Thursday, 20 June 2013

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Amazon

Kamen Rider Amazon Tokusatsu Toei

We're rewinding back to 1974 for this review as we look at the fourth entry in the Kamen Rider franchise - Kamen Rider Amazon! Amazon is notable for being the shortest Kamen Rider series to date, airing for only 24 episodes (and technically a movie, but that's simply a cinematic version of episode 16).

Several years before the start of the series, a plane crashes in the Amazon rainforest, leaving the young Daisuke Yamamoto without his parents. Adopted by an Incan tribe, the boy is raised in the jungle. However the Ten-faced demon Gorgos, leader of the evil Geddon, arises, massacring his village in search of the mystical Gigi Armlet, said to grant its wielder mystical powers. Operated on by the tribe leader before his death and given the Armlet, the boy (known to most as 'Amazon') is told to travel to Japan to keep the Armlet away from Geddon's clutches.

Arriving in Japan, Amazon befriends a young boy before being attacked by one of Geddon's beastmen. He reveals the power to transform into Kamen Rider Amazon, a powerful and ferocious hero. While learning more about his past, the Gigi Armlet and modern civilisation, Kamen Rider Amazon defends Japan against the evil forces hell bent on destroying him and conquering the world.

Kamen Rider Amazon Daisuke Yamamoto Tokusatsu Toei
Daisuke Yamamoto aka Amazon aka "I will rip your face off"

Kamen Rider Amazon is a particularly unique entry into the franchise for a number of reasons. It's protagonist is particularly interesting, raised as a wild child and initially having very limited speech and understanding of modern civilisation. He's a stranger in a strange world so to speak, which makes him reasonably unpredictable and therefore that much more interesting/entertaining to watch. This doesn't just relate to his manner outside the suit, but particularly his fighting style. It isn't fancy martial arts moves or standard brawling with Amazon - he literally fights like an animal. Even before he transforms he's biting and clawing away at opponents, with blood frequently being drawn on both sides. Once he's transformed into Kamen Rider Amazon he severs limbs, makes Beastmen bleed enormously and even rips one monster's face to shreds

Kamen Rider Amazon Masashiko Okamura Tokusatsu Toei
Less annoying than the kids in Zyuranger, that's for sure

Amazon also benefits from having an excellent range of friends, with no truly annoying side character amongst them. Masahiko's early hostilities towards Tōbei Tachibana aside, he's a very likeable character that plays a key role in Amazon's growth throughout the course of the series. Veterans of Kamen Rider will recognise Tachibana himself, who is appears as an ally in every series between the original Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider Stronger. For a guy that doesn't seem to have any real investment in the situation and usually appears out of nowhere, he's actually pretty cool. But of course the most memorable of the bunch is Mole Beastman, a former enemy who turns his back on Geddon to become Amazon's ally (making him the first monster to befriend a Rider). Mole Beastman is a really fun character, transitioning from an enemy into comic relief before truly cementing himself as a hero in perhaps Amazon's strongest episode.

Kamen Rider Amazon Mole Beastman Tokusatsu Toei
ChuuChuu!~

The Kamen Rider-meets-Creature from the Black Lagoon style costume of Amazon has held up brilliantly, but as you might expect from an almost 40 year old show other aspects haven't been so lucky. There's no getting around how silly Gorgos looks, and that's before you get to the 8 Japanese men with their faces poking out of his lower portion. The Beastmen vary in design, but with each and every one of them you can see the love and care that went into creating the costumes. And to be honest, being able to poke fun at the costumes and still enjoy the show is sometimes part of the charm.

Kamen Rider Amazon Ten-Faced Demon Gorgos Geddon Tokusatsu Toei
There's no getting around how silly this looks

That isn't to say Amazon is a perfect series though, and strangely enough the show's 24 episode run time is in fact the cause of and solution to two of its biggest flaws. The first problem is the villain switchover that occurs midway through, where Geddon is replaced by the far less exciting Garanda Empire. Garanda come across as a much more typical Shōwa period villain group - a terrorist organisation more concerned with brutal attacks on the populace. By the time they roll around there isn't much time for development, and so the show begins to feel like it's going merely going through the motions until the end. It doesn't help that Amazon himself suddenly becomes a less notable character - suddenly fully clothed and able to talk almost perfect Japanese, in personality he becomes more of what you'd expect from a classic Kamen Rider.

The second complaint is less a criticism of the series overall, and more the style of storytelling back in the 70s. Continuity between the episodes is very light, and over a long period of time things can begin to feel even more formulaic and repetitive. Amazon suffers from this a little bit, but manages to circumvent it through its short episode run.

Kamen Rider Amazon Jungler Bike Tokusatsu Toei
"My bike has fins, what does yours have?"

Despite a few flaws here and there, Kamen Rider Amazon is highly enjoyable show and one that's likely to stick with you even if you're a veteran of both Kamen Rider and tokusatsu in general. The costumes and effects may be dated, but that doesn't detract from the sheer carnage of Amazon's fighting style and the general enjoyment of the show itself. I highly recommend giving it a chance, just so you can see for yourself why Amazon is a rather unorthodox rider in style as well as looks.