Kamen Rider comes back to America after a fairly long absence, and it’s thanks to Hideaki Anno who adds to his “Shin” run of Tokusatsu reboots with Shin Kamen Rider. Sure, there were a few Kamen Rider series in Japan within the last decade, but nothing that’s made as respectable a splash globally as Anno’s reinvention.
The Evangelion creator doesn’t simply set out to redefine the form this time as he did with Shin Godzilla. More like in the case of Shin Ultraman, he pays tribute to it while also trying to bring it back to its roots – sans suit actors and miniatures. Although the whole affair is somehow trippier than its forebears if that’s even possible.
The plot follows the same essential trajectory as the first TV incarnation of Kamen Rider except everything is distilled through the lens of Anno’s signature style. And he has a bigger budget to work with; so there is a greater indulgence in blood and visual effects than what Toei could pull off in the 1970s.
Motorcyclist Takeshi Hongo (Sosuke Ikematsu) is kidnapped by the nefarious organization known as SHOCKER (which this time is an acronym for Sustainable Happiness Organization with Computational Knowledge Embedded Remodeling) and they turn him into an augmented cyborg grasshopper, or “Aug,” that breaks free and vows to fight against their twisted tyranny rather than serve them.
Under the signature bug-eyed helmet, he adopts the identity of the avenging Kamen (“Masked”) Rider. And when SHOCKER sends their Spider-Man – make that Spider-Aug – after his mentor, Professor Midorikawa (Shinya Tsukamoto), and kills the old man, the game is on. What follows is a series of brutal fights up the food chain of SHOCKER creations familiar to fans of the 1971 show’s first 13 episodes.
The similarities in storylines and style of editing and cinematography aside, parallels between Shin and the original Kamen Rider mostly end there. As such, Anno is free to reinvent whatever he wishes, much like with Godzilla and Ultraman – though without going to quite the same extremes of bizarreness. Granted, there is enough weirdness to go around.
But there is no risk of monsters becoming black holes, for instance, or giant space weapons or anything. Anno is true to the essence of Kamen Rider being grounded and earthbound although the sensibility still exudes the quality of anime quite a bit. And he uses this to devastating and visceral effect in the action sequences.
Almost every punch, at least early on, results in blood splatter, and the Rider’s signature move – the Rider Kick – looks more convincing as a means of laying in heavy damage or a fatal blow. But if you are hoping for blood and gore to the level of Takashi Miike or Tokyo Gore Police, you’re in for some disappointment.
There are some splashes of blood from thugs, but that’s it. Anno’s Rider Kick, which draws little of the red stuff, doesn’t resemble the old one either. While it still makes for a scintillating finishing move, it’s closer to Kicks from later years. When the Rider finishes off the Spider-Aug in midair, it’s a thing of beauty and worth a rewatch by itself.
The costumes are sleekly updated as well with The Spider-Aug and his fellow agents, minus a few exceptions, leaning into the motorcycle chic of leather and themed biker helmets – an auspicious contrast to the series’ cheap store-bought-looking creature costumes. Conversely, the Rider suit looks like the original – including that scarf it’d be better without – except for the addition of a long coat.
Emphasis is placed on the red scarf which serves as a memento given to Hongo by Midorikawa’s daughter Ruriko (Minami Hamabe). Boy, does she flip the dynamic when she comes around, or what? You can tell where this is going. She – an agent of Hongo’s allies – takes charge at times and renders the Rider a sidekick in his own story.
In the series, the Ruriko character was more of a damsel though she was a member of Hongo’s team. In Shin, she is a little like Black Widow, firing guns and confronting a few of the Augs by herself. She is tougher and also has a connection to the Final Boss villain that leads SHOCKER.
This is a case of Anno doing the same thing he did with Ultraman – too much at one time – but to be fair, he blends the elements of his mimesis more smoothly in Shin Kamen Rider with a more seamless transition between enemies and segments. However, things feel overstuffed in some ways. Key among them is the presence of more than one Rider.
Maybe I set my expectations too high. I was intrigued by aspects of Shin Kamen Rider, but it didn’t blow me away in quite the fashion I was hoping for. On the other hand, it filled me with nostalgia for the OG Kamen Rider that impelled me to go back and binge the episodes from those early years.
If Anno accomplishes anything, he definitely renews interest in these characters as he does every property he touches. I’ll take his creative vision over Haim Saban’s at this point, and I’m intrigued to find out what he wants to work on next. However, I think I’ll save my money and wait for home video (sorry, Fathom Events).
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