It’s that time again. The 20th entry in the Heisei Era’s official Kamen Rider television series franchise is quickly approaching, and ahead of it comes a flood of new images and bits of information from which to glean early opinions. And as we feast our eyes on the new Kamen Rider Zi-O, we wonder what the future may hold for this enduring brand.
And the future is very much on the minds of the show’s creative forces, as the new series lead will be a time traveler, utilizing powers inspired by the heroes who came before him in the Heisei Era, which comes to an end with this incoming project.
As the clock imagery in the title logo implies, this is a watch-themed hero, who changes forms based on the timepieces inserted into his henshin belt, accessing various transformations that will scratch that nostalgic itch for past Riders.
Though, at this point, it’s turning into more of a chafing rash than an itch, if I’m being honest. The truth is, this isn’t the first or second or third time the tokusatsu genre has done something of this type for its franchises, and while it’s usually a fun idea, I do find myself wishing we could do something more unique.
At the same time, there is something of a “full circle” feel attached to this one, as it’s the 20th show, making it exactly ten paces away from Kamen Rider Decade. For those without the encyclopedic knowledge required to get every bell and whistle about to be ringing in our ears from the show, Decade was a nostalgia-filled series where a Rider visited other iconic characters in the franchise and took on their suits and special attributes as he fought across a vast canvas. In his case, it was a bunch of alternate dimensions. And, while Zi-O will be traversing through time instead of universes, it’s not exactly unfamiliar.
At the very least, I can appreciate the symmetry of having these big, celebratory fandom bombs dropped on such specific occasions. Though I guess I would have liked it even more if we hadn’t been fed a steady stream of alternate hero forms in movies and specials with almost exactly the same nostalgic vibe nearly every single year since.
Heading up the team bringing Zi-O to screens for Toei Company is longtime producer Shirakura Shinichiro, whose credits run all through the early part of the Heisei Era, including Kamen Rider Agito, Kamen Rider Hibiki, Kamen Rider Den-O, and of course, our journey through the decade.
Since then, he’s been overseeing the Amazon Prime streaming series Kamen Rider Amazons. When asked about it, he was famously quoted as saying:
“Do you think the recent Kamen Riders are interesting? I don’t think so! I hope with Amazons the toothless Kamen Riders can get their fangs back.”
That was a while back. I’d be curious to hear his opinion on recent offerings like Kamen Rider Build before he jumped back into the fray for the broadcast television show again with Zi-O, the synopsis of which sounds remarkably similar to that of Decade, with a dash of Den-O for the name and time shenanigans. Just show me a Rider Girl on the verge of tears and the circle will be complete!
Tasaki Ryuta directs, and his resume is about as long as Zi-O’s list of collectible toys is about to be, ranging from work on both Showa and Heisei Kamen Rider, in addition to Super Sentai, Power Rangers, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and more. He set the tone by directing the first episodes of Den-O and Decade, so it’s only natural that he take the reins for their spiritual successor.
Sahashi Toshihiko spins the music for this time jaunt, having worked on the anime series Gundam SEED, the toku series Ultraman Mebius (itself a slight nostalgia trip for that franchise), the dino-themed Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, and yes, Den-O. This production is time traveling in more ways than one!
Of course, there’s nothing especially shocking that familiar names pop up in the credits for a long-running franchise. It’s just fun to connect all the dots in the field of stars that is the live-action special effects subgenre. And this is just the abridged version.
Speaking of effects, the lead SFX producer is Butsuda Hiroshi (Kamen Rider Gaim, Kamen Rider Fourze, plus those other two). Suit actor Miyazaki Takeshi (Juuko B-Fighter, KyuKyu Sentai GoGoV) is action director. Izubuchi Yutaka (RahXephon, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, Kamen Rider OOO) is on monster design.
The show’s head writer is Shimoyama Kento, whose credits are more heavily with Super Sentai, clocking in for episodes of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, and serving as lead writer for Shuriken Sentai Ninninger. His notable contribution to the Rider brand up to this point is the three-part streaming series Kamen Sentai Gorider, featuring past Riders who have fallen in battle and must unite as a colorful team of masked heroes. If nothing else, it’s proof he’s adept at mixing and matching Rider nerd trivia.
I’m not sure if I’d expect the new Zi-O to break the mold for this well-seasoned franchise. With everything that seems apparent about its intentions, we’re in for another quest down memory lane, reliving some of the past twenty years’ greatest hits (and misses, surely). So, while the mold may not break, I can at least hope that it will help reshape things. Because as fun as it is to revisit and re-contextualize all the stuff we’ve seen (or, in the case of some viewers, an alternate version of what they have yet to look back at), it can be twice as nice to see something genuinely different. At least when done right.
Until such time, I’m ready to see what the new Rider on the block has in store. Especially with that sweet helmet.
Kamen Rider Zi-O premieres September 2, 2018, as time runs out for the current Kamen Rider Build.