Tuesday 4 September 2018

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Zi-O

The end of the Heisei Era has arrived, and to celebrate the 20th and final entry in this chapter of Kamen Rider a new king has risen who is heir to the power of all Riders. His name is Kamen Rider Zi-O, and 10th anniversary series Kamen Rider Decade his series will commemorate all of the previous Heisei Riders to date. This comes not only in the form of the Ride Watch gimmick line and Ride Armour forms, but also cameo appearances from past actors, Rider-themed monsters and more. Heading the writing and directing of the series are Kento Shimoyama (Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, Kikaider REBOOT and most recently the Gorider miniseries) and Ryuta Tasaki (a man involved in nearly all of Heisei Rider, as well as both Super Sentai and Power Rangers) respectively. Its opening theme "Over Quartzer" is performed by Shuta Sueyoshi and ISSA – the former having previously performed "Climax Jump" for Kamen Rider Den-O and the latter "Justiφ's" for Kamen Rider 555. Even before you get into the series itself, there's plenty of callbacks going on here.

In the year 2018, 18-year-old Sougo Tokiwa dreams of one day becoming a king. After being attacked by a mysterious red robot, Sougo is recruited by Tsukuyomi - a girl with a robot of her own who claims to be from the year 2068. She explains that her future is a dystopian wasteland ruled by the tyrant overlord Oma Zi-O - the man Sougo will apparently become 50 years from now.

After travelling into the distant past and the time of Kamen Rider Build, Sougo eventually returns to his own time to find Another Build on the rampage. Vowing to become an overlord beloved by all, Sougo accepts his Driver from another elusive time traveller and becomes Kamen Rider Zi-O. But after defeating Another Build, Geiz - the pilot of the red robot, arrives on the scene. Transforming using a Driver of his own, Kamen Rider Geiz calls upon the powers of Kamen Rider Ghost and attacks.

Its status as an anniversary series featuring past Riders immediately means Kamen Rider Zi-O is going to see plenty of comparisons to Kamen Rider Decade over the course of its run, but this first episode certainly doesn't shy away from making them even more appgarent. Opening with what seems like humanity's last stand against the all-power Oma Zi-O, the episode immediately draws parallels to Decade's Rider War introduction. The big different here however is that there's only one Rider left standing. Are the previous Heisei Riders surrounding the statue commemorating Sougo’s first transformation also statues, or (as the opening credits potentially hint towards) are the previous heroes somehow frozen in time? It's a strong open that sets the stakes for the series, along with a villain who for now is going to be completely detached from the main action.

It's when we return to the present that we first meet Sougo, the boy who will eventually become king. However in some respects it feels like Sougo himself is actually the weak link in the characters introduced so far, joining the series as something of a blank slate compared to his time-travelling co-stars. It's only in his decision to fight against against his apparent fate does Sougo’s character begin to shape, and it's pretty amusing to see everyone around him react in sheer horror at this proclamation. As far as his character goes the idea that he can become an overlord "beloved by all" is about as naïve as you can get, but from a story standpoint the actual concept is obtuse enough that it doesn't immediately erase the notion that this is all a misunderstanding and Sougo won't become Oma Zi-O. Given the way these shows usually go that's still likely to be the case, but Sougo’s dream isn't too many steps away from what everyone seems to think he will become.

Sougo may need a bit of time to grow, but this doesn't drag the episode down too much because the supporting cast are already off to a great start. Geiz's fixation on preventing Zi-O from becoming the future overlord may be a tad cliche in both secondary Rider and general science fiction terms, but it's a good source of conflict straight off the bat. His apprehension to Sougo becoming Zi-O also feels different to that of Tsukuyomi's, who was somewhat content with helping him out until he made his big proclamation of becoming a "benevolent" overlord. At which stage the mysterious Woz pops out of the woodwork, a more upbeat version of Narutaki that's less about damning the destroyer and more about proclaiming him. Between Woz and the equally curious villain that saves a man from his predetermined death only to turn him into a monster, Kamen Rider Zi-O already has plenty of time traveller backstory shenanigans to speculate on.

But this is an anniversary series after all, so no matter how interesting all the new characters and suits are there's always going to be a portion of viewers mainly here for the tribute element as well. Zi-O's premiere doesn't dive too far back into the history of Heisei era Kamen Rider, instead working as a rather comfortable transition from Kamen Rider Build with an immediate appearance by Sento, Banjou, a SMASH and even the Nascita Coffee House - it's almost as if the show never left! Time travel logistics regarding the events of Build's ending aside (it does make sense depending on how you view time travel but there's definitely debates to be had) it's nice to see the series immediately jump in with some familiar faces. For a homage that dives back a little deeper though, look no further than the Faiz Gun - a currently unnamed bit of tech Tsukuyomi wields but is both instantly recognisable and comes complete with those classic Faiz sound effects. Not deep enough for you? Try the fact that both the Ziku Driver and Oma Zi-O are voiced by Rikiya Koyama, best known for playing Joe the Haze in Kamen Rider Black RX. But for many what will undoubtedly be the standout bit of anniversary wizardry here is Another Build - the first of what will hopefully be many weekly monster designs based on previous Kamen Riders. Another Build is the natural successor to Chinomanako's Diend form from Kamen Rider Decade, taking the basic Rider design and twisting it into something that wouldn't look that out of place in the SIC toyline. If the quality of future "Another" Riders can match that of Build, then Zi-O is definitely going to be bringing some of the most memorable weekly monster designs for a while.

That isn't to say Zi-O doesn't have plenty to bring to the table as far as its own unique designs are concerned. Shared Decade colourscheme aside the clock motif makes for an absolutely brilliant Rider design, with each of the three Rider suits introduced in the episode bringing their own unique flairs that help set them apart. Whereas Zi-O's transformation sequence and helmet design goes classic with an analogue watch face (complete with brilliantly placed watch hands "antennae"), Geiz's digital watch face design not only separates it nicely but also feels far more fitting for a man travelling back from the year 2068. Of course there's also there's the fact Zi-O's visor says "Rider" in katakana and Geiz's in hiragana, which is an outlandish but effective visual distinction between the two. Meanwhile Oma Zi-O's gaudy black and gold number is perfect for a villain standing at the very top, because if you were the kind of person to rule you'd definitely have a "nicer", more expensive looking watch than everyone else. The clock hands making up a cape on the back just complete the look. As far as the obligatory toy commercial element goes the Zi-O Driver and accompanying Ride Watches look particularly satisfying, if not for the sounds and LED screen but for just how fun spinning the damn thing to transform looks. The Ride Armours themselves only make a brief appearance at the end of the episode, but hits all the right notes to seem like a promising anniversary gimmick. From the Ghost Driver belt sounds to the various Parka Ghosts swarming from the armour in those final few seconds, the fact it manages to successfully evoke a nostalgia for Kamen Rider Ghost is impressive given that the show didn't happen all that long ago.

One thing the episode could have perhaps done with less of though was the egregious CGI. It's a fair argument that some elements of time travel are going to be difficult to portray without it and larger elements like the Time Mazines are going to rely on it, but boy did this episode have it in spades. Moments like the time tunnels where the whole scene was primarily CGI worked wonderfully, but lengthier scenes like Sougo getting chased by Geiz's big red robot stuck out in a bad way. It's also curious that whenever I seem to have a larger complaint about the quality of Toei tokusatsu CGI, there's a Tyrannosaurus usually involved in there somewhere. Only this time it's also a Tyrannosaurus that sounds inexplicably like an elephant as well.

There's a lot to take in here and kinks that'll need ironing out over the first few episodes, but it feels like Kamen Rider Zi-O is definitely off to an interest start. The perhaps weaker lead character is offset by plenty of other interesting characters and events happening around him, and it already feels like the anniversary elements are in place to make it a fitting send off to Heisei era Kamen Rider. But while right now it may feel like Zi-O has the capacity to be a far more coherent series than Decade, will it be anywhere near as fun. Only time will tell, so it's just as well Toei brought along a bunch of time travellers to do the job.


Anonymous said...

Excited to see your review on Build. I always check your blog to see if there is any post. Love it

Humam East said...

Sougo spouting " I want to be a King ! " all the time doesn't help this episode. I thought episode 1 while has interesting setup was rushed and a mess.

Did you misspelled Sougo into Souma or you just purposely fusing Sougo and Oma into Souma lol.

Alex said...

Can I pretend I’m clever and doing the latter? :D

Alex said...

Thank you! I’m hoping to have the Build review up on Thursday, but I’m terrible at staying in schedule at the moment >.<

ZachTron552 said...

According to scans and the TV Asahi page for it, the Faiz Gun is called the 'Faiz Phone X', but the with the way it's spelt it katakana, it's pronounced 'Faiz Phone Ten'.

Personally though, I'm finding it hilarious that people would still use flip-style phones in 2068. But who knows though?