The History of Tokusatsu Part 6: Showa Kamen Rider Part 2
This time we look at the Showa Kamen Rider shows that followed the original series.
While Kamen Rider is said to have started the transforming hero boom, Kamen Rider V3 certainly helped keep it alive. As we learned last time, Kamen Rider V3 was originally intended to be part of Kamen Rider, with its first script being written as Kamen Rider episode 99. When it was decided that the show would be its own thing, Toru Hirayama, a creative producer at Toei, went to work on finding a new title. The show went through various titles including Mask Rider, with the entire title written in katakana. Rider Kamen, Rider Man, Kamen Rider 3, and Kamen Rider X were also tossed around as ideas before the show was known as Kamen Rider V3.
The series starred the charismatic actor Hiroshi Miyauchi as Shiro Kazami, who, in stark contrast to the original Kamen Riders, sought out the conversion to a Kamen Rider so that he could take vengeance against Destron for the murder of his family. While the ratings were slightly lower than Kamen Rider‘s, they were still very strong and reached a high of 38% viewership, a feat yet (and likely never) to be equaled by any tokusatsu series since.
The series featured many of the same character traits found in the original Kamen Rider – a lead character joined by a female sidekick and mentored by Tobei Tachibana, who would be a constant in the first five shows, having played his role in more episodes than any other actor in the franchise. The series also featured monsters that were a combination of animals and weapons, including such foes as Scissors Jaguar and Speargun Sealion. The original Kamen Riders also made appearances throughout the series, leading to some of the most viewed episodes.
The show also introduced a character late in its run that would give V3 a rival in the form of the antihero, Rider Man. Rider Man was actually Joji Yuki, a former Destron scientist who was betrayed by the organization.
Kamen Rider V3 came to an end after 52 episodes and has been called the unmatched pinnacle of the transforming hero boom, leading it to become a series so popular that it rivals even the original. When it was decided that a third series would be made, the idea was to have it be a completely standalone work before Hirayama decided to keep Tachibana and references to past shows. The series was originally to be called Kamen Rider GO#5, read in Japanese as Kamen Rider Go Go Go. The series would then be called Kamen Rider #5, Kamen Rider U5, and Kamen Rider VV (Double V). That last title is how we ended up with Kamen Rider X, with the X representing two Vs, symbolizing X himself as the 5th Rider and the strongest one yet.
After the success of Rider Man, Ishinomori insisted that the new hero have a weapon and thus X was given his iconic Ridol stick weapon. During the suit creation process, a NG (no good) model was created before the finalized version viewers saw on screen. The NG version of the suit featured a more skin-tight look that might have hindered complex action sequences.
Kamen Rider X
The story of Kamen Rider X featured Keisuke Jin, played by Ryo Hayami, as the titular Kamen Rider X. The X powers were originally designed in series for deep-sea exploration by Keisuke’s father and sought after by the evil GOD organization. When both Keisuke and his father are mortally wounded by GOD agents, Keisuke’s father turns his son into the cyborg Kamen Rider X.
Kamen Rider X was an early example of a Showa Rider series with a show that, although not entirely serial, consisted of a couple of long-running plots – some of which revolved around Keisuke’s fiance, who herself was a member of GOD. One of the more memorable features of the show was the enemy known as Apollo Geist, one of the earliest prototypes of an evil Kamen Rider-like character. Apollo Geist was a character desperate to save his life who let this fear rule him throughout his character arc. While the previous Kamen Rider series were successes, X was the first to be thought of as a failure. The series did not reach the rating heights of V3 or the original, likely due to competition from the recent robot anime boom. The series came to an end at episode 35. X is sometimes hailed as the very first Kamen Rider series to have been canceled. Although no one has ever officially spoken at length about it, there are some who claim the series came to an end due to the lead actor’s negative reputation in the Toei offices.
Kamen Rider Amazon
The fourth series was Kamen Rider Amazon, a series that ran for 24 episodes and is still the shortest Kamen Rider series to date. Amazon featured a brand new type of hero, feral wildman Daisuke Yamamoto as Kamen Rider Amazon. The character left the jungles and headed to Japan after an attack on his village. While in Japan, Daisuke fought two enemy organizations throughout the course of his series. On top of the traditional Rider action, much of the show’s drama came from Daisuke’s early inability to fit into Japanese society. Having grown up in the jungles, Daisuke found the modern-day social norms strange and difficult to comprehend. The character spends much of the show learning Japanese, initially communicating through gestures and short words he picked up from those around him.
While Amazon is the shortest Kamen Rider series to date, there is some speculation over the circumstances leading to such a short run. It can be naturally assumed that the show was canceled due to its short run, but 24 episodes matches very close to a Japanese course – a TV season of 13 episodes. Amazon would have been nearly two seasons into its run by the time the show came to an end. A newspaper article on the series, supposedly printed before the start of the show, also claimed the series was an experimental one, always intended to be a short series.
Kamen Rider Stronger: The End of Kamen Rider
Whatever the case might have been, the following series, Kamen Rider Stronger, did not premiere in the same spot Rider had occupied for the last five years. Kamen Rider was initially aired on NET, modern-day TV Asahi, before being moved to TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) with Kamen Rider Stronger. The reason for this move is said to have been declining ratings from Rider shows – every series after the original had shown a smaller average audience rating than the previous and some, in particular, showed sharp declines.
Kamen Rider Stronger, a show with a brash and unapologetic character, premiered on TBS and faced off against Ishinomori’s new series, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. Stronger introduced Electro Wave Human Tackle, a female fighter whose status as a Kamen Rider has been debated for decades. Stronger, first planned as a 52-episode series, came to an end after 39 episodes. The series, particularly in its second half, became a bit of a spectacle. Tackle is killed, bringing a morose atmosphere to the show while Stronger himself is later joined by various Kamen Riders. The final episodes would see Stronger and every previous Kamen Rider (in and out of suit) team up to defeat their greatest enemy yet. This marks the last time that every lead actor appeared on screen at the same time. Unfortunately, due to the death of Stronger’s actor, Shigeru Araki, this will remain the only time this has ever happened.
Stronger marks the end of an era for Kamen Rider. While today Kamen Rider is often split simply into the Showa and Heisei categories, the original “Legend Seven” Riders comprise the first chapter of the franchise’s life. With Stronger coming to a close, it was assumed this would be the end of Kamen Rider, not just for the Showa era, but for all time.
Join us next time as Kamen Rider enters the 80s.
Previous articles in The History of Tokusatsu:
Chapter 1 – Godzilla
Chapter 2 – Early Heroes
Chapter 3 – Ultraman, part 1
Chapter 4 – Ultraman, part 2
Chapter 5 – Showa Kamen Rider, part 1