Tokusatsu 101: Seasons of the Heisei Era – Part 1
Greetings, geeks of all ages! It’s me, Professor of Toku (self-proclaimed), Zach J., TD. (not an actual title). If you’re reading this, that means you’re back for another exciting installment of the Tokusatsu 101 series. Or, this is the first article of mine that you’re reading. In which case, welcome and consider reading the other entries in this series. This article will be talking about the Seasons of Rider in the Heisei Era.
In the last article, I gave a rundown of the different Eras that Kamen Rider is split into. It was a long, but necessary explanation. This time, it will be giving you simple synopses of the Seasons of the Heisei Era as well as my personal ratings. This will be done in two parts as there are 21 (technically 22) seasons to cover. I will not be covering the Showa Era mostly because the shows are not as readily accessible in decent quality. The only one that is readily available for streaming is the original Kamen Rider from 1971. If you’re interested in watching it, you can officially watch it at Shout Factory TV through their TokuSHOUTsu channel. Also, I will not be covering the Reiwa Era seasons as the second one is still ongoing. Now then, let’s do this!
2000: “A new hero, a new legend”
In the year 2000, an archaeological dig uncovers an ancient tomb hidden in the mountains. Inside, a mysterious belt is discovered alongside a warning. The team that discovered the tomb is attacked by a strange monster shortly after. When this unidentified lifeform follows after the belt and attacks the investigators, professional dream chaser Yusuke Godai puts on the belt and transforms into Kamen Rider Kuuga. Now he must face off against these unknown creatures and solve the mystery of their appearance.
For the first entry of the Era, it is a pitch perfect start. The story is well told and maintains a good pace throughout, with an excellent ending. The tone of Kuuga is more dramatic when compared to previous seasons. And while they are archaic, the visual effects for the time are great and well put together. My only real gripe is that it only features a single Rider throughout, though that’s a personal nitpick rather than an actual knock on the season. Still, if you’d like to watch Kuuga, you can officially watch it over at Shout Factory TV via their TokuSHOUTsu channel.
Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch.
2001: “Awaken the soul”
Shoichi Tsugami does not remember anything of his past. He has no recollection of where he came from or how he got to where he is. However, when he finds himself around the mysterious creatures called Unknown, he transforms into the equally mysterious Kamen Rider Agito (pronounced AH-gi-toe). What are these creatures? How did he obtain these powers? What does it mean to have these powers? Shoichi must find the answers to these mysteries and many more as he goes on his journey of discovery.
Another excellent entry in the series, Agito is a well made season with good use of practical and special effects. The story itself maintains a good balance of drama and comedy, as well as a good sense of mystery. Not to mention, the Rider designs in this season are well done. I am partial to how they handled G3 as a man-made Rider that has to take the time to actually equip the armor rather than transforming with a belt.
Personal Rating: 9/10, highly recommended
2002: “Those who don’t fight, don’t survive”
In a parallel world, an unseen war is being fought. A Rider War, fought between thirteen chosen Riders, rages on. As the battle goes on, journalist trainee Shinji Kido investigates a missing persons case. This investigation eventually leads him to being pulled into the Mirror World and right into the fray. Now, after making a contract with the mysterious dragon Dragredder, Shinji transforms into Kamen Rider Ryuki and must fight in the Rider War or become another casualty.
This season introduces the concept of Rider Wars into the series, as well as having Riders being the main villains of the show. While the concept is fresh and the idea is well fleshed out, the season loses steam towards the end. And though the season is filled with great moments, it ultimately falls short when it comes to the ending.
Personal Rating: 7/10, fun to watch.
2003: “Running instinct”
The world is beset by the appearance of the Orphnochs, monstrous creatures that begin targeting the human populace. Major tech conglomerate Smart Brain has developed a series of power suits called Rider Gear. Before they can be put to use, they are stolen by the company’s former chief. When one of the chief’s foster children is attacked, lone wolf Takumi Inui is dragged into the fight. Donning the Rider Gear, he transforms into Kamen Rider 555 (pronounced Faiz, alternatively rendered Kamen Rider Φ‘s). Now he must battle against the Orphnochs in order to keep humanity from being wiped out.
This season is a more serious drama/soap opera type of season, with much of the focus being on the characters and the relationships between them. However, while the character focus is appreciated, there are plot holes that drag down the quality of the season. That said, I still enjoy this season quite a bit. The bleak tone of the season and overarching plot are handled well.
Personal Rating: 7/10, fun to watch.
2004: “Take the trump card of fate”
Long ago, a massive battle known as the Battle Royal was fought among fifty-two creatures known as the Undead. After a hard-fought battle, the Human Undead stood as the victor. With the battle over, the Undead were sealed away as Humans prospered. In present day, archaeologists discover the sealed Undead and release them, beginning another Battle Royal. To keep humanity safe, the organization BOARD has developed the Rider System. Now, the new recruit Kazuma Kenzaki transforms into Kamen Rider Blade to stop the Undead and seal them away.
Blade as a season is full of ups and downs. The first half of the season is not particularly well done, with many memes and jokes revolving around many of the earlier moments. However, starting with the second half, the season becomes much better. The production staff shifted the season to make it more serious in tone, with the ending of the season being one of the best in all of Rider. That said, it does take thirty or so episodes to get into the better part of the season. While I still enjoy the season, memes and all, it is difficult to ask someone to keep watching to get to episode thirty-one for the best parts of the show.
Personal Rating: 8/10, a great season to watch.
2005: “To us, there are heroes”
Deep in the mountains, there exist different types of Kamen Rider: Oni. These Oni, masters of combat with sound, defend humanity from the threat of the man-eating Makamou. One of the Oni, Kamen Rider Hibiki (pronounced HEE-bee-key), meets a young boy who wishes to learn from him. While this young boy transitions into high school life, he seeks the advice of Hibiki. Forming a strange master-apprentice relationship with the boy, Hibiki must defend the world while teaching a young boy about the pains of growing up.
If the description sounds like a mess, that’s unfortunately because this season is one. Due to many production issues behind the scenes that led to a major staff change, the quality of the season suffers greatly. The season itself has an interesting concept in presenting Oni as Kamen Rider that fight using musical instruments. However, the overall quality of Hibiki suffers from trying to balance what ends up being three shows at once. Ultimately, while parts of it are enjoyable, this season is easily one of the worst in the series.
Personal Rating: 4/10, don’t force yourself to watch the whole season if you don’t want to.
2006: “Walk heaven’s path to rule over everything”
Seven years ago, a meteorite landed in Japan, bringing along with it extraterrestrial passengers. The Worms, bug-like monsters capable of mimicking people near-perfectly, now threaten the daily lives of the people. In order to combat this menace, the military technology company ZECT creates new gear called Zecters. These Zecters harmonize with their users to transform them into Kamen Riders capable of fighting against the Worms. The man who walks the path of heaven, Soji Tendo, harmonizes with the Kabuto Zecter to transform into Kamen Rider Kabuto (pronounced KAH-boo-toe).
This is the season that introduced me to the Kamen Rider series. It was the discovery of this show that led me down the path of becoming a TD (not a real doctorate) and changed my life forever. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would rate this show a perfect ten out of ten. However, as I’ve grown up and become more versed in storytelling, I can say that this season is not without issue. What ultimately brings down the rating of this season is the main rider himself. While he has excellent moments as the hero of the story, he is very much a boring, invincible hero that doesn’t change much over the course of the season. That said, while he himself doesn’t change much, he influences many of the characters around him, leading them to great change over the course of the story.
Personal Rating: 8/10, a great season to watch
2007: “Traveling through time, here I come!”
Imagin, beings capable of traveling through time by granting people wishes, seek to change the past and destroy the future. Ryotaro Nogami, a terribly unlucky young man, one day finds a strange train pass lying in a nearby gutter. Soon after, he is possessed by one of the Imagin. This red devil-like being tries to coerce him into making a wish, but ultimately ends up fighting alongside Ryotaro, who transforms into Kamen Rider Den-O to fight against the Imagin. The train from earlier, the DenLiner, takes both him and the Imagin in as passengers. Together, they must stop the other Imagin from running rampant and destroying the future.
This is easily one of the most popular seasons of Kamen Rider. Den-O as a whole is much more light-hearted when compared to previous entries in the series. But while the comedy is much more prevalent, this does not mean that there are no dramatic moments. In fact, the excellent balance between drama and comedy is what makes this season so hugely popular. The overarching story is handled well, the character’s interactions are fun to watch, and the growth of the relationships between characters is incredible.
Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch.
2008: “Wake up! Break the chains of destiny!”
Lurking hidden within society, there are creatures known as Fangire. These monstrosities consume the life force of humans in order to survive. In 1986, a lone Fangire Hunter hunts the monsters down to protect humanity. One day, she comes across Otoya Kurenai, a master violinist and ladies man. This leads him to get entangled in the battle against the Fangires. Twenty-two years later, Otoya is missing, leaving his reclusive son Wataru to pick up the fight in his stead. Now, Wataru fights against the Fangire menace as Kamen Rider Kiva alongside Kivat-Bat the 3rd.
This season is interesting, though a bit difficult to follow if you don’t pay close attention to the story. The story follows both father and son during their respective time periods, 1986 and 2008. While the general plot line is difficult to follow, the characters and their relationships are fun to watch. However, this is not a season you can play in the background while doing something else and still follow along with the story. Not to mention that jumping between two different time periods constantly makes the pacing seem a little too fast since we as the audience have to follow two different heroes.
Personal Rating: 6/10, a fun season, but suffers from too much clutter.
2009: “Destroy everything, connect everything”
Tsukasa Kadoya is a young photographer who somehow cannot take photos correctly. Every time he does, the photo comes out distorted and blurry. He has no memories of why that is or how he ended up where he is. However, his peaceful life is forever changed when strange curtains of light start appearing out of nowhere. These curtains of light cause turn out to be signs of several worlds joining as one. In order to keep this from happening and destroying the world, Tsukasa transforms into Kamen Rider Decade. However, Decade is heralded as the Destroyer of Worlds. What truths are hidden away by his lost memories? Is Decade the savior of the world, or the destroyer?
This season celebrates the ten year anniversary of the Heisei Era of Kamen Rider. As such, Decade focuses on interacting with the past Riders and celebrating each season. Unfortunately, this is another season plagued with many production issues. All of these production issues led to Decade being one of the shortest seasons of Rider at the time, coming in at a mere thirty episodes during its original run. When the season was re-run, the final episode was recut and edited to become two episodes, bringing the final episode count to thirty-one. These production issues, along with the plot problems of the story itself, leads to Decade being on the lower end of the scale for me.
Personal Rating: 5/10, an okay season, but feel free to skip it.
Woo, okay, that was a lot to cover. I hope you’ve been sticking through with me for the entire article. There’s a lot of stuff to cover and even more things to cover for the next article. So please, join me next time when I cover the second half of the Heisei era seasons! It’ll be a fun one, I guarantee it.
See you next Rider Time~