Thursday 9 May 2019

Miniseries REVIEW: Rider Time: Kamen Rider Shinobi

Rider Time: Kamen Rider Shinobi

Celebrating 20 series of Heisei era Kamen Rider is one thing, but Kamen Rider Zi-O definitely has some lofty goals when started playing around with the future of the franchise as well. But even though the future Riders of the years 2022, 2040 and 2121 certainly won't be getting series of their very own when the time comes, conceptually they're just too good to simply be relegated to one-off appearances. Clearly Toei felt the same, as Kamen Rider Shinobi returned in a three-part miniseries exclusive to the Toei Tokusatsu Fan ClubRider Time: Kamen Rider Shinobi. The miniseries sees Hideya Tawada (Ninninger's Kinji Takigawa/Star Ninger) reprise his role as the titular Kamen Rider, as Lupinranger vs Patranger writer Kaori Kaneko introduces us properly to his own time.

In the year 2022 the world is headed toward environmental disaster. In order to prevent this, mankind has turned to the path of the ninja - harnessing their elemental powers to create a natural energy source. The Government then passed the “Ninja Nation Act” to make ninja training mandatory, and thus Japan became a ninja nation.

However operating in the shadows are the Rainbow Serpents, a ninja clan secretly behind the Japan’s sudden shortage of resources. Standing in their way is Rentaro Kagura, who fights as the legendary ninja Kamen Rider Shinobi.

At only three 15-minute long episodes Rider Time: Kamen Rider Shinobi doesn’t exactly have a lot of time to tell a very thorough story, especially since it’s not working off the back of established characters like most Kamen Rider spin-off media does. So to counter that it takes the sensible approach of keeping it relatively simple - creating a rich background to garner interest but keeping the content of the episodes themselves predominantly light-hearted. Between the events leading up to the Ninja Nation Act and the implications of the Rainbow Serpents, there’s plenty on offer here that Kamen Rider Shinobi could work with if it were a full series. But alas it isn’t so a relatively low-key character-focused piece will have to do. And though it’s style of comedy is fairly basic, getting a secondary Rider (Kamen Rider Hattari) on top of Shinobi himself isn’t a bad deal at all.

Similarly there isn't a whole lot of time to get to know the characters either, but the simplicity of the plot allows the few main characters to settle into their roles without any significant problems. Rentaro the audience will already be familiar with from his episodes in Zi-O, but it's nice to see him completely in his own story and environment. His fa├žade of being an inept ninja outside of the suit works well for concealing his identity, and actor Tawada uses his Ninninger experience to create a similarly likeable character. Meanwhile Iroha presents herself as a capable ninja in her own right, and if this were a fully-fledged Rider series it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see her become a Kamen Rider herself somewhere down the line (or maybe it would given Toei’s track record). Isamichi/Hattari is a little more forgettable given the character’s motivation hinges almost entirely on comic relief, but for a self-contained thing like this it’s hardly worthy of complaint.

With Toei not even patching up the Kamen Rider Ryuki suits for their respective miniseries there was never going to be a huge budget poured into Shinobi, but it's hard not to be impressed with the way they've used what resources they did have. Both the Shinobi and Hattori suits (like the other future Riders that appeared in Zi-O) have been kitbashed from ones from previous shows, with Shinobi built from an Ex-Aid Ride Player and Dark Necrom while Hattori is a retooled Dark Drive. Even the mooks are from a different series, with Fourze's Dustards rearing their head once again. This might all sounds pretty slapdash on paper, but what's really amazing is just how well it actually works. Despite the resused elements the suits not only look good, they have their own identity and look as if they'd fit in with the mainline Riders. As for the Dustards, they feel far more at home here than they ever did on Kamen Rider Fourze. On top of all that you then have the few original elements that have been inserted in, which don't play a huge part in the story itself but help give Shinobi a flavour that isn't just reconstituted from other shows. Those giant animal mecha may only appear as part of the transformation sequences, but they immediately grab your attention as something you'd want to see more of if this was a full-length series.

But what’s perhaps the best thing of all about Kamen Rider Shinobi is just how unashamedly old-school it feels. While a lot of that of course comes from the ninja motif, it's also just refreshing to watch a simple Kamen Rider production free of flashy gimmicks, multiple forms and obvious toy sales. Instead you just get two Riders with very basic transformation trinkets and weaponry, and instead the action sequences rely on that alone. While it may not have the kind of effects budget you'd get in a proper Rider series, it's definitely enough to hold your interest. At the same time the fact it primarily uses woodland scenery for its action sequences break it away nicely from the rut of familiar locations you usually get from Toei productions.

Although it remains fairly basic in what it sets out to do, Rider Time: Kamen Rider Shinobi is a fun little miniseries that just goes to show how many themes and motifs still remain untapped by the franchise. It might not have the same weight that Rider Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki did, as a proof of concept it works surprisingly well. Even when they're kitbashed out of existing parts the suits look fantastic, and the characters all work despite the minimal back story involved. Considering this was something that could have been very easily left to just a two-part story arc in Kamen Rider Zi-O, Toei have got some surprising mileage out of the 2022 Kamen Rider.


Anonymous said...

What Rider Time do you want to see next ? I would to like to see others focusing on the others Future Riders.

Alex said...

I’d love a Kikai one myself. Another one I’d like to see them do is one focusing on the AU White Woz and Geiz Revive come from - have them show how he defeated Oma Zi-O and became a saviour etc.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to review Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Brain?

Stephen Cassat said...

Shinobi is freaking awesome. Love the purple suit and scarf. Loved Hattari's suit as well. I honestly hope that this is the actual 2022-23 season. If they don't, I will cry.