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Tokusatsu 101: Seasons of the Heisei Era – Part 2

Greetings, geeks of all ages! I am your guide through the wonderful world of Tokusatsu, Zach J., TD. (not a real doctor). Last we left off, I gave simple summaries on the first ten seasons of the Heisei era as well as personal thoughts and ratings. This time, I’ll be continuing with the synopses and ratings with the remaining 11 (technically 12) seasons of the Heisei era. A fun little tidbit is that from this point on, we’ll be covering the Neo Heisei era. Also known as Heisei Phase 2, this marks a shift in the production and marketing of Kamen Rider. Before, all of the Kamen Rider titles used the translation of Masked Rider as part of the English text for the title. But beginning with W (Double), Toei officially started using Kamen Rider as the English text for each season’s title. Now then, enough rambling, let’s do this!

2009: “We are the two-in-one Kamen Rider”

Neo Heisei Poster for W (Double)
Philip and Shotaro Hidari posed behind their combined form, Kamen Rider W (Double)

Somewhere in the windy city of Futo, criminals are being sold mysterious devices known as Gaia Memories by the Sonozaki family. These devices allow them to transform into monstrous forms known as Dopants and terrorize the city at large. It is up to hard-boiled detective Shotaro Hidari and his mysterious partner Philip to protect the city from the Dopant menace. Together, they fight as one as Kamen Rider W (Double). Shotaro and Philip must work together to stop the Sonozaki family and keep the Gaia Memories off the market.

As the first season of the Neo Heisei era, W knocks it out of the park with excellent characters and a well written plot. Not to mention that, as a detective season, the crime solving parts of the episodes are fun to follow. Perhaps one of the shortcomings of the season is that one of the characters can come off as annoying. Considering that she appears in practically every episode, you either learn to love her or at the very least tolerate her appearances on screen. However, that aside, W is still a great season and a must watch in my books.

Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch

2010: “I’ll transform!”

Neo Heisei Poster for OOO
Kamen Rider OOO surrounded by Core Medals

Mysterious medal-based monsters known as Greeed have been reawakened. Feeding off of human desire, they create minions called Yummys to do their bidding. The homeless traveler Eiji Hino is met by a mysterious disembodied arm that calls itself Ankh. In a bid to defeat the other Greeed, Ankh gives Eiji the OOO Driver and a set of Core Medals to allow him to transform into Kamen Rider OOO (pronounced Ohs, as in multiple O’s in a row).

A great season followed up by yet another great season. OOO is another season that has excellent characters and great designs. The story of OOO is another example of the great storytelling potential of Kamen Rider as a series. Not to mention that the relationships created between the characters is engaging and makes you want to see where the next episode takes them. The Neo Heisei era starts off with two great seasons in a row. Can it go for three?

Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch

2011: “Youth, switched on! It’s space time!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Fourze
Kamen Rider Fourze in space with the Rocket Module active

At Amanogawa High School, the usual flow of things is disrupted by the arrival of the new transfer student Gentaro Kisaragi. Upon introducing himself to his new classmates, he declares that he will befriend everyone. However, shortly after his arrival, the school finds itself under attack by a strange monster. Left with few options, his old childhood friend gives him the Fourze Driver and a set of Astro Switches to transform into Kamen Rider Fourze (pronounced FOUR-zay). Now he must battle against these monsters and uncover the mystery behind these Astro Switches.

For the third season in a row, the Neo Heisei era produces yet another great season. Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for the high school delinquent types of characters, but Gentaro ends up being one of my favorite Riders of all time, with only a select few standing above him. The season itself is much more light-hearted in general, essentially being a high school drama about the power of friendship. However, this makes Fourze a refreshing season and an excellent entry into the Rider series.

Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch

2012: “It’s showtime!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Wizard
Kamen Rider Wizard and his Magic Rings

A strange ritual on the day of a solar eclipse brought forth monstrous creatures known as Phantoms into the world. In order to do so, a large number of Gates, humans with high magic potential, had to be driven to despair. Haruto Souma, a Gate that survived the ritual, was given the WizarDriver and a mysterious girl by a wizard dressed in white. Now, acting as the final hope of mankind, Haruto becomes Kamen Rider Wizard to defeat the Phantoms.

Unfortunately, Wizard falls short of the mark as far as Kamen Rider is concerned. Much of the issues I have with Wizard stems from the main character himself. Wizard is rather boring and doesn’t really grow much as a character throughout his journey. Not to mention some of the other characters end up being rather lackluster due to the less than stellar writing of the season. One of the best characters of the season ends up being the secondary Rider, which is unfortunate since Wizard had a lot of potential as a character.

Personal Rating: 5/10, an okay season, but feel free to skip it

2013: “The Warring Riders Era!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Gaim
Kamen Rider Gaim posed in front of Baron, Ryugen, Zangetsu, and Gridon

The Yggdrasill Corporation has turned the bustling city of Zawame into something resembling a castle town. In order to distract from that feeling, young dancers group together and start dancing on stages around the city. As the dance groups begin to compete with one another, they start playing the Inves Game, played by summoning Inves through devices called Lockseeds. One day, Kouta Kazuraba, a former dancer for one of the teams, stumbles upon a mysterious belt and a special Lockseed. Kouta uses these to transform into Armored Rider Gaim (pronounced Gime, rhymes with lime). Little does he know that there is more to these games than he is aware of.

Gaim is quite possibly one of the best seasons not only of the Neo Heisei era, but all of Kamen Rider. This season is a well written coming of age story that allows all of its main characters to grow in a significant manner throughout the story. The relationships between characters is covered brilliantly and the shift in these relationships is riveting to watch. A tale full of emotional depth and growth, Gaim is absolutely a must watch. If you still need further convincing after all of that, the head writer for this season is none other than Gen Urobuchi, who famously wrote the story for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and the first season of Psycho-Pass. So, if you enjoyed any of those shows, you will without a doubt enjoy Gaim.

Personal Rating: 10/10, a must watch

2014: “Start your engine!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Drive
Kamen Rider Drive with some Shift Cars and his Ride Machine, the Tridoron

One night, during an intense chase between the cops and some criminals, a strange phenomenon occurs. Everything slowed down in its tracks, the people, the people, animals, and even the pouring rain. During this strange occurrence, elite cop Shinnosuke Tomari’s partner is injured and hospitalized. Now demoted to a Special Investigations Unit that investigates these Slowdowns, Shinnosuke finds himself stuck in a rut. However, he is soon recruited by the AI within the Drive Driver and transforms into Kamen Rider Drive. Now he fights against the cybernetic menace of the Roidmudes, the beings responsible for the Slowdowns.

Drive is a solid season overall, featuring a strong cast of characters and great villains that you love to see on screen. While not as bleak as the previous season, Drive does feature its dramatic moments as well as a slew of comedic moments. One of my bigger gripes with this season is that, despite featuring a clearly competent female character that is capable of fighting, they do not let her become a Rider. That is mostly a personal complaint, but still one that I have. Other than that, while still a great season as a whole, the ending does leave a little to be desired.

Personal Rating: 8/10, a great season to watch

2015: “Life, burn bright!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Ghost
Kamen Rider Ghost with the Ghost Parkas of the Heroes Musashi, Newton, and Edison

Takeru Tenkuji, an aspiring Ghost Hunter, lives his daily life at the Daitenku Temple with the other monks and trainees. On his 18th birthday, he receives a mysterious eye-shaped trinket called an Eyecon from his late father. Upon receiving it, he begins to see ghosts and other ghost-like entities called Ganma. When these Ganma attack his friends, he boldly fights them. However, this proves to be his undoing as the attacking Ganma kill him. After his untimely death, he is met by a strange Hermit who gives him the Ghost Driver as well as a quest: Gather the Eyecons of fifteen heroic spirits in 99 days in order to come back to life or disappear forever. Now, Takeru returns to his friends to defend them as Kamen Rider Ghost and gather the fifteen heroic spirits.

Despite the excellent designs of the suits and Ghost Parkas of Ghost, this season is widely considered to be the worst season of Kamen Rider to date. The story is so poorly handled, later parts of the story actually negate the urgency presented in earlier episodes. And while his suit design is actually one of my all-time favorites, the main Rider is a boring character that basically gets new powers as the plot requires it. It doesn’t help that the head writer for the season wrote less than half of the total episodes, so the general direction of the season most likely was not well coordinated.

Personal Rating: 3/10, I suggest you skip this one.

2016 Reboot: “The hunt begins”

Neo Heisei Poster for Amazons
Kamen Rider Amazon Omega crouched in front of Amazon Alpha

Unbeknownst to the public, strange creatures are popping up within the city and devouring humans. These man-eating monsters are known as Amazons. Nozama Peston is an Amazon hunting team that disguises themselves as a pest removal service to the public. They travel around the city and exterminate whatever Amazons may pop up. Meanwhile, Haruka Mizusawa is a meek and frail young man, confined to his home due to a medical condition. One day, after not taking his medicine, an odd instinct awakens in him and he transforms into an Amazonz. He is met by the mysterious Jin Takayama, who puts on a strange belt and transforms into Kamen Rider Amazon Alpha. Just what are these strange creatures, where did they come from, and why were they created?

Amazonz is the first web series for Kamen Rider that is directed at an older audience. As such, Kamen Rider Amazonz is a much gorier and serious affair compared to other seasons. I find that this reboot of a Showa era season is very successful as a season targeted at older audiences. The attacks are appropriately vicious and the story doesn’t have to dance around the gore with explosions. Amazonz is split into two thirteen episode seasons, with the end of the story being told in a movie that has yet to be officially released outside of Japan. However, if you are interested in watching Amazonz, both seasons are officially available through Amazon Prime Video as Amazon Riders.

Personal Rating: 8/10, a great season to watch

2016: “Game start!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Ex-Aid
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid with Brave, Snipe, Lazer, and a mysterious black Ex-Aid behind him

A new type of virus called the Bugster Virus has slowly started to spread throughout the public. A person infected by the virus releases a Bugster, video game virus, into the real world. In order to fight this, the Gamer Driver was created to combat the Bugsters released by infected patients to cure them. Hojo Emu, a pediatric med student, is also a genius gamer known as “M”. Using the Gamer Driver, he transforms into Kamen Rider Ex-Aid and uses his video game-based powers save his patient’s lives.

Ex-Aid is another fun season that features a colorful cast of characters. The story is presented as a doctor drama with a side of video game antics. In all honesty, I did not expect much going into this season. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the story got into its serious moments. All in all, Ex-Aid is a good story with some fun characters.

Personal Rating: 8/10, a great season to watch

2017: “Let’s start the experiment!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Build
Kamen Rider Build back-to-back with Cross-Z surrounded by Full Bottles and Guardians

10 years ago, man made its first successful mission to Mars. When the astronaut returned, he brought back a mysterious box. Now called the Pandora Box, the box split Japan into three different sections. These sections were divided by the Skywall, a mysterious wall created by the box. Now, the government has hired the prodigious physicist Sento Kiryu to solve the mystery of the box. However, while Sento solves the mystery of the box, he must also uncover another mystery: The mystery of his own past. The only memory he has to go on is a mysterious figure dressed like a bat. After Ryuga Banjou, a convict, escapes from a strange laboratory, Sento comes one step closer to solving his own mystery. He transforms into Kamen Rider Build in order to uncover the truth behind the mysterious creatures called Smash and his own past.

Another excellent season of Kamen Rider in terms of story, characters, and design. As a story following a brilliant physicist uncovering mysteries left and right, the show does a good job of answering questions while raising new ones. Naturally, as the story progresses, these new mysteries lead to yet more mysteries until the final arc of the story. Of course, what really ties this season together is the relationships between the characters. On top of that, Build has my favorite villain in all of Rider. All in all, a great season overall, even though certain episodes drag on parts that I feel are unnecessary.

Personal Rating: 9/10, highly recommended

2018: “Rejoice, for the birth of a new king!”

Neo Heisei Poster for Zi-O
Kamen Rider Zi-O and Geiz surrounded by the past Heisei Riders

Sougo Tokiwa is a high school student who has one goal: to become king. His peaceful high school life is suddenly disrupted when a mysterious flying machine starts following him around. As it attacks him, another flying machine interrupts and saves Sougo. The pilot takes him into her machine and introduces herself as Tsukuyomi, who has come from 2068 to prevent a terrible future: A future ruled by the overlord Ohma Zi-O, Sougo’s future self. After the appearance of a strange being known as an Another Rider, another person calling himself Woz appears at Sougo’s side. He presents him with the Time-Space Driver to transform into Kamen Rider Zi-O (pronounced Zee-Oh, like saying the letters Z and O). In order to prevent the future that he has been told, he vows to become the kindest, most beloved overlord with his newfound power.

As another anniversary series, Zi-O is something of a mixed bag for me. While Zi-O does some great tributes to earlier seasons, it also has some not so great tributes as well. A lot of the plot is also somewhat disjointed as it tries to work around the schedules of available actors so that they can comeback for an appearance. While it is greatly appreciated to see these characters comeback, the story does suffer from it. Ultimately, while enjoyable, this season is on the lower end for me.

Personal Ratings: 6/10, a fun season, but suffers from too much clutter.

Final Thoughts

Whooo, we did it. That was all of the Heisei Seasons of Kamen Rider. I really do hope that reading through these has convinced some of you to give Kamen Rider a shot. As a fan of the series, it is my sincere wish that you give the show a try. These stories are wonderful tales of Justice that follow these colorfully dressed Karate Bugmen. If nothing else, just give at least one season three episodes. If it doesn’t hook you, that’s just fine. At the very least you gave it an honest try. Anyways, that’s it from me for this article. I hope you’ll join me again sometime for the next article in my series. For my next topic, I’m thinking of going into the Super Sentai series. That’s subject to change, but we’ll see. Anyways, this is Zach J., TD (not a real doctorate) signing off.

See you next Rider Time~

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