Monday 5 September 2022

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Geats

Kamen Rider Geats

With the 50th anniversary series over and done with its time to look to the future of Kamen Rider once again, as the franchise launches its fourth entry in the Reiwa era and 33rd series overall. Its name – Kamen Rider Geats. Returning once again to pen the series is Yuya Takahashi, who previously worked as the head-writer on both Kamen Rider Ex-Aid and Kamen Rider Zero-One. So without further ado, let's dive into the first episode and see just what this much-anticipated instalment in the long-running franchise has to offer.

"This game – The winner in the end is me!"

Ace UkiyoKeiwa Sakurai

Unbeknownst to the world, a competition is taking place. The Desire Grand Prix is a game where participants protect the peace from a mysterious enemy - defeating them and saving people to earn points. The winner of the Grand Prix will claim the ultimate prize, the chance to wish for their ideal world. 

As monsters begin attacking the city, job-hunting university student Keiwa Sakurai and social influencer Neon Kurama are pulled into the conflict. As Kamen Riders begin appearing to fight against the creatures, one hero stands out among them. Ace Ukiyo transforms into Kamen Rider Geats, promising to clear the mission and begin a new world.

Pawn JyamatoKamen Rider Geats Magnum Form

It's widely known that Kamen Rider (as well as most other long-running tokusatsu franchises) looks to what else is popular at the moment for inspiration on theming and motifs for upcoming shows. Something the inspiration isn't all that obvious, but with a show like Kamen Rider Geats that definitely isn't the case. Though far from the first Kamen Rider series to adopt a "Battle Royale" format, the depiction in Riders with brightly coloured animal themes and equally outlandish weaponry immediately makes you think of MMO games like Fortnite or Apex Legends. Characters like Kamen Rider Shirowe, complete with his giant polar bear helmet, look like they walked straight out of the games. But from a narrative perspective it has also been said that Geats will draw inspiration from survival game shows as well – with the likes of Squid Game and Kaiji both name-dropped. While their popularity makes them obvious candidates for comparison, what makes it more interesting is the question of what Kamen Rider Geats will have to say about its setting. From his stance on corporations and cults in the likes of Ex-Aid and Amazons: The Last Judgement, Yuya Takahashi isn't one to step away from commentary in his shows – and though admittedly the handling isn't always perfect it will be interesting to see what the point he tries to make here is. 

Kamen Rider Geats' premiere neatly sets out some of the parameters of the Desire Grand Prix, but it's careful not to give too much of the game away just yet. In fact its vagueness is one of the episode's biggest strength – keeping the allure so that the audience will definitely be back next week to find out more. Dropping the viewer in at the end of a running game – instead of the new one that'll be starting up in episode two, adds to this further. As always the intention of episode one is basically to be flashy and explosive as possible, and by dropping us in here we get all of that without having to be too tied down with lore just yet. Even if you aren't that familiar with Battle Royale settings, the little that's dropped here is more than enough to make sense of it for now. One really nice touch are the ending cards revealing the rules of the DGP one by one, so that the viewer can slowly build up a bigger picture of the whole thing each week even if these rules aren't directly spelled out in the story itself.

Enter the Desire Grand PrixNeon Kurama

In a move that felt very similar to Donbrothers' first episode a few months ago, rather than have the episode focus on the title Rider we instead follow Keiwa for the majority of its runtime instead – someone who isn't even invited to be a Rider until the very end. This puts Keiwa in the same position of the audience, completely unaware of what's going on and slowly piecing together it all. With his good-natured personality Keiwa almost seems like the more conventional "Kamen Rider" protagonist, so it already feels like there might be an almost Kabuto/Gattack dynamic going on in this show. He's not the only prospective Rider scouted in the episode either, with Neon also thrown into the action and later invited to join the game. Neon feels a little more periphery than Keiwa here, though we still find out a little about her here in that she hoping to run away from home and start a new life. Though the focus will inevitably shift more towards Geats as time moves on, the concept of introducing series through the eyes of secondary characters works really well and something I'd definitely like to see more of. 

It isn't really until the end of the episode that we get our proper introduction to Kamen Rider Geats himself, Ace Ukiyo. While Ace does appear at the very beginning and intermittently throughout, the focus feels so squarely on Keiwa in all of the panic that it isn't a bit of a jump when he does swoop in to take the win. We're introduced to Ace as what has been referred to by production as a "completed" character – one who has already seemingly spent much time as Geats and is pretty confident in his abilities. To make a comparison to another Kamen Rider lead, there's shades of Sento Kiryu in there in that he's cocky but not completely standoffish. As a protagonist he seems very likeable, but there's still feels like there's going to be some work getting to know him. Which is good, because this mystery angle is one of the episode's strongest elements.

Kamen Rider BuffaKamen Rider Shirowe

Following my complaints of Revice having far too many Riders for its own good the last thing you'd think I want to see is another Rider-heavy show, but as I said in that review that looks as though it'll be the norm going forwards so if it has to be done then another Battle Royale-type show is probably the best way to do it. The decision to kick off the series toward the end of an existing Desire Grand Prix definitely worked in this episode's favour, allowing it to start with only a handful of Riders left and making the scale of the battle immediately clear. Poor Kamen Rider Shirowe may have been a victim (for now anyway), but this way both Keiwa and Neon go into the next DGP knowing exactly what's at stake. But in terms of continuing Riders we also get a good idea of Michinaga Azuma/Kamen Rider Buffa's character - a more ruthless fighter with a more cynical outlook on the game and its players. Though not really at a point where you could call him a villain as such, his rivalry with Ace as well as that darker personality paves a path the character could easily go down. One really good aspect of the Riders shown here was also the contrast between Buffa and the far less armoured Shirowe - not only showing off the different variety of players you can get in the game, but also giving a sense of how the Buckles/forms work in the show before we even see Ace's first transformation.

Though it may be true that all Kamen Rider premieres try that extra bit harder to sell to allure of the merchandise to a captive audience of kids and adults alike, it certainly helps when said merchandise stands out from the usual fare of tokusatsu trinkets. Admittedly Geats' gear may not stray too far away from the mould, but it's the execution of it all that really makes it stand out as toys worth getting. From the little souvenir-style boxes the participants' Desire Drivers are presented in to Ace's satisfying turning of the Buckles he attaches to it, everything about the show perfectly tailors to the 'cool' aesthetic. And then just to top it all off at the end, we're introduced to this insanely cool gimmick where the top and bottom halves of Geats (and presumably other Riders using two Buckles) are able to switch freely. Even if the toys can't quite pull it off without some weird little quirks, simply the idea of it is wonderful despite the simplicity. While I've never been one to really dabble in the role-play toys (for the record I own three Drivers - Decade, Double and Neo Diend), Geats has been the first series in a long time to have me tempted.

The Desire DriverRevolve On!

It goes without saying by this point that Kamen Rider premieres are always pretty fantastic and rarely indicative of the series' quality as a whole, but nevertheless Kamen Rider Geats really has that special something that leaves you immediately wanting more. From the mystery of the Desire Grand Prix to taking the focus away from the titular Rider, Geats' first episode was confident in its ability to not give away too much and that approach really paid off. Even if the visuals somehow don't remain this flashy for the whole of the series, the sheer fun factor the toys exude are enticing enough. After Kamen Rider Revice managed to start strong and then slowly fade as time went on, fingers crossed this is really going to be the year for Reiwa Kamen Rider.


Fran said...

Imo this has to be the strongest almost near perfect Reiwa premiere. Since Takahashi was announced to be the head writer of the series, I knew it was gotta be good but not this good, which blew Zero One's premier out of the water for me. Can't wait for the next episode

Oar said...

Now that you mentioned it, when was the last time the first impressions someone had of a rider's premier actually held true until the end of the show?

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, this episode was PERFECT. I love how the first episode is literally the end, and we will get to see how it all played out. Ace is a great character and his suit is probably the best in Reiwa (aside from 01's Rising Hopper)

I highly hope this show does really well.

Anonymous said...

Revice had too many riders for the writers but the right amount for the story. The Riders honestly would'vebeen vital but the writers just suck to tremendous extremes. It was going well till the debut of Thundergale. They could've handled the introduction of newer riders better rather than having the present riders defeated by goons just to introduce them as strong then having them weak asf in the literal next ep