Saturday 14 July 2012

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Decade

Before the Gokaiger came about with their ranger keys and ability to transform into previous rangers, one pink-clad hero was able to do it years before. Kamen Rider Decade was the tenth anniversary celebration of the Heisei Kamen Rider series, which started back in 2000 with Kamen Rider Kuuga. It ran for 31 episodes (the shortest of any Heisei Rider series), between January and August 2009.

The story revolves around Tsukasa Kadoya, a mysterious man who appeared to the Hikari photo studio one day without any memory of his past. When the world turns to chaos, he draws power from a strange belt that grants him the power of various Kamen Riders through the power of cards. Later Tsukasa is told by a mysterious man than he is Kamen Rider Decade - the Destroyer of Worlds. His task is to travel to the nine AR (Another Rider/Alternate Reality) worlds and destroy them in order to prevent the worlds from merging into one. Travelling with Natsumi Hikari and her grandfather Eijiro, Tsukasa aids the nine worlds' riders to complete what he believes to be his mission. Along the way they are joined on their travels by Yusuke Onodera of the World of Kuuga and Kivala of the World of Kiva. Tsukasa is also confronted by a thief named Daiki Kaito, who is able to transform into Kamen Rider Diend and seems to know of Tsukasa's past.

As their journey through the nine worlds comes to close, the group discover there are more worlds to explore. Worlds without riders, revelations of Tsukasa's past and a multi-world threat await them, but how long can Tsukasa outrun his title as the Destroyer of Worlds?

It's not pink, it's magenta

Tsukasa is an interesting character, without any memories or place to call home he's often quick to jump on the identity each world gives him. He's probably best described as a dick with a heart of gold, given how cold he is to everyone around him yet always seems to come through for them in a pinch. These qualities make him both amusing and enjoyable, but the writing often leans toward making him too perfect. However I have much less praise for Natsumi and Yusuke, who constantly think the best of Tsukasa and defend him despite how badly he seems to treat them. Yusuke, who also remains Kamen Rider Kuuga throughout the show, is a terrible character, childishly naive and pretty insulting to his namesake.

Tsukasa Kadoya, Destroyer of Worlds

Kaito provides a much needed burst of life into the cast dynamic, particularly his relationship with Tsukasa. It fluctuates between antagonism, rivalry and eventually friendship, but does so in an interesting fashion that isn't particularly lineal and changes depending on Diend's goals in that world. He is also fun to watch in fight sequences - despite being obviously powerful when he chooses to fight himself, he often prefers to sit back and let his summoned minions do the job while he sneaks around invisible. Quite the troll. Finally there's Narutaki, a strange prophet-like man who follows Decade through the world's blaming him for pretty much everything. Narutaki at no point has any real explanation in the series, nor does his mysterious relationship with Kivala. What could have been an interesting character simply comes across as a crazy man in a trench coat and funny hat shouting "ONORE DECADE" ("Damn you Decade") at anything and everything.

Kamen Rider Diend, treasure sniper and master troll

Following the journey through the nine worlds (which in show order are Kuuga, Kiva, Ryuki, Blade, Faiz, Agito, Den-O, Kabuto and Hibiki), the show moves into creating its own original worlds. The show does take a nosedive in terms of plot structure around this time, but it does have some good ideas. Two episodes are also dedicated to a crossover with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, which was also airing at the time and marks the first proper crossover between Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. Finally there is the return of some old Showa-era favourites, in the form of Black/Black RX and Amazon worlds.

Some may put forward the notion that Decade is a great introduction to the Kamen Rider franchise, as it features all of the Heisei Riders (and some of the Showa era too) which gives the viewer a good mind to see which series they may enjoy next. While this is somewhat true, it's also arguable that Decade is also a pretty poor introduction to the franchise. Aside from its convoluted plot, the show actually tells you very little about the Heisei riders themselves given that all of the ones featured are actually AU versions (bar Den-O, but his actor doesn't appear anyway). It doesn't even clarify that they are AU versions properly to begin with, which could lead to some confusion given the appearances of the real Kiva and Blade during the course of the show. The AU riders are very pale imitations of their real-series counterparts, and two episode arcs gives you very little to work with other than appreciating the aesthetic and fighting styles of the riders. Think of it this way - Decade is a sampling platter of nine fine foods, but they each come in smaller portions and have been cooked by an inferior chef. You're getting a good idea of the taste, but nothing that could be held in comparison to the full dish.


Kamen Rider Decade also has three movies on top of its 31 episodes, however none of them are particularly worth raving about. The first, Cho Kamen Rider Den-O & Decade Neo Generations: The Onigashima Warship, is very much a Cho Den-O film and features very little of Decade himself. The second film, the 10th anniversary All Riders vs. Dai Shocker is a lot more interesting, but arguably a far worse film. The plot reveals the details of Tsukasa's past and his connections with the multi-world evil organisation Dai-Shocker, changing the basis of his character from a loveable dick with a heart of gold to someone completely unlikeable who just seems to use everyone and everything around him. The multi-rider team up moments are excellent, but it doesn't stop it from being an anticlimactic mess that struggles to fit in with the series' established storyline. Finally there was Kamen Rider × Kamen Rider W & Decade: Movie War 2010, which aired as a finale after the series ended on a rather unsatisfying cliffhanger. While easily the strongest of the three Decade films, Movie War 2010 is still fraught with pacing problems, unexplained identities and ridiculous resolutions. In some ways its quite a fitting end to a show that got more and more convoluted as it went on, but it doesn't make it any less unsatisfying.

The merging of the worlds will result in the Rider War

In conclusion, I wouldn't say Kamen Rider Decade is a bad series. It's one that's plagued with badly written characters, pacing problems and story issues. But at the same time some of those characters are extremely likeable, the show itself certainly has an anniversary flare to it and is chock full of special moments. There are no other series that will give you a rider that can transform into past riders, an epic Super Sentai team up or seeing Black and Black RX team up together onscreen. If you can ignore the story issues and simply enjoy what's on screen without thinking too hard about it, then Decade is a series I highly recommend. However if you're someone that doesn't like Mary Sue characters and parallel world confusion, then your viewing experience also might be summed up as "Onore Decade!"

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