Wednesday 6 May 2015

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider V3

Kamen Rider V3

Nowadays getting a new Kamen Rider series each year is something of a given, but back in the days of the original 1971 a sequel must have been a pretty huge deal. After 2 years on the air and an incredible 93 episodes, Riders 1 and 2 stepped back in 1973 to introduce a brand new hero on the scene - Kamen Rider V3. And with that move, what was once just a popular long-running series became a multi-installment franchise that's still going on today. So while the original might be the one that started it all, you could say that V3 is where things really began to kick off. The series would also be the first of many key tokusatsu roles for lead actor Hiroshi Miyauchi - going on to play Aoranger in Himitsu Sentai Goranger, Big One in JAKQ Dengekitai and the titular hero in Kaiketsu Zubat. Quite the resume don't you think?

The Double Riders Operate
We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

Following Shocker's defeat at the hands of the Double Riders, a new evil organisation bent on world domination has risen from its ashes - Destron! When 22-year old college student Shiro Kazami witnesses a murder by Destron, they mark him as their next target. After several failed attempts at his life, Shiro runs into Junko - a woman who Shiro shelters after she accidentally stumbles into Destron's base. As Shiro goes to the police to tell them his story, a Destron agent breaks in - murdering Shiro's family. Shiro and Junko are only saved with Kamen Riders 1 and 2 arrive on the scene. Thirsty for revenge, Shiro begs the Riders to turn him into a cyborg to fight Destron. Initially they refuse, but when Shiro is gravely injured saving them from a Destron trap they have no choice but to transform him into the next generation of Kamen Rider.

As Kamen Rider V3, Shiro learns the extent of his new abilities as he battles the forces of Destron. Mentored by Tobei Tachibana (who helped the original Riders and would continue to help future ones) and aided by Junko and the reformed Rider scouts, V3 goes up against Destron generals Doktor G, Baron Kiba, Archbishop Tsubasa and Marshal Yoroi. Also going up against Destron is Joji Yuki - a former Destron scientist betrayed by his superiors and sentenced to death. Fighting as the augmented cyborg Riderman, Joji vows to take his revenge - also leading to conflict with V3 himself.

Kamen Rider V3
Version 3.0

Although crossovers have always played a reasonably big role in the extended Kamen Rider universe (we wouldn't get them every year otherwise), a lot of them are relegated to the movies which are very much "take it or leave it" in regards to canonicity. The Showa era shows played things a little differently by having the crossovers happen in-series, but even then they were a special occasion usually saved for a big finale though. Kamen Rider V3 on the other hand is all sequel. From the very beginning Takeshi Hongo and Hayato Ichimonji (Kamen Riders 1 and 2) are here to transition viewers into this new chapter, with Destron emerging from the ashes of Shocker as the Great Leader proves not to be quite as dead as the Riders probably hoped. For those watching the series back when it first aired, it must have been like the original show never ended - which it technically didn't since V3 started the week after the original's final episode, but I digress. The stakes immediately feel higher with the Double Riders visibly struggling against Destron's more powerful monsters, which in itself leads to their shocking exit from the show to set things up for V3 as the star. Of course it's immediately obvious that they'll be back again (something even the show isn't bothering to hide), but that doesn't make up the opening two episodes any less of a big deal. V3 opens with a bang, and it's the kind of bang that causes a very loud noise and lots of explosions.

Tobei Tachibana, Junko and the Rider Scouts
Seriously, where can I buy one of those hats?

Arguably the core themes at the heart of Kamen Rider V3 is revenge and the different ways of handling loss/grief. After having his family murdered right in front of his eyes Shiro thinks of taking nothing but revenge, but in getting the power to take that revenge the man essentially gives up his humanity. On the surface that doesn't look like much, but these Showa Riders can be a really broody bunch so it obviously brought along a lot of inner turmoil. Upon becoming V3 Shiro stops looking at defeating Destron as simply revenge, but as a mission of protection. As a character he's not too dissimilar from most Ishinomori heroes from around this era, but its a combination of character traits that seem to make for a good hero. He have to live the solitary curse of being a cyborg, but he has allies/friends and is able to crack a smile on several occasions. The fact V3 himself is also unaware of his powers makes for some great episodes - not just because it gives writers a credible excuse for him to pull out new powers or kickass finishing move when needed, but also because it makes him immediately vulnerable. The hero will always win out in the end, but there are plenty of examples of Shiro getting his butt kicked - something that keeps the viewer on edge even when you know the eventual outcome. 

The supporting cast of Kamen Rider V3 are an equally strong bunch, actively helping Shiro through their own investigations. Tobei Tachibana stands as one of the greatest civilian allies in Kamen Rider history, and after seeing him here it's no surprise that he came back for a further three shows. Kamen Rider V3 also sees the expansion of the Kamen Rider Scouts - a children's club dedicated to reporting incidents and (safely) gathering intel that was first introduced in the original series. Here the Scouts are present in full force - complete with their own training camps. It's a brilliant way to get children actively involved in a children's show without it coming across as overly irritating, even if sometimes it does feel like V3 is raising his own little child army. The main point is it's great to have a solid group of side characters that can keep things interesting when V3 isn't around - just ignore the fact that Junko never clicks on to the fact that Shiro is V3, because how she can remain so blissfully unaware of it is a genuine mystery. 

Riderman, Riderman, does whatever a Rider can

Kamen Rider V3 was also the first series to introduce something that is now a staple of the Kamen Rider franchise - the secondary Rider. Sure if you want to get technical the original series did have two Riders, but this was the first time the second Rider was completely different from the title one. And with an exposed mouth and a name like Riderman, he's still arguably one of the most unique ones out there. Even though he comes into the series far later than you might expect (making his debut in episode 43 and sticking around for a whole nine episodes), Riderman leaves a huge impression on the show and gives a real vitality boost just before the finale. The introduction of Joji Yuki is interesting because to begin with it's incredibly ambiguous whether he's a hero or villain. While he's set on the path to becoming Riderman after being screwed over by one of Destron's generals, he himself is a Destron scientist and agrees with Destron's ideals of a "better" world. As his incredibly apprehensive exterior is chipped away bit by bit through his encounters with V3, not only does the audience see the real Yuki Joji but also how poisonous the Destron's influence can be. It's a short but sweet road from a bitter victim hellbent on revenge to true hero (sounds familiar doesn't it?), but it's certainly one of the show's best arcs. And that's something that won't change whether you're a fan of Riderman's design or not.

Doktor G
Five minutes with Doktor G and you won't be able to say "Rider" the same way again

Likewise Destron are presented as a believably credible threat. The finale's reveal of their Great Leader might be a tad underwhelming (clearly the budget was running a bit thin by then), but until that point he's shrouded in a great sense of mystery - anonymously calling the shots in this impressively structured organisation that seems to have its claws in everywhere. With a never ending supply of combat men, multiple science divisions, worldwide reach and a budget that lets them simply blow up a strategic base every time they think they have V3 trapped, Destron is far from a little underground group waiting for the right time to strike. And although some prove more memorable than others each general manages to bring something different to the table, mixing things up in terms of aesthetics and/or strategy. Of course the monster costumes are nowhere near as complex as the kind you'd see in a more recent Kamen Rider production, but with simpler concepts behind them they actually manage to be much more memorable. Take Machine-gun Snake for example. The format for these monsters is pretty simple: Item + animal. But a snake with a machine-gun? That's the kind of thing you don't go forgetting quickly. Simplicity is key, and it allows the show to shine with some really great suits even if things have come a long way over the years.

It's fair to say that a portion of the fandom is more hesitant to check out older Showa era tokusatsu shows because of their dated look and more episodic plots. And for some series that may be considered as an acceptable critique, Kamen Rider V3 proves just as exhilarating today as it did back in 1973. Managing the right balance between one-shot adventures and an overarching storyline, V3 does everything a good sequel should do and builds upon what made its predecessor so great. With a brilliant protagonist, active side characters, memorable villains and so much more, even today the show stands as a mark of the franchise at its very best. Forget all this talk of things looking dated, Kamen Rider V3 has aged like a fine wine and will only continue to do so in the future.

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