How many time puns can one blogger cram into the span of a few weeks? Guess we’ll find out, as the pink carpet gets rolled out for the newest hero in the ongoing Kamen Rider super-saga from Toei Company. Kamen Rider Zi-O is time-slipping his way up and down the last twenty seasons of this illustrious franchise, mixing it up with the heroes and villains of Japan’s Heisei Era, and god help you if you didn’t pack a fire extinguisher.
As previously mentioned, Zi-O is the 20th official Heisei Rider series, and they’re pulling out all the stops on this nostalgic extravaganza, sure to bring back fond memories (and other stuff maybe) from the show’s lengthy history. Naturally, the star of the show is young enough that he was only alive to know some of these guys and basically nothing of the significantly longer Showa Rider period.
18-year-old high schooler Tokiwa Sogo becomes Zi-O after a visit from a girl in white from the future, who tells him of his potential destiny as the King of Time, a moniker that may come with a heaping pile of disaster for our inexperienced protagonist. Especially since Zi-O may not always be the savior of humanity he’d like to be. Enter Myokoin Geiz, who travels back to 2018 to defeat Sogo before he can wreak havoc on the world. He transforms into Kamen Rider Geiz (so you’ll never forget his name, I guess) to fight Zi-O tons of times but obviously not kill him and eventually become a rival and friend because what else do you expect, at this point?
How bout some cameos of the most recent Riders? Check.
Sogo encounters Sento and Ryuga, Build and Cross-Z respectively, from the soon-to-end Kamen Rider Build. Gotta use those sets for all they’re worth while they’re still standing. It’s in this familiar cafe setting that Build’s lead hero asks Sogo to take care of his younger self while seemingly bestowing upon him the device that will give access to Build-like superpowers. Hence, we see the process Zi-O is likely to run through every few episodes, encountering heroes of the past (or at least some reference to them) and being granted special abilities based on those previous adventures. Including Emu (Ex-Aid) and Hiro (Brave) from 2016’s Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, who will also make their presence known.
Meanwhile, the enemy Zi-O faces is the Time Jackers, who create monsters that also happen to be inspired by past heroes. Interestingly, they’re called Another Riders. I can’t tell whether that’s an intentional reference to 2001’s Kamen Rider Agito or not, but the coincidence would still be amusing. In that series, a Rider appeared who had a vaguely similar appearance to Agito himself. His human persona was nothing like the gentle cinnamon roll that was Tsugami Shoichi, but his transformed state was like a darker, more organic version of Agito, with a more brutal approach. His official name was Another Agito.
Whether intentional or unintentional, little references like these can be a lot of fun for those who know to spot them. Like the monsters Zi-O fights when he attains his Build form change, who all appear to be ripped straight out of past Rider shows.
I have to say, I’m liking the aesthetic of Kamen Rider Geiz far more than I expected after the initial wave of photos. It’s a nice design that isn’t too wacky or overthought, which some Heisei characters can be, in my opinion. Of course, that’s just his base form, and he’ll probably have a zillion others which fit that description. At least this particular Rival Rider won’t take nearly half a series to get used to.
I’m also enjoying the slight difference in color scheme for the lead characters. Of course, there’s still no shortage of red, toy company Bandai’s favorite color for tokusatsu heroes. But the lead character’s pink and purple allow it to stand out pretty starkly from the rest… except when you stand him next to Decade. Which just brings us back to the point we were making a couple weeks ago.
We’ve kinda seen some of this stuff before. I joked that all we needed was a Rider Girl on the verge of tears, and it’s hilarious how the new female lead character, Tsukuyomi, gave me immediate Natsumi vibes. Natsumi was Tsukasa’s right-hand lady in 2009’s Kamen Rider Decade. She, like our new heroine, was first seen in a white dress with an ominous portent about the future. One in which the title character would pretty much ruin everything, causing others to rebel against him, even while he does seemingly good things all over the place.
I’m the last person to leap to comparison when similarities between elements of a brand don’t seem particularly blatant, but I can’t help but see it here. It’s a big, flashing digital clock in my face, counting down to the next thing. If this is intentional, I suppose I’m meant to be charmed by these bits in the same way I am about the Another Riders. Instead, my feelings are a little more complicated. I mean, these aren’t just fantastical codenames created from funny interpretations of the English language here. They’re characters and storylines. If it’s not meant to be some kind of Battlestar Galactica situation, where the cycle of time is one that repeats and repeats until you can find a way to break it, I’ll continue to scratch my chin about this. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. They weren’t kidding!
Luckily, the Time Jackers look like they may be a significant step up from the madcap villainy of Narutaki. The Decade antagonist often proved more a lovably inoffensive nuisance than a serious threat for many of his story arcs, and ultimately met an unsatisfying end with very little development. He’s more valuable now as a beloved meme that will never die (if I have anything to say about it) than as a complete character. These new guys seem like a diverse bunch with different things to contribute, whom we can only hope will get plenty to do before their time is up.
We’ll see for ourselves when Zi-O launches and the full story is revealed, hopefully with a handful of new ideas to chew on. And if not, hey, at least there’s lots of pretty, new (and old) costumes to watch pummel each other across highly combustible landscapes for the rest of the year.
Kamen Rider Zi-O premieres September 2, 2018.