Monday 10 September 2018

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Build

Kamen Rider Build

After the Kamen Rider aesthetic was taken a little bit off course in 2016 with Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, things fell back into a bit more familiar territory with the series that followed. The compound eyes make a natural return, and the hero's two-part red and blue costume wasn't just a callback to the similarly styled Kamen Rider W – the colourscheme also harked back to heroes like the Kikaider brothers and Metalder. Welcome to Kamen Rider Build – the 19th entry in the show's Heisei period run and the 28th series in the franchise overall. Notably written in its entirety by Shogo Muto and with Ryuta Tasaki as lead director, Build is also the first (and possibly only) of the post-Decade series to take place in a parallel universe.

A divided JapanKamen Rider Build Rabbit Tank

Ten years ago a expedition to Mars returned with a mysterious artifact dubbed the "Pandora Box", which when activated at a press conference created a huge Skywall which split Japan in three – Seito in the west, Hokuto in the North and Touto in the East. In the present day, genius physicist Sento Kiyru is hired by the Touto Insitute of Advanced National Physics to help unlock the secrets of the box. But Sento also has his own secret – having no memory of his past other than being held captive on by a mysterious Faust organisation, he now fights Faust's SMASH experiements as the hero Kamen Rider Build.

An encounter with the framed fugitive Ryuga Banjou brings Sento one step closer to recovering his past, along with the secrets of Faust, the Pandora Box and the Full Bottles Build draws his powers from. But with the truth also comes a much graver plot, one that will thrust Japan into the midst of war. As they face off against the Kamen Riders of other regions, Sento and Banjou discover what once caused the destruction of Mars and how they tie into an evil alien's plan that's been ten years in the making.

The cast of BuildBlood Stalk

Ignoring the fact that the Heisei Generations FINAL movie jumping the gun a bit on marking the end of the Heisei Era, Kamen Rider Build isn't an anniversary series. But given the way it encompasses the core themes of the franchise as well as how it's evolved over the years, it could certainly work as one. This is most prevalence in the show's core message of "love and peace" - the reason Sento not only chooses to fight, but also encourages his friends, allies and eventually even enemies to embody in a similar way. It's very similar in its approach to the "peace and justice" valued by the early Showa Riders, with the comparison further emphasised by the presence of a shadowy evil organisation in the show's early episodes. However there's plenty of comparisons that can be made to Heisei era Rider as well, such as Sento's amnesia (Agito), Build's two part combo powers (Double) or even just the more cosmic elements of the series that come into play as it progresses. However it's important to stress that Build probably isn't directly referencing these shows, and that in most cases it's mostly at the surface level. But with the way it combines so many of them and especially exemplifies the core values of Kamen Rider, it's no surprise that many have already taken it up as the perfect season to lure in newcomers.

Build's story is very much a shifting one, separated through clearly defined arcs with significantly raising stakes as the story progresses. What starts as one man's fight against an evil organisation for the truth breaks out in all-out war across Japan, led by power-mad politicians and arms dealers manipulated by an alien entity with his own schemes. The war for the Pandora Box marks a significant tonal shift for the series, with episode 17 featuring a cold opening of human soldiers being shot at and killed, buildings exploding and civilians getting caught in the crossfire. A high death toll isn't a rarity for Kamen Rider, but it's the fact these are atrocities being performed by humans that make it so haunting. With the Riders thrust into a proper war zone the question comes as to whether a Kamen Rider should be used as a tool of war, and this is another issue the show refuses to take lightly. Faced up against more powerful opponents, Sento is forced to take drastic measures and the results change him forever. Build's Hazard form heralds arguably the show's most powerful episode, one that goes beyond what one would normally expect from this franchise and undoubtedly one of the most hard-hitting it's ever produced. Not only does the hero straight up kill someone, but he also has to deal with the trauma and mental anguish that comes with it.

Sento and BanjouKatsuragi and Sento

It isn't all doom and gloom though, and even in its darkest moments Kamen Rider Build knows exactly where to inject positivity - be it though humour, more personal character interactions or just simply hope. Above all it's about a brightly coloured hero fighting for love and peace, and it never truly lets you forget the goodness that should come with that. For every moment where someone can argue that Build is one of the darkest Kamen Rider shows there's also a moment where someone can point out where it's been one of the silliest, and that is by no means a bad thing. In a series where the stakes are so high humour is more important than ever to remind the audience that these characters are human too, and it's in this that Build is able to create such a memorable cast.

Kiryu Sento alone could have been enough to carry the series to greatness. The amnesiac plotline gives way to something far greater, and its in Sento's connection to the "Devil's Scientist" Takumi Katsuragi that the character really begins to shine. He may seem cocky, playful and sometimes even arrogant, but Sento is plagued his past actions and the need to atone for what he helped create. Sento is literally at war with himself at times and praise really has to go to actor Atsuhiro Inukai simply for being able to portray so many different personas over the course of the series. The fact he fights by the most basic of heroic principles in spite of his complexities are what make the character so engaging.

Kamen Rider Cross-ZKamen Rider Evolt

But though the show may be named Kamen Rider Build Sento alone isn't the heart of the series, because that comes from his partnership with Banjou. After fans agreed he deserved a shot at being a fully-fledged Rider from his stint on Kamen Rider Amazons second season, Eiji Akaso just came and killed it on Build - not only being the dumb but loveable muscle to Sento's snarky brains but also being as much a lead as the titular Rider himself. His development over the course of the series is perhaps the greatest of all - going from a framed convict with a tragic backstory to someone who is able to cast aside their desire for revenge to fight for something far greater, with immeasurable selfless acts along the way. However you choose to read into their partnership is entirely up to you, but whatever way you interpret it the outcome is the same - Sento and Banjou couldn't be better suited to one another. A pairing to stand with the likes of Shotaro and Philip, Eiji and Ankh or Godai and Ichijo.

Even with two strong leads to prop it up Build still goes the extra mile with its supporting cast, not only rounding things off with a number of additional Riders that have their own development and backstories but also a number of additional characters that don't need to transform to prove their worth. Misora and Sawa may never become Riders but they don't ever feel wasted, both contributing the Sento's fight as well as being as often being crucial moral or emotional compasses when the time is right. Kazumi/Kamen Rider Grease comes into the series as a soldier of an opposing side, forced into this life out of desperation and now faced with losing what little he has left. Meanwhile Gentoku has an even bigger journey ahead of him, walking the line from villain to hero as he faces the consequences of his own methods to unite the country. But even though Kazumi and Gentoku have their own issues and demons to face, the two of them are united in the fact that they're also both massive dorks. This commonality doesn't just connect these two Riders either – loyalty, consequence and redemption are themes that reflect in almost every character, and even those that don't reflect these qualities in a positive light eventually come to regret it. The story stays true to its war setting and inevitably not everyone makes it out okay, with even minor characters' deaths having huge emotional importance and resonance over the course of the series.

Kazumi SawatoriGentoku Himuro

And then finally you have Evolto, a villain so despicable you should hate him but so damn charismatic that he steals every scene he's in. From the wonderfully duplicitous Blood Stark to an outright evil Kamen Rider, Evolto seemingly goes through just as many phases as the show itself. And even though Stalk's identity seemed fairly signposted to those paying close attention to those early episodes, the impact still remains effective. Even directly after a series where the (later somewhat reformed) villain was the breakout star, Evolto is able to hold your attention on personality alone. On top of that he's also an extremely credible threat, and unlike most of the other characters in the series not prone to moments of emotional weakness. While is gaining of human emotions might seem like a step towards redemption, it actually turns out to be the complete opposite and only serves to make him even more deplorable.

This isn't all to say that Kamen Rider Build is either flawless or beyond criticism though. Its first half is somewhat bloated by its necessity to market the toys through an endless onslaught of bottle combinations and forgettable suits, while the involvement of characters (Princess of Mars Vernage or the Hell Brothers for example) sort of fizzles out in later episodes when it seemed like they'd play a much bigger part. Even the ending won't be to everyone's tastes – dealing with sci-fi trope trickery to render certain things moot as well as raising some fairly interesting ethical discussions about the choices of our hero. But what makes Kamen Rider Build work is how it always feels confident in what it's doing, and works to explain even the smaller details to ensure everything falls into place. The bottles and Best Match combos might often seem random and nonsensical, but the show does try to put an explanation into place about why this is the case. Sure it's not a particularly long and detailed explanation, but the fact it puts one in there makes a huge difference. Even the episode introductions, which just seem like another opportunity to throw some much needed comedy in, have some relevance in it all. Shows are rarely perfect and Build has problems here and there just like everything else, but it's the way the good stuff manages to rise above it so well that truly makes it stand out.

Kamen Rider GreaseKamen Rider Rogue

After all that there isn't much left to say other than that Kamen Rider Build really is one of the "must see" entries in this franchise. A series that transitions through numerous forms while maintaining a consistent story, filled with well-developed and memorable characters at every turn, Build is a series that isn't afraid to tackle some heavy themes but keep things positive and, perhaps more importantly, entertaining. With singular episodes that will undoubtedly stand firm against some of the best the franchise has ever had to offer, Build embodies the qualities of what it means to be a Kamen Rider.


Humam East said...

Love the season and it's cast. I just wish the ending was not that dumb merging plot, The second half is not as intriguing or amazing as the first half, Gentoku redemption could have been handle better, and imho Evolt is much more better as BloodStalk/Soichi.

Even with all that flaw Build is clearly a love letter to either old or new Tokusatsu fan. The cast was just perfect and they all have such an amazing chemistry. Credits to the casting staff finding actors who has amazing chemistry.

Kiryuu Sento said...

Actually, maybe i am one of the least that like the ending lol. A hero that failed and at same time success to save the world. But I agree with your thought about the casts. Absolutely love it.And I like how every kamen rider has its own story.

For me, build is the best that i have ever watched. I will miss this series a lot T_T Thanks for making this great kamen rider series and hopefully the next will be better than build !

Best Match!

GWolf said...

Vernage is a little sad as I read her role was reduced due to the voice actress having a severe vocal injury.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Great review as always. Looking forward for your reviews on Den-O and Kiva for a couple years now. Hope you venture into those shows one of these days!

Tampanno said...

The Reason Why I Hate Build's Series is Why Only Have 49 Episodes It Could Have 51 episodes.

Stephen Cassat said...

Build is one of my favorite. It shows that even a kids show can explain very dark moments in a very strong way. The dynamic between Sento and Ryuga is hilarious, and Kazumi and Gentoku are just hilarious when out of suit. Evolto is a great villain and made a huge impact. Overall great show, with a nice kid friendly dark moment or two thrown in so adults can enjoy it too.

Stephen Cassat said...

I personally love all of Build. But I've heard a lot of people say that the 2nd half of Build isn't all that great. Alex, why is that?

Alex said...

The general complaints about the second half of Build are usually that it threw out all the complexities of the war and human nature that the first half had and just replaced it with "it was an alien that did it". I think Evolt is charismatic enough to carry it, but I can understand why people might feel that way.