Kamen Rider Gaim – Part 1 (Episode 1 – 23 + The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle)

If there was ever a series that made a bad first impression, it’s this series. Kamen Rider Gaim was on its way to becoming my most disliked Kamen Rider in a good, long while…

It’s been so long since I wrote one of these I almost forgot how to do it. But that’s almost always the case, isn’t it? Long time between these posts. Well, let me tell you, watching an entire series and summing it up ain’t easy! Well… it kind of is but you get my point, it takes time.

So, Kamen Rider Gaim.

Kamen Rider Gaim
(Toei, 2013-2014)

After Yggdrasill Corporation moved in, Zawame City became a different place. Under the rule of Yggdrasill it flourished but a feeling of oppression spread. In response, the youth of Zawame formed street dancing groups and battled it out. But with the introduction of the Inves game, a game that lets you control virtual monsters, the street dancing scene took another turn. It’s here that we meet Kazuraba Kouta, Team Gaim’s previous second-in-command, who quit to help out at home by taking odd jobs. But when Team Gaim’s leader asks him to swing by, he has no idea his life is going to change forever. Because what people don’t know is that Yggdrasill is harboring a secret that will change everything: The Inves are very, very real.

I’ll admit I HATED this season of Kamen Rider right off the bat. Street dancing is just one of those things that I do not enjoy. I do not hate it as such, like any other form of art, it has a place. But it’s not for me so when a series starts out basically saying “This year is all about street dancing.” I’m, simply put, not on board.

And the protagonist, Kouta, did not resonate with me at all. He was a showboating, inconsiderate, irresponsible wacko who… well, I just didn’t like him. And the supporting cast wasn’t much better, people running around pretending to be petulant teenagers and young adults never… ever… works for me. I like teen drama, don’t get me wrong, but this isn’t teen drama, this is an adult’s idea of what teen drama is and… it’s wrong.

Plus, they can’t dance for shit. Always the same routine, every so often completely off beat and very often out of sync with each other. They are amateurs and they are young but… really? You couldn’t hire a better dance choreographer than this? But then this is what works in Japan, I suppose, the same old every time.

But… I changed my mind. Not about the dancing. God no. By the mid-season mark the dancing is as awful as always. But about the series and that’s because… well, I’ll get into that a bit later, the Finale part probably. It’s pretty evident already, though, that the themes of the series and the story doesn’t really get started until after the tenth episode. Not that that excuses the first ten episodes, they’re awful, but it does get better.

Before I start going on about that, though, let’s just run over the characters a bit quickly, shall we?

First we must discuss Kazuraba Kouta, the series main protagonist, and like I already alluded to, he didn’t make the best of impressions. Caught between being a teenager and an adult, he first comes off as incredibly irresponsible and… stupid. And I’m not entirely sure I’m wrong about that second part but as the series goes on, we see that Kouta is probably one of the most responsible people in the show. What he does he does out of a sense of justice and fair play, transforming into the titular Kamen Rider Gaim in order to protect, not solely against monsters but against the expectations of the world as well. It does take a while for him to get there, starting out as a loudmouthed brat who was given powers far beyond what he should have.

I was very worried that we had another case of Souji Tendou, a man who never really suffers any setbacks, or anotherĀ Tsukasa Kadoya, a man who may not be the best at everything but in combat he’s simply unbeatable and able to do anything and so good and all that.

Luckily that didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Kouta is probably one of the most relatable Kamen Riders in a good while, at least if you’re older than twenty. I’ll get into the whole “adult” thing that series talks a lot about but for now, let’s just leave it at: Kouta is pretty cool.

He’s played by Sano Gaku.

Someone I don’t like so far, however, isĀ Takatsukasa Mai, I guess the now second-in-command of Team Gaim after Kouta left? She’s all about the dancing and her constant “I’m sad because the world isn’t the nicest, happiest place ever”-face pisses me off. Clearly there’s a big role coming up for her in the series, that much I’ve figured out what with another version of her jumping around, appearing all mystical and shit. But her current form, if you prefer, annoys the living hell out of me.

Meant to be the emotional core and message sender of the series, she more than once delivers various speeches about “dancing for the sake of dancing” and “adults are the real evils in the world” and other teenager cliche garbage like that. She doesn’t really add much of anything yet but I mention her because I’ll inevitably have to talk about her when I talk about the big themes of the series.

She’s played by Shida Yuumi.

Right, let’s get back to someone I do like: Kumon Kaito. He’s the resident bad boy, the one who will say fighting is the only way through and people who can’t fight for themselves should be put down. Or at the very least get out of the way. But there is something hiding in him, a gentler soul that was dealt a bad hand as a kid and is taking it out on the world ever since.

There’s virtually one of these in every Kamen Rider-series of late. Someone who fights for the fight’s sake, only to grow stronger so he can fight some more. And normally it might grate on me but they’ve already displayed that Kaito will play a significant, important role at some point in the series but it’s unclear whether that’s as a rival or ally to Kouta. They’ve been teasing the two becoming close allies even if not friends so it’ll be interesting to see where they end up.

If there’s one thing I can already say about Gaim it’s that you shouldn’t take too much for granted.

He’s played by Kobayashi Yutaka.

Let’s go back to another person I don’t particularly like: Kureshima Mitsuzane. Or Micchi for short. He is a… spoiled brat, essentially, but somewhere deep in him there’s a heart of gold. Secretly rich and connected to Yggdrasill, he hides his life as a dancer from his older brother, Takatora, because he knows he’d ultimately disapprove. One day Micchi is expected to follow his brother’s footsteps into Yggdrasill rather than dancing and Micchi fights to maintain “everyone’s smile” for as long as he can but as things begin to unravel around him, he begins to cross lines he didn’t think he was capable. Unlike Kouta, who thinks secrets are dangerous, Micchi spins a web of lies to maintain his image of what happiness is, even if he knows it’s fleeting and must end one day, probably in tears and agony.

At this point in the series he’s also slowly developing into a rival for Kouta due to their different approaches to the secret that Yggdrasill harbors and what they think of as important. Micchi is on Yggdrasill’s side whereas Kouta is firmly against them. I think it’s just a matter of time before Micchi either becomes a full blown villain or a severe thorn in Kouta’s side at the very least.

He’s played by Takasugi Mahiro.

Last but definitely not least is Kureshima Takatora, Micchi’s older brother and the current head of Yggdrasill. He’s framed as the main villain quite early on, appearing out of nowhere to firmly hand Kouta’s butt to him in a fight and sort of go “Yeah, I’m so much better than you and always will be.” And as a villain he really does work. Unlike many villains in Japanese shows, he’s not over the top evil or anything like that. Even if his henchmen are at times. Instead he’s shown as cold, even ruthless at times, but entirely practical and calculating. He’s done the numbers and he’s decided on a course that he considers the best for as many involved as possible rather than some idealistic nonsense.

That’s not to say he’s entirely one-dimensional, there is depth to Takatora even if the show is kind of bad at mining it. He takes umbrage at Kouta not because he opposes them but because there’s an inkling of doubt that what they’re doing isn’t the right way and Kouta may have figured out a better way. There’s a line in the show where this is perfectly summed up, when Takatora, in reference to Kouta says:

“I want to see him broken, to run away because if a person like him does then I know I’m on the right path.”

Or something along those lines. It’s really telling because he’s basically admitting that Kouta is the better person in an idealistic world but he knows this isn’t an idealistic world. And while he starts out coming across as the typical business man villain, the “cut away all the useless stuff in your life and aim only to achieve success”-type, once you get a bit further into the show you realize he only acts that way towards his brother because he knows very well what is coming and the impact it will have on everyone’s lives.

He’s also insanely proud, again not in the obvious “he beat me so now I have to beat him” way but again tying to his identity, that he has to be right or everything he did was for naught. And might even suggest he’s evil rather than pragmatic. I’m actually quite curious to see where on the hero spectrum he ends up because to me, it seems like he has a much bigger chance of ending up on the side of good than his little brother does.

He’s played by Kubota Yuki. And is also an incredibly sexy man. Far more so than any other of the cast.

There are other characters that I could talk about but right now I feel like they don’t matter much. Or at least not enough to warrant a couple of paragraphs of text. Gaim moves fast and I have half a series and a couple of movies to go before I’m at the end (then a whole slew of after-show movies too) and there’s honestly no telling who will actually end up being important at this point. In a few episodes, the entire playing field could be upended (and I think it will be) but I’m trying to save all the discussion about themes for the finale.

So far there’s no real clear cut villain, instead opting for a far more intricate “rider vs rider” style setup, similar to… Blade or Ryuki. In fact, so far the series reminds me a lot of Blade for some reason. There seems to be a lot of the same archetypes in play and similar story beats for some of the characters. There are a lot of Riders in play, some less important than others, but I’ve mentioned the four I highly suspect will be the key players towards the end. I might be completely wrong, though, we’ll see.

Next time I’ll talk a little more about the design of the Kamen Riders and the monsters and some other tidbits, possibly a bit more about the villains once I’ve got a better handle on them. But first up, movie review!

Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Gaim & Wizard: The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle

There’s an alternate world still in the Sengoku period where there’s a constant war between the various lords in an attempt to unify the country. Only instead of samurai, each Lord has their own Rider, their general. It is in this world that Gaim and Wizard suddenly find themselves due to different reasons. And to survive and save this world they must join forces to combat… Gaim!?

You can read my review of Kamen Rider Wizard here: Part 1, Part 2, Finale.

This movie is… it’s… well, it exists? Yes, it definitely does that. I’m split on this movie mostly because of how they structure their movies: one part Wizard, one part Gaim then one combined segment where they fight together. And as I review the whole movie I try to take the parts as a whole but it’s quite difficult sometimes, especially if they’re of varying quality.

And that’s the case here. Wizard’s segment is so bad I almost turned the movie off. Or at least paused it to cleanse my palate after it was done. The thing here is that there was no real good way of bringing Haruto back and give him a decent story. Kamen Rider Wizard’s story was, for all intents and purposes, done. Haruto had dealt with a lot of his feelings and it’s only through magical characterization hand waving that we find out that, nope, that was not the case. And there’s still stuff he needs to deal with.

In my eyes that cheapens the ending of Wizard, regardless of whether I liked it or not. Haruto’s journey had ended and while he went on a new one, it was merely a new chapter in his life, not a continuation. But that is what we get, the cast of Wizard going over what happened in the end and sort of putting it to rest. Even though I maintain that no such thing was needed.

So Haruto is back and inexplicably so is Kosuke for… no really adequately explained reason. I mean, I know why he’s back, still some toys of Kamen Rider Beast on the shelves to sell, but for story purposes he was done, making almost the ultimate sacrifice at the end of Wizard, potentially trading his own life for that of the city and losing his powers in process. And yet here he is, back with his belt (which he’s not allowed to use but still has, for some reason?) in the thick of it.

Worse yet is that he is completely squandered. They easily could’ve made him the star, coming to terms with the loss of his powers and what it would mean getting them back, the consequences of that and maybe, and I say this with a wistful look in my eyes, trade his own life which would’ve driven Haruto to come back. Perhaps Kosuke being defeated or giving his life only for the villain to get away would make Haruto don the cape once again to set things right.

But instead it’s just… Haruto hasn’t dealt with what happened, rehash the plot and more or less end exactly where we left off. I’m not saying there weren’t interesting stories left to tell for Wizard but there were significantly more interesting stories left to tell than this. Like, how did everyone move on with their lives? Did Kosuke ever get something resembling a life after becoming powerless? What has Haruto been doing since he left on his journey? What did Shunpei decide to do with his life and what happened to Rinko’s career in the police? Worse than not answering these questions, the movie flat out just doesn’t ask them. The supporting cast is utterly pointless to where you could’ve just had Haruto and things would’ve been virtually the same.

I guess if you were a big fan of Wizard then the Wizard segment of the movie filled some kind of purpose but I personally found it completely worthless. It did nothing to further the Wizard characters or their stories and it wasn’t even that tied into the main plot of the movie. It doesn’t even take place in this “Sengoku” world that is in the title of the movie. Wizard’s story ends when suddenly, bam, a new monster appears, kidnaps Kosuke and Haruto goes after. That’s it, that’s how Wizard is tied into the story and considering it took them half an hour to get there… just… no.

Which brings us to the two thirds of the movie left. Yup, that’s right, this movie is a whopping 90 minutes and one third of that is dedicated to a Wizard story that isn’t even related to the actual story of the movie. On that note, Gaim doesn’t really have a Gaim-specific segment, it’s just that it takes an additional 30 minutes for Gaim and Wizard to actually meet for the promised team up. Most spent with Gaim waddling around being told exposition about the world and how it works with the Lords and Bujin Riders and all of that.

I mean, it’s fine, I guess? But again it takes far too long for anything to happen and the villain is incredibly weak. Mostly because he only has an hour to be developed and we’re never really given any insight into his motivation outside of “I want to rule the world.” In other words, he’s an extremely cliche villain with cliche motivation and cliche dialog.

What possibly disappointed me the most about this part of the movie is that they promised that a bunch of actors from previous Kamen Rider series would appear but… I mean, they do but calling them glorified cameos is probably the most honest thing we can do. They definitely do not add anything to the experience and they serve virtually no important function at all. Worse yet, they don’t actually bring back any of the main Riders, instead just having the Riders appearing in their suits and not in person. Which just strikes me as incredibly dull. I know it works very strangely over there with agents and contracts but would it have been THAT difficult to rope some of the old actors into doing at least voice work? It’s just… lifeless and so phoned in it actually disturbs me.

If Kyouryugers could get a few of the actors from series more than ten years old, don’t tell me you couldn’t get a few more main Riders in the mix, please.

Possibly the only thing that got me pumped was when the four Riders from Gaim got new powers by taking the powers of some of the older Riders. We get Fourze, OOO, W and Wizard (again for some reason) and I genuinely enjoyed these upgraded visual for some of my favorite Riders (not counting Wizard because one in a movie is one more than we need). And they do play around with it quite a bit, like having Takatora almost utter “Space is awesome!” but cutting it off and going “That’s just about enough of that.” Brilliant.

No, really, that line made me giggle out loud.

That’s a big part of why I still watch these movies despite them almost always being bad or just barely above average. The fun that can be had with new Riders running into old ones and interacting. The differences in personality and all the good stuff like that. But more often than not it doesn’t come across very well and it’s almost always way too focused on the new Rider. And it really shouldn’t be, it should be the two Riders coming together and telling a story that couldn’t be told otherwise. Like two surviving villains teaming up to create some kind of hybrid or… something along those lines. They’ve done this before and I really, really prefer this. But I think I might be misremembering it and confusing it with the Super Sentai versus movies which tend to mix villains.

Anyway, this movie wasn’t particularly good. Outside of the part where they take on the past Riders’ appearances, it’s a complete non-event. The parts involving Gaim are not awful or anything but I struggle to call them anything but average at best. Adding the all too weak Wizard segment it’s quite the dreary film.

Next time I’ll talk a little more about the design and what has happened so far in the series. I’ve yet to decide how to deal with the Taisen movie since it also involves the next Super Sentai series which I have yet to see. I might give it a miss for now and cover it when I watch ToQger. But there’s still another movie to go, Kamen Rider Gaim’s own movie so I’ll definitely be covering that. Until then, this stage is yours!

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