Kamen Rider: Japan’s Beloved Hero
If there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to encounter in the various marketplaces of Japan, it’s Kamen Rider. Browse any given Japanese supermarket and you’re bound to see the familiar antennas of the latest iteration of Kamen Rider on fish sausages, candies and a selection of low-priced collectable toys. Browse any given Japanese second-hand character goods store and you’re even more likely to encounter scores of action figures representing five decades of this masked hero.
Kamen Rider (literally translated as ‘Masked Rider’) began back in 1971, created for TV by the legendary mangaka Shotaro Ishinomori. Inspired loosely by Ishinomori’s earlier work on titles like Skull Man, Kamen Rider aimed to create a hero that would inspire a new generation, appearing to fight crime in a weekly TV show. This first Kamen Rider show (and suit design) would have a huge influence on Japanese television and film, building on the foundations of the already expanding genre of ‘tokusatsu’ – special effects driven sci-fi and fantasy shows.
In the years since the original show, Kamen Rider has grown into a franchise of massive proportions. Since the 2000s, Kamen Rider has released a new series with a new masked hero annually. These shows all tackle new themes and ideas and are set in (mostly) separate worlds, but also have some overlap in terms of core elements. It’s usually about a masked hero fighting against injustice, using an armored suit that gives them special abilities.to do so. The specific theming beyond this varies from show to show.
But what is Kamen Rider? Or perhaps, more appropriately, who is Kamen Rider? What do they represent? Is it worth watching? How do you watch it, and where do you start? If you’ve read our blog post on Kaiju, you know the drill – we’ll answer all your questions and more.
What is Kamen Rider?
We already answered this question a little bit in the opening, but simply put – Kamen Rider is a Japanese TV superhero. The name ‘Kamen Rider’ is a title given to a variety of heroes in a TV series that has been on the air for over 50 years!
Whilst Kamen Rider started with the aptly titled Kamen Rider (1971), since then, there’s been regular new incarnations with different subtitles in the decades since. For example, 2022’s Kamen Rider show is titled Kamen Rider Geats, and focuses on a ‘battle royale’ with characters based on different animals. One thing has remained the same since 1971, however – the heroes are all wearing masked suits of armour, just like in the original show.
Belonging to the genre of ‘tokusatsu’, a genre of special-effects heavy media that focuses on telling fantasy or Sci-Fi stories (not unlike Godzilla and other ‘kaiju’ works) Kamen Rider was pushing the advancement of in-camera SFX and production techniques in Japanese television since its debut in the 70s. In 2022, Kamen Rider looks a little different, but it’s still a show that is beloved thanks largelt to its strong visual identity.
Kamen Rider made an impact with its 70s debut and has remained a series of notable popularity both here in Japan and across a number of other regions. Although the show has changed a fair amount in its 50 years of airing, it’s still a VFX heavy superhero show. Many of the core elements of ‘modern’ Kamen Rider have stayed the same since the show’s origins in the 70s, or since it soft-rebooted in the year 2000 with Kamen Rider Kuuga, a show that set in stone a formula and tone for the series going forwards.
These core elements include the main character transforming into their Kamen Rider suit by using a special belt. There’s usually additional devices that connect to the belt that can have an impact on the Rider form, allowing our protagonists to take on multiple ‘forms’ throughout the show. (This is essential for selling different kinds of action figures, of course). In addition, things like the show’s ‘monster of the week’ storytelling formula (wherein our Kamen Rider would take on a new villain every week), crossover team-ups (sometimes Kamen Riders meet each other!) and a tendency towards chaotic, colourful action, have remained consistent throughout the course of the show.
In terms of narrative, Kamen Rider protagonists are generally speaking, agents of justice. They’ll usually fight against monsters, oppressive systems, and people misusing their same powers. This is also something that has remained the same since the inception of the series, and although modern entries in the franchise have examined different shades of moral ambiguity, it’s a show that generally tends towards simple conflicts between good and evil.
However, Kamen Rider usually uses these conflicts to explore themes of interpersonal relationships, as well as what it means to be a hero. For a ‘kid’s show’, it’s one that at its peak, offers up remarkably good characterisation for its leads alongside plenty of high-stakes drama. If you’ve enjoyed superhero media in the past, or even other media in the ‘tokusatsu’ medium, you might get something out of Kamen Rider!
How do you start watching Kamen Rider?
Kamen Rider is fairly unique as a TV show in the sense that almost every season is own self-containted entity – a complete show that exists both independently and part of Kamen Rider’s wider universe at the same time. In answer to the question of ‘which Kamen Rider show to start with, the answer is, well – any show that you like!
To give some more specific recommendations, it depends on what you’re into: If you like Japanese dramas, try Kamen Rider Kuuga. This 00’s show blends the dramatic elements with the superheroism particularly well, and kicked off a whole new style for the franchise, which had been dormant for some time prior to this release.
If you like detective shows or mysteries, you might get a kick out of Kamen Rider W, a show with a lose detective theme. The ‘W’ in the title is pronounced double, as it’s about a detective and their sidekick fusing to become one hero. It’s a little bizarre, but it works.
If you’re looking for something more recent, you could certainly start with any of the newest few series. Kamen Rider Zero-One is about AI and synthetic humans used as part of an arms race between companies, Kamen Rider Saber is about mythical factions of sword wielders clashing over the fate of the earth, and Kamen Rider Revice is about a young man who makes a deal with the devil to become a hero. As you can see, there’s quite the variety of stories to choose from.
Another recommendation is Shin Kamen Rider a movie that might not be hitting western shores for a while. Shin Kamen Rider is promising to be a more adult, perhaps slightly more cerebral take on the franchise that’s coming to big screens in 2023. Given the kid-friendly vibe of the original shows, Shin Kamen Rider looks to be quite the re-invention of the series, and might be an interesting place to start if you’re seeking something more mature.
Kamen Rider Merchandise – SODO, S.H Figuarts & More!
In line with other tokusatsu series, the Kamen Rider series has a wide range of toys, merchandise and collectables that have released alongside it. Using our service here at Neokyo, you can get your hands on all kinds of different Kamen Rider collectables, so once you’re a fan, you can start repping your favourite Kamen Rider characters with pride. Here’s some recommendations of some popular types of Kamen Rider toys for those getting into the series.
The SODO series is a hugely collectable series of small-scale assembly figures featuring Kamen Rider suits from the entire 50 year history of the show. They’re all in the same scale, and are partly customizable, depending on the series. Newer releases usually focus on characters from the most recent series, but SODO has been running for quite some time, so it’s easy to find your favourite character in this line. The retail price of SODO figures starts quite low, so they’re also great value!
The S.H Figuarts line of Kamen Rider characters is where to go if you’re looking for something more premium. These figures can be quite pricey, but offer a lot in terms of build quality, paint quality, articulation and accessories. Much like SODO figures, S.H Figuarts has been releasing figures of characters from the Kamen Rider series for quite a while, so there’s plenty to choose from.
If you’re into the show’s gimmick items, A.K.A the belts, and the various items that connect the belts, you’re in luck – as many of them are available for purchase in toy form. Kamen Rider belts will vary in price, but the individual gimmick items can make interesting collectables in their own right and are often less than $5 – $10 each. All of these can be found on marketplaces you can find on Neokyo – just search up the belt you’re looking for in our multi-marketplace search bar.
Of course, there’s also plenty more in the realm of Kamen Rider merchandise: soft vinyl figures, gacha collections, scale figures, lottery prizes and many more types. All of them can be found using our service: go ahead and search for the products and see what you can find!