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Kamen Rider Ryuki

One madman, desperate to save a doomed loved one, concocts a game which will see 13 battle to the death for the ultimate prize: one reality-altering wish.

This is the world of Kamen Rider Ryuki.

As is typical of series in the Kamen Rider franchise, Ryuki has an outrageous premise. It’s a little bit Highlander, it’s a little bit Digimon and a whole lot of Kamen Rider. It revolves around a mirror world populated by a menagerie of monsters and it is there that the battle of the 13 riders is fought.

Each of the thirteen riders has a reason to play the game. One seeks to revive his comatose lover while another is dying and seeks immortality. One simply wants to improve his lot in life while another craves power. A few try to stop the killing while others are less altruistic and simply revel in meting out death and destruction.

You could say Death, the rider of the pale horse, is the 14th rider as death — and the five stages of grief — play an important part in the series. Many of the characters are dying or doomed to die. Many desperately seek to change their fates and the fates of others. Some will succeed but only at great cost.

The lead, a naif named Kidou Shinji, is presented with difficult, painful and unfair choices as the series progresses. Is saving ten lives worth sacrificing one life? What if that one life happens to be someone you care about? What if you have friends among the ten as well? What path would a true hero take? This being a tokusatsu show, chop-socky action naturally takes precedence over Moral Philosophy 101 but I appreciate the emotive layer since it elevates the action above random acts of senseless violence.

The battle scenes are typical of the newer Kamen Rider series: lots of style and ambition but the CG special effects often tend to fall slightly short in execution. I’m often left wondering at the things they could accomplish if they had a bigger budget but the effects, as they are, do well enough.

Comparisons with more recent Kamen Rider series? Ryuki lacks 555’s panache and accessibility but unlike 555 and the bland Blade, Ryuki packs an emotional punch. There are many moving, stirring moments in this series and some depressingly sad moments as well.

Considering how grim and depressing the series can get, I was surprised to find it to be much funnier than 555 and Blade. Kidou Shinji is probably the goofiest character to ever henshin and the supporting cast is capable of some entertaining hijinks as well. And bearing in mind how over-the-top Kamen Rider henshin sequences can be (e.g. Alternative 0’s absurd transformation), Kitaoka’s mimed henshin in the hilarious episode 30 is by my reckoning the funniest scene in a Kamen Rider series.

I caught the VCD boxset (22 VCDs containing the series and the 13 Riders Special) and a DVD of Episode Final, the Kamen Rider Ryuki movie. (I had earlier purchased a VCD boxset containing the first 15 episodes of the series and was immediately hooked.) The set is a Hong Kong bootleg but it has a veneer of legitimacy because it’s been approved by the local censorship board.

The VCDs are in the original Japanese and have been subbed with Chinese and English subtitles which are onscreen simultaneously. If that wasn’t annoying enough, the subbers weren’t especially conscientious about getting the English subtitles right. If the character’s named Goro and is referred to repeatedly as “Goro-chan” what would possess the subbers to refer to him as “Inagaki”? Truly, an enigma worthy of an Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World episode.

The Episode Final movie, which posits the battle of the 13 riders was the result of a missed play date, is only notable for the debuts of Kamen Rider Femme and Kamen Rider Repaint Ryuga, and its final third which builds strongly to a … non-ending. The 13 Riders special, on the other hand, has nothing commendable about it aside from its gimmick: viewers could choose their preferred … non-ending.

A Malay-dubbed version of the show is being currently being shown locally (noon Saturday on NTV7, fact fans) and the really neat thing about this is that the merchandise has been brought in and at very nice prices as well. Here’s hoping the powers that be will eventually bring in Faiz and Blade as well.

Ryuki links:

  • TV-Asahi and Toei have official sites.
  • Jillun’s site is the definitive English-language Ryuki site with excellent character bios as well as write-ups of a few episodes of the series, the special and the movie. This is the place to go to if you’re curious about the series.
  • The Japanese WikiPedia entry for the series has some fascinating notes.
  • This Trends in Japan article notes women in their thirties make up the largest share of Ryuki’s audience after kids aged 4-12.
  • In terms of action figures, the recent collector-oriented Souchaku Henshin (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and S.I.C figures (1, 2, 3) stand out but I’m fond of the R&M (Rider and Monster) Sets (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) as they’re a lot more fun not to mention a little more faithful to the designs seen on the show. Japanese toy fans K and Yone have reviews.

Posted in Reviews, TV.