Team TokuNet Writer Malunis talks about Kamen Rider‘s Legend Rider toys over the years, and the noticeable changes they went through leading up to 2018.
This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, when the show that eventually became Kamen Rider Zi-O was more of an expectation than an actual tangible show. That is to say, the content we’ve been receiving from Zi-O had no impact on the subject of this article.
In order to really understand where I’m coming from on this, we must first know what the Legend Rider toys meant to the toylines until their change. Ever since Kamen Rider Decade, a series that served as a crossover between each Kamen Rider in the Heisei era, the franchise has featured toys that focus on the franchise’s history at large with the term “Legend Rider”.
That being said, Kamen Rider W was really the start of the Legend Rider craze. When you compare it to its successors, W doesn’t have nearly as much going on in terms of transformation items. Sure, lots of gadgets, but those Gaia Memories are modestly sparse.
So, in what was presumably an effort to bulk out their candy toy and Gashapon offerings, Bandai introduced Gaia Memories that were based on past Riders. It was pretty genius, especially with how they functioned – they’re compact, they’re stylish with their bright translucent colors, and they cycle through a bunch of sounds at the press of a button. Even without a transformation belt, you can still use them like a little soundboard.
Plus, by the end of the series, you had more than enough to collect. Not only did they tackle every lead Rider, Heisei and Showa, they also ended up doing NEW versions of them with different stickers. Whereas before they displayed an image of the Rider, this time they displayed that Rider’s emblem on a background similar to the Gaia Memories from the show.
This is to say nothing of the other advantage they have! As items that provide their own sound effects, they aren’t restricted to what sounds are programmed into the belt. This means they could literally make whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The best example of this might be when they made a Gaia Memory for Kamen Rider OOO, the hero that would debut after W ended.
But the more interesting example is this particular set of Gaia Memories that were released on retail during Kamen Rider Wizard. Yes, three shows later, more Gaia Memories got released! They provided the Showa Riders with the emblem format they switched to, the final forms of every lead Heisei Rider, and also tossed in new Gaia Memories for Fourze and Wizard. It really showed just how clever Gaia Memories were, and how popular W was.
But let’s rewind a bit, to the show that came after W: Kamen Rider OOO. This was where we saw the limitations that Legend Rider merch would largely have – the O Medals were scannable items that played sounds on the transformation gear, meaning there was a finite amount of sounds that were programmed into it. While a bunch of Rider names were part of the mix, a lot of them also just said generic things like “Kamen Rider!” when they touched upon secondary Riders.
Despite such a limited visual variety, a colored medal with an emblem, there were a surprising amount of them. Apart from secondary Riders, they also worked in alternate forms, like Accel Trial. It’s at least a good way to get some more colors out of the medal designs, and the blue rim is an interesting way to differentiate from the show’s own medals.
Regardless, I’ve yet to own any of these because they just don’t do much for me.
Kamen Rider Fourze was, I’d say, more of the same, albeit with a twist: The Ganbaride arcade game made use of these for original modules that Fourze could use in battle! It provided a nice nod to each series, and briefly got me interested in watching videos of the gameplay.
The Legend Rider Astro Switches were limited to just the lead Showa and Heisei Riders, nothing more, which makes me wonder if THAT was the point where they started to have trouble selling these. It’s possible it was just the amount of plastic and paint going into these compared to the previous items. For a series celebrating the 40th anniversary, it at least managed to do what you’d expect and get in every lead Rider.
I suppose it’s also worth noting that the Fourze & OOO movie was the first time that Legend Rider items actually got used in fiction, which was a bit odd at the time. Especially when the movie’s take on Legend Rider O Medals looked different from the toys.
While Fourze held back, Kamen Rider Wizard admittedly brought back the absurd variety of the O Medals. Apart from the obligatory Showa/Heisei Rider leads, there were once more alternate forms and final forms. They look nice, making use of Wizard’s ring aesthetic by making them silver with colorful gems, though you still run into that problem where the sounds are limited. Some of them just said “Kamen Rider!” and such.
They once again made use of these in the Wizard & Fourze movie, with a little more interesting of an application. Not only that, but they played a role in the two-part crossover that Wizard concluded with, which were painted to look more like those Riders’ helmets.
Now we talk about Kamen Rider Gaim, my favorite subject. The Lockseeds were a return to the Gaia Memory format of items with their own sound effects, meaning the Legend Rider content could be whatever they wanted it to be. Apart from a few random Riders from past series, though, it was ironically less crazy than Wizard. Noticeably though, they only made final form versions of the most recent Riders, going only as far back as Double.
This is also where you got some DX Lockseeds based on past Riders, which was not typical of this kind of merch. This was because they actually got used on the Gaim & Wizard movie, and were being used like any other Lockseed – for the first time, Legend Rider forms existed, physical suits and everything! Granted, it was just forms going as far back as Double, then later the addition of Decade and Gaim.
Not only that, but over time, the Ganbarizing arcade game introduced Legend Rider forms for everyone from Kuuga to Kiva. It was a lot of fun to watch unfold, because they even had cards with artwork and attack names.
Then we get into what I think was the first change for Legend Rider merch. Premium Bandai sold a Lockseed set featuring every Showa Rider + some villains, which was a surprising set to say the least. By the end of the show they also made a set for the main four Riders from the show.
While it may seem commonplace now, Premium Bandai was not typically used to sell toys from the main toyline. However, Gaim was where that changed. Among the things they sold were DX Lockseeds – and action figures – for minor characters, and things used by movie villains. To me, the writing is on the wall: Premium Bandai had become the place to dump all of the merchandise that was too niche for retail.
There’s a precedent for that. Back when S.H. Figuarts was still in its infancy, a popular belief in the fandom was that Premium Bandai exclusives came about due to a lack of sales with certain characters, particularly the Imagin from Kamen Rider Den-O. This is the cited reason why some of them are retail items and the rest are exclusives.
Now, I’m saying all of this for a reason – while these choices may seem random now, these Premium Bandai Lockseed sets feel like the beginning of the Legend Rider decline. I did say PB was probably for niche items, right? What’s more niche, to a franchise aimed at kids, than the heroes of the 70s-90s? Sure, there were a handful of Showa Rider Lockseeds on retail, but they were things like Rider 1 or Black RX – characters who are pretty iconic, despite their age.
The theme of “What the kids know” is gonna come up again soon, don’t you worry. Or do worry. It’ll make you feel old.
With Premium Bandai established, let’s move into Kamen Rider Drive, where we REALLY see the change.
If you followed the toyline knowing about the consistent Legend Rider releases, it felt weird. Not once was there a Legend Rider item on retail. Sure, you had Shift Fruit, a transformation item in the Drive & Gaim movie, but it was never officially called a Legend Rider item.
Eventually, later in the show’s run, we got our Legend Rider merch – on Premium Bandai. Cleverly following the show’s theme of vehicles as transformation items, the Legend Rider offerings were based on all of these past riders’ iconic vehicles. The fact that it was just a Premium Bandai set does beg the question: Did something happen during Gaim that led to this?
Part of why this existed as a set was probably also the lack of function to them. They each played a basic sound on the DX Drive Driver, and all played the same generic sound on the DX Mach Driver. It wouldn’t have been worth collecting unless you just like motorcycles.
Well, it seemed like that was just a fluke at first, because once we got to Kamen Rider Ghost, we did get more Legend Rider items on retail. Even had a YouTube spinoff that featured some form changes. We once again had Ganbarizing making new forms for all of the ones that didn’t appear in the YouTube spinoff, which was cool to see again.
Of course, this was the start of another thing: A noticeable shift in focus on these collectibles. While they did produce Ghost Eyecons for heroes from Double to Drive, they decidedly ignored those first 10 Heisei Riders.
That’s where Premium Bandai once again came up, offering those 10 Riders as a set. Once more, they relied on a set rather than sprinkling these throughout the toyline, which is when I really started to wonder if maybe those first 10 weren’t as popular these days.
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid was another series where the items had their own sounds, but they were really playing it safe and just followed the same approach as the previous series.
A YouTube spinoff served to promote the Rider Gashats based on a few of them, a Premium Bandai set existed for Kuuga-Decade, and Ganbarizing made forms for them – minus the Build Gashat that came out later. It seemed like this was now the standard.
When you think about it, it isn’t too surprising that they’d shift focus this way, is it? After all, this is a kids franchise first. And sadly, as sobering as the thought is, the demographic they’d be aiming at would probably be too young to remember any Rider that predates W.
Then, we get to Kamen Rider Build, which was when I was really considering finding a way to talk about this decline. Because, with Build, we have our saddest display.
There was an Ex-Aid Fullbottle released as a special campaign item for those who saw the Build & Ex-Aid movie, but apart from that… just a Premium Bandai set. Specifically, a single set that only included everyone as far back as Fourze, meaning Double and OOO were left out for once. Granted, they did make Best Match transformations for these + Ex-Aid, so that’s neat I guess?
What’s interesting about this is… Build is another series where the belt plays the sounds, so people have been able to figure out what hidden sounds it plays. As it turns out, they did include sounds for every Heisei lead, as well as some usual generic names like “Heisei Rider”. However, they only made Best Match transformations for the bottles released in the Premium Bandai set, so they must’ve known they weren’t going to make more.
There’s also the Legend Mix Fullbottles, which you sometimes see mislabeled as Legend Rider. These are more true to the show’s motif by making organic or inorganic Fullbottles themed after the past Riders’ motifs, made to be Best Matches with bottles from the show. They went as far back as Decade, with the random addition of Den-O, because Den-O always seems to be popular. While the Legend Rider Fullbottles had no use in Ganbarizing, the Legend Mix stuff got custom designs, which were cool.
What’s worth noting about the Legend Mix series is a noticeable change. When they started out, people noticed there was no Drive combination in the promotional materials. There was a Drive-related Best Match hidden on the belt, which involved a sound that would be used for a regular Best Match, so it was assumed maybe they were saving it for later.
This got stranger once they released the DX Evol Driver halfway into the show, because it omitted several yet-to-be-used sounds on the DX Build Driver, and among them was the Legend Mix Best Match for Drive. This seemed to be soft confirmation that they changed their mind about making more.
If it weren’t apparent before, now we can be certain that something changed within Bandai that affected the Legend Rider merch and made it a more Premium Bandai-friendly product.
With the idea in mind that Premium Bandai is for niche items, the best guess is a lack of sales – while it’s more of a word-of-mouth source, I’ve talked to people who follow this stuff more closely and found that Legend Rider items tend to be easier to find at a cheap price compared to items related to the show, lending credence to the theory that they just don’t sale well. One could look at toy sales for a toyline at large, but it’s not really possible to find out how well Legend Rider products sell, so there’s no official answer here.
Perhaps a lack of fiction is a potential factor in the lack of sales. That would explain why they would make things like the YouTube spinoffs, as it lends some legitimacy to the product. While I personally find the idea of “This is an item exclusive to the toyline” a bit interesting, I imagine not everyone finds that appealing.
When looking at the character choices for additional Riders, it does also seem like popularity is a factor in what they sell. When you see Lockseeds of characters like Skull or Momotaros, that certainly doesn’t look like random selection. This same reasoning may be why they stopped making items for Riders before Double – if the kids know these recent heroes better, they will probably shift focus accordingly and cut off the fat to save money.
Another more subjective way to look at it is the presentation. Often, a thing I hear in the fandom is that Legend Rider items don’t look that interesting, because they’re very template-heavy. While there are some creative choices made for the Ghost Eyecons and Lockseeds in terms of transformation sounds, they tend to just play a Rider name followed by their transformation sound, which isn’t terribly exciting.
And if the design is as simple as a photo of the Rider doing a pose, such as early Gaia Memories or Rider Gashats, it reads as lazy compared to Lockseeds or Wizard Rings which are entirely unique molds. There’s valid reasons why personal taste would be a factor in the downfall, if these opinions are a majority.
Having said all this, I’ve been ignoring the elephant in the room that looks like a dinosaur: Kamen Rider Zi-O! With a series that serves as the 20th Heisei show, it’s making use of the current Legend Rider concept that came about after Decade – the RideWatch series features every lead Heisei Rider, all on retail, all DX.
Not only that, but it’s been CRAAAZY how many things are being released in the toyline! Alternate forms, secondary Riders, and many of them are released in odd ways such as campaigns and contests. It’s a super explosive display after how much of a decline their was.
That’s the thing, though: It’s super explosive due to the series it’s attached to. Zi-O is about honoring the past 18 years of Kamen Rider, so it would be a darn shame if it wasn’t going nuts like this.
This is why I suspect that Zi-O may be the last hurrah for Legend Rider content – maybe I’m wrong, maybe we’ll go back to the status quo of Build, or at best maybe the status quo of Ghost/Ex-Aid. Either way, I definitely want to look at Zi-O as an exception in the franchise because of the context in which it exists.
Since I’ve brought up Ganbarizing forms a bit, it’s worth noting that they’ve yet to do anything for the RideWatches. While there are forms featured on toy packaging (ie: RyukiArmor) that don’t get used anywhere else, the RideWatches simply summon that respective Rider for a finisher. So it’s a bit of a shame this is the series where the arcade game decides not to make exclusive content.
And that’s what I consider to be a full history of the Legend Rider merch, its decline, and where we stand now. It’s a topic I’m glad I finally have a good platform to talk about it with, and I’m interested in seeing where the franchise goes after Zi-O.