Monday 6 September 2021

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Revice

Kamen Rider Revice

Well we've made it, 50 years of Kamen Rider. Such a momentous anniversary doesn't go uncelebrated, and while both both it and Super Sentai commemorated their respective milestones earlier in the year with crossover movie Super Hero Senki, now that Kamen Rider Saber has reached its conclusion it's time for the main anniversary series to begin its run. Kamen Rider Revice is the third Kamen Rider series to debut in the Reiwa era, and the 32nd in the franchise overall. Its head writer is Hanta Kinoshita, a novelist and manga writer making his tokusatsu debut with the series. Other key production staff members include producers Chihiro Inoue, Kei Mizutani and Taku Mochizuki, directors Takayuki Shibasaki, Jun Watanabe and Hiroshi Butsuda, with music by Kotaro Nakagawa.

Fenix assess the situationThe Deadmans

50 years ago, a stamp-like device was discovered deep in South America with the ability to separate humans from demonic creatures living inside of them. In the present day The Deadmans, a demonic cult, has started causing chaos with the aim of one day resurrecting the demon Gifu. To battle this threat the Fenix organisation was formed, as well as the creation of special Driver to help put a user in control of their demon to fight back.

Ikki Igarashi just wants to live a normal life working at his family's bath house, but all of a sudden he's hearing a strange voice – coming from a demon no one else can see or hear! When an event celebrating his younger brother's promotion within Fenix is attacked by the Deadmans, Ikki is forced to make a deal with his inner demon to protect his family. Encouraged to use Fenix's Revice Driver, Ikki transforms – giving his demon physical form and turning the pair into the newest Kamen Riders, Kamen Rider Revi and Kamen Rider Vice.

Ikki and ViceIntroducing Kamen Rider Revi and Kamen Rider Vice!

Addressing the elephant in the room first and foremost, it would be remiss not to mention to controversy surrounding Vice voice actor Subaru Kimura and his (now deleted) Instagram posts performing blackface and mocking African culture. Especially coming at a time when Kamen Rider is officially making moves to break out worldwide (or at the very least, the US), it's not a very good look and arguably does not reflect well on the franchise. But for the record – watching Revice is not supporting Kimura but instead the numerous other people who worked on this series, but at the same time fans are completely justified in not wanting to watch or support the show in any shape or form because of it. I'll be watching Revice, but don't condone Kimura's actions in any shape or form – and neither should you.

And if that wasn't enough to dampen spirits about Revice's premiere, the cameo appearance our new double Riders made in the final episode of Kamen Rider Saber didn't instil much hope either. With their whole appearance seemingly centred around a fart joke that lingered like a bad smell (pun very much intended), it immediately raised questions as to whether this is that the show itself would similarly rely on barrel-scraping humour. Thankfully this first episode very much suggests that isn't the case, and that the pair's rather odd appearance in Saber was potentially just down to writer differences. 

Learning the gimmicksThe Deadmans attack

So onto the episode itself, and right away Revice is not-so-subtly leaning into its anniversary element with the story having been set up 50 years ago. It's a swift but effective set-up, explaining the story pretty succinctly and also introducing us to the two key factions of the series – Fenix and the Deadmans. Just how respectful the show is going to be to Mexican culture with the Deadmans if the Day of the Dead motif goes any further than simply visuals but as far as this episode goes they really went all-in on making them as colourful and extravagant as possible. After how forgettable the Megid turned out to be in Saber, I can very least respect the fact they made a first impression at all. Meanwhile there's still a lot to elaborate on when it comes to Fenix, who have developed all the tech Revice will use in the show. Kamen Riders using the same powers as their enemies to fight back against them has been a common theme since the very beginning, but "controlling the demons with demons" is an interesting tactic that definitely has the potential to backfire.

What really stood out in the episode straight away though, and is perhaps the most refreshing thing about Revice so far, is the normal and happy family life Ikki has. The episode may pose the underlying question as to why he decided to give up on his dreams of being a soccer superstar to just help out in the family bath house, but it's more preoccupied with just setting up the Igarashis as this close-knit family unit that's just an absolute pleasure to watch. There's no tragic backstories or room left open for an evil dad to turn up as a late-stage villain, just parents and siblings supporting each other in their own slightly-eccentric way. Best of all the Igarashi are a huge part of the story as well, not only with Ikki's brother Daiji being the intended candidate for the Revice Driver but also with both their mother Yukimi and karate student sister Sakura being present at the Deadmans attack and witnessing Ikki's transformation first hand. With any ambiguity gone two interesting story threads have immediately been set up – how Daiji will react to Ikki becoming a Kamen Rider is his place, as well as how the Igarashis in general are going to react to Revice. Ikki himself seems like a great protagonist from this episode alone - as far as his personality goes there's nothing that makes him immediately stand out from other recent Riders just yet however Kentaro Maeda plays him with a youthful energy and determination that makes him instantly likeable.

The Igurashi familyVice - friend or foe?

It doesn't take long after Vice hits the scene for things to become a little bit more familiar to existing Kamen Rider fans. The set up may be rather different, but there are definite shades of Den-O in the dynamic between Ikki and Vice. Given how popular Momotaros and the rest of the Imagin continue to be even to this day, it's not that surprising to see Toei potentially try to replicate that success again and an anniversary series with nods to the past isn't a bad place to do it though. But what really struck out about Vice is just how much bad guy potential he has, far more so than Momo ever did. Sure he's a lot more jovial and comedic than the other demons we see onscreen, but there's something slightly sinister to his proposition of "doing a deal with the devil" to Ikki and straight afterward he's targeting Yukimi as his next meal. Sure he tries to pass it off as a joke afterwards, but if Ikki hadn't managed to pull him back for the transformation would that have really been the case? It goes without saying that Vice is being set up to grow over the course of the series and become a true partner to Ikki, but it'll be interesting to see just how much of his more demonic tendencies are played up in the process.

When we get to the first transformation (featuring some cool instant message-style graphics between Ikki and Vice which I'd love to see continue and develop throughout the series) and fight sequence, the main thing that immediately stands out is just how powerful they make Revi (and to a lesser extent Vice) look. The battle sees Revi absolutely tear through the Deadmans' foot soldiers, smashing them through walls and despatching them with his new Ouin Buster weapon before taking out the main demon in a wonderful display of CGI choreography. While not a berserker in the traditional sense there's a certain ferocity to Revi's fighting style that's perfectly suited to a dinosaur-based form. While a lot of tokusatsu premieres have the tendency to go all-out with the action in a way that it can't possibly keep up for the rest of the series, Revice's felt a lot more restrained in that it did leave an impact without having to resort to such extravagance. On top of the shades of Den-O and W in the dynamic between Revi and Vice, Revi's dinosaur legs transformation felt like a nice little throwback to OOO's grasshopper legs as well. 

Sprinkled in with the action scenes is plenty of comic timing too, primarily from the banter between Vice and Ikki (who still isn't too happy that this supposed partner tried to eat his mother) but also some surprise breaking of the fourth wall from Vice as well. While we previously saw him do this in the Saber finale as well that could have easily been brushed off as a joke for the fact Revice was starting the following week, but it appears it's carrying through to the series itself too. It's a fun extension of the situation between the two lead characters - whereas the supporting cast expressed confusion at Ikki talking to Vice because they couldn't see him, in turn Ikki doesn't understand Vice talking to the audience because he can't see them.

Revi on the attackVice breaks the fourth wall

The episode ends with an explosive double Rider kick, as well as Ikki handing the Revice Driver back to its creator George with the assertion that he doesn't want to become a full-time Kamen Rider. Of course we all know this won't last very long, but what will spur him back into action. Find out on the next episode of Kamen Rider Revice!

Problematic elements aside, this was an extremely promising opener for Kamen Rider Revice. Whereas Kamen Rider Saber was unlucky enough to have started with some pretty obvious COVID restrictions, things have clearly smoothed out enough for Revice to kick out without any obvious impact. As well as boasting some fantastic action sequences, the dynamic between both the Igurashi family and the wider relationship between humans and demons has some real potential to provide a great story. More importantly, it's good that Revice was able to start up on its own merits without having to rely on the call backs and anniversary elements we know the series is going to have. With the 50th anniversary being a particularly significant milestone there's perhaps more scrutiny on this series than usual, so here's hoping that Rider Kick is able to stick the landing.


Anonymous said...

You think this is better than Saber's opening?

Alex said...

Yeah I’d say so. There a lots of things I liked about Saber’s first episode but the timing definitely held it back a bit.

Stephen Cassat said...

We need to look past the whole controversy surrounding Vice's voice actor for now. This episode started off with a bang!