Monday 4 September 2023

First Impressions: Kamen Rider Gotchard

Kamen Rider Gotchard

If there's one way to make a franchise surrounded by collectible toy lines somehow even more collectible, it's to add trading cards. Between randomly assorted booster packs, rarities and art variants, Kamen Rider collectors are in for an expensive year because this is the direction franchise has gone in with its fifth Reiwa era series (and 34th overall) Kamen Rider Gotchard. Replacing Kamen Rider Geats alongside Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger in the current Super Hero Time line-up, the series will be co-written by Keiichi Hasagawa and Hiroki Uchida – both of whom have served as regular writers for both Kamen Rider and Ultraman.

The evil sistersThe mysterious alchemist

After being attacked by three sisters wielding dark powers, an alchemist escapes to a strange place named the Ouroboros Zone – thanks to the powers of artificial lifeforms known as Chemies. Elsewhere, Hotaru Ichinose is a student at Furasu High School who dreams big – always looking for something that'll make him go "Gotcha!". His classmate Rinne is similarly a dreamer, but her straight-faced demeanour is quite the opposite to Hotaru's happy-go-lucky nature.

After seeing Rinne magically create a hidden door in a wall at the school, Hotaru meets the grasshopper Chemy Hopper1. Meanwhile another Chemy, Steamliner, is seemingly on the rampage. An encounter with the pair sees Hotaru taken to the Ouroboros Zone, where he is presented with a strange Driver by the alchemist and told he has been chosen by the Chemies. When the sisters reappear and attack, the Chemies are released into the world. Transforming into Kamen Rider Gotchard, Hotaru has his first battle when one of the sisters merges with a Chemy to become a monster.

Hotaru IchinoseGotchard's first transformation

Though we've just come off the back of another series that was very much into its world-building, Kamen Rider Gotchard already feels like a series that's going to be seeped in lore. This premiere does a very good job in not giving too much of the game away (in fact explanations feel fairly minimal at this stage), but instead teases out enough through the setting and visuals to spark interest. The opening scene alone sets up the mysterious alchemist who presents Hotaru with the Driver, as well as the villains for the show, the 101 Chemies that are later released into the world AND the Ouroboros Zone. Then later we also have the high school setting, as well Rinne's reveal as an alchemist (as well as the connection between the school and alchemists) on top of that, as well as just what abilities the alchemists have (with memory wiping being shown in addition to transmutation). It's quite a lot to pack into 25 minutes, but the episode flows well and the lay of the land is neatly set out.

One doesn't have to look too far to see the obvious influences behind the Chemies. With the ability to seemingly only say their names there are immediate Pokémon parallels, whilst their release into the human world and Gotchard's need to gather them back up is reminiscent of Cardcaptor Sakura. There's also a whole lot of CGI going on in this series already, which personally I'm more alarmed from a budgetary perspective than the visuals themselves. Based on some of the card art we've seen there's quite a lot imagination that's gone into the Chemy designs, so no surprise this is the most feasible way to bring them to life.

The 101 ChemiesHopper1

Following on from the suave Ace Ukiyo, Hotaru Ichinose feels like a big shakeup in personality. Once again Kamen Rider is skewing particularly young with a high school student protagonist, and Junsei Motojima brings a youthful energy to the character that naturally feels reminiscent of Fourze's Gentaro. His whole "Gotcha!" gimmick is a nice spin on adolescence and being at that age where you're truly beginning to look for your path in life. Despite not really haing a clue about what's going on around him, he immediately steps up once he is chosen by the Chemies and his heroic qualities begin to shine. At his side is Rinne, who we don't learn a whole lot about this episode (other than being an alchemist), but her more straightforward personality seems like the perfect foil to Hotaru. Learning more about the alchemists and how they act within the school will be interesting to see explained over the coming weeks.

Leaving a big impression in this episode though were the villains – sisters Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis. Though we learn next to nothing about them here, they establish themselves as a credible threat right away. Their costumes are simple but highly effective (the partial faces sewn onto the veils of Clotho and Lachesis are very striking), while nine-year old Itono Okita plays Atropos with an unsettling coldness (please don't do anything weird with this character, show). It was also interesting to see Lachesis herself take on Gotchard as the monster of the week, and I'm curious to see if the sisters will continue to fight in this way each week or the show will employ a different approach.

Rinne KudoSteam Hopper's wild mode

Of course the episode ends with arguably the most important aspect of all – Hotaru's first transformation and the debut of Kamen Rider Gotchard. Straight off the bat the first thing to say about the latest Kamen Rider is wow he is shiny – decked out from head to toe in gorgeous chrome blue armoured parts. While this version of the suit is almost certainly going to get switched out for a more durable version at some point, right now this is a beautiful sight to take in. The franchise has dabbled with forms derived from multiple elements before but unlike those Steam Hopper is a perfect combination of the pair – using that alchemy theme to properly merge both elements rather than a straightforward "half and half" look. The grasshopper elements are all there in that traditional Kamen Rider silhouette, while touches like the goggles add a subtle but very clear stream train motif to the mix. In addition to the standard Rider form Gotchard is also trialling "Wild" modes for each form – turning Hotaru quite literally into a steam train grasshopper. As yet another example of CGI in the show it does feel like Gotchard might be going a little too hard on the digital effects, but it’s an interesting idea that can potentially give a little more variance to these forms when it comes to fight scenes.

Gotchard's debut is typically what you'd expect from a Kamen Rider premiere, with suit actor Eitoku displaying some great choregraphy as he highlights the Rider's light-weight feel and fancy footwork. Both the Gotchard Driver and Gotcharge Gun get a moment to be shown off (and hopefully entice those all-important toy sales), with the fight then ending with a typically flashy Rider kick attack. There are some interesting bits of action directing here, including some fast-paced moving camera work as well as a move into a smoke-filled but otherwise blank background. Some elements work better than others – the aforementioned camera work does create a weirdly blurred sequence which takes some adjusting to, but on the whole it's just the kind of fast-paced energy the episode needed to end on.

The Kamantis MalgamRider kick!

Overall this is a good start for Kamen Rider Gotchard. Perhaps not the strongest Kamen Rider opener we've had in the last few years, but it successfully builds a lot of intrigue around its lore and mythology whilst doing what every premiere needs to – show off the suit and toy gimmicks in the most eye-catching way possible. With an interesting bunch of characters (particularly the villains) and some really strong writing talent behind the show, Kamen Rider Gotchard is already showing plenty of potential.


CPF said...

Any personal expectations and hopes for the series?

D-Man said...

Also, CHEMYXSTORY has become my new favorite Kamen Rider opening.

D-Man said...

About the gimmick, I have to wonder how Gotchard is going to unlock his forms. Is he going to do it Build-style and have to figure out the combos himself? What happens when he tries two cards that aren't compatible? Does he get blown back with the driver malfunctioning?