With the Heisei era coming to an end in April, two major polls were held to discover what Japan’s favorite Heisei Kamen Rider series is.
The first poll was held by toretame, who polled 5,000 respondents on what their favorite Heisei Kamen Rider series is.
10th – Kamen Rider Kiva
The 48 episode series was broadcast between January 2008 and 2009. It’s the only Kamen Rider series to date whose story is told concurrently across two eras. The series took place in 1986 and 2008, with Kamen Rider Kiva appearing in the 2008 portion and the character’s father appearing in the 1986 portion of the story.
Kiva was rich in Western Gothic imagery and showcases monsters whose designs all incorporated stained glass patterns, which was said to contribute to the popularity of the show.
9th – Kamen Rider Ex-Aid
Ex-Aid is one of the more bizarre series upon first inspection. The show revolved around the three seemingly unrelated themes of “life”, “games”, and “doctors”. The main characters were doctors who used weapons and suits based on video games. The show’s design featuring garish colors inspired by design from the early 90s, best represented in Ex-Aid’s choice of bright pink and neon green colors.
The series went on to be a fan favorite, one of the reasons often cited being the antagonist Dan Kuroto, who begins as a serious, threatening villain before devolving into a bizarre caricature of his former self. Fans of the show enjoyed the bonds between characters who initially clashed and had wildly differing views. Ex-Aid was the first Kamen Rider series whose summer movie took place after the final episode and was then followed up by three additional movies, forming the “Another Ending” trilogy.
8th – Kamen Rider Blade
The next series, only of the earlier Heisei Rider shows, aired in 2004. Kamen Rider Blade featured heroes who used cards to transform and activate many of their attacks. Within the series, the cards represented 52 various specious who fought for the right to be the dominant species of Earth in the past. Those creatures were called “Undead”, with the Human Undead was the winner of the previous battle.
Blade was not much of a success with children, reasons often cited include a difficult to understand concept and story that saw low ratings in its first half. Its finale is said to be the most somber in all of Kamen Rider, with the main character making a life-altering sacrifice in the name of protecting someone who should be an enemy.
7th – Kamen Rider Kabuto
2006’s series, Kamen Rider Kabuto, celebrated the 35th anniversary of the franchise and featured insect motifs in its hero designs. Beyond that, the show followed a world that had been impacted by a meteor, bringing with it an alien race known as Worms. The Worms killed their victims and replace them in society, hoping to one day replace humanity as a whole.
The shadowy organization ZECT fights against the Worms using its Kamen Riders, although there are some Kamen Riders, including Kabuto himself, who do not side with ZECT. The series gave rise to many popular actors, none more so than Hiro Mizushima, its star, who would go on to become one of the most popular actors in Japan for a time before quietly retreating from the spotlight.
6th – Kamen Rider Ryuki
In the early days of the Heisei era, it was rare for Kamen Riders to fight against one another, which is why 2002’s Kamen Rider Ryuki was such a shock at the time. This was the first series to feature outright evil people who became Kamen Riders. Ryuki followed 13 people, each given a mysterious deck of cards that allowed them to become Kamen Riders, in a fight to the death. The winner would have a single wish granted.
This battle royale resonated with viewers, leading Ryuki to become a massively successful series. The series explored the theme of ambition as it looked how “justice” is an abstract concept, meaning something entirely different to each person. Although a few of the Kamen Riders were evil, others were simply greedy, ordinary people with no sense of greater good. This idea that anyone could become a Kamen Rider, whether they were good, evil, or just an ordinary person, made the show resonate with viewers. In addition, Ryuki is said to have the most shocking ending to a Kamen Rider series, with the winner of the battle royale being someone other than the show’s main character.
5th – Kamen Rider Kuuga
It had been ten years since a new Kamen Rider series was produced before 2000’s Kamen Rider Kuuga hit the scene. In an attempt to stand out, the show had a radically different formula than anything that had come before. Kuuga presented a realistic view of the world with an active police force involved in the threat of monster attacks. The monsters in the series were an ancient race that had been revived and now sought to kill humans as part of their “Gegeru” death game.
It’s been said that a few of the scenes in Kuuga could have been traumatic to children as this was the first series to present Kamen Rider as more of a drama series than typical tokusatsu superhero show, but its popularity has endured throughout the decades. Its star, Joe Odagiri, is a controversial figure who was considered the most popular actor in Japan for many years after the series aired.
4th – Kamen Rider OOO
While Kamen Rider W played heavily into Western noir detective themes, Kamen Rider OOO leaned heavier into East Asian themes. The series explored various themes often found in Buddhism and examined the concepts of greed. The monsters in the show were the aptly named Greeed, ancient creatures who lacked human senses but hungered to become human and experience the world as a human does. The show’s main character deals with a traumatic history, having lived for a time in a war-torn country, which inspired him to help as many people as possible. Despite his intentions, OOO cast a realistic view on the idea of a hero who never turns his back, showing the depression and anxiety that can set in if one sets their sights too high. Ultimately the idea of “helping those within arm’s reach” become the message adopted by the show.
3rd – Kamen Rider W
Kamen Rider W was the start of the second phase of Heisei Rider shows. Much like how Kuuga kicked off the Heisei era with radical new concepts, W introduced concepts that had yet to be seen within the series. Chiefly among those concepts was Kamen Rider W itself being composed of two people who transform into a single Kamen Rider. The series followed the formula of detective novels with the main characters investigating cases, using witnesses and leads to help them get to the bottom of crimes. The enemies were the mysterious Sonozaki family, whose intentions were ultimately noble despite their means.
W was also the first series to establish the idea of a “hero in his own world” meaning there was a very real sense of community. W took place it the fictional city of Fuuto and showed a larger cast of regular characters, an idea that future Kamen Rider shows would follow up on with Fourze taking place in a high school and Gaim taking place in the fictional Zawame city. The show was incredibly popular when it aired, becoming just the second series after the massively successful Den-O to have a solo follow-up feature. Its leads went on to become stars with Renn Kiriyama acting in various projects and Masaki Suda becoming a movie star with multiple #1 hit singles on the music charts.
At the time of Den-O’s airing, Kamen Rider was in a financial slump. The previous shows (Kabuto, Hibiki, Blade) had failed to move toys in any meaningful way and saw diminishing ratings and movie returns. Den-O changed things, being the first comedy heavy series in the Kamen Rider franchise. It featured a train that traveled through time and the “unluckiest” hero in the Kamen Rider series, the timid Ryotaro Nogami. The show featured creatures from the future called Imagin, four of whom were good and partnered with Ryotaro, possessing him in and out of battle.
Den-O was a massive success at the time of its airing and continued to be talked about for many years after. Before Den-O, a Kamen Rider series would come and go, with little mention of it made after its airing. Den-O was the first series to have a follow-up feature, the theatrical Final Countdown. In total, the Den-O cast starred in eight movies, although Takeru Sato, the show’s star, dropped out after the third movie. The series saw Sato skyrocket to popularity, making him one of Japan’s most in-demand actors and although he’s seen as too big of a star to return to the series, he always looks back on his time as a Kamen Rider with warmth and appreciation for the fans that made it one of the Heisei era’s biggest hits. The suit-acted characters were also incredibly popular in their own right, each of the four main Imagin were voiced by some of the most popular anime voice actors and, in combination with expressive suit acting, brought an element of bright fun that had yet to be seen in the Heisei series.
1st – Kamen Rider 555
Voted the #1 most popular series in the Heisei in this poll, Kamen Rider 555 was the fourth series in the run and had 50 episodes. 555 (pronounced “Faiz”) was a radical departure from shows that had come before. It took Kamen Rider into very interpersonal space, dealing with the daily lives of its young characters. The series took place in a world where the creatures known as Orphenochs had begun to emerge. Orphenochs were the next step in human evolution and presented as something that would one day replace humanity itself. It featured a cold hero who would go on to find a reason to fight, explained in what is considered to be one of the most well-liked scenes in series history, with the character famously remarking “although I don’t have any dreams myself, I can fight and protect the people who do”.
555 was also unique in that it split the focus evenly between the heroes, villains, a group of characters who were neither. The series followed up on ideas first presented in Ryuki, first and foremost being that although one is a Kamen Rider, that does not necessarily make one a good person. 555 took things a step further by presenting the idea that, although one had become an Orphenoch, that did not mean those people were inherently evil. The series heavily focused on a trio of Orphenoch who were simply trying to make their way in the world in their newfound state of being. In the lead up to its premiere, Toei intentionally obscured who the star of the show would be, with magazines and trailers implying the female lead would be 555, while the first episode almost entirely focused on Kiba Yuji, one of the aforementioned Orphenoch trio. From adults to kids, 555 was a well-loved series and saw wild success across multiple generations, being the last unmitigated hit in Kamen Rider until 2007’s Kamen Rider Den-O.
Elsewhere, Yahoo! Japan polled 284 people, featuring the following results, with various shows in a tie:
19th – Ghost
18th – Hibiki
16th – Fourze
16th – Kiva
13th – Gaim
13th – Wizard
13th – Blade
12th – Agito
10th – Build
10th – Decade
9th – Drive
7th – Ex-Aid
7th – Ryuki
6th – OOO
5th – Kabuto
4th – 555
3rd – Kuuga
2nd – W
1st – Den-O