Tuesday 30 April 2013

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Ryuki

Kamen Rider Ryuki Shinji Kido Dragreder

Kamen Rider Ryuki is the third entry in Kamen Rider's Heisei era, and the 12th installment over all. It ran for a total of 50 episodes in 2002, complete with a feature length film, a TV special and one Hyper Battle Video crossover with the previous series, Kamen Rider Agito.

When people start being mysteriously abducted without a trace, online journalist Shinji Kido is sent to investigate. He discovers an Advent Card Deck, and is sucked into a nearby reflective surface into the Mirror World. Attacked by monsters, Shinji is saved by Ren Akiyama - who appears in the Mirror World as Kamen Rider Knight. Ren warns Shinji to keep away from the Deck and the Rider Battle, where 13 Kamen Riders must fight to the death in order for the victor to have their wish granted. Uninterested in the prize but wanting to protect innocent lives from the monsters and end the fighting, Shinji makes the required contract with a giant dragon named Dragreder to become Kamen Rider Ryuki. But despite his best efforts, Ryuki becomes an opponent to the other Riders wishing to claim the ultimate prize. Shinji strikes up a rocky friendship with Ren and his friend Rei Kanzaki, who is searching for her missing brother Shiro. Could his disappearance be connected with the Mirror World?

Kamen Rider Knight Ren Akiyama Ryuki DarkwingKamen Rider Zolda Shouichi Kitaoka Ryuki Magnugiga

Kamen Rider Ouja Takeshi Asakura Ryuki Venosnaker GenociderKamen Rider Odin Ryuki Goldphoenix

So Ryuki features a lot of Kamen Riders. 13 in fact (14 if you want to include the man-made Alternatives). With a massive cast like this, plot threads could easily get rushed and the story be all over the place. But just because there are 13 Riders doesn't mean all 13 are integral to Ryuki's story. Only 10 of the 13 appear in the series itself, with the other 3 relegated to the movie and special (which will be mentioned again later). The core Rider cast is essentially comprised of Shinji (Ryuki), Ren Akiyama (Knight), Shouichi Kitaoka (Zolda) and Takeshi Asakura (Ouja), with the others coming and going as the story fits. Non-Rider main characters include Rei and Shiro Kanzaki, and to a lesser extent Kitaoka's servant Gorou. These are the characters that you pay attention to. Having 13 Riders is nice, but the series is called Kamen Rider Ryuki and so naturally follow's Ryuki's story. The abundance of Riders just shows the scale of Shiro Kanzaki's plan.

Shinji isn't really your typical Rider either, especially in comparison to those that came before him. He's unwillingly thrown into the Rider Battle, and not a particularly great fighter. He's the most comical of the main characters, but is a true Rider in that he has a heart of hero and the desire to protect innocent people from the mirror monsters. In many respects, some might argue that Ryuki is actually more about Ren/Knight than it is about Shinji - he's the stoic one with a back story and reason to fight. The two never really see eye to eye until the very end, but their exchanges are what make this rocky "friendship" interesting. Kitoka/Zolda on the other hand comes across as self-absorbed and arrogant, but his reasons for fighting are pretty tragic. Asakura/Ouja on the other hand is a true villain and an absolute pleasure to watch on screen - a cold blooded murder who's only real desire to to keep on fighting. And to be honest, when you think about it Ouja is actually the one that plays the game best of all. The point is every Rider has their own motives and reason for fighting - you certainly won't like all the characters, but their integral to populating a world where being a Kamen Rider doesn't mean that you're eventually going to be a hero.

Kamen Rider Raia Miyuki Tezuka Ryuki EvildiverKamen Rider Gai Jun Shibaura Ryuki Metalgelas

Kamen Rider Tiger Satoru Tojo Ryuki DestwilderKamen Rider Scissors Masashi Sudo Ryuki Volcancer

The show is reasonably dark, and places a lot of focus on character development and mystery/suspense over Rider action. Early on the fight sequences only really take place at the end of an episode, gradually growing as the Rider Battle comes to its climax. That isn't to say Ryuki doesn't have comedy characters (these come in the form of Shinji's ORE Journal co-workers and Yui's grandmother) or comic moments, but they rarely get in the way of the main plot.

There also comes the subject of endings, which is perhaps a key point when talking about Ryuki. Without giving away too much, the ending of the series is rather divisive among fans with some calling it a cop-out and others praising it. Personally while I can why the ending may frustrate some, the series concludes in the most natural direction and presents an ending which, when you stop and think about, perhaps isn't as much of a cop-out as you may initially think. Ryuki also provides an alternate ending for the series in the form of a full-length film, titled Episode Final. While elements of the film are easier to wrap your head around than the series' plot, the pacing isn't great, characters are pushed aside in favour of new ones and its conclusion is unlikely to satisfy you if you didn't enjoy the way the series ended. Meanwhile the TV special 13 Riders is a much more interesting piece of AU fiction. With the Ryuki story condensed down into just under an hour it isn't particularly in-depth, but the one time all 13 Riders appear together. Some of the role changes are quite interesting and the ending (or endings, since this itself has two alternate ones) shows Shinji at his finest.

Kamen Rider Imperer Mitsuru Sano Ryuki GigazelleKamen Rider Femme Miho Kirishima Ryuki Episode Final Blancwing

Kamen Rider Ryuga Ryuki Episode Final DragblackerKamen Rider Verde Itsuro Takamizawa Ryuki 13 Riders Biogreeza

Kamen Rider Ryuki is a fantastic series, and one that seems to do pretty much everything right. It has a relatively dark plot with lots of developing mysteries, a core cast despite containing so many Riders and comic relief that doesn't ever get in the way of the main plot. Episode Final and 13 Riders may not live up to the standard the series sets, but these are a bonus and illustrate just how well alternate universe concepts work for Ryuki. If you can get past the slightly dated CGI, then this is a Kamen Rider series that is not to be missed.


technology review said...

I must say, when I was a child this was one of my favorite shows, I even sing along with its theme song. Now I find it weird though.

Unknown said...

Will you eventually do a review of Kamen Rider Faiz/555, Kamen Rider Den-O and Kamen Rider Kiva? Or will you just not review them?

Alex said...

Not at all! I will be doing those three shows eventually, I just haven't been very good at sticking to a rigid schedule and getting around to those shows has taken a lot longer than I anticipated. I should have at the very least STARTED Faiz by the end of the year, with Den-O and Kiva reviews following some time in 2017.

Stephen Cassat said...

I honestly believe that Ryuki is a good series. But I have one problem with it, a lot of the things in the show are bland, vanilla, plain, and other synonyms. I honestly love Ryuki, especially the one name scheme used for the new Advent Users in Rider Time Ryuki. Overall very, very good!