Aside from the stuff made available in America, Kamen Rider Black is the first toku show that I got into. Some people suggested it as a decent starting point for getting into Kamen Rider, and I thought the designs were cool, not to mention that the title carried with it an implication that it was a bit of a darker entry in the series.
I have been picking at Black for quite some time, as Century Kings has been slowly churning out episodes throughout the span of several years. (No hating on Pal, he did a great job.) CK finally finished all of the subs, so after seeing all of the episodes, I feel like I can give some thoughts on the series as a whole.
The series starts out with a feeling of darkness and desperation, as we see Minami Kotaro running and hiding from three floaty priest-looking dudes. You quickly find out that they don't want to kill him. Rather, with the help of his foster father, Kotaro has escaped the evil organization, Golgom, and they want him back because they have modified him to be Black Sun, one of the two century kings that will battle to become Golgom's new creation king. During this pursuit, which is full of cheesy but lovable mid-80's special effects, the Golgom priests eventually catch up with Kotaro. After getting smashed through a wall, Kotaro emerges all steamy-like as the transformed Black Sun.
Long story short, he proves to be difficult to capture in this new form, and vows to stop Golgom and rescue his friend/stepbrother, Nobuhiko, who is being transformed into the other century king, Shadow Moon. He takes the name of Kamen Rider Black and becomes a friend of justice, stopping Golgom's crazy plots and annihilating their mutants.
Minami Kotaro is a likable guy, and he possesses many of the heroic qualities of his Kamen Rider predecessors. One thing in particular that I love about Kotaro is his intensity. He has that way of getting visibly angry about Golgom's latest plot, glaring, yelling something about how it is "Unforgivable!", and clenching his fists, which often begins the Black transformation. I think that Tetsuo Kurata deserves a lot of credit for his acting as Minami Kotaro. He is truly great. Even the Black transformation itself is a bit intense, with the snappy arm movements, and the steam erupting from Black's armor. The whole package is just pure badassery.
Kotaro is not alone, however. Kyoko, Nobuhiko's younger sister, is essentially Kotaro's sister as well, and she is one of his few sources of support, even if his struggles as Kamen Rider Black are unknown for the majority of the show. Also there for Kotaro is Katsumi, Nobuhiko's girlfriend. She has no idea what happened to Nobuhiko at first, and the revelation of Nobuhiko's fate becomes a very important event in later episodes.
Black's fight sequences can be a lot of fun, sometimes a little silly or awkward, and sometimes surprisingly brutal. Black himself has a very rough and tumble kind of fighting style, and he utilizes plenty of grappling and throwing. He has a number of special attacks, many of which are only used once, unfortunately. His Rider Punch and Rider Kick are the staple moves, and they get upgraded to more powerful, seizure-inducing versions later on. (I'm just kidding about the seizures, though the effects are really bright and flashy.) The fights do tend to get a little bit repetitive, though Black gets beaten up quite a bit. When he's in a jam, he relies a lot on Battle Hopper, his bro-tier, sentient grasshopper bike. Later in the series, he gets a second bike, Road Sector, which drives at ludicrous speed and can pretty much drive straight through anything.
It's easy to start comparing Black to both Showa and Heisei shows, simply because it's kind of that awkward middle child. It's right at the end of the Showa era, and Black RX is the only show that separates it from Kuuga, the first Heisei series. RX is arguably Black Season 2 anyway. I think viewers going from mostly Heisei shows to watching Black may feel underwhelmed, especially since the show gets some hype. The special effects are, of course, not going to be as great as modern shows, and the plot is more episodic, with less of that J-Drama type stuff that many Heisei shows exhibit. On the other hand, viewers that have seen mostly Showa era shows may hone in on the fact that for its time, Black is a darker, more serious series with special effects that are an improvement over previous shows.
One main criticism of Kamen Rider Black that I've heard expressed is that the show pretty much hits a plot brick wall for half of the series, until Shadow Moon shows up. This is somewhat true. The plot is very slow, and the show is susceptible to Golgom crazy plot of the week + monster of the week kind of shenanigans, though honestly, all of the Showa Rider shows are like that, so my comments above apply here as well. In any given episode, Kotaro will be just riding through town, and something slightly out of the ordinary will just happen to occur in front of him, prompting him to ask, "Could it be Golgom?!" or some variant of that. And of course, it turns out to be a zany Golgom plot every time. It's actually fairly amusing.
The show tries to change things up a bit in the first half by introducing Sword Saint Birugenia, a would-be Golgom century king who is risen after thousands of years. The guy is really tough, and he definitely has something to prove, going way out of his way to show up the Golgom priests. There are also a couple of kidnapping plots by the priests to use Kyoko's life force to speed up Shadow Moon's birth. Of course, once Shadow Moon finally awakens and the Golgom priests get upgraded, the plot moves much more quickly until the end.
|Sun, I am disappoint.|
Now, onto the music. The opening and ending songs for Kamen Rider Black are great. Tetsuo Kurata wasn't exactly Japan's next singing idol, but he did a great job of making his own theme song sound epic and badass, especially when he's in the deeper portion of his range. There are also many insert songs, all sung by Toshiya Igarashi. Henshin! Rider Black is a favorite of mine. It's a treat when they use it alongside the transformation sequence. The BGM for Black is pretty good as well. It wasn't anything that made me want to go out and immediately find the OST, but it was pretty epic and appropriate for the feel of the show.
Hmm, after I talk about the music, that usually means I've run out of things to talk about, so time to wrap it up. I may be a little biased since Kamen Rider Black was my first Rider show, but it definitely stands out as one of my top picks. I won't call the show itself my absolute favorite, but Kamen Rider Black is probably my favorite Rider. That being said, go out and give it a try if you haven't already, whether you're coming from Heisei or Showa or even no Rider shows at all.