I try my best not to judge a new Rider show until I actually see a handful of episodes. But let me tell you, when I heard that this year’s Rider was fruit themed, I almost handed in my Toku card and turned my back. I’m glad I didn’t because as goofy and saturated as Gaim’s World is, the show is turning in more compelling drama than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
We’re twelve episodes in and it’s taken me a while to warm up to series. I almost clocked out after the first four episodes. We got a very surface introduction to a world that I find horribly difficult to relate to. Gangs of high school kids compete with each other with pokemon to dance on stage? The hell? And when Kouta gets his Rider powers, he uses the suit to play stupid games all for personal gain.
And then episode five happened. Kouta first encounters Kamen Rider Zangetsu and gets his ass handed to him. Kouta realizes that there’s more at stake than just dancing on stage and it freaks him the fuck out. And then it hit me.
This show is really Kamen Rider Spider-Man.
When Peter Parker discovers his spider powers, his first instinct is to cash in. He hops into a wrestling match to win the big cash prize. It’s a completely selfish act that results in the death of his uncle. Peter learns a harsh lesson and dedicates the rest of his life to using his powers responsibly. Though no one has yet died because of Kouta’s initial selfish uses of his belt, he feels a similar responsibility to those around him to use his new powers for good.
Since episode five, Kouta’s feeling of underlying dread has started to permeate the show. Though it’s still very playful and colorful and mostly a half hour toy commercial, there’s a real sense that something horribly fucked up is coming down the road. Episode twelve kind of nails it right on the head. Michi and Kouta have discovered that Yggdrasil has been using the Beat Riders as guinea pigs for some unknown experiment. The only way to stop Yggdrasil’s secret plot is to not play the game. When Michi tells Kouta to throw away the belt, there’s a moment of dead silence and my jaw dropped. Riders rarely question their fight for justice and here we have Michi and Kouta seriously discussing ending the show right now.
But by now, Kouta is far down the path of great responsibility. There are creatures invading the town and attacking people and only those with belts have the power to stop them. Certainly, whatever Yggdrasil is up to can’t be good. And every time a Beat Rider transforms, Yggdrasil can collect more data from the belt. But there are monsters and there are innocents and Kouta will save them because it’s the right thing to do. When the battle is won, the look Kouta gives Michi says, “What else could I do? I have to protect this town.” The look Michi gives Kouta says, “The only way to win this game is to not play. Ever.” The tension between them is palpable. They understand where the other one is coming from, but they also can’t accept it. I have a feeling that there’s a powerful rivalry building between them, much more so than Kouta and Baron.
In manner which only seems to work well in tokusatsu, Kamen Rider Gaim is doing a wonderful job of balancing colorful humor with deep drama all while selling toys to the kiddies. I’m so impressed that they’ve managed to make the fruit theme work. It’s shaping up to be a really entertaining series and worlds better than Wizard.