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.