Tuesday, January 10, 2012

XTREEEME! Some thoughts on Kamen Rider W.

So, last semester was really rape-tastic.  Three hours of sleep a night on average between study and retail work really had me not caring about blogging.  Honestly, it's not like anybody reads this thing.  I only get hits for my images. The only thing I cared about was the unhealthy caffeine fix I developed and still haven't ditched.  Mmmmm, coffee.  However, I did find time every morning before school/work to watch an episode of Kamen Rider W.  I just recently finished it, and have some thoughts.  Here goes:

Kamen Rider W (Double) is the most recent Rider show that I've seen all the way through.  As you may or may not recall, the last Rider show I have seen in its entirety before this was Agito, so there's a relatively big time and style gap in between these two shows.  I have gotten a taste for some the Heisei shows in between, but I haven't finished any besides Kuuga, Agito, and W.

"Now, count up your sins."

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by W.  On the surface, you see Philip, a young man with a feminine taste in style and Shotaro, another young guy with a flair for 40's fashion.  No Showa manliness here, right?  Well, Shotaro does a great job of carrying the show.  He's got the sense of justice, and he tries to be cool and sometimes succeeds.  He essentially is trying to live up to his late mentor, Soukichi Narumi's legacy.  Shotaro comes into his own throughout the series as he tries to be like the hard-boiled detective Narumi, and he has moments of brilliance for sure, even though it's painfully obvious (and stated by many characters) that he's actually half-boiled.

On the other hand, Philip is a fascinating character who has the entirety of the Earth's knowledge seemingly at his disposal.  Together, Shotaro and Philip make a crazy good detective team, solving crimes committed by monsters known as Dopants, people augmented by the voluntary use of Gaia Memories, which kinda look like funky USB drives.  Philip's purpose, as well as his mental access to the Gaia Library, remains a mystery for quite some time.

Using their Double Driver, Shotaro and Philip get to use their own special Gaia Memories to become Kamen Rider W.  When this happens, Philip passes out and his consciousness is transferred over to join Shotaro's.  Philip having an unconscious body while he fights alongside his partner as W proves to both humorous and dangerous at times.  In addition, the fact that coordination is required to become W is a bit of a unique weakness at times.  For instance, if either Shotaro or Philip is in a tight spot or is injured, transformation may or may not happen.  The dynamic between these two partners really shines and helps to make this show special, especially in the last few episodes, one of which contains a well-done moment between the two that actually made me tear up a bit, and I don't consider myself much of a crier.

Akiko enjoying her time with delicious, unconscious Philip.

On top of things, the late Soukichi Narumi's daughter, Akiko, joins our heroes early on and becomes the chief of their little detective agency.  She's mostly there for the laughs and slapstick moments, but she lacks one very important tidbit of knowledge for some time: what exactly happened to her father.  She initially thinks he is still alive and has just gone somewhere for a while.  Shotaro has quite a time gaining the courage to tell her what actually happened on Begins Night.  By the way, the actual story of Begins Night is depicted in greater detail during Kamen Rider X Kamen Rider: W and Decade - Movie Taisen 2010 (whew, what a name), and is probably the high point of the movie.  (Sorry, Dickeido.)

Akiko's wrath:  Slipper beat down.

We also eventually get a secondary rider: Terui Ryu aka Kamen Rider Accel.   He is our pissed off, vengeful rider, whose ruthless and unforgiving brand of justice initially conflicts with Shotaro's half-boiled brand.  He's basically a cop that is trying to find the Dopant that killed his family.  He's the kind of guy that grows on you after a while, and his suit design does as well.  Ryu's got some good development as he learns the details behind his family's demise, and he learns that whole "love is more powerful than hatred" bit.  By the end, he's an awesome character and a useful addition to the team. 

LED lights in the helmet AND a stylish finisher.

Also making things interesting is the Sonozaki family, the head of which is the director of The Museum, an enigmatic organization responsible for not only Gaia Memory distribution and research, but much bigger plans as well.  Kamen Rider W is filled with all sorts of other quirky characters, and has an entertaining and memorable cast overall.

Moving on.

Any show that has me asking questions that I want answered is doing a good job of keeping me hooked, and W did just this.  Some answers are painfully obvious, such as who Philip's family is.  Others, such as who was Soukichi Narumi's client on Begins Night, don't get answered until much later.  Of course, other seemingly obvious leads to the big picture are often overlooked by the main characters, which is a bit interesting, considering one is a detective and the other has access to so much information.  The writers cover their tracks up later with some interesting excuses, though.  Things like, "You stayed away because my Gaia Memory had a subconscious, terrifying effect on you" and Philip's Gaia Library access being cut off to certain subjects is horribly convenient for some of the plot, but hey, it's toku.  I don't watch these shows expecting amazing writing, but some key things kinda jump out at you as being lame or a little cheap.

The music in Kamen Rider W certainly isn't cheap. There are many vocal songs used for the ending sequences, several of them based on the form W uses for the finisher.  Accel gets his own kickass theme, and Koji Kikkawa, the guy who plays Soukichi Narumi, carries a great tune as well.  All the songs are quite good, and the BGM is solid as well, ranging from jazzy to heroic to creepy.

Not only can Soukichi Narumi sing, but he's stylin' on you, too.

Some more thoughts:

I feel that W's suit design is one of the best ones in the last few entries of the series.  Simple enough, but fully embracing the aspect of W's abilities by changing color for each Gaia Memory combination.  The Cyclone Joker default combo even has a half-cape on one side, perhaps a throwback to Shotaro Ishinomori's taste for scarves.  On that topic, I wonder if Shotaro was named after Kamen Rider's creator.  I don't know the official story, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Ishinomori-style depiction of W.

I'm not sure I have much else to say about Kamen Rider W other than that it was one hell of a fun ride.  It's the kind of show, especially toward the end, that can make you tear up one minute and then smile the next.  If that isn't the sign of a good show, I don't know what is.  I got attached enough to the characters that when I see them make cameos in the later Kamen Rider movies, I practically cheer because I actually missed these guys.  I don't want to say that it's my favorite Heisei Rider show, because the trend is that my "favorite" actually turns out to whichever one I watched last, so I naturally question that kind of assessment.  So, I'm not saying that Kamen Rider W is my favorite Heisei series...but it's my favorite Heisei series.

I definitely recommend watching it.  As a bonus, have some delicious, cross-dressing Philip.

Hell, this show was a treasure trove of funny screen shots/reaction faces.  Have some more.

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