Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Climax Double Action Zero Jump: A Lengthy Review of Kamen Rider Den-O

It's probably been a while since I posted anything.  I guess I can chalk it up to a combination of work, travel, and laziness.  However, I've been catching up on a lot of toku lately, mostly Rider shows.  I've blown through Faiz, Kabuto, and Den-O in a fairly short span of time.  This means that I've been neglecting my Sentai, Ultraman, and mecha shows, so I'll probably take the Rider-watching down a notch or two.

Anyway, moving onward.  I'm going to admit that my initial impressions of Kamen Rider Den-O a couple of years ago were a bit mixed.  At the time, I hadn't seen very many Heisei-era Rider shows and I ended up watching the first couple of episodes.  I was dumbfounded and underwhelmed by the main character's timid personality and horrible luck.  Also, the whole Imagin possession and time travel aspects were just...weird to me.  After watching many more Heisei-era shows, I started running out of subbed Kamen Rider options, so I decided to revisit Den-O and watch it all the way through.  Let me just say this to start:  Man, were my initial impressions dumb.


The plot of Kamen Rider Den-O revolves around Ryotaro Nogami as he finds himself wrapped up in the extermination of Imagin, visitors from an alternate future that tunnel through people's memories with the goal of wrecking havoc in the past.  In order to battle the Imagin, he bonds with several of his own Imagin and lets them possess him so he can utilize their abilities.  In true Rider fashion, the hero's powers are derived from the same thing as the enemies'.  Of course,  he needs some assistance dealing with the Imagin's time shenanigans, so he boards a time-traveling train, complete with a waitress and a strange owner.


These Imagin form a contract with a human and work to grant their wish.  Of course, in true Wishmaster fashion, they often have a very loose interpretation of how to fulfill that wish.  Regardless, if they succeed, it opens a tunnel through the contract-holder's memories, allowing them to go to the past.  It remains a mystery for most of the show why they even bother going to the past to wreck stuff when they could just do it in the present.

Ryotaro does his best to protect the contract holders and fix the past for the best possible outcome with the help of his Imagin and Hana, a young woman whose time was destroyed.  Things get more complicated as we learn that Ryotaro's sister, Airi, has lost some of her memory and that her fiance, Yuto Sakurai, who had disappeared, is always mysteriously present when Ryotaro goes to the past.  Furthermore, a younger version of Sakurai eventually appears to fight the Imagin, armed with the power to become Kamen Rider Zeronos, complete with his own time-traveling train, ZeroLiner.

The younger Yuto Sakurai

 Things get complicated as the source of Zeronos's power is revealed, the mastermind behind the Imagin's actions emerges, the nature of the older Sakurai's disappearance is discovered, etc.  There's quite a bit to Den-O's plot, and it becomes a bit convoluted as more and more is revealed.  Unfortunately, the whole time-travel thing is hit or miss.  Anytime you mess with time travel, you're just asking for paradoxes and logic problems.  Den-O tends to pass off many events as the effects of time shenanigans, but it does so in a somewhat inconsistent way.  If you really sit down and think about how time travel and its effects are handled, your mind will become bogged down with all sorts of issues.  I won't go into all of them here because it would take a separate lengthy post to do so.  Essentially, it is best if you turn off your brain and just enjoy the ride.  Something strange happens?  It's time-magic.


Let's go back to Ryotaro.  He is quite unique among Kamen Rider main characters.  He's wimpy, has horrible luck, and is a poor fighter.  When I saw his first transformation, instead of a cool, JUSTICE-filled, "HENSHIN!", I got an anemic, "H-henshin!..."  I think this is why Ryotaro rubbed me the wrong way at first.  However, after I watched many of the other Rider shows, I really came to appreciate how refreshing and different he is as a main character.  He's gentle, yet tries his absolute hardest to save people.  He endures a lot of pain and fatigue, yet never gives up, and he has a remarkably strong will.  I found the rare occasion when Ryotaro actually gets angry to be absolutely chilling.  It's a quiet, yet very firm, threatening, and palpable anger.

Ryotaro transforms for the first time.

I honestly think that part of the reason Ryotaro works so well is due to Takeru Sato's acting.  I mean, the guy had to play quite a few distinct personalities.  (Ryotaro, the four main Taros, Sieg, and a few others even.)  For each Imagin that possesses him, he does an amazing job of changing his overall demeanor, expression, and body language to match the role.  After watching all of Den-O, I can safely say that Ryotaro is my favorite main Rider character.

Of course, we also have the four Taros, the Imagins that have partnered with Ryotaro to fight as Den-O.  Here's a brief rundown for anyone not familiar with these guys.
  • Momotaros:  A fiery and feisty oni that is the first to bond with Ryotaro.  He constantly craves a fight and is Den-O's sword form.  He is the butt of many jokes, and he initially hates his appearance and name because of Ryotaro's poor sense.  I think that he's my favorite Imagin just because he's so fun to watch.

  • Urataros:  A turtle-based Imagin with a silk tongue, he is Den-O's rod form.  He likes to pick up ladies and is a habitual liar.  His calm demeanor and social skills are useful for gathering information or getting out of sticky situations

  • Kintaros:  A strong, bear-like Imagin that empowers Den-O with its axe form.  He is more noble and polite than the rest of the four main Taros.  He has the humorous habit of accidentally breaking things, and he is a bit of a narcoleptic.

  • Ryutaros:  Den-O's gun form is a bratty kid with draconic features.  He loves dancing and animals, and can even control humans to some extent.  He develops a childish attachment to Airi Nogami and dislikes anybody attempting to harm or woo her, which leads him to initially harbor a strong hatred toward Yuto.  He is harder to keep under control than the other Taros.

The interaction the Taros have with Ryotaro, and each other especially, is part of what makes Kamen Rider Den-O so entertaining.  Granted, there's a lot of slapstick and silliness, but it is almost always consistent and fun, unlike some other Rider shows where humor can seem random, inappropriately-timed, or out of place.

Moving on.  As mentioned before, Hana is a young woman from a destroyed future.  She is much stronger physically than Ryotaro and can often be seen keeping the Taros in line.  One must wonder why she couldn't become Den-O herself, considering she is a singularity point like Ryotaro.  They might have explained that, but I can't remember.  At some point in the series, the actress that plays Hana got sick, and so they replaced her with a little girl version of Hana, using time-BS to thicken the plot and write-off the actress's absence.  It's a little jarring, but it's not too bad, even if it is obvious.  The DenLiner's colorful cast is completed by Owner, the mysterious and goofy owner of the time-traveling train and Naomi, the cheery waitress (played by a delicious, grown-up Rina Akiyama, who played Mana in Kamen Rider Agito).

Delicious Naomi.
Owner being silly.

And then we have Yuto as Kamen Rider Zeronos and his Imagin, Deneb.  Deneb is polite, caring, and faithful like a butler, yet absurdly derpy.  Yuto is a bit abrasive when dealing with other people, so Deneb tries his hardest to make people like him, often giving them Deneb Candy.  I love how the Taros butcher Deneb's name, calling him Odebu (fatty, tubby, etc.).


When things serious the hell up, Yuto and Deneb make a powerful team.  I was pleased to see that Zeronos doesn't job too often against enemies like some secondary Riders do. *cough* Birth *cough*  Of course, his powers come at a horrible, depressing price, so I guess he'd better be pretty powerful.  I think after watching Den-O that Zeronos is perhaps my favorite secondary Rider.  I'm not too sure that many people are with me on that one, since I don't see that opinion expressed very often.  It's worth mentioning that Yuto's interactions with Airi are some of the most enthralling scenes in the show, and for good reason.

Zeronos Altair Form

The main villain, Kai, is a fun guy to watch.  He's delightfully insane, but at the same time, he's not terribly deep.  His motivations seem a little shallow, and he's a bit hard to relate to.  That's not necessarily a problem, but I guess I like to relate to my villains a little bit.  He's definitely not the most memorable Rider antagonist.

There are several fun side characters and contract-holders-of-the-week, but they aren't really important enough to talk about in length.  They fill their roles adequately. 


The fights in Kamen Rider Den-O are a treat to watch.  They are often fun and action-packed.  It also helps that the four Taros have very different approaches to fighting, so not only does Ryotaro use different forms, but he has several different fighting styles at his disposal as well.  This way, things remain varied and interesting.

Den-O Liner Form.

I enjoyed the Den-O henshin sequence and form switching very much, and I think the sound effects from the belt are really cool.  Same goes for Zeronos.   The suits themselves look a bit strange at first, especially Den-O's sword form.  It took me a little bit to realize what the suit design was based off of.  You have the more obvious train motif, but then you have the peach-like "eyes" descending and splitting in two, a clever and appropriate approach to Momotaros's form, considering the tale that his name references.  The derpiest thing was the "Moooo" sound during the Zeronos transformation.  I almost facepalmed at it, but it's kinda funny.  I grew to appreciate it eventually.

Zeronos Vega Form

In addition, I am pretty fond of the four Taros, Sieg's, and Deneb's designs.  They are just cool enough to take seriously, but are kind of cute in a way.  The other Imagin are not as memorable in terms of design.  I don't really remember ever thinking, "Man that guy looks really cool."


The music in Den-O is much like most other things in the show:  Fun.    The BGM is a little jazzy, with heavy use of brass instrumentation.   There are a couple of stand-out string-heavy dramatic tunes as well.  The opening theme by AAA is great, but the ending themes are some of my favorites.  Double Action Sword Form and Action Zero rank up there for me as far as awesome Rider ending themes go.

The Den-O Movies

So before I give my final thoughts, let me mention the Den-O movies.  The first movie is practically a must-see, because it is tied into an arc in the series, so if you want the conclusion, you have to watch it.  There's also a Dickeido crossover, which I haven't watched yet (and may not).  Decade-related movies have a history of being kinda meh to me.

The third Den-O movie was pretty interesting.  It introduces Kotaro Nogami, Ryotaro's grandson, who becomes New Den-O.  He is joined by his Imagin partner, Teddy, who can transform into a gun/machete thing.  I was surprised at how easily I ended up accepting Kotaro and New Den-O.  Teddy is great.  He is extra-polite, but much less derpy than Deneb.  The four Taros butcher his name, of course, calling him Tendon.

New Den-O and Teddy

There's also the Chou Den-O Trilogy.  I was especially excited about Episode Red, which seemed to promise tying up some loose ends for Yuto and Airi.  Unfortunately, by the time these movies were made, Takeru Sato was no longer acting as Ryotaro, so they got the kid that played young Ryotaro in the first Den-O movie to play him.  I was not terribly thrilled about this, though I see why they did it.  It didn't help that Episode Red had way too much Ryotaro and gang when it really needed to be focusing on Zeronos.  If they had just somehow left Not-Ryotaro out or at least kept his presence to a minimum, I think I would have enjoyed it more.  The ending was pretty touching, though. 


I also viewed Episode Blue, which focuses on New Den-O and Teddy.  It still has Not-Ryotaro and gang, but I didn't feel like they stole the spotlight or anything.  It was quite enjoyable and a bit stronger than Episode Red.   I have not viewed Episode Yellow yet, though I do know it focuses quite a bit on Kamen Rider Diend.  I think I will need to see more Dickedo before I watch it.


Whew, I know this was a very long-winded look at Den-O.   I guess I had a lot of thoughts on it.  It doesn't help that I also tend to write informatively for those who haven't seen the show yet and just want an opinion/review on it before delving into things.

Overall Kamen Rider Den-O is a great show.  It is by far the silliest and most light-hearted Heisei Rider show that I have ever seen, and yet I don't have a problem with that.  It was very entertaining, and if you like FUN, then you should like Den-O.  Just don't go into it with unfair expectations, and give it a chance.  You won't regret it.

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