Monday 2 September 2019

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Zero-One

Kamen Rider Zero-One

The arrival of Kamen Rider Zero-One is more than just your usual Kamen Rider premiere. With new series starting annually fans are used to see Riders come and go, but rarely do they see one usher in a whole new era. Zero-One marks the beginning of the Reiwa era for Kamen Rider just as Kuuga did for the Heisei era back in 2000, and while this doesn't come after a long hiatus off the air it still aims to be just a significant a landmark in franchise history. Written by Yuya Takahashi (Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Kamen Rider Amazons: The Last Judgement) and directed by Teruaki Sugihara (Lupinranger vs Patranger), Zero-One also sees legend Seiji Takaiwa pass the mantle of lead suit actor onto Yuya Nawata – whose previous portrayals include Kamen Riders Geiz, Cronus and Neo Alpha.

The HumagiaAruto greets Hiden Intelligence

Hiden Intelligence is one of the leading industries in robotics and artificial intelligence, creating the near-perfect Humagia which have now become a staple in both the public and private sectors. When its president Korenosuke Hiden passes away, he foretells in his will the coming of a great threat – one which can only be stopped by a new piece of technology wielded by the company’s president. Much to the surprise of the board of directors, he leaves the company to his grandson Aruto – a struggling stand up comic who dreams of creating smiles.

Though Aruto initially refuses the position, an attack by a Humagia corrupted by the terrorist organisation leads him to accept the power of the Zero-One driver – becoming the hero of a new era, Kamen Rider Zero-One!

Aruto HidenKamen Rider Zero-One Debuts!

It’s amazing just how much plot potential can be packed into a single episode, and Kamen Rider Zero-One wastes no time setting up a whole different playing field to what we’ve ever seen before from the franchise. The large corporation angle is admittedly an unusual one for Kamen Rider to take, but given Yuya Takahashi’s critiques in both Ex-Aid and the Amazons movie it’s unlikely that this series will be keeping Hiden Intelligence at a point of authority without something interesting to say. The same can be said of the Humagia, as although the overall story has them generally accepted by the populace there’s incredible scope for what could be done with such advanced AI. They could go the Kikaider route and tackle acceptance and what it means to be “human”, or it could act as a warning toward such advances in technology. The reveal that Aruto also had a Humagia “father” also poses some interesting questions - could we get a late game reveal that Aruto himself is either a Humagia or some sort of hybrid? Given that Kamen Rider’s origins are rooted in cyborgs it would be a nice throwback to kick off the new era, and should that be the case it would also be a clever subversion of Rider-1’s creation in that he would be created for a good purpose rather than evil. Pure speculation on my part, but that’s the fun of having so little of the story so far.

Just over 20 minutes doesn’t offer a whole lot of time to devote to the whole cast so naturally this episode places the focus squarely on Aruto, but it does at the very least let all the (currently revealed) main players appear in some form or another. Playing Aruto is 19 year old Fumiya Takahashi, keeping the general trend of young Riders going from the Heisei era but perhaps even more fittingly since in a new era it’s the young people that will take the franchise forwards. From what we see Takahashi settles into the role nicely, but for those more resistant to the Japanese style of comedy Aruto may seem like a lot to take in. There’s a lot of that loud, “close-up on a wild facial expression” humour that was prevalent throughout Ghost and early Ex-Aid. If you’re a fan of that kind of comedy it works, however if you’re not it actually plays quite nicely into Aruto’s position as a failing comedian. His dream to make children smile and protect their wishes is also a really nice twist on the traditional Kamen Rider mantra.

Humagia gone rogueYua and Isamu

Other key characters we get introduced to include Aruto’s new “secretary” Izu, a Humagia that provides him with the Zero-One Driver and fills him in on its abilities. Alongside her are also Isamu and Yua, soldiers who work as part of A.I.M.S. (Artificial Intelligence Military Service) - an organisation which tackles rogue Humangia. Though we don’t get a proper introduction in this episode, the few minutes we do spend with them are enough to gauge their personalities and with both confirmed to be Riders themselves are going to be extremely important going forwards. Back on the Hiden Intelligence side of things there’s also the Vice President of the organisation, who seems rather bitter at being passed over in favour of Aruto. It seems immediately obvious that he’s going to try and usurp Aruto but the question is how will the writers play this - seriously or for laughs? If it’s the former, then hopefully he’ll play a much bigger part in the wider implications in the business side of Zero-One’s storyline.

The villains also make an appearance right from the start, and as you can probably expect Toei have leaned in hard with their grungy cyber terrorist wardrobe. The episode doesn’t give much away in regards to their grand plan but it does immediately raise a lot of interesting questions, particularly relating to Daybreak Town, the “forbidden sea zone” they call home. Just what happened here that caused it to be abandoned? For me this was perhaps the most burning question coming out of the episode.


However it’s the moment Aruto takes the Driver that the episode really shifts up in momentum. Takahashi proves adept at shifting Aruto from his comedy persona into a battle-ready hero ready to protect the smiles of children, and thanks to some well-implement plotting we immediately get a Zero-One fully in control of his powers. Following a centrepiece transformation sequence debuting possibly one of the coolest Kamen Rider belt phrases ever, the remainder of the episode is a non-stop injection of action that highlights just how important the need for fresh blood can be. The combination of Nawata's energy inside the suit and Sugihara's frenetic camera angles make for an exhilarating fight sequence, bolstered by Toei also pulling out all the stops when it comes to visual effects as well. Kamen Rider premieres being especially high budget is nothing new, but this still feels different from the norm. With many of Zero-One’s powers and finishers linked into these effects, it’s difficult to see this as just a one-off thing.

But these first impressions wouldn’t be complete with some thoughts on the Zero-One suit itself. The Heisei era spawned plenty of memorable and fantastic looking suits, but there’s no denying but as time went on they just got busier and busier. Zero-One’s base form takes things right back to basics, with a streamline insect-themed design that wouldn’t look amiss alongside Rider-1 and Kuuga. Given how rarely it’s used for a main Rider yellow was the perfect choice to make the design stand out, as are its glow in the dark properties. Given Zero-One’s use of collectible items future forms will probably progress into something more intricate, but for now this is the perfect starting point for a new era.

The Berotha MagiaKamen Rider Zero-One in action

Though on the surface Kamen Rider Zero-One might not seem like too radical a departure from the style of the Heisei era, this first episode carries on those traditions with a youthful vigour and renewed energy fitting for a new beginning. Already the story has built itself up with several different mysteries that can be explored via different angles, and the action seems to be a cut above even what fans have come to expect from a "pull out all the stops" premiere. As is always the case whether it can keep this momentum up is another matter entirely, but as far as this episode is concerned the Reiwa era of Kamen Rider has gotten off to an explosive start.


Anonymous said...

Hikari kagayaku
Taiyo denshi no Zero-One body
Wo-oh Zero-One
Bokura Kikaida Zero-One...
wait... wrong show !

Oar said...

You misspelled the title, by the way.

This was a super strong premiere and I'm even more excited than I was after Build's first episode!

Alex said...

My god, how did I manage that? I clearly still just have Zi-O on the brain :/

Build’s was another really good one. The ones which alter the setting from just “present day” always seem to be the strongest.

M said...

Tv-Nihon just subbed a Garo Mini-Series that links Makai no Hana and the upcoming movie

Genesis said...

after kabuto, the suit designs went downhill with the exception of a selected few. (geiz )now im glad for zero one. will be watching kamen rider again.

Stephen Cassat said...

Zero-One Rising Hopper. Make a crossover with 1 and Kuuga. It would be epic. I can see the title now: Kamen Rider: Three Generations

Stephen Cassat said...

Best first episode. Period. Don't @ me. ;)