The publication date of this post is August 28th, 2011, the day the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO aired. To mark the occasion, let’s look at something I’ve sunk more money into this year than I care to think about: OOO’s henshin gear!

OOO Driver

OOO Driver

OOO’s henshin belt is the OOO Driver. “Driver” seems to be the new standard term for henshin belts, a bit of a shame they don’t come up with more unique names anymore. Names aside, the OOO Driver itself is pretty nice. The buckle is glossy black and silver with metallic blue “circuit” detailing. When wearing the belt, on your left hip is a small holder for easy access to up to six OOO Medals. This holder is amusingly styled after the type of belt mounted change holders a vendor on the street might use. On your right hip is the OOO Scanner, where all the electronics and magic really reside. I’ll discuss that more in a bit, but on the belt it has its own holster clip, keeping it securely in place when not in use. The straps for the belt also feature release buttons, allowing them to be easily detached from the buckle for display if you prefer.

OOO Medals

OOO Medals

The central theme of Kamen Rider OOO is OOO Medals. Each medal bears the crest of a particular animal, and grants OOO a unique power. Medals are primarily classified as Core Medals or Cell Medals, shown above the translucent Condor Core next to the dull gray Condor Cell. Core Medals are the “core” of the beings called Greeeds. Each Greeed has nine cores: 3 head cores, 3 body cores, and three leg cores. Which part of the body the core corresponds to is indicated by bars on the back of the medal: 1 for head, 2 for body, 3 for legs. You can see the back of the Kamakiri Core on the right has two bars, indicating it is a body core. Cell Medals “stick” to core medals to form the remainder of a Greeed’s body mass, and can be created by having a creature called a Yummy feed off human desire. In the context of the toys, Core Medals are made of translucent plastic with a gold painted metal ring. These medals feel very substantial when held, and are very nicely made.

Cell Medals are made from simple, unpainted gray plastic. This indicates their relatively lower value, and are not functionally interchangeable with the Core Medals. On the back of Cell Medals is a large “X”, since they do not activate any power for OOO (though they are utilized by Kamen Rider Birth).

Inside each medal is an RFID chip, which is activated and read when the OOO Scanner passes over it. This is the same technology being applied to credit cards and passports, allowing you to wave them near a pad for them to be read. IMO, this technology is better applied to toys, since the security implications make me cringe.

OOO Driver loaded

To use the OOO Driver, load three medals into it. They should be, in order, one head core, one body core, and one leg core. Above we see the three medals that make up OOO’s “default” form: Taka (head), Tora (body) and Batta (legs). In practice, the toy doesn’t really care. Put them out of order, use three head cores, use cell medals, it’ll still work in a basic sense. Once the medals are loaded, the front part of the buckle can be tilted to prepare for scanning.

OOO Scanner

OOO Scanner

Take the OOO Scanner, and squeeze the large button hidden inside its grip area. This will cause the scanner to light up and begin making a pulsing standby sound. Starting from your right with the head medal, run the scanner through the track along the bottom edge of the buckle so it passes over each medal in turn. As you pass the medals, the red lights along the front edge will illuminate one by one. If you go slowly, the scanner will announce the name of each medal as you pass. If you go quickly, it will announce them all at the end. Make sure to catch the hidden sensor at the end of the buckle to signal the scanner you’re done. The OOO Scanner will announce the names of the medals, then play a sound effect. The effect you get will either be generic, or a unique “jingle” if you scanned a special combo. The above set is OOO’s default TaToBa Combo. The scanner will play the special jingle for the combo: “Ta-To-Ba TaToBa Ta-To-Ba!” All the other combos are made up by using all three medals of the same color. These single color combos also get a sound effect related to the animal group they represent (screeching bird, buzzing insects, etc.) Here is the list:

TaToBaTakaToraBatta, OOO default combo
RaToraTahLionToraCheetah, cat combo
GataKiriBaKuwagataKamakiriBatta, insect combo
SaGouZouSaiGorillaZou, large mammal combo
TaJaDoruTakaKujakuCondor, bird combo
ShaUTaShachiUnagiTako, aquatic combo
PuToTyraPteraTriceraTyranno, dinosaur combo (in the show, these medals cannot mix with other medals)
BuraKaWaniCobraKameWani, reptile combo (movie exclusive)

To use OOO’s hissastsu techniques, scan the same set of medals you just scanned a second time, and the OOO Scanner will announce “Scanning Charge!” It will then play the combo’s animal noise if applicable, followed by a hissastsu sound effect.

OOO Medal Holder

OOO Medal Holder

It’s not long before the number of medals OOO and his partner Ankh are using becomes a bit difficult to manage. They begin to use a special OOO Medal Holder, which of course Bandai produced and sold. For what it is, it’s actually pretty nice. It’s made of the same glossy black plastic with metallic blue detailing as the OOO Driver. It has a really solid hinge, and two slide locks to keep it from spilling open. Inside, it’s lined with a sort of stiff foam rubber with cutouts for 24 medals. The medals fit snugly into the cutouts and do not tend to fall out. For what it is, it’s a pretty nice little piece, and a stylish way to house and protect the investment you made in all those medals. Shown here is my collection, featuring all 18 Core Medals from the TV series, and the Condor Cell which comes with the case itself. These are all the “deluxe” versions of the medals, rather than the gashapon or candy toy versions which are slightly lower quality. Here’s the breakdown of where the deluxe cores come from:

OOO Driver: Taka, Tora, Batta, Kamakiri
Medal Set o1: Lion, Cheetah, Kuwagata
Medal Set 02: Sai, Gorilla, Zou
TaJa Spinner: Kujaku, Condor
Medal Set 03: Shachi, Unagi, Tako
Medal Set 04: Ptera, Tricera, Tyranno

The Cobra, Kame and Wani cores come in Medal Set SP, which I haven’t been able to get ahold of yet. There’s also Medal Set EX, featuring the Cores from Kamen Rider OOO & W feat. Skull: Movie War Core, but their names aren’t actually spoken by the OOO Scanner. A few promotional medals like a kangaroo have also been released as magazine premiums in Japan, and they actually do work, though they aren’t part of any combo.

TaJa Spinner

TaJa Spinner

Though each body medal features a “weapon”, like the Tora Claws or the Kamakiri Blades, only two were released as actual toys: the TaJa Spinner and MedaGabuRyu. TaJa Spinner appears on the left arm whenever the Kujaku Core is used. In form, it’s sort of a small shield, looking like a giant Core Medal featuring the crest of the TaJaDoru combo. Detailing as expected of Bandai’s DX role play toys, is nice, but I feel like its design could use more variation of color. Its overall effect is rather bland. Functionality is also not all that great. There’s a trigger on the hand grip (which may be too small for adult hands). Pushing the trigger plays a sound of a fireball being launched, but a light on the front would have sold this much better.

TaJa Spinner action

TaJa Spinner is able to activate its own hissastu attack separate from Scanning Charge. To do this, open the TaJa Spinner and fill it with seven medals of any kind. Close the cover, and pull back the handle. When the OOO Scanner is set in the track at the front, it’ll press a button causing the medals inside to rapidly spin past. After they’ve all passed, push the scanner the rest of the way through to catch another sensor. It will announce the names of the first six medals that passed it, then say “Giga Scan!” After this, the trigger on the TaJa Spinner will play a bigger attack sound effect. Why they include space for seven medals when only six matter is curious. It seems they could’ve spaced them out and adjusted the timing so everything would just work with six, if that’s all the memory in the scanner can handle.

The OOO Driver is great. The medal system allows for a lot of variation, and they’re neat little collectibles. The belt itself is a blast, though the cost to get all the medals can be daunting. Try not to get scalped on the price of the medal sets, they’re not worth more than 1500 yen at most. The TaJa Spinner is a little more lacklustre. I just somehow expected… more. Even just the addition of a light on the front would have been a big improvement. If all you want is the Kujaku and Condor Cores, you may want to consider getting the gashapon or candy toy versions.

Kamen Rider V3

June 11, 2011

Iris has taken over the whole front page. Can’t have that, can we?

V3 Title Screen

I recently decided to make an effort to watch as much of the classic Showa-era Kamen Rider series as I could find. This was largely inspired by KITsubs taking up subbing the original Kamen Rider. If you haven’t checked out their work, I highly recommend it. The first series I was able to watch in full was Kamen Rider V3, thanks to it being available on DVD from Generation Kikaida. V3 was the second Kamen Rider series, following directly off the original.

V3 face

In V3, a new organization called Destron has risen from the ashes of the Shocker organization from the original series. Kazami Shiro witnesses a murder perpetrated by Destron, and they make several attempts to kill him as well. After those attempts fail, they outright attack the Kazami family. Rider 1 and Rider 2 try to help, but are too late, and only Shiro survives. Mourning the loss of his parents and sister, Shiro insists the Double Riders turn him into a cyborg like them. They refuse, but are forced to change their minds after Shiro is injured while saving the Riders in a failed raid on Destron’s base. Kazami Shiro is reborn as Kamen Rider V3, sporting a dragonfly inspired look, and powered by a Double Typhoon belt infused with the energy of both Rider 1 and Rider 2. As explained in the series, this gives him both Rider 1’s masterful technique and Rider 2’s incredible strength. V3 has a wide variety of fighting techniques, claiming to have 26 secrets which are revealed over the course of the series. Some are offensive attacks like the V3 Reverse Kick, some are defensive like his “hardened” bullet-proof muscles, and some are utility like the “V3 Hopper” surveillance device on his belt.

V3 supporting cast

Shiro, as Kamen Rider V3 works alongside the Double Riders to fight Destron. However, the Double Riders are soon apparently killed when they carry a kaijin away from a populated area before he explodes, leaving V3 to fight Destron. V3 is not alone, however, and does have some extra help. Returning from the original series is Tachibana Tobei, who builds for V3 a motorcycle called the Hurricane, and continues to support V3 as he did the Double Riders. Acting as romantic interest and general damsel in distress is Tama Junko, another unwitting witness to Destron whom Shiro rescued in episode 1. V3 also has the Shonen Kamen Rider Tai (Boy Kamen Rider Squad), a group of young boys all across Japan who scout for Destron activity. How snooping around Destron operations wearing bright red jackets and ball caps that look like V3’s face doesn’t get them all killed, I’ll never know.

Riderman

V3’s most notable help comes very late in the series, in the form of Yuuki Jouji. Jouji is a Destron scientist who turns on the organization. As punishment, his right arm is painfully melted off. Before he can be killed, he’s rescued by a few of his colleagues. As they attempt to avoid capture, they help Jouji create for himself a cybernetic arm, turning him into Riderman. Riderman’s arm has a couple different modes, but the ones you generally see are Rope Arm and Power Arm. Power Arm looks like a set of pincers, and increases Riderman’s strength. Rope Arm is the one most commonly seen, and itself has a couple different abilities. It can be used as a grappling hook, a mace, or to fire a net to ensnare foes.

When first they meet, V3 and Riderman do not get along. Shiro believes Jouji is putting himself at unnecessary risk, but Jouji is driven by rage and determined to get his revenge. This leads to a couple physical confrontations between V3 and Riderman, but eventually they reconcile and begin to function as partners. Riderman is killed when he manually pilots a deadly missile to prevent it from hitting Tokyo, and V3 posthumously declares him Kamen Rider 4. Riderman does show up in later crossover specials, but his survival is never explained in the TV series itself. After Riderman’s death, V3 finally defeats Destron’s great leader, restores peace for the time being, and rides off into the sunset.

V3 vs Yoroi Gensui

Overall, V3 is an excellent example of Showa-era Kamen Rider in its purest form. The original series had some birthing pains as it pioneered this style of show, but by V3 that’s all worked out and you have a very polished final product. Aspects of V3 can be seen running through to this day, including having conflict between Riders, and a format that tells each story over two episodes as has seen reemergence with Kamen Rider W and Kamen Rider OOO. In a certain sense, this is the one to watch, as it takes the benefit of all the lessons learned during the original series, and improves upon it. About the only thing I didn’t like was actually Riderman. I found him to be obnoxious, and his powers lame and uninspiring. Considering he appears in less than 10 episodes, it actually bothers me that he’s considered one of the “main” Kamen Riders, where supporting Riders of the Heisei era are not. Riderman aside though, V3 is a great series. If you can stomach the cheesy early 70’s costumes and effects, I definitely recommend giving V3 a watch.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

September 20, 2009

Following the conclusion of Kamen Rider Black RX in 1989, there was an 11 year absence of new Kamen Rider series on Japanese television. A few one-off movies and specials came out, but for the most part the franchise was dormant through the 90’s. Toward the end of the decade, series creator and renowned mangaka Ishinomori Shotaro began to move on a revival of Kamen Rider. Despite Ishinomori not living to bring the project to fruition himself, the first new Kamen Rider series in over a decade hit Japanese airwaves on January 21, 2000.

The debut of Kamen Rider Kuuga would kick off a new era of Kamen Rider series. These would be known as the Heisei Kamen Riders, due to the changeover in the traditional Japanese calendar with the ascension of Emperor Akihito in January 1989. Though technically most of Black RX aired in the Heisei era, Kuuga was the first TV series to debut under the new era.

Kamen Rider Kuuga is the story of a jack-of-all-trades named Godai Yuusuke. Among his many hobbies, Yuusuke likes to travel to remote parts of the world. Frequently, he brings some kind of odd souvenir of his travels back to his friend, archaeologist Sawatari Sakurako. As the series starts, a group of archaeologists uncovers ruins of the ancient Rinto tribe, including the mummified remains of an ancient Rinto warrior and a sealed chamber. When they open the chamber, something escapes, killing the entire excavation team. Yuusuke arrives to check out the dig, finding the police there. Though he finds himself drawn to enter the ruins, he’s repelled by detective Ichijou Kaoru. Later, Yuusuke and Sakurako are called in by Ichijou to consult on the case, and are shown blurry video of the attack. The mysterious creature attacked the mummified corpse before going after the team. They are given the strange belt worn by the mummy, and asked to decipher the writing on it.

As Yuusuke and Sakurako go to leave the police headquarters, another unidentified creature bursts in, apparently after the belt. It quickly proves immune to the police officers’ gunfire and seems unstoppable. Acting on instinct, Yuusuke puts the belt on himself, only to have it disappear into his body. As the Yuusuke and the monster fight and move out onto a side street, Yuusuke’s body changes into a white armored creature, and he is designated by the police as Unidentified Lifeform #2. In this form, Yuusuke barely drives off the monster, saving Ichijou in the process.

Yuusuke consults Sakurako to better understand his new powers. He believes that he should have a different, red colored form as he sees in visions. When attacks begin from another creature, dubbed #3, Yuusuke and Ichijou confront it in a cathedral where it had been masquerading as the priest. Yuusuke declares his resolve to fight to Ichijou and achieves his true form, the red colored Kuuga Mighty Form. Though Mighty Form is misidentified as another creature, #4, by the police, he is able to drive off #3 and defeat #1.

Soon, others are brought into sharing Yuusuke’s secret. Tsubaki Shuichi is a doctor friend of Ichijou’s that looks after Yuusuke and studies the effects of Kuuga’s powers on his body. Ichijou also introduces Enokido Hikari, a scientist at the police’s research division who helps develop new weapons to combat the Grongi. One of the interesting things about Kuuga as a superhero show is that the regular humans aren’t useless. Kuuga works in conjunction with the police (though only a few know his identity), and the police actually become more and more capable as the series moves on. Initially, they just find ways to stun the Grongi, allowing Kuuga to finish them off. By the end of the series, they have a weapon that poses a real threat to the Grongi without Kuuga’s help.

The Grongi themselves are somewhat interesting, and really set a standard for monsters throughout the Heisei Rider shows. The Grongi’s main goal is the eradication of the descendants of the Rinto tribe, humanity. This is carried out through a ritual human hunting game called the Gegeru. There are several classes of Grongi, each with different Gegeru rules by which they must abide. The lowest level Grongi can’t even speak, but higher level ones are able to speak, use weapons similar to Kuuga, and even assume human disguises. This concept of intelligent monsters that disguise themselves as humans would reappear in several Heisei shows, as would the tendency for a monster to last through multiple episodes. They also tend to rack up a pretty substantial civilian body count before Kuuga can put a stop to them. The Grongi are led by the powerful Daguba, the creature that originally escaped from the crypt and is designated #0 by the police.

Following in the footsteps laid down by Black RX, Kuuga gained a number of power-up forms defined by a signature weapon. Each weapon is summoned by finding an object with a similar shape, and transmuting it. The blue Dragon Form sacrifices strength and armor for enhanced speed, agility and jumping power. Dragon Form’s signature weapon is the staff weapon Dragon Rod. Clad in green, Pegasus Form enhances all of Kuuga’s senses to extreme levels and features the Pegasus Bowgun for highly accurate ranged attacks. Pegasus Form strains Yuusuke’s nervous system however, and can’t be held for more than 50 seconds. Finally, the purple and silver Titan Form sacrifices mobility for thick armor. Titan is able to steadily walk through enemy attacks to strike at close range with the Titan Sword. Later, Yuusuke is able to access a “golden power” to upgrade his various forms to their Rising variant (Rising Mighty, Rising Dragon, etc), but only for 30 seconds. Finally, he becomes able to access Amazing Mighty Form and what may be Kuuga’s true form, Ultimate Form. This tradition of power up forms would persist through the Heisei era, as each main title Rider since has had at least one power up form.

Since Kuuga was somewhat experimental, one may find that the special effects and overall production values of the show may pale even to Agito which came immediately following. Despite this, the various costumes including Kuuga’s forms and the various Grongi all look pretty good. The special effects for the attacks may not be as flashy as some of the other Heisei Riders, but this is more in keeping with the way the older shows were. Once you’re sucked into the mysteries of Kuuga’s world though, none of this will matter much.

It’s often said that Kuuga is more like the Showa Riders than the Heisei ones. This mostly refers to the fact that Yuusuke is a pretty typical hero role model. He doesn’t have any inner demons to tackle, nor does he have any issues with his own confidence. He’s a classic hero archetype through and through. Kind, brave and strong. The overall story structure for Kuuga with its intricate plotting, mysteries to be revealed, and complex villains is pure Heisei. Kuuga is definitely the prototype for what came after.

Anyone who has been interested in the more recent Kamen Rider shows should really seek Kuuga out and try to see it. It really is a good series that doesn’t get a lot of attention due to being a bit older now. It may not be super flashy, but it’s a good, solid series full of great characters.

Kamen Rider: Climax Heroes

August 30, 2009

If you’ve looked around this blog, you’d notice something about my gaming habits. I play a lot of licensed games, specifically ones based on anime and tokusatsu. I’m even willing to put up with a somewhat bad game, as long as it utilizes its license well. That brings us to my latest gaming conquest, Kamen Rider: Climax Heroes.

Climax Heroes is the first console Kamen Rider game since 2006’s Kamen Rider Kabuto. It’s also interesting in that this is a PS2 game, clearly aiming to take advantage of the large install base compared to the 360 or PS3 in Japan, but for whatever reason not wanting to do it as a Wii game.

Climax Heroes fits into the overall theme of everything happening in Kamen Rider this year, celebrating 10 years of the “Heisei” Kamen Rider shows. On TV, Kamen Rider Decade was an ambitious crossover featuring Riders of the past Decade. Climax Heroes is essentially Kamen Rider Decade: The Game. While it doesn’t follow the story of the Decade TV series, the meat of the game does have you following Decade as he crosses through the various Rider Worlds, taking on their resident Riders. One interesting thing to note is that the versions of the Riders you encounter in this game are the ones from the original shows, not the alternate ones seen in the Decade TV series.

Gameplay takes the form of a 1-on-1 fighting game. All 10 main “title” Riders of the Heisei era are playable, along with Zeronnos, Ixa, and DiEnd as unlockables as well as a “Dark Decade” created just for the game. You can also play as Gatack, G3-X and Auto Vajin in secret Story Mode missions, though their abilities are incomplete.

Controls are fairly simple, which is not necessarily a detraction. Square initiates a weak combo, Triangle initiates a strong combo. You can not switch between weak and strong attacks during a combo, but you can change the combo depending on what direction you hold when you start it. You can double tap left or right to cancel a combo in the middle and transition to another one, but this costs you two blocks of your Rider Bar. X uses support moves, also costing you Rider Bar energy. These are usually summons, but may be another type of attack depending on the Rider. The support move also changes when used as a counter while being hit by your opponent. Finally for basic attacks, O uses “hissatsu waza” moves like your various Rider Kicks, Ongeki, whatever you’ve got. Again, these may change depening on the direction you hold. Evasive moves include a dash by double tapping left or right, and evasive rolls using L1 and R1. Usually the control seems OK, though there are some things which are annoying, like the timing to do an aerial attack being very specific. Usually, you have to hit the attack button before the apex of the jump, which will be executed from the apex. You can not vary the timing to control the angle of attack.

L2 initiates a “Form Change”, which is key to the game’s mechanic. Generally speaking, this causes your Rider to use one of his power up forms, changing his abilities and fighting style accordingly. Form Change can only be done with a full Rider Bar, which is then begins to drain. The rate which it drains depends on the exact Form Change, as a way of balancing things like Kabuto’s Clock Up and Faiz’s Axel agains more basic Form Changes like Kuuga Pegasus. The most important thing is that anything which requires Rider Bar (combo cancels, support moves, some hissatsu attacks) does not have any cost during Form Change. This nuance causes what may be the game’s biggest problem, spamability. The relative strength of a character tends to come down to what kind of attack/combo you can spam the hell out of during Form Change. Some of them require some skill to pull off, which is OK. However, others basically have, what I’ve heard best described as a “win button”. Zeronnos, for example, goes into Zero Form for his support move and does a machine gun burst from the Denebic Buster. When you Form Change (to Vega Form), you can then just sit there and mash X at point blank range, easily draining half or more of your opponent’s life with no effort. The best they can hope to do is try to get knocked down, then lay there until your Form Change runs out. R2 initiates your Super Hissatsu waza. These consist of a lead in hit which, if it connects, will trigger a cutscene attack that drains exactly 1 life bar of health from the opponent. There is no penalty if it is missed or blocked which, again, leads to a potential to be really cheap.

Decade himself adds an interesting level of depth to the game. As you go through the game’s story “Decade Mode”, you will unlock abilities for Decade. At the beginning, he is very limited having no Form Change, no Super Hissatsu, and very basic X and O attacks utilizing his Ride Booker weapon. As you progress, you will unlock other Riders that you can “Kamen Ride” into as your Form Change, as well as unlocking “Final Form Ride” attacks that can be used to replace X or O button moves. This customization, deciding which set of abilities work best for you, makes Decade a really fun character to play. The last thing you get is his Super Hissatsu move, utilizing Decade’s Complete Form. Unfortunately, you have to choose between this and the ability to use Final Form Rides, though you can still use the Kamen Ride Form Changes. Personally, I think the FFR’s are more fun and more useful than a cutscene attack.

Overall, as a Kamen Rider fan, I had a lot of fun with the game. It lets you set up dream matches, improves on the experience of playing some of the older Riders compared to their own games, and brings in Den-O and Kiva who did not get their own games. It also makes extremely good use of the license by allowing you to use all these Riders, power up forms and hissatsu waza, as well as really making each Rider play in his own unique way. For those of you who are Kamen Rider fans, its ease to pick up and play will be a benefit to those who are not fighting game hardcores. It also has an option, presented right at the first power on, to put the game in “Kid Mode”, which makes all menus and in-game text switch to hiragana and katakana for the kanji-impaired youth (or stupid foreigner). However, I think some game balance issues, slightly quirky controls and mediocre graphics will probably keep more hardcore fighting game fans away. If you can get past those faults, it’s worth a play. If you love Kamen Rider, this is a game you’ve been waiting for.

Time to finish up the Kamen Rider fest I seem to have created on the blog lately. This time, I’ll be talking about the last Kamen Rider henshin belt I intend to buy for the time being. Why am I only interested in the three I talked about here? Well, there are a couple things I’m looking for in a henshin belt. First, I like a nice mechanical action. Something to do with your hands, and that preferably makes a solid mechanical sound when you do it. Setting the Faiz Phone into the Faiz Driver, Kabuto Zecter’s lever, and DecaDriver’s open/close action. Secondly, I like voice feedback. I like it when the belt speaks as you do things. “Exceed Charge”, etc. Not sure why, I just think that’s cool. Lastly, I like it when the belt has multiple functions. Preferably a henshin, a final attack, and something else. As a caveat to that, I generally don’t like card-based systems because it’s a pain in the ass to get the cards. DecaDriver was an exception because of finding that barcode card PDF.

So, that brings us to the Deluxe Kabuto Zecter, which satisfies all three requirements. In the series, an alien species known as Worms appeared on Earth aboard a meteorite that crashed into Shibuya. One of the Worms’ key abilities is the ability to molt out of their pupal form, gaining super speed. In order to combat them, a secret organization called ZECT was formed, which developed the Kamen Rider System. The system consists of an intelligent insect robot that can attach to a belt, brace or weapon, turning their chosen bearer into a Kamen Rider. The Riders had two forms, their initial heavily armored Masked Form, and a Rider Form achieved by shedding the heavy armor. The Rider Form could “Clock Up” in order to match the Worms’ speed.

The main hero of the series was Tendou Souji, played by the wonderful Mizushima Hiro. Tendou bore the Kabuto Zecter, a Japanese kabuto beetle which attached to a belt. Above you can see the belt, which as always with the DX Henshin Series toys, is beautifully detailed. The belt looks great even just like this. The mod I made so I could wear the belt is identical to what I did with the Faiz Driver. A nylon strap with a buckle in the middle is just stitched to each side of the belt.

The Kabuto Zecter itself is a red robotic beetle. There are three buttons along one side where the legs should be. Pressing them will make the Zecter produce one of three random effects. It will say either “Here I am” or “Danger”, or make a flying sound effect. To henshin into Kabuto’s Masked Form, slide the Zecter onto the belt, and it will speak “Henshin” while making a sound effect and light pattern. In this mode, pressing the buttons will just make an effect similar to a train rumbling down a track. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be.

To change to Rider Form, rotate the Zecter’s horn forward a bit, and it will start to pulse, building faster and faster. Pull the horn all the way to the right, and it will say “Cast Off… Change Beetle!” with lights and sound effects. Pulling this lever is very satisfying, and it makes a nice solid “chunk” sound as the cover expands out. Just as in the show, you can initiate Kabuto’s Rider Kick finisher. Press the buttons in order and it will say “1-2-3” while illuminating one light each time. Close the cover and rotate the horn back, then pull it open again and it will say “Rider Kick!” along with the accompanying effects. Again, very satisfying, and accurate to the show. However, that brings me to my one complaint about this belt — it’s missing a major feature. Remember, the whole point of the Riders in this show was the Clock Up ability… which is completely missing from the various toys (with one exception I’ll get to in a second). The pads on the sides of the belt used to initiate it are just pieces of plastic, there for show. Physically, there’s no real way for them to have electronics unless they each had their own batteries, but then maybe the belt should have been designed differently to incorporate it. You can also close the Zecter and rotate the horn back to its starting position (without doing the 1-2-3), and it will say “Put On” to switch back to Masked Form. Press the release buttons and remove the Zecter from the belt to get a henshin cancel effect, a rare case of such an effect being included.

Though primarily a hand-to-hand fighter, Kabuto also had a hand weapon. This took the form of the Kabuto Kunai Gun, which in Masked Form resembles a hand axe with a pistol built in. This form has a firing sound effect, and the barrel lights up. The light up barrel is a really obvious feature I wish had been included on the DX Ride Booker. The size is a bit of a problem, as it’s much smaller than the show, but that’s generally the case with toy weapons. Still, its a little tight getting my big hand around the grip. The Kunai Gun also comes with a holster that attaches to the right Clock Up pad on the belt.

There are two small buttons you can press, then pull the gun’s barrel out to reveal the Kunai mode, making a nice sound effect in the process. Kabuto wielded this knife in a reverse grip while in Rider Form. The toy actually has a motion sensor that will make blade clashing effects as you swing it around. Like the gun, it’s a little tough getting my hand around the grip. but manageable. If you put the kunai back into the rest of the body, it’ll make yet another sound effect.

The final piece I have for Kabuto is his Hyper Zecter. This was actually first seen in the movie “God Speed Love” where it was initially wielded by Kamen Rider Caucasus. In both the movie and TV series, it falls into the hands of Kabuto who uses it to become Hyper Kabuto, and access the time and space manipulating Hyper Clock Up. It attaches to the left side of the belt using its own special replacement for the left Clock Up pad. This attachment point is similar to those used in many other Rider belts, but actually locks with a button release, which is nice. The horn is swung back toward the body of the Hyper Zecter to initiate “Hyper Cast Off… Change Hyper Beetle” along with appropriate effects. Press the large red button to trigger Hyper Clock Up for a whopping 20 seconds. That’s twice what the Faiz Accel gives you! This is also the only Clock Up feature in any of the Kabuto role play toys. While in Hyper Clock Up, you can swing the horn down again to trigger “Maximum Rider Power” to upgrade your kick, or to work in conjunction with the Perfect Zecter weapon.

Overall, the Kabuto henshin series toys are great fun. Very solidly built, detailed, and aside from the lack of Clock Up, accurate to the show. They’re a great set to have for any Kamen Rider fan, and still decently available due to having been released to the Asian market just last year.

Kamen Rider Black

May 19, 2009

I recently finished up 1987/88’s Kamen Rider Black. Black and its direct sequel Black RX almost exist as their own “era” of Kamen Rider. The last full TV series had been Super-1 in 1980, and there wouldn’t be another full TV series after RX until Kuuga in 2000. What Black does is introduce a lot of elements that would become hallmarks of the later shows.

The story begins with Minami Kotaro and Akizuki Nobuhiko. Kotaro was adopted by Nobuhiko’s father and raised as family along with Nobuhiko’s sister Kyoko. On their 19th birthday, both young men are kidnapped by an organization of evil cultists called Gorgom. The boys are each modified into cyborgs and implanted with a Kingstone. Being given the names “Black Sun” and “Shadow Moon”, they are to fight to the death, with the victor becoming Gorgom’s next Creation King. However, Kotaro is able to escape before his brainwashing is complete. When he’s attacked by Gorgom’s three high priests, he undergoes a transformation into his Black Sun form. Kotaro decides to use his powers to fight back against Gorgom, taking the name Kamen Rider Black.

Black’s premise and tone were considered generally dark at the time. The Gorgom organization is presented as extremely creepy and even disgusting at times. It may seem a bit funny now with its obvious rubber suits, but in 1987 I can see how this was unlike what people had seen before in this kind of show. It also introduces a lot of the tension and drama that would become standard in the later movie-era and Heisei-era riders.

The most important addition is an antagonist Rider. A little after halfway through, Nobuhiko awakens as Shadow Moon. This puts a lot of strain on Kotaro, Kyoko and Katsumi (Nobuhiko’s girlfriend), and creates a conflict of loyalties for Kotaro. Can he fight his best friend and brother? Shadow Moon of course is brainwashed by Gorgom, but sometimes shows unexpected compassion and restraint, especially when confronted by Katsumi. This all culminates toward the end of the series when the Creation King pushes the two to finally duel it out, and things don’t initially go as you’d expect…

Despite all that, most of the show is typical mid-80’s tokusatsu. Gorgom comes up with some wacky plan, Kotaro stumbles onto it, kicks the monster’s ass. The formula is broken up a bit during the first half by the introduction of Birugenia, a former Creation King candidate who was considered too out of control and sealed away. Birugenia would sometimes appear to challenge Black, spicing up the fight scenes until he was finally taken out and replaced by Shadow Moon.

The effects are decent for the time. The regular monsters are a bit cheesy, but the more major characters look great. Black has some nice organic muscley stuff in his joints, and Shadow Moon is just badass all over. The priests look really good too, both before and after their mid-series upgrade. I love the grip tightening sound effect when Kotaro clenches his fists before transforming. The biggest problem I had is that the strobe effect during Rider Punch and Rider Kick really hurts my eyes. I can only imagine the seizures this show caused.

Overall, I liked it. The regular episodes could drag on sometimes, but it’s made up for whenever the story kicks in with the Priests, Birugenia or Shadow Moon getting involved. Shadow Moon especially was a cool character, setting the stage for later Riders like Ouja, Kaixa, the Hoppers, Saga, etc. It’s certainly a lot cooler than the 70’s stuff I’ve seen (not to hate on that or anything), and much more satisfying as a full series than the one-off “movie” Riders. I’ve started into Black RX, which isn’t as dark but I still like it. Best part of RX, no Furbus.

Century Kings, a fansub group consisting of I think just one guy, has Black done through episode 38. The rest I got as raws from this thread on Henshin Justice Unlimited.

This year’s Kamen Rider series is a big what if story. Specifically, it’s like “What if there was a giant Marty Stu crossover fanfic, but it was done by the show’s actual studio, and it didn’t suck?” That essentially describes Kamen Rider Decade, a celebration of the past 10 years of “Heisei” era Kamen Rider shows.

In the series, a man named Kadoya Tsukasa is Kamen Rider Decade. In order to save his world from collapsing, he must travel to the worlds of the past 9 Riders to completely restore his powers. Decade’s powers are unique in that aside from a few specific attacks of his own, his powers are… everyone else’s powers. Decade can transform into any of the past 9 main Riders and access their weapons, powers, forms and final attacks. If he’s with that Rider, he can also transform them into a weapon for a special combo attack.

Decade’s powers are accessed through Kamen Rider Cards. With the DecaDriver belt in its open position as in the above photo, cards are inserted through the top. The logo of the Rider the card draws from will be visible in the circle at the center of the buckle. At this point, the DecaDriver will speak the class of the card, which is one of the following:

Kamen Ride — Transforms Decade into another Rider. Also used for his initial henshin into Decade.
Attack Ride — Accesses weapons, powers and even vehicles
Form Ride — Switch to one of the Rider’s power up forms. Note, “ultimate” forms are accessed separately with a device to come later.
Final Form Ride — Transforms another Rider into a weapon to perform a combo attack
Final Attack Ride — Use a Rider’s own finishing move, or initiate the combo attack with Final Form Ride

When closed, the DecaDriver will light up in the center, speak the name of the card, and play a sound effect. Unlike in the show, where the specific name of Attack Ride and Form Ride cards is spoken, the toy will only say the name of the Rider to whom the card belongs. “Faiz”, “Agito”, etc. There are specific henshin sound effects that play in conjunction with each main Heisei-era Rider’s Kamen Ride card. Other Kamen Ride cards just get a generic effect.

As with the Faiz Driver, the DecaDriver needs modification to fit an adult. Since the DecaDriver closes at the side of the buckle, and the back separation is just for adjustment, I could do things a little differrently. Most importantly, there’s no need to incorporate a buckle at the back. On one side, I just stitched the strap into place the same way I did on the Faiz Driver. On the other side, I passed it through the adjustment slot, and put the adjustment piece from the backpack back on. The adjustment piece keeps the strap from sliding back through, and also does its intended job of allowing you to adjust the belt’s size.

Decade’s other main piece of equipment is the Ride Booker. Normally hanging at his left side, its primary purpose is as a card holder.

Within, there are two areas to hold cards. The area at the left has space for 3 cards comfortably. You could maybe jam more in, but I’m worried about messing them up. When you pull a card up from this area, it will bump a little switch causing a “vrooom” card drawing sound directly out of the show. The area on the right is much deeper, holding most of your cards, but has no special function.

The Ride Booker also serves as Decade’s personal weapon. The first mode is a pistol. This looks very nice, and very accurate to the show. When the trigger his held down, you get a machine gun sound effect. The Ride Booker’s gun mode can be powered up with the Decade Blast card, though for the toy this has no effect.

The Ride Booker’s second form is a sword. Unfortunately, and likely due to toy safety regulations, the blade is embarassingly short. This comes of worse than most toy swords, since the card holder section is taking up a lot of the sword’s overall length, leaving just a pathetic tip of a blade. I can’t say this looks remotely as good as the gun. Tapping the trigger will make a sword slashing sound effect. The Ride Booker’s sword mode is powered up by the Decade Slash card (though, as with the gun, this does not affect the toy).

Here’s a quick look at the Kamen Rider cards I have at the moment. The 10 Kamen Ride cards all come with the DecaDriver. The Decade Slash card comes with the Ride Booker (but not the Decade Blast, frustratingly). Decade’s Final Attack Ride comes with the Final Form Ride series Kamen Rider Decade action figure. These cards, in addition to being usable in the DecaDriver, are also used for the Kamen Rider Battle: Ganbaride arcade game. In fact, other than the ones that come with toys, those machines are the only way to get the cards. There is a function in them to buy cards from Kivat the 3rd. Unfortunately, there are no boosters, so it’s fairly impossible to get them outside Japan. There is hope for gaijin looking to get the most out of their DecaDriver. Somebody in Japan figured out the encoding on the barcodes and made a PDF with barcode cards you can cut out. There’s also some promo card effects as well as unintended and Easter Egg effects. Pretty nice!

DecaDriver cards complete set — PDF

I love the DecaDriver. It only really has one thing that it does, read barcodes, however that one function is really fun. It’s also very solidly made, and makes a very satisfying sound when opened and shut. Details are abound, even in places you can’t normally see. Since this allows you to role play as every main Rider from the past 10 years, how could any Kamen Rider fan not want this?

I recently got one of my personal holy grails. This is a toy that I had thought I’d missed the opportunity to own, which would’ve been unfortunate since it’s the best damn Kamen Rider toy ever. Of course, if you know Kamen Rider, you know I must be talking about the DX Faiz Driver.

In the series, Kamen Rider 555, the Rider Gears were belts and weapons originally designed by the Smart Brain organization to protect the Orphnoch King. Instead, the former CEO of Smart Brain decided to repurpose them a bit. They were sent to members of a group of kids the former CEO had raised years before, with the purpose of using them to defeat Orphnochs. The only catch — they only work for people with Orphnoch DNA.

The center of the Faiz Gear is the Faiz Phone, its power source and control device. Outwardly, it looks like a normal cell phone. On the toy, pressing any random combination of numbers followed by the Call button will make the phone say “Connectioning…” and make a ringing noise and light pattern.

The really fun stuff starts from here. There are a series of codes printed on the screen. Let’s start with the ones that let you use the phone as a gun. Where’s that iPhone app at, huh? On the Faiz Phone, key in 1-0-3-Enter, and the phone will say “Single Mode”, indicating you are in single shot mode. Key in 1-0-6-Enter and it will say “Burst Mode”, indicating that it will now fire in 3-shot bursts. In either case, fold the screen straight back and cock it to the left to turn the phone into the nifty Faiz Phone Blaster. There’s a firing sound and lights moving along the “barrel” when the trigger is pulled. After 12 shots in either mode, it will make an empty sound. Key 2-7-9-Enter and the phone will say “Charge” followed by an effect indicating it has reloaded.

Of course, the main attraction with any Kamen Rider belt is “How do I henshin?” On the Faiz Phone, key 5-5-5-Enter, and the phone will say “Standing By…” and begin making loud, pulsing standby sound effect. Set it into the cradle on the Faiz Driver belt and lock it down, and the phone will say “Complete” and play the henshin sound effect. Dramatic posing is optional, but encouraged. In this mode, you can remove the Mission Memory (the Faiz face logo on the front) and insert it into one of Faiz’s weapons to ready it for battle. Open the phone and press Enter to trigger your “Exceed Charge” finishing moves!

One concern for old fans, especially those of us who are American where everything (especially guts) is bigger, is that the belts are made for kids. There’s very little chance a full grown adult is going to fit into one as-is, unless they are very petite. Luckily, it’s not that hard to work around. For my Faiz Driver, I attached a nylon strap I cut off an old backpack. This strap had one of those plastic clips in the middle as you can see in the previous photo. This was critical for the Faiz Driver as it closed in the back and has no other separation. I simply took a good old fashioned needle and thread, and stitched through some of the pre-existing holes in the belt. On the back side, the thread forms an X pattern. This was extremely simple to do, and holds very well. Also, since it’s just thread, it’s completely reversible if I decide to undo the mod later. I even preserved the adjustment piece in the strap so I can resize the belt at will.

Also on the recent acquisitions list was the Faiz Axel. This item was given to Faiz about halfway through the series, and allows him to access his Axel Form, gaining super speed for 10 seconds. The toy is styled somewhat after a sports watch, but mated to a typical Sentai type wrist changer. Like the belt, it’s made for kids and the watch strap absolutely does not fit around my wrist. The second velcro strap, meant to be farther up the arm, will fit around my wrist. This makes the Axel awkwardly overlap my hand, but it does stay on.

To use, you remove the special “Axel Memory” and insert it into the Faiz Phone in place of the standard Mission Memory. The Axel will say “Reformation” when it’s removed, though this is somewhat inaccurate. In the show, it would say “Reformation” when the Axel Memory was put back, after the Axel’s time was expended. Anyway, press the red start button to begin your 10 second countdown along with a powerful pulsing sound effect. A voice will count down at the very end “3…2…1…Time Out.” You can also use the black button to switch the behavior of the “screen saver” while the Axel is idle, or to play a simple game.

Overall, the Faiz Driver just kicks ass. Yeah, role play toys are pretty high on the geek-o-meter, but this is just one of the most fun toys in my whole collection. It does a number of things, and has fun voice feedback, sound effects and lights. It also was the personal equipment of my favorite Rider, which helps. The Faiz Driver is a worthy buy for any Kamen Rider fan, though it’s heavily sought after and finding a good price on one is tough. I had to buy mine used to avoid selling a kidney for it. Still, I regret nothing.

Mei-chan no Shitsuji

March 31, 2009

Butlers are big in Japan. After all, women need a fetish to match guys’ obsession with maids. Several properties have come out lately featuring butlers. Hayate no Gotoku, Kuroshitsuji… but none capitalizes on the butler rage more than Mei-chan no Shitsuji.

The premise is this: Shinonome Mei lives happily with her parents where they make a small but reasonable living running an udon shop. She spends a lot of time with her childhood friend Shibata Kento, whom she has nicknamed “Mameshiba” and who clearly has a crush on her. One fateful day, her parents are suddenly killed. Shortly after, a man named Rihito appears before her, claiming to be her butler! According to Rihito, Mei is actually the heir to the powerful Hongo family, and she must attend the prestigious St. Lucia Academy to become a proper lady worthy of the position. Further complicating things, it turns out Rihito is Kento’s older brother.

Mei is initially determined to continue running her family udon shop, but it’s soon destroyed. She’s also pressured by her grandfather, the current head of the family, by saying he won’t allow her mother to rest in the same grave as her father unless she becomes the Hongo family successor. So, Mei agrees to attend St. Lucia. When she arrives, she finds that the school requires each lady to have her own butler, responsible for her comfort and safety. The school is governed by a rigid system of rank, with Ombra being the bottom, then Luna, then Sole. Mei starts at Ombra, as all students do, but is constantly challenged and bullied by her snobbish classmates. Standing atop the hierarchy is Hongo Shiori, another potential successor to the Hongo family, and the current “Lucia-sama”, the top lady at the school. Shiori is outwardly benevolent and admired by all, but she’s secretly ruthless in pursuit of her goal. Mei is not alone, however, as Rihito is a top S-rank butler, and Kento even enrolls as a butler in training to stay close to her.

The plot is pretty typical shoujo fare. Tons of pretty guys doing… pretty things. Lots of flower imagery and wish fulfillment for girls wanting to be pampered. As the plot moves along, conflicts escalate from simple problems fitting in to life and death struggles as Shiori’s schemes become more and more dangerous. There’s also a forbidden love aspect since butlers and ladies are not allowed to be romantically involved. Despite that, there’s clearly something going on between at least half the couples, not the least of which is the romantic tension between Mei and Rihito so thick you could scrape it off the walls.

So, why the hell did I watch this? First and foremost, it has tokusatsu actors galore. Most prominently, Rihito is played by Mizushima Hiro, who was none other than titular character of Kamen Rider Kabuto. Rihito is not terribly different from Tendou Souji/Kabuto. Both are seen as nearly perfect, but harbor a bit of a complex regarding a particular young lady in their lives. Opposite him playing Kento is Sato Takeru, who was Nogami Ryotarou/Kamen Rider Den-O in his own eponymous series (directly following Kabuto too). Also playing smaller parts are the actors for Natsuki (Boukenger), Nago (Kamen Rider Kiva), Impactor Logia (Gransazer), and others.

In addition to the cast, the show was just somehow entertaining. Mizushima Hiro goes a long way toward accomplishing that, but it’s not just him. It’s a bit over the top, but not quite as obnoxiously so as Hanazakari no Kimitachi e was. It even has some decent fencing and hand to hand combat scenes peppered in. I would say give this a try if you’re curious, especially if you want to see some Kamen Rider actors outside those roles. It may put you off, but who knows… you may just like it.