Thursday 18 April 2019

Miniseries REVIEW: Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki

Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki

As the final farewell to Heisei era of Kamen Rider, there was no way that Kamen Rider Zi-O wasn't going to go all out in celebrating the past 20 years of the franchise. The time travelling series has paid tribute to both the past and potential future of Kamen Rider, with numerous special guest actors returning to reprise their roles from their respective series. But when it comes to the obligatory spin-offs the show has, no one could have expected Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki – a three-part miniseries that serves as a sequel to 2002's Kamen Rider Ryuki. Airing exclusively on Japan's Video Pass streaming service, the miniseries was written by original series co-writer Toshiki Inoue and brings back several members of the original cast to reprise their roles.

It's been 16 years since the conclusion of the Rider Battle, with its participants having carried on without any memories of their time fighting in the Mirror World. However a mysterious person restarts the conflict once again, with its participants fighting to regain their lost memories as well as simply survival. Shinji and Ren are fated to meet once again, joining faces both new and old – some of whom remember the fight all those years ago.

Meanwhile outside of the Mirror World Sougo Tokiwa and Geiz Myokoin face a different enemy as Another Ryuki goes on the rampage. How are these two incidents connected, and who will claim victory in the newest Rider Battle?

Of all the Heisei era series with potential for a sequel spin-off, Kamen Rider Ryuki is easily one of the most interesting ones to use given its ending. While there are plenty of Kamen Rider series readily open to more adventures, tackling the one that deals with a large cast, time loops and an ending where the characters forget the events of the entire show is definitely ambitious. But right from the get-go Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki has that unmistakeable feel of an early Heisei-era Kamen Rider show, from its murkier visuals to strong mystery element. The brutality of the early noughties Riders hasn't been lost either, and as has been the case with many Rider spinoffs of late Inoue uses that streaming platform status to take it considerably above what Japanese television these days would likely allow.

The three-episode structure doesn't offer a lot of time to dedicate to character development, but that doesn't prevent Inoue from expanding on the Ryuki cast in a reasonably satisfying way. But though the continuation of Shinji and Ren's relationship and how it compares now after all they've been through is certainly a draw, it's the way that it plays some of the other characters that proves much more interesting. Asakura is still his wild, bloodthirsty self but this time he's partnered up with Gorou – taking over from his master Kitaoka as Kamen Rider Zolda. Though the story only alludes to Kitaoka's fate it does a great job of highlighting both Asakura and Gorou's feelings towards him. The miniseries also rewrites Miyuki (Raia) and Jun (Gai) as gay, and for the purpose of this Rider Battle at least lovers too. Though the scene confirming it may be brief, on top of being a rare example of LGBT representation in Kamen Rider it also adds an interesting twist to their personalities and motives when it comes to the original series as well. Did Muyuki view Yuichi as more than just a friend? It's a shame the miniseries doesn't have the time to expand on it more, as seeing just how the honest Miyuki would end up with someone as sadistic as Jun.

Character time isn't the only thing Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki is short on either. Much of the running time is spent creating this new Rider Battle and building up the amnesia of its participants, which is great for the overall atmosphere but results in the resolution having to be hastily crammed in toward the climax rather than spread naturally throughout. It's only in the final episode does Zi-O's appearance become significant, and as the pieces come together it begins to comfortably line up with what Zi-O has been doing with its other Another Riders across the series. The appearance of Kamen Rider Odin only further complicates things, tying it even closer to Kanzaki's earlier Rider Battles but without the context to help it fit into place.

Joining the returning cast are also a few new faces in the Rider Battle, with new users cast for Kamen Riders Scissors, Tiger, Imperer and Verde. Though in typical Ryuki fashion most of these are despatched fairly swiftly to show off the atrocities of the Rider Battle, it is nice to see the miniseries make use of Ryuki's cast and provide a bigger role to lesser-used Riders like Verde (who previously only appeared in the 13 Riders special). What's even more surprising however is the appearance of Decade's Kamen Rider Abyss, making his first canonical appearance in the Ryuki timeline. The only one sadly missing from the equation is Kamen Rider Femme, who doesn't appear in any form. Given that other Riders were given new users her absence feels all the more noticeable, and is a real shame given that otherwise the miniseries does such a good job of drawing from all of Ryuki's diverging paths.

Producing a sequel 16 years after the fact also gives you a real reminder of just how old Ryuki is, and not just in the sense that the cast have obviously grown older in that time. Though the cinematography of the miniseries does a good job of capturing the feel of the series the flashbacks to the original series highlight just how rough the original series looks in comparison, and for the purposes of this special Toei haven't done a great deal to update the effects either. What's much sadder though is the state of many of the suits, which are visibly falling apart onscreen. Given that this has been a trend in Kamen Rider spinoffs for some time now it isn't all that surprising but it does make you wonder just why these suits don't at the very least get a good patch up job when they're rolled out for use again.

Echoing the darker tones of both the original Ryuki and the early Heisei era in general, Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki is a wonderful short trip back to the Mirror World. Though the short running time results in some of the concepts not being quite as developed as they need to be, the overall plot is an interesting progression of Ryuki's story and Inoue is able to offer some interesting expansion to some of its key characters. How Zi-O's time changing shenanigans will affect its surprisingly downbeat ending (if at all) are yet to be seen, but for the time being this unexpected little spin-off still proves to be a very welcome one.


M said...

Impressions on Zi-O so far ?

Anonymous said...

I really don’t know what you mean by “Tahoe suits are visibly falling apart on screen”. Yeah the suits looks kinda dirty, and the suits are definitely beginning to show their age, but nothing that really shows that they’re falling apart. Now if some pieces of say, Kamen Rider Gai like his shoulder horns starting falling off then maybe i could understand but nothing like that happens so it’s just confusing. At best they’re just showing their age and not really falling to pieces.