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.

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The Blu-Ray Format

March 25, 2010

I’ve been paying attention to the progress of HD media formats since the HD format war kicked off in 2006. I was determined not to buy anything until things shook out and one format emerged as the standard, and it seems like most of the world agreed. Eventually, things tipped in favor of Blu-Ray, and in March 2008, HD-DVD met its end. This is when I consider the true kickoff to Blu-Ray (BD) as the next-gen optical disc format.

However, I still didn’t move. Most of my DVD collection, by far, is anime. For whatever reason, I feel more compelled to “collect” anime than I do American movies. The anime industry hadn’t (and still hasn’t) moved onto BD in a major way. Unlike DVD, whose ability to have multiple audio and subtitle tracks on one disc was a massive advantage for anime, BD doesn’t offer anything much more to anime than an increase in quality. Also, BD is reportedly terribly expensive to license and produce, causing the small independent companies that release the bulk of anime in the US to tread carefully. However, it finally came that something gave me the push I needed — Gundam Unicorn was being released simultaneously worldwide, but only on BD.

With my preorder for Unicorn in place, it was time to get myself a BD player. I considered the PS3, but I have next to no interest in the PS3’s game library at this time, and James Rolfe’s impressions of controlling it as a BD player as well as configuring the audio were less than inspiring. So, I hit the Internet to find out what a good stand-alone BD player was. Since DVD is still a huge part of my viewing, I went with the Panasonic DMP-BD60P-K, as its DVD upscaling ability was praised much more than its Sony counterparts.

I’ve gathered 7 BD discs in the past month, 4 live action films and two anime releases (including Gundam Unicorn). I only have a 720p TV right now, viewing the BD as a bit of an investment in the future, but even then I can clearly see the difference. Not only are things generally sharper and more detailed, but the compression is much better. Gone is the macroblocking in dark scenes and the cross-luminance rainbows in fine detail. When it comes to the actual quality of the show, I have no gripes about BD.

Unfortunately, this thing was developed by Sony, and we all know nothing can be straightforward with them. The biggest problem with BD is the different spec levels or “profiles”. Depending on when your player was made, it may or may not support features which are mandatory on current players. The first players used profile 1.0, which is pretty much just a very high quality DVD. Nothing fancy. Profile 1.1 introduced “Bonus View”, which is an embedded picture-in-picture which can be used for commentary or to show storyboards with the movie, or whatever else they come up with. Profile 2.0, which is supposed to be the “final” profile (for now) introduces BD-Live, the ability for BD discs to connect to the Internet to pull down additional content, participate in live events, or even upload user-created content related to the film.

Now, the profiles also updated the hardware requirements for the player. Profile 1.0 players didn’t really need anything a DVD player didn’t have, aside from it being beefed up with a blue laser diode and processors that could handle BD’s compression formats. Profile 1.1 began to require 256mb of storage, as well as secondary audio and video decoders that would be necessary for the Bonus View feature. Profile 2.0 began to require Internet connectivity (ethernet, wifi or both) and 1gb of storage, both to accomodate BD-Live. Now, all of those things were options even during Profile 1.0, and expensive players might have them. The PS3 certainly did. However, if your older player lacks the necessary hardware, no amount of firmware updates is going to qualify it for the higher specs. Indeed, if it lacks the Internet connectivity, you probably can’t update the firmware anyway, so it’s a moot point.

So, multiple software versions and a list of hardware features. Sound like anything you know? Yeah, it’s the “system requirements” you see on the box for every piece of computer software you ever bought. Make no mistake, your BD player is a computer, and if your setup doesn’t meet its requirements, you may not be able to play a newer disc. Or, at least not be able to take advantage of all its features. That’s what you always wanted right? System requirements for a damn movie? To cope with this, you will often find some sort of warning on the packaging of BD discs informing the customer that the BD disc is made to the highest possible standards, and that if certain features don’t work the customer’s player probably doesn’t support it. Warner Bros even puts a little paper insert into the case to make sure you notice this message. What a joke. I honestly laughed when I first saw this.

One other issue we have isn’t really Sony or the BD format’s fault, but a matter of needing to maintain backward compatibility with older equipment. Most people understand that they need to upgrade to an HDTV to see the HD video on Blu-Ray. What they may not realize, or may be unwilling to do, is replace their surround sound receiver. So, although BD supports shiny new lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, all BD discs also need to support secondary Dolby Digital or standard DTS tracks for older receivers. The player must be configured according to the capabilities of the receiver to output the proper audio track. This is what bit James with his PS3, needing to tell it to output plain old PCM audio instead of the straight compressed bitstream coming off the disc. My Panasonic player’s factory defaults are for the lowest common denominator, so it will work out of the box with any receiver, at least on some level. If your receiver is more capable, you can consult a confusing as hell matrix in the manual which tell you what combination of settings will yield what results. Oh, fun.

And what about the anime? It seems the anime industry is taking Steve Jobs to heart and considering BD a “bag of hurt”. There are only a few dozen anime releases on BD in the US, and many of them are DBZ movies from Funimation. Obviously, Funimation will have no trouble making that investment back with a sure-fire cash cow like DBZ. Going forward, I see some new titles like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood slated for release on BD, but then neither season of Gundam 00 got the BD treatment. Some shows like Claymore and D.Gray-man were released on BD sometime after their DVD release, which is confusing and frustrating. Very little catalog material from any company has been upgraded, though you can get Samurai Champloo on BD, and Disney released a few Ghibli films on BD to coincide with the release of Ponyo.

BD also has the problem of needing to contend with the changing nature of consumers, and the push to put everything online. Many are heralding the end of physical media entirely, pointing at successful ventures like iTunes or Netflix’s Watch Instantly. Videophiles however are not, and will not any time soon, be satisfied with the quality of streaming or downloadable video. BD is just so high bandwidth that it can afford to have obscenely high bitrates, because it rests on a 50GB disc. The masses of people are not videophiles though. This may leave BD in a similar position as LaserDisc occupied. The masses may well stick with DVD or online video due to low cost and/or convenience, while videophiles put up with the expense and hassle of configuring their BD equipment and juggling discs. Just as videophiles were willing to put up with bulky, awkward and expensive LDs, but the masses were perfectly content with VHS.

So, overall, I consider my BD player an investment in the future. As things come out on BD, I’ll be able to pick them up in that format, enabling me to enjoy the higher quality, and enjoy it even more once my existing TV ages out and gets replaced. The pickings for anime at the moment, however, are horribly slim. Fans of American movies though, you can get just about whatever you want. As long as it’s not Star Wars or anything else George Lucas controls, because he’s being a dickhead again. If you don’t consider yourself a videophile, it may be worth your while to wait and see how this whole online video thing shakes out. Before long, you may be able to pull any movie you want off Netflix right from your TV, and never look at a physical disc again.

Buzzer Beat

October 3, 2009

This summer season has been fairly busy for me. I’ve had a lot of things taking up my time. As a result, my viewing of new Japanese TV goodies was pretty light. One show I did make time for, however, was “Buzzer Beat”.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch it. When I pulled up its info on the D-Addicts Wiki, what leapt out at me is that this was a show about a basketball team with neon pink uniforms. Since I have little interest in basketball, especially in such an obnoxious color scheme, I thought I might take a pass on it. On closer inspection though, there were three reasons why I decided I had to see this show, which I will now enumerate:

1. Yamashita Tomohisa
2. Kitagawa Keiko
3. Aibu Saki

Yamashita Tomohisa was one of the first actors I noticed when I began watching JDramas. While he’s unlikely to show up on any lists of the greatest 21st century actors, he has a sort of subtle goofiness about him that makes his characters very entertaining. In 2007’s “Proposal Daisakusen”, he played a character who was completely clueless in how to deal with women. His performance must have been good, as I was simultaneously rooting for him, and falling off the sofa yelling at him for being such a blockhead. He brings a similar sort of aloof cluelessness to “Buzzer Beat” in its lead character Kamiya Naoki.

Kitagawa Keiko dates back with me even farther than Yamashita. Kitagawa had a main role in the very first live action Japanese TV series I ever watched: Pretty Guardian Sailormoon. “PGSM” as it’s commonly called was a 2003 adaptation of the 90’s manga and anime classic “Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon”, successfully blending elements of the manga, the anime and original material into a pretty compelling story. Unfortunately, it was plagued by some middling to bad acting on the part of the central five actresses — with one exception. Kitagawa Keiko turned in a surprisingly competent performance as Sailor Mars, despite just having been plucked from the ranks of gravure idols (as were the other four). In a surprisingly wise move among idols, Keiko decided to attend college after the completion of the series rather than immediately pursue a celebrity career. Recently, she has returned to acting, doing a few movies before returning to TV with “Mop Girl” for which she won an award. In “Buzzer Beat”, she plays Shirakawa Riko.

Aibu Saki I first encountered in 2006’s “Attention Please” where she played a supporting role as the main character’s friend. Since then, I’ve seen her move up into larger roles and recently landing some leads in shows like “Zettai Kareshi” and “Utahime”. Saki typically plays very pure and innocent characters. However, in “Buzzer Beat”, her role as Nanami Natsuki allows her to play a woman who, while outwardly poised and well liked, secretly is spiteful and even vicious toward those she believes have wronged her. Saki handles the duality well, successfully acting like a good, upstanding person while simultaneously using subtle facial expressions to indicate her character’s true nature to the audience.

The story primarily follows Kamiya Naoki (Yamashita), a player for a Japanese pro basketball team called the JC ARCS. As the series begins, Naoki loses his cell phone on the bus, which is found by a young violinist named Shirakawa Riko (Kitagawa). The ARCS’ head coach, Kawasaki Tomoya (Ito Hideaki) comes to retrieve the phone, and also winds up arranging for a date with Riko. Naoki, meanwhile, asks his girlfriend and the ARCS’ head cheerleader Natsuki (Aibu) to marry him if they win the championship. However, the ARCS are quickly eliminated from the playoffs, where Naoki made a less than stellar performance.

As the off-season begins, Naoki is fully depressed. He heads to a local park to practice, where he finds a girl practicing her violin on the court. As it turns out, this is Riko, whose apartment neighbors the park. Riko is unaware that Naoki is the owner of the cell phone she had found earlier, but they have a pleasant conversation and begin a sort of friendship. Later, when Kawasaki brings Riko to one of the ARCS’ practices, she notices Naoki’s poor performance on the court. Without thinking, she disrupts the practice by yelling out to him, calling him an idiot. The unusual encouragement from Riko seems to rejuvenate Naoki, and he starts to play better. As they continue to encounter each other in the park, Naoki and Riko promise to chase their respective dreams of winning the championship and becoming a professional violinist.

Meanwhile, one of the ARCS’ new players, Yoyogi Ren (Kaneko Nobuaki), has his eye on Natsuki. He begins to appeal to a “bad” side he says he can see in her, and soon they begin an affair. After Naoki discovers them in the locker room, he breaks things off with Natsuki. Natsuki begins to show more and more of her vindictive side as she continues and on again/off again relationship with Yoyogi while also going out of her way to make Naoki more miserable. As Naoki and Riko begin to grow closer, things become more complicated when Natsuki begins to notice their relationship, as does Kawasaki who was quite in love with Riko despite her never feeling much spark for him.

“Buzzer Beat”, thankfully, manages to build its drama on character development with basketball merely as a background. This is good for me because the basketball is the least interesting aspect. What basketball scenes that do show up are well executed and exciting. However, the bulk of the story regards the evolution of the characters’ various relationships, the obstacles in the way of their various romances, and the sacrifices they have to make in order to chase their dreams. This is supported well by strong performances from the cast all around. I can’t really find fault with any of the actors. Some of the plot devices used were a little forced, but I can forgive that, as this is primarily a character driven story.

One thing I found interesting is that the show presents pro basketball in Japan as a very nascent industry, with pretty low attendance. They don’t even get their games broadcast on TV. Finding this odd, I checked, and indeed pro basketball in Japan is a relatively new thing. The unfortunately named BJ-League was formed only in 2005, currently featuring 13 teams, with 3 more to be added next year, and planned expansion to 24 by 2014. None of the teams are named the JC ARCS, however, and the real teams do get their games broadcast, albeit on satellite stations.

“Buzzer Beat” is overall a very good example of JDrama. It features a number of currently significant actors, and serves well to introduce someone to the overall structure and tone of its genre. Specifically, it’s a “renai renzoku” or “romance serial”, a very common format. Don’t let the word romance scare you off though, these shows feature typically strong writing, multiple types of plotlines and a good sense of humor that differentiate “renai renzoku” from the interminable soap operas your mother has been watching for 30 years. Also, Japanese prime time dramas (with a few exceptions) only last for one 13-week TV season, with the final episode count typically around 10-12. That makes the barrier for entry very low, since you never have to jump in halfway through a very long series. If you’re curious about modern JDrama, “Buzzer Beat” would not be a bad place to start.

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.