This week we take a look at the Kamen Rider ZX, Kamen Rider Black, and its sequel Kamen Rider Black RX.
Birth of the 10th
Instead of a new TV series, the 10th Kamen Rider made his onscreen debut during a TV special that aired in 1984: Birth of the #10! All Kamen Riders Together.
Kamen Rider ZX, pronounced “Zee Cross”, was featured in the pages of a children’s magazine in 1982. The character was featured in various photo spreads in the two years before his TV special.
ZX was the commemoration of a couple of things, first, he was the tenth Rider, as showcased in the special’s title. It also commemorated Toru Hirayama, who man who kickstarted the original Kamen Rider series and guided it during its first run of shows. The special featured several clips showing off the original Riders, used to teach the newest Rider about his predecessors.
Returning cast members including Hiroshi Miyauchi as Kamen Rider V3, Takehisa Yamaguchi as Riderman, Shunsuke Takasugi as Super-1, and Takeshi Sasaki as Rider #1 in a voice-only role. Yamaguchi was in poor health during the special’s filming, already suffering from cancer, which would result in his death two years later. Sasaki was unable to appear on screen as he had been left disfigured by a house fire that burned 70% of his body, leaving him in a deep depression.
Shun Sugata, who would go on to become well-known for his roles in Yakuza movies, portrayed Ryo Murasame, Kamen Rider ZX. The special’s story featured Ryo Mursame, a pilot captured by Badan and transformed into Kamen Rider ZX. Ryo escapes and goes on the offensive one year later when he meets the previous Kamen Riders.
ZX is one of the more unique Riders in that, although he only has one major onscreen appearance, he was prominently featured in other forms of media. He was the star of the Kamen Rider SPIRITS and Shin Kamen Rider SPIRITS manga, which has run for over 20 volumes since their first publication. In addition, the character of ZX was publicly revealed during a naming ceremony in 1982. ZX appeared also starred in a radio drama program later that year.
It’s 1987 and six years have passed since the previous Kamen Rider TV series, marking the longest span of time without a new Rider show on TV.
Start from a New Beginning
Following up on Kamen Rider ZX’s celebration of Kamen Rider’s history, Shotaro Ishinomnori and Toru Hirayama were interested in a “return to the beginning” using the latest technology available. Ishinomori drew various designs for the concept series but there were fears that with the popularity of the “real robot” anime genre focusing on more intense and realistic stories in robot anime that Kamen Rider might not have a favorable reception.
Toei producer Susumu Yoshikawa, who was experienced with the Metal Hero franchise, joined the series. This would mark the first series without Toru Hirayama’s involvement as a producer. Going forward, Yoshikawa wanted this series to focus on the suffering and hope of a hero burden with an unenviable fate.
With the concept of “return to the beginning” set in mind, Ishinomori dubbed the series Kamen Rider 0. The “0” was a stand-in for “origin”, but not in a “first generation” sense, rather he wanted it to represent his intent with the series, his original visions. The series also featured many staff members who had previously worked with Yoshikawa on the Space Sheriff trilogy of Metal Heroes.
According to Yoshikawa, the previous elements of Kamen Rider that mattered the most were an escape from an evil organization, remodeled human beings, motorcycle riding, a grasshopper motif, and a hero of justice. There were questions about whether to use these ideas going forward in the first place, but as this was a remake, the ideas were adopted into the show.
Whereas the previous group of enemies were all linked to Shocker and its Great Leader, the enemies in Kamen Rider Black, the Gorgom, had no connection to the past. This was a shock to many people at the time and was done to further push the idea that Black was the first Kamen Rider within his world, a true new beginning.
The show went further in its dealings with villains than any before it and introduced what is arguably the most popular villain in all of Kamen Rider: Shadow Moon, a silver Rider-like enemy who had been completely brainwashed by Gorgom. The character is the adopted brother of Kotaro Minami, who transforms into Kamen Rider Black. This character arc was the “pioneering factor” of the now commonplace Rider vs Rider fights. Tetsuo Kurata and Takahito Horiuchi, who played Shadow Moon’s human form, were both cast following a very public audition, which was showcased in a TV special leading up to the premiere called “This is Kamen Rider BLACK!”
At its core, Kamen Rider Black was a series about the search for the new Creation King, picked from two Century King candidates: Shadow Moon and Black Sun, which was the name given to Kamen Rider Black by Gorgom.
Due to the success of BLACK on TV, with ratings of 9.2%, Kotaro Minami was kept on for the sequel series, Kamen Rider BLACK RX. This was the first time Kamen Rider had done a direct sequel with the same main character. Viewers were won over by Tetsuo Kurata’s depictions of sorrow in the fight against his brother, a fight that ended the series on a somber note.
Kamen Rider BLACK and BLACK RX were known for their heavy use of strobe lighting effects in the final attacks performed by the hero. This was a popular technique at the time but has since become banned in Japan. Due to this, reruns of the show feature the attacks with a dimming treatment applied to the scene, making them much less harsh on the eyes.
Kamen Rider BLACK‘s production was somewhat troubled when it comes to talking about its writer. The main writer was Shozo Uehara, a veteran of the Metal Hero franchise. After only a handful of episodes on the show, Uehara left the series and was said to have taken his version of the series bible with him. Various writers filled in throughout the rest of the series. Shukei Nakasaka, a prolific screenplay writer and novelist, watched BLACK on TV and asked to write scripts, but was denied the chance as the series had taken in a full load of writers by this point.
The first episode of Kamen Rider BLACK took an entire month to film, longer than any other Kamen Rider episode. According to Kurata, 10 days alone were spent filming the scenes set during the night.
This was also the first series to have a heavy Bandai influence. A subsidiary of Bandai, PLEX, designed the suit using new techniques and materials not available in the past. This new suit-making method allowed for a wider range of motion and action than had ever been possible before.
Although episodic during the first half of the series, Kamen Rider BLACK ultimately represented a more somber take on the series. The final episodes saw the departure of supporting characters, who were urged by Kotaro to leave Japan for their own safety. Ultimately, we see a Rider who is left with no friends and no family riding off into the distance just as his predecessors had done so many times before.
A third entry into the series was planned but was ultimately canceled. It’s been said Ryohei Kobayashi was cast in the show, potentially as its lead, and moved to a different series after BLACK 3’s cancellation, that show being Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman, where he went on to play FiveBlack.
Sources: Kamen Rider 1971-1984, Kamen Rider Ultimate Collection, Walking with Superhumans Across 40 Years