Monday 6 October 2014

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Drive

Kamen Rider Drive

Motorbikes are so 1971, 2014 is all about cars! That's right, Kamen Rider Gaim is over and its time for a new Rider that does things a little bit differently. 2014-15's Rider goes by the name of Kamen Rider Drive, swapping out the franchise's signature motorcycle completely in favour of a car (yes Kamen Rider Black RX had a car, but he still had a bike at the same time). The 16th Heisei era Kamen Rider series and 25th overall sees Rider veterans Riku Sanjo and Ryuta Tasaki return as lead writer and director respectively - something they last did on 2009-10's Kamen Rider W.

Six months ago, a massive catastrophe known as the "Global Freeze" happened where time slowed down and strange monsters attacked all over the Earth. During the freeze, elite Metropolitan Police Officer Shinnosuke Tomari's partner was killed in an accident, leaving Shinnosuke traumatised and later demoted to the police's Special Investigations Division. When the monsters show up again in the present day, a deflated Shinnosuke regains his drive with the help of a talking belt and fellow officer Kiriko Shijima. Using devices known as 'Shift Cars' that allow Shinnosuke to move normally during the time slowdown caused by the monsters, he becomes Kamen Rider Drive and battles them using a variety of tire-based weapons unlocked by the various Shift Cars.

If you haven't been keeping up with spoilers or news for Kamen Rider Drive, then the first episode maintains a brilliant sense of mystery. We find out next to nothing about what these monsters (which are called Roidmudes, though this will be properly revealed later) are or what they truly want, only the powers they have and the devastation their capable of. The opening prelude of the Global Freeze really helps set the scene of showing how dangerous these creatures are, as well as the backstory behind Shinnosuke's current state-of-mind. Looks like the Riders' aren't quite out of their lingering attachment to the dead just yet.

Centring around the exploits of the Special Investigations Division also means that Drive is a show that should hopefully take its extended cast relatively seriously in terms of exposure. This episode really only focuses on Shinnosuke and Kiriko, but we also meet the four other members that make up the Division and hopefully they'll get their proper introductions in the near future. Shinnosuke himself is a bit of an odd character to place at the moment - it's suggested he has a history as an elite police officer, but since his partner's death he's become somewhat of a lazy slacker. The end of the episode sees him regain some of that steam, culminating in him becoming Drive and ultimately a hero. I certainly see shades of Shotaro from Kamen Rider W in him, only he has a talking belt as a partner and that's infinitely cooler. Kiriko also does her fair share of ass kicking, and as far as first impressions go is shaping up to be an awesome female lead. There's still plenty of time for that to get screwed up somewhere, but let's remain positive for now shall we?

Finally it all comes down to the big fight scene where Kamen Rider Drive makes his debut, and this is where the show really gets to strut its stuff. Visually it's already beginning to put Kamen Rider Gaim to shame. The suit itself is gorgeous - with the intricately detailed black sections really working with that glossy hot rod red. The Shift Car/tire gimmick was something that made me feel extremely skeptical on paper, but onscreen Toei have really managed to pull making it look impressive AND wanting me to buy the Shift Cars. Powers from little toy cars may seem incredibly dumb, but seeing them zip around magically appearing roads and taking on monsters single handedly is incredibly cool. Meanwhile Trideron in this episode alone has more exposure than some Rider bikes in more recent years, so perhaps this shake up is exactly what the franchise needed to keep the "Rider" side of things properly intact. As for that Rider kick...well, watch the episode and see for yourself.

There are probably still many lamenting over the loss of Gaim, but if this first episode is anything to go by Kamen Rider Drive should more than comfortably fill the fruit-shaped hole that was left by it. It's far too early to tell whether Drive will turn out to be a better or even equally good series just yet, but with W's production team returning we at least have a good indication of it's overall quality. An interesting premise, slick visuals, a likeable extended cast are more than enough to show this is more than just a series that'll rely its big shakeup from a longtime Kamen Rider staple.

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