protagonist cast make up for it. With key themes that have a huge impact on the story throughout, OOO boasts great writing as well as flashy visuals. While I personally didn't find it quite to be on the level of its predecessor or successor, it still comes as a highly recommended series for fans of the franchise and newcomers alike.

Apart from Movie War Core. You're better off skipping that altogether.

No comments: