In the summer of 2010, tokusatsu fans said goodbye to the lovable heroes of the Narumi Detective Agency, and the many wacky denizens of Fuuto City, when Kamen Rider W came to an end. Of course, several appearances occurred after that, but the loss of this pulpy action-noir world in regular doses was perhaps felt more strongly for some than with most other titles in the Kamen Rider pantheon.
While the tradition of a new Kamen Rider taking up the spotlight from the old with each passing year continued to be observed, introducing us to many wondrous new facets of this crazy franchise, there was always a special place in my heart for the two-in-one detectives, Shotaro and Phillip, and their quest to rid the city of dangerous contraband known as Gaia Memories. It’s with this thought in mind that I hungrily sought out Kamen Rider W: Fuuto Detectives, the new manga series that picks up shortly after their television adventures concluded. What I found was a loving re-entry into the series I adored, that barely skips a beat when it comes to recreating the experience I had watching the show. Barely…
When I say that the show is a loving re-entry, I really mean it. Penned by Sanjo Riku, the show’s original writer, the story plays out in nearly the exact fashion that a typical episode would. The characters are all there, with the personalities and idiosyncrasies that I grew to love. So much so that, looking back now, I come to realize how much this show became a template for what came after it. To the point where it seems like nearly every character in Kamen Rider now has to have a thing. Some impossibly quirky tick or tendency in speech or mannerisms. It’s not the first show to give us this, but it certainly perfected it, and imitators often fell short of its ability to soothe rather than annoy with the portrayal of its characters in the show’s more bonkers moments of levity.
For better or for worse, this is Double… With a few exceptions.
See, as much as it feels like the show with regards to the characters, their appearance, how they relate to each other, and how their stories would often play out, there’s another side to the book that feels like it’s only here because we’re a manga now and not a Sunday Morning kids show. Enter the femme fatale of the story arc, whose beauty is rendered with exceptional artwork by Satou Masaki. The suspected witch whose striking presence brings terror in its wake. She’s so striking, in fact, that she frequently seems to lose clothing and dramatically pose like there’s a camera snapping pics that might be seen in a very different magazine than the one this story was originally published. Likewise, the mysterious Road Dopant, who literally and figuratively tears up the streets with its deadly Gaia Memory powers, has the strange weakness of constantly needing to refuel by devouring human victims, giving new meaning to the term “finger food”.
It’s not the worst thing in the world, and is hardly the most shocking transition from one medium to another I’ve witnessed with genre properties that perhaps have begun to mature with some members of their audience. But it’s worth noting because of how much of a total duplicate the rest of the story is in terms of tone and style. “Kamen Rider W: Now with 5% more blood and boobs!” To be fair, we did see the (albeit decidedly non-sexualized) naked Nazca Dopant in the show’s first episode, so nudity isn’t entirely out of the norm for this series. I just know you’d never get away with this kind of cheesecake in television form, even if it liked to throw a casual glance in that direction from time to time.
So, Phillip and Shotaro are in top form, in pursuit of a case stolen by the so-called witch haunting the city, and in classic W fashion, there’s a misdirection concerning the identity of this story’s key villain. Before witnessing the Road Dopant’s transformation, we’re introduced to a merry-go-round of new faces, including mobsters and clients, to add to the list of persons of interest. Eventually, the true culprit gets fingered and we finally, at long last, reach the big battle we’ve been waiting for.
The artwork, as with the rest of the piece, beautifully revives the feel of the show. When Kamen Rider Double activates the Gaia Memories, I can hear the voice of the W Driver calling out their names, the music it plays, the sounds made when he changes form. The theme song echoes through my mind as the words “Count up your sins” are spoken. Double is back, and they mean business.
The only real shame of it all is that, while it does so well to bring all these good memories bubbling back to the surface, it also hangs a lantern over what eventually became a bit of a drag for me as a fan. While there’s something classic about the traditional stories told within this series, there’s no doubting that it got a little formulaic after a while. It was so perfectly exact when it came to its style that you could almost set your watch to it. Two-part episode. Suspected criminal. The usual suspects reviewed. Big fakeout. If there’s a toy to debut (and there usually is) then say hello to your extended subplot about needing to “expand your mind” or “increase your focus” or whatever random thing necessary to access the full power of the new Bla-Blabla Form. Sherlock Holmesian breakdown of clues leading to the reveal of the true villain of the piece. Big battle that brings it all home. Be kind, rewind.
There’s plenty variation, but that’s the basic gist of most Kamen Rider W arcs, and the template by which many others followed with, for good or for ill. And the manga most definitely gives me that same vibe. Which at once feels comfortable and gives me a case of the sighs. I’ve spent the last couple years quietly complaining about this very thing, so it is a bit of a bummer that it returns with such a vengeance. Of course, it’s just a single story arc at the moment, and it’s not at all surprising. But it’s one of very few negatives I could blame anyone for laying at the manga’s feet.
Otherwise, it’s all gravy. I get some of the most iconic heroes in recent Kamen Rider memory back again, fighting the good fight, and doing so in splendid fashion, losing very little in the transition from screen to page.
I joked that, if they didn’t get Terui Ryu, ace police detective and my personal favorite character in the whole dang show, to be in this, it would be an abject failure. And what do you know, they saved the greatest, most amazing, most stupendous of all heroes for last. Now, all we need is to see him transform and beat the stuffing out of the next Dopant that tries to stand in his way of cleansing the city of crime. Don’t question his brilliance.
And don’t question that this manga is made with care, handling its inherited characters with grace and delivering a healthy dose of nostalgia, action, and fun. While I continue to love the fresh, take-no-prisoners storytelling of Kamen Rider Build on TV, there’s no denying the joy of dipping back into the classic with Kamen Rider W: Fuuto Detectives.