This year’s tokusatsu series features magic and lots of flashiness08 October, 2012 by Chad
Debuting last month on September 2, Kamen Rider Wizard stars Shiraishi Shunya who had previously held smaller roles in the drama Q10, and a number of movies. The two things most immediately noticeable things about Shiraishi is his height and more importantly his confident (if not cocky) demeanor. The opposite of what I’d usually expect of a protagonist from your usual shonen entertainment and definitely a refreshing change.
A quick disclaimer. I’m not exactly the most knowledgeable when it comes to tokusatsu films, though through working at a Japanese company, I’ve come to known quite a few die hard adult fans, especially of the Kamen Rider series.
And while I did have the fortune of growing up at a time when tokusatsu was still available over here and was a fan of shows like Jetman, Ultra Seven and to a lesser extend Black RX, I had never quite followed up with the new shows in the decades since.
Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the colorful (and amusing) world of tokusatsu with some recommended oldies and the latest installment of the Kamen Rider series, Wizard. Returning to tokusatsu for the first time in such a long time, allows for a pretty interesting perspective and this post reads like as much of an exploration of tokusatsu, as it is about the title.
As the name suggests, the theme for Kamen Rider Wizard is magic. Without spoiling too much, the premise of the show is the threat of a malignant race of “phantoms”, the monsters of the series, creatures that are created when people with the potential to use magic lose all hope. The phantoms attempt to multiply their kind by facilitate these people, known as “gates” in losing hope.
After managing to avoid giving in to becoming a phantom himself, Shiraishi earns the right to become Kamen Rider Wizard and takes on the task of stopping the phantoms. Through the use of a special belt (one of the key motifs in the Kamen Rider series) and magical rings derived from this season’s theme, he transforms into the masked wizard.
To those looking without an open mind, the entire Kamen Rider series must look ridiculous. Just like in the past, the gaudy protagonist wrestles people in silly looking monster suits. And thanks to modern advances, gimmicky visual effects consisting of glossy low polygon 3D graphics have been spliced in throughout the show.
Yet, there is a perfectly reasonable, if not ingenious reasoning for keeping the show looking as bad as it does. Looking past the fact that the visual effects in the film look at home in a bad B-movie from the 90s, there’s actually some really amazing camera work in the Kamen Rider series. Something that stood out to me were the surprisingly well composed scenes, which suggests the staff do know what they’re doing here. And when you consider that the show is primarily targeted towards young boys, things start to make sense.
It turns out, the majority of income from tokusatsu shows like Kamen Rider come from merchandising. In fact, such shows would probably not even exist in this day and age if not to sell toys. With that in mind, one realizes that the show was never about its literary value. Instead, from start to finish, each episode of Kamen Rider an elaborate sequence of product placements.
This couldn’t be more true, now that Bandai personally funds the development of the Kamen Rider series. But from a professional standpoint, it something I find immensely fascinating. Kamen Rider and tokusatsu as a whole have transcended normal product placement, to develop a system of intellectual property with greater longevity than even the Pokémon franchise.
Realistic visual effects would not only bring unnecessary burden to the show’s budget, it would actually be counter productive to the show’s primary purpose. So instead, ever character, monster, robot, gadget and what not in Kamen Rider is made to look as close to their real life over the shelf counterpart.
When it comes to this formula, Kamen Rider Wizard is set to shine. While it might sound strange, Kamen Rider Wizard’s theme of magic is actually a more plausible logic than many past riders. For a youth’s imagination, it’s much easier to believe into the show’s world and justify Shiraishi Shunya transforming into the buff masked hero through “magic” than by high tech thumbdrives, trading cards or some of the other gimmicks the producers have tried pulling off in the past.
So far reception of Kamen Rider Wizard has been good. Ratings are some of the highest for any tokusatsu in a while. It helps that Kamen Rider Wizard features one of the more graphically pleasing rider costumes in a while. Shiraishi Shunya also plays a generally likable character in the series. At this point of writing, there have only been 6 episodes so a lot of plot related questions are still left unanswered. Depending on how the rest of the story plays out, ratings will rise or fall.
Personally, I’m a little envious that the children in Japan are able to continue to grow up to this sort of entertainment. The producers know that despite being targeted at children, a sizable audience also comes from adult fans who had continued to follow tokusatsu as an interest. The result is a story, that features some pretty deep and often dark themes that would never make the cut in a children’s program elsewhere.
Without such entertainment to stimulate their interests, children would have to end up settling for more patronizing shows or are introduced to computers and other digital entertainment at a younger age. But thanks to tokusatsu like Kamen Rider that serve as modern day fantasies and even heroes for young ones, kids can remain kids. And with its outrageous action, flashy graphics and surprisingly concise plot, each episode is a sensory overload for one’s imagination.
Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.