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What makes a good Kamen Rider villain?

When tokusatsu fans talk about Kamen Rider, there is – and always has been – a certain need to categorise the characters into the strict roles they serve in the story. We hear the terms of ‘primary’ ‘secondary,’ and even ‘tertiary’ or ‘extra’ Riders to describe the formation of the heroes, the order in which they appear in the story and to some extent, an internal hierarchy of heroism. Discussions about what the heroes in Kamen Rider should be for a good Rider story often become a bit heated – after all, people develop very personal attachments to the Rider they fall in love with first, and this. However, there’s another character label that seems to have even more of a potential to set fan discussions alight, and that’s the ‘villain’ of any given Kamen Rider series.

These are sometimes a solitary figure, sometimes a more organised, systemic threat, but always very much opposed to our protagonist (at least at first). Fans of Kamen Rider always seem to have strong opinions about what makes villainous characters compelling or not compelling, because the battle of good versus evil is what propels the story of Kamen Rider forwards and makes a series fun and engaging. Without a good villain, there would be no obvious target for our heroes to kick from the sky, and nobody to stylishly explode our heroes in retaliation.

Discussion surrounding what makes a ‘good’ Kamen Rider villain mostly boils down to personal preference of course, but I do think a sort of profile of characteristics of an interesting Kamen Rider villain can be drawn up, just by looking at what appears most commonly in the show and thinking about what makes certain Kamen Rider villains seem appealing on a thematic level.

Firstly, I think there has to be some level of personal connection with – and intimate understanding of – the protagonist Rider. Even when there isn’t the most direct connection, the most compelling Rider villains seem to be the ones that are able to hold a mirror up to the main Rider’s morality, taking swift cuts to the values that the heroes claim to hold dear or present as part of their heroic nature. A good Rider villain is able to use this to get inside the head of the hero in this way, whether that’s through a detailed knowledge of the Rider’s past or just keen observation, excellent Rider villains have an incredible ability to spot weaknesses.

Good Rider villains in this way can often be seen as two sides of the same coin, and this is usually expanded upon in the finer details of the lore of each series, where we often find their powers to mirror each-other in a literal sense. This is one of the principles of the original showa era Kamen Rider, who exists as a product of the villainous organisation Shocker, returning to enact divine retribution on his former torturers, whilst still bearing the marks of the horrors he went through. This is an essential duality that signifies the wider conflict, and one that maintains some degree of resonance in how Rider positions its heroes and villains to this day.

This idea of duality is something that comes up a lot when Riders are pitted against their villainous counterparts. If you were to watch a random selection of Heisei era shows, you’ll often find Riders having to battle evil versions of themselves, or alternatively harness some sort of darkness within them.

There are many iterations of this in Rider, but to cite a few examples recent shows, Evolto from Build acts as a parallel to main Rider Sento in a lot of interesting ways, representing the destructive capabilities of scientific evolution that Sento wishes to turn away from in favour of ‘love and peace’. This is shown visually and thematically in the way that Evolto is able to assimilate the aesthetics of certain characters by possessing them, and at a crucial point, possessing our hero sento and morphing the iconic colours.  As another similar example, Ex-Aid’s Dan Kuroto, whose Rider form takes on a dark palette swap of the iconic Ex-Aid suit, contrasts with the protagonist Emu through an ego-centric philosophy that directly opposes Emu’s desire to heal others. In both of these cases however, Rider presents some crossover in the viewpoint of the heroes and villains, choosing to acknowledge some form of nuance in this area. 

The idea of the fine line between heroism and villainy was also utilised in an interesting way in Zi-O, which turned the idea of villainy on its head, at least to begin with. For all of Zi-O’s supposed flaws, I think the idea of our hero being destined to become a great evil is at least compelling for a little while, even if this was a more compelling idea than what the show was ultimately able to achieve.

Furthermore, Kamen Rider villains seem to be particularly engaging when they force the hero to continually improve upon themselves through challenge – in essence, Kamen Rider villains have to be better than the hero, at least to begin with. This is more to do with story structure and pacing than anything else, but Rider villains can’t be engaging if they’re too easy to defeat. This is essentially what differentiates Rider villains from the kaijin that we see easily defeated in single or multi episode arcs. This is done excellently in Kuuga, which gives us N-Daguva-Zeba, a bizarre but highly engaging villain who appears obsessed with Kuuga’s own growing strength as much as his own. This created such a wonderful dynamic in Kuuga, which I think ultimately proved to be key to that show’s success, re-establishing an easily replicable dynamic for the early Heisei era.

Another essential component to a good Rider villain which we see throughout the series is the idea of both mystery and omnipresence. Having our villain be at first unknowable can really escalate the tension in a satisfying way, and this is often made more obvious through the conspiratorial nature of villainous organisations that we see within Kamen Rider. A shadowy omnipresence feels crucial to the Kamen Rider villain – at least up to a certain point. After all, we need to know who they are eventually!

One final quintessential theme with Rider villains is the idea of making a turn towards heroism. This typically happens during a crucial dramatic moment, and the list of villainous characters that have changed their ways in Kamen Rider is a pretty long one. I’m personally split on the use of this idea, as I think it’s led to some amazing results and some that aren’t quite as satisfying in the history of the show. I tend to appreciate this most when the change is permanent and can build towards an emotional character moment of self-sacrifice, but only if that sacrifice feels like it was earned (this is a complicated issue in and of itself).

Discussions of the villains of the currently-airing Rider series Zero-One have been so unique because there’s been a wide array of new interpretations of these classic ideas of villainy in both positive and negative ways. Both Metsouboujinrai & Gai ‘Thouser’ Amatsu have shown us antagonists willing to challenge Aruto on a fundamental level, questioning his unfailing belief in both Humagear and the idea that humanity can be learned, whilst also challenging him to become stronger. Similarly, both Metsobojinrai and Gai have been part of wider conspiracies to define the fate of the humagear, and both have indicated that they might be willing to ‘change sides’ to help eradicate a greater threat. With some unfortunate repetition of certain villainous tropes and odd switches in power dynamics aside, the stage in Zero-One is currently set for some interesting final conflicts. I think it’s all because we’ve gotten villains that are well-suited to challenge our heroes, by giving us a kind of ‘greatest hits’ of what we’ve enjoyed and also found irritating about Rider villains before, and using this as a platform to elevate its dynamic conflict. Whether this is something you’re into, or even something you agree with conceptually is a different matter of course, but I think even when Zero-One‘s villain’s are at their worst, they’re at least moving the show forward in a way that’s suitable for the context of the show.

Of course, Rider villains won’t always adopt these traits identified here, and certainly many of these ideas can be used badly when placed in the wrong context. This profile of a ‘good’ Rider villain will undoubtedly be different for everyone, and if even in fan discussions where there is overlap on what works, people will assign different values to certain traits that could tip certain villains into being their favourites. There are some valuable criticisms of all of Kamen Rider’s most popular villains, and I think it would be silly in any case to assume that there is one way of doing that could be universally successful. However, the style & pattern of Rider villains that I’ve tried to identify here is one that is clearly working in a lot of ways; the show has produced quite a number of iconic and beloved villains, and the fact that we can even try and dissect it here is perhaps the biggest testament to their continued importance. They’re a bit more than just a target for Rider Kicks!

What are your thoughts on Kamen Rider villains? Do you agree or disagree with my summation of them? Join the conversation with me @aruphexille on Twitter, on Toku Toy Store’s social media pages or leave a comment below!

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Masked Rider Shin

Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue (真・仮面ライダー 序章 (プロローグ), also known as Masked Rider Shin, is a 1992 V-Cinema that came about in the period between what we now know as the Showa and Heisei eras. Technically part of the former, the V-Cinemas of Shin, ZO, and J are all stand-alone and really stand apart from both eras with their combined aesthetic.

masked rider shin henshin

As the 20th anniversary of the Kamen Rider franchise, Shin shares a lot of thematic elements with it’s progenitor, the original Kamen Rider series. A shadowy organisation, heavy influences of the military-industrial complex, cyborgs, grasshoppers, it’s got it all! Not only that but the version available on the Toei Tokusatsu World account is the uncut version so there’s a heaping helping of haemoglobin and some cheeky T&A so it’s got all the makings of an early 90’s B-movie monster action movie.

masked rider shin win against god

It’s a shame that it’s boring as sin. It’s plodding, it’s more padded than the Shin suit, and the characters are the blandest, one-note character archetypes they might as well be 2D. If you’ve seen any kind of Kamen Rider series, you know what this movie is about and if you’ve ever seen 1991’s The Guyver then you’ve seen a better movie than this and should really watch it again.

masked rider shin dream

Shin Kazamatsuri is a human test subject for his father’s cancer/AIDS research and, thanks to the manipulation of the higher-ups, is secretly fitted with a bunch of bio-engineered cybernetic nonsense to turn him into a really dumb-looking karate bugman. The transformation scenes takes obvious cues from American Werewolf in London and the main antagonist is basically a Tyrant from Resident Evil with a swiss army knife for an arm.

masked rider shin baby

There’s also this roach fetus because… Why not? That’s some horrifying Cronenbergian nonsense.

masked rider shin good shot

Technically, the film is serviceable and the effects are on-par with what you’d expect of tokusatsu of the time but it’s biggest deficit is the plot and if you’re looking for something similar, I’d say you’d have more fun watching Kamen Rider Amazons because they’re pretty similar but the latter has a better plot overall.

masked rider shin ishinomori

Oh, there’s also an Ishinomori cameo, which I found delightful.

Fellow Toei World reviewer, Alex, said that watching Shin is “an experience” and I’m certainly of that mindset right now. I definitely “experienced” this movie but I don’t think it’ll be a lasting one.

You can now find Masked Rider Shin, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.

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SODO Sundays – April 18, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today Zero-One’s AI-07 begins!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

To kick off AI-07 is one of the more recent suits to appear in the series Kamen Rider Jin Burning Falcon! Bandai stated that they tested twelve different shades of red for the plastic to be able to get the best possible look to the show.

He will come with wing pieces just like his original base form release as well as two versions of his Slash Riser for belt and weapon modes.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

To celebrate the release of SODO Chronicle Kuuga Set 01 soon, the figures have been shown off in more detail. Mighty Form was the first to get this treatment. For this showcase, the Bandai Blog recreated a church diorama to reenact Kuuga’s first henshin into his Mighty Form from Episode 2.

That’s not all for Kuuga. He will be getting a third set in the SODO Chronicle line. This will be a Premium Bandai release. Included in the set will be Kuuga’s four Rising Forms: Rising Mighty, Rising Dragon, Rising Pegasus, and Rising Titan.

You can watch the latest SODO Sundays video over on the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

That’s it for this edition of SODO Sundays Season 3! Stay tuned for the next edition on both Toku Toy Store and the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

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Gallery: Rider Kicks Figure Series – Kamen Rider W & Hardboilder

The Rider Kicks Figure series continues into a bold new era with it’s budget gimmick figures. Revving up with a new subline, RKF figures now come with their own signature motorcycles starting with Kamen Rider W and they’re Hardboilder!

Living library Philip (フィリップ) and half-boiled detective Shotaro Hidari (左 翔太郎) are an unlikely pair but fate conspired to drive them together in more ways than one. This pair of unlikely friends form the unbeatable two-in-one detective Kamen Rider W (仮面ライダーW)! Their signature Rider Machine is called the Hardboilder (ハードボイルダー)

RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (1)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (7)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (4)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (6)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (5)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (2)RKF_Kamen Rider W_Hardboilder_Toku Toy Store (3)A full review of the Kamen Rider W & Hardboilder set by Mint in Box Reviews can be viewed here:

This toy, as well as others in the Rider Kicks Figure range, are available from Toku Toy Store! Stay tuned for further Rider Kicks Figure reviews and galleries!

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Gallery: Rider Kicks Figure Series – DX Hiden RisePhone

The Rider Kicks Figure series continues into a bold new era with it’s budget gimmick figures. To celebrate the coming of the Reiwa Era, here’s a look at the first Kamen Rider of this new age; Kamen Rider Zero-One!

The Hiden RisePhone (飛電ライズフォン) is Aruto Hiden’s personal executive phone and data device as the President of Hiden Intelligence. With it, he can summon the Rise Hopper motorcycle from the Zea Satellite.

RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_DX Hiden Risephone_Toku Toy Store (4)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_DX Hiden Risephone_Toku Toy Store (3)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_DX Hiden Risephone_Toku Toy Store (2)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_DX Hiden Risephone_Toku Toy Store (1)A full review of the DX Hiden RisePhone by Mint in Box Reviews can be viewed here:

This toy, as well as others in the Rider Kicks Figure range, are available from Toku Toy Store! Stay tuned for further Rider Kicks Figure reviews and galleries!

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Gallery: Rider Kicks Figure Series – Kamen Rider Valkyrie

The Rider Kicks Figure series continues into a bold new era with it’s budget gimmick figures. To celebrate the coming of the Reiwa Era, here’s a look at the first Kamen Rider of this new age; Kamen Rider Zero-One!

Yua Yaiba (刃 唯阿) leads a conflicted life as a ZAIA Enterprises double-agent and AIMS technical advisor; trying her best to fulfil her duty to both while not compromising her morals. Regardless, she fights to defend humanity as Kamen Rider Valkyrie! (仮面ライダーバルキリー)

RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (6)RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (2)RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (3)RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (5)RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (4)RKF_Kamen Rider Valkyrie_Rushing Cheetah_Toku Toy Store (1)

A full review of the RKF Series: Kamen Rider Valkyrie by Mint in Box Reviews can be viewed here:

This figure, as well as other Rider Kicks Figures, are available from Toku Toy Store! Stay tuned for further Rider Kicks Figure reviews and galleries!

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Gallery: Rider Kicks Figure Series – Kamen Rider Vulcan

The Rider Kicks Figure series continues into a bold new era with it’s budget gimmick figures. To celebrate the coming of the Reiwa Era, here’s a look at the first Kamen Rider of this new age; Kamen Rider Zero-One!

Captain of the AI-hunting SWAT team A.I.M.S., Isamu Fuwa (不破 諫) is a hot-headed robo-racist who seeks revenge against Humagears through his work and as Kamen Rider Vulcan (仮面ライダーバルカン)!

RKF_Kamen Rider Vulcan_Shooting Wolf_Toku Toy Store (4)RKF_Kamen Rider Vulcan_Shooting Wolf_Toku Toy Store (2)RKF_Kamen Rider Vulcan_Shooting Wolf_Toku Toy Store (5)RKF_Kamen Rider Vulcan_Shooting Wolf_Toku Toy Store (6)RKF_Kamen Rider Vulcan_Shooting Wolf_Toku Toy Store (1)

A full review of the RKF Series: Kamen Rider Vulcan by Mint in Box Reviews can be viewed here:

 

This figure, as well as other Rider Kicks Figures, are available from Toku Toy Store! Stay tuned for further Rider Kicks Figure reviews and galleries!

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Inside ‘The Henshin: Complete Selection Modification Exhibition’

This week, in Japan’s Akibahara district, Bandai Japan held an exhibition to commemorate their line of adult collectable henshin belts and accessories, Complete Selection Modification. In addition to a near comprehensive selection of CSM releases, the exhibition also introduced the concept of “the future of transformation belts”, a special exhibition of “future transformation belt toys,” giving attendees a glimpse into the future plans of Bandai’s toy division.

On their official website, Bandai provided this description of the exhibition:

The CSM series has been developed since 2013 as a complete toy series for adults. From the 1st release “Double Driver” to the 24th “Amazons Driver” will be displayed together with the world view of the work, and a reference exhibition of a new lineup will also be held. In addition, the latest CSM work that will be announced at the eve of December 6th will also be exhibited at the fastest.

As we announced on our Facebook page last night, the “latest CSM work” announcement they are referencing was for the Complete Selection Modification Kivat and Tatsulot devices from Kamen Rider Kiva. As promised, these items were on display in the exhibition too.

Thanks to one of our customers and supporters, Drew Hurley, we are able to provide you with a gallery of images from inside the exhibition. We’d like to express our supreme gratitude to Drew for sharing his images with us.

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Gallery: Rider Kicks Figure Series – Kamen Rider Zero-One

The Rider Kicks Figure series continues into a bold new era with it’s budget gimmick figures. To celebrate the coming of the Reiwa Era, here’s a look at the first Kamen Rider of this new age; Kamen Rider Zero-One!

Aruto Hiden (飛電或人) would-be comedian and heir to Hiden Intelligence, inherits his grandfather’s company and must fight to save the good name of his family and the reputation of the AI-based life forms they produce. To fight the malignant force of MetsubouJinrai.net (滅亡迅雷.net), he must fight as Kamen Rider Zero-One (仮面ライダーゼロワン)!

RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (6)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (2)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (4)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (5)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (3)RKF_Kamen Rider Zero-One_Rising Hopper_Toku Toy Store (1)

A full review of the RKF Series: Kamen Rider Zero-One by Mint in Box Reviews can be viewed here:

 

This figure, as well as other Rider Kicks Figures, are available from Toku Toy Store! Stay tuned for further Rider Kicks Figure reviews and galleries!

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SODO Sundays – November 3rd, 2019

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today, more Zero-One to finish off AI-02!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

The final two figures for AI-02 have been revealed! SODO’s first female Rider since Ex-Aid’s Kamen Rider Poppy will be Kamen Rider Valkyrie in her Rushing Cheetah form. This figure is a female mold of the Vulcan body and will come with the same Shotriser accessories. The stickers on this figure will mainly be used to fill in the black details on the shoulder pads and other areas of the cheetah armor.

The last figure in the wave will make AI-02 the largest SODO set to date with 9 boxes. This figure is Zero-One’s Freezing Bear form. This form also features the first time SODO will have a pre-applied sticker on its head and have special transparent plastic parts to replicate the effect from the show.

AI-02 releases at the end November with Zero-One Flaming Tiger and Freezing Bear, Vulcan- Punshing Kong, Valkyrie- Rushing Cheetah, and Grease- Perfect Kingdom.

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As always, you can watch SODO Sundays Season 3, Episode 5 here:

That’s it for this edition of SODO Sundays Season 3! Stay tuned for the next edition on both Toku Toy Store News and YouTube channel.