Thursday 7 April 2016

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Amazons

Kamen Rider Amazons

2016 is a pretty big year for tokusatsu. Ultraman is celebrating his 50th anniversary, the Kamen Rider franchise its 45th, Super Sentai it's 40th (technically it's 41st, but it likes to go by series rather than year) and Garo continuing its 10th anniversary celebrations from last year. With all this going on it's no surprise that Toei have dubbed 2016 as "Super Hero Year"- using this monicker for what will hopefully be a number of Rider and Sentai projects. Things kicked off with the return of Takeshi Hongo in the Kamen Rider 1 movie, but what followed was perhaps an even bigger surprise than seeing Hiroshi Fujioka reprise the role once more. Kamen Rider Amazons - an Amazon Prime (yes, they went there) exclusive series offering a modern, adult-orientated reimagining of 1974's Kamen Rider Amazon. At 13-episodes long with each running at around 45-minutes, this is quite the new format for Kamen Rider - something that makes this venture all the more exciting.

While much of Kamen Rider Amazons plot is yet to be revealed, this first episode (entitled "AMAZONZ") follows the Nozama Peston Service - a group hired by the mysterious Nozama Pharmacy to hunt down and kill monsters known as "Amazons". With an Amazon working among them, the team are able to successfully take one down before subsequently running into some trouble against a pair of much stronger ones. However a mysterious stranger arrives in the middle of the fight, brandishing a strange belt and the ability to turn into a form known as Amazon Alpha.

Meanwhile Haruka is a boy kept indoors and forced to take medication by one of Nozama Pharmacy's staff members. When Haruka chooses to omit a dose of his medication, he is drawn to the battle going on outside against the various Amazons - leading him to make a transformation of his very own.

While it wouldn’t be wrong to say that going down the pay-per-view TV route is a new development for Kamen Rider (although last year’s Kamen Rider 4 web series kicked things off), there is something very familiar and classic about Kamen Rider Amazons – and that isn’t just limited to seeing an updated version of the wonderfully 70s Amazon costume. Amazons filming style feels very reminiscent of early Heisei era Rider shows such as Kuuga and Ryuki – dingy, gritty and with an almost claustrophobic feel to them despite a large portion of the footage being out in wide open spaces. The sense of mystery the episode created is all too familiar too, skipping over an origin story for the time being to place the viewer straight into the aftermath.

And though we get a very brief glimpse at our two lead Riders for this series (the aforementioned Amazon Alpha, as well as Haruka – who will go onto become Amazon Omega), they aren’t the focus of this episode. In fact at this stage Jin is almost completely shrouded in mystery. This episode belongs to the Nozama Peston Extermination team, familiarising the audience with the (mostly) human characters before moving onto the leads. It’s a pretty great tactic for making the various Amazon monsters feel like a legitimate threat, as the team struggle to take down a lower class one then get wrecked by stronger ones – only for Alpha to stroll in and show them whose boss. He might not have any background to him yet, but you can’t deny that Jin makes one hell of an entrance.

The action meanwhile is everything you’d expect from a series loosely derived from Kamen Rider Amazon – a show infamously remembered for being one of the most graphic in the franchise. The days of spurting paint blood may be long-gone, but in its place is a gloriously over the top CGI equivalent, along with just as much gutting and limb dismemberment as you’d expect. Just how (if at all) this series connects to the original Amazon is yet to be determined, but if there’s one thing Amazons has inherited it’s certainly that sense of savagery.

Finally the costumes also have a really nice variety to them as well. “Amazons” may be a catch-all term for the creatures, but that doesn’t mean that they all share the same general design as their namesake. Instead this episode alone treats us to a Mole Amazon, two Spider Amazons, a Bat Amazon and even an insect Amazon – all visibly different but at the same time recognisably similar. The Amazon Alpha costume is fantastic, breathing new life into Amazon’s beaten duds with more definition and a fresh lick of paint. With the series already promising 4000 Amazon life-forms there’s bound to be more, and I can’t wait to see them.

Kamen Rider Amazons has not only gotten off to a pretty fantastic start, but also means some really great things for the franchise as a whole. If Toei are able to pull this off they will have successfully tapped into a whole new avenue for Kamen Rider – one that isn’t bound by a lower age demographic or the necessity to sell toys. The darker tone might not be for everyone, but if Kamen Rider Ghost isn’t tickling your fancy this year is fantastic to have this as an alternative.

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