This Week in the History of Tokusatsu, we cover the early Rider shows from the 1980s, Skyrider and Super-1.
When we last left Kamen Rider, it had come to an end. Kamen Rider Stronger, the fifth series, was intended to be the final series, and was for a number of years before the sixth entry in the franchise: Kamen Rider!
That’s right, the sixth entry was called Kamen Rider, not Skyrider as it is sometimes referred to as by fans. Skyrider is a term that refers to the main character himself, a name that comes from past Kamen Riders who appeared later on in the series.
The creation of this particular show came about due to interest from MBS (Mainichi Broadcasting Service), a TV station in Japan, who wanted to capitalize on the recent sci-fi boom in Japan, to which Space Battleship Yamato is given credit for starting. With this in mind, producer Toru Hirayama looked to members of an early Kamen Rider fan club for ideas and what they would have wanted in a new series. The series was intended to start in April of 1979 but a suitable time frame for the program wasn’t available, leading to the show premiering 5 months later in October.
The series lead, Hiroaki Murakami, was selected from an audition pool of over 3,000 actors while at the same time, female leads were cast from an audition pool of over 2,000 potential cast members.
Murakami played the role of Hiroshi Tsukuba, the show’s Kamen Rider. Tsukuba, an injured camper, is captured by Neo-Shocker and turned into a Kamen Rider. Interesting to note, while a Kamen Rider’s initial capture and surgery that leads to him becoming a Rider is often performed by an unnamed evil scientist, Tsukuba’s surgeon was a main character early on in the show. Keitaro Shido, a scientist captured by Neo-Shocker, remained as an ally to Tsukuba for the show’s first 13 episodes.
The character of Keitaro Shido was somewhat of a mentor towards Tsukuba, as was his predecessor, Genjiro Tani. These two characters were meant to replace the long last Tachibana character present in the first batch of Rider shows. Genjiro Tani comes closest to taking on this role as he would appear not only in this series but in Kamen Rider Super-1 as well.
While this Kamen Rider was intended to be a revival of the franchise, it quickly saw its ratings dive, leading to what’s often considered the first great retool of the Kamen Rider franchise. Previous Riders are introduced, serving as part-time mentors with sage advice for Tsukuba. Appearances from these past Riders were meant to bolster ratings, as were many other decisions made during the program.
About halfway into the show, the seven previous Kamen Riders appear and grant Tsukuba a power-up. This new power leaves Tsukuba with a new suit that is reminiscent of his first but just different enough to set him apart from the original Kamen Riders. It’s around this point in the show that a previous Rider, Stronger, dubs Tsukuba ‘Skyrider’, due to his ability to fly. The moniker would identify the Rider from then on out.
As a fun side note, a comical sidekick by the name of GanGan G is found in the series. Composed of a self-made suit, the character tried to be heroic but was often played for laughs. Interesting enough, the character is referenced much later on in the first Garo animated series
Kamen Rider Super-1: Bigger Than Before
Following Skyrider’s sluggish ratings, various plans to revitalize the franchise with its next series were considered. One of the early designs for the show was titled “Kamen Rider V9”, to which there were several ideas associated. Most interestingly, Skyrider would have become the secondary hero in this series, but the low ratings associated with the show meant this probably wasn’t the best idea. What we end up getting is a Rider series that is fairly self-contained.
In thinking about motif, the idea was that Super-1 needed to be bigger than Skyrider in every way. If Skyrider was a character associated with the earth, then Super-1 would be a character associated with the entire universe. These ideas eventually lead to the Super-1 that we know of today, a Kamen Rider who is an astronaut. To keep the idea of a bigger series going, Super-1 himself was given more elements than being just an astronaut. The series featured aggressive martial arts action as well as a Rider who wore five different sets of gloves, each with their own special ability. The name “Super-1” itself means that “he is the #1 Rider in the 1980s”.
Shunsuke Takasugi, who was a former research associate with the Ground Self Defense Force, was selected to play the lead role of Kazuya Oki. Other actors who auditioned for the role included Shigeki Ishii, who went on to play GoggleBlue in Dai Sentai Goggle Five. Shun Sugata, who later played Ryo Murayama/Kamen Rider ZX, also auditioned. Of all the people who auditioned for the role, Hiroyuki Watanabe is perhaps the most well-known to tokusatsu fans. He would go on to play Taiga in the Garo series and Kamen rider Ga-O in the Kamen Rider Den-O movie.
According to Poppy (now Bandai), Super-1 was speed-oriented, so he was given a bike with two forms, the V Jet, and the V Machine. 13 episodes into the show, a new segment was introduced into each episode that featured Kazuya teaching viewers how to perform martial arts breathing techniques. This continued through episode 19 and led to shortened previews for the next episode, often featuring a very short scene with the episode title.
Although much of this series was about how it could be bigger and better than Skyrider, there was a very important connection: Tani Genjiro, the aforementioned mentor in Skyrider. None of the previous Kamen Riders returned in Super-1. It was said by main writer Ezure Takashi the return of previous Kamen Riders in Skyrider was a ploy to increase ratings. If the Riders returned in Super-1, it would send out a message the show’s popularity was fading and that it would not allow him to tell a complete story focusing on Super-1.
In general, Kamen Rider Super-1 was well received. Its movie was successful, kids thought the design of the suit and the action was cool, and ratings increased over Skyrider. However, the series moved to a new time following its 24th episode in an attempt to improve somewhat lowering ratings. Staff members became concerned about lower ratings and thus some of the more unpopular elements of the show were removed, including two of the show’s regular characters. The Junior Rider Team, a group of young children who assist Super-1, was also introduced. Other elements introduced into the series included five new evil characters as well as a new enemy faction, Jin Dogma, introduced a week before the change. These changes were made in conjunction with a focus group that highlighted elements the staff found to be most popular with children in the audience.
Despite the change, there were areas of Japan where the show was simply canceled, such as Hokkaido. Due to the series featuring a climactic battle against the original villain group before the introduction of Jin Dogma, the show’s star has found that many viewers in the Hokkaido area simply believed it was another short series like Amazon.
Join us next time when we head into the final era of Kamen Rider before its great exile from TV.
Previous articles in The History of Tokusatsu:
Sources: Kamen Rider Super-1 Planning History, Masked Rider Battle 22th, Kamen Rider 1971-1984, Masked Rider Realistic Album, Showa Hero Files: Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider’s Change