Kamen Rider is one of the most popular tokusatsu series in history. It goes without saying that Kamer Rider 1 is undoubtedly one of the most iconic characters in Japanese pop culture in general, with his distinctive grasshopper-like costume. However the series has never really made a dent in the Western world, with Saban attempting to cash in on the success of Power Rangers in the 90’s with the cheap imitation of the real deal, a series they called Masked Rider failing to capture an audience and quickly getting cancelled. That said the recent adaptation Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight did fair far better in the West, even winning an Emmy award for its stunt work, but it still failed to capture audience’s imaginations in the way that the series did in Japan.
Looking in from the outside, Kamen Rider can be a difficult series to get into for a number of reasons. First and foremost there is no real legal channels in which the series is available however there are those dedicated fan groups who have spent tireless hours subbing the series for those interested in the wonderful world of the Riders. Besides the lack of official release, the biggest hurdle to climb with the series is its length and where exactly you should begin.
There are over 24 series in the franchise to date, countless cinematic releases and TV specials to boot. So what exactly is this Kamen Rider series all about and where do you really begin? Through a series of article on the history of Kamen Rider, I hope to be able to explore the series from its earnest origins in 1971 all the way up to its current incarnation in 2015. Perhaps you’d like to join me on this ride through the history of Japan’s favourite motorcycle riding heroes?
KAMEN RIDER (1971-1973)
The original, the one that started it all. Simply titled Kamen Rider, the series was created by legendary mangaka Shotaro Ishinomori of Cyborg 009 fame.
This first series funnily enough was originally intended as an adaptation of Ishinomori’s Skull Man manga, however that did not come to fruition and the idea of Kamen Rider was formed after Ishinomori’s son suggested a grasshopper be the hero of the series. Taking into account his son’s suggestion the design of ‘Kamen Rider 1’ was made with a grasshopper as inspiration ultimately becoming the iconic look that has become so ingrained in Japanese pop culture.
Kamen Rider follows Takeshi Hongo a man who is captured by evil organization Shocker, experimented on and made into a cyborg. After suffering at their hands he escapes their grasp and becomes the legendary Kamen Rider. Now as the Kamen Rider he battles against agents of Shocker with the ultimate goal of taking down the organization.
It is interesting to note that after the filming of episode 13 of this series, Hiroshi Fujioka, the actor who portrayed Kamen Rider 1, shatted both his legs in a motorcycle accident. Scrambling for a way to continue the series, a new protagonist was introduced to become Kamen Rider 2. The new protgonist was a freelance photographer that much like Takeshi Hongo survived the experiementation of Shocker and became a Kamen Rider hero to fight against them. The series followed Kamen Rider 2 until episode 53 where Kamen Rider 1 returned with his absense explained as fighting Shocker outside of Japan in other countries. The two would go on to partner up and ultimately defeat Shocker.
Episode Count: 98
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider 1 and Kamen Rider 2
KAMEN RIDER V3 (1973-1974)
Picking up after the original series, Kamen Rider V3 follows Shiro Kazami a young man who witness a brutal murder by agents of a new evil organization Destron. After numerous attempts to kill Shiro, Destron murder his entire family leaving him with nothing but vengeance on his mind.
After meeting Kamen Rider 1 and 2 who are fighting against Destron, he begs them to make him into a Rider so that he too can fight the organization that murdered his loved one. Initially they refuse because becoming a Rider is a burden they do not wish to place upon him. However after saving their lives from Destron and bringing himself to the brink of death Kamen Rider 1 and 2 have no choice but to make him into Kamen Rider V3 to save his life, using their belts to give him power.
While the series mostly followed Kamen Rider V3, he was not the only Rider introduced in the series. The series also featured Riderman, an anti-hero Rider who was originally a member of Destron before defecting after they labeled him a traitor and sentenced him to death. Narrowly surviving albeit losing his right arm, Riderman became somewhat of an ally to Kamen Rider V3 in his fight against Destron.
Interesting to note is the fact that Riderman is the first Rider to utilize weapons rather than traditional martial arts, with his right arm being replaced by weaponry. Furthermore he is also noteworthy for being the first and so far only Rider to wear a helmet that reveals part of his face rather than cover it all.
The series concluded in rather epic fashion with V3, Riderman and Rider 1 and 2 ultimately joining forces and eventually defeating the Destron organization. V3 closes out the series by riding his motorcycle to a destination unknown with his vengeance now satisfied.
Episode Count: 53
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider V3 and Riderman
KAMEN RIDER X (1974)
The third series in the franchise introduces us to the fifth Kamen Rider, known as Kamen Rider X. Much like previous series there is yet another evil organization hell bent of world domination, this time by the name of G.O.D. (The Government of Darkness).
Kamen Rider X is the son of a robotics scientist who makes his son into a Rider prior to his death with the goal to avenge him and protect the world from G.O.D. He also goes by the name of X-Rider.
This series was significantly shorter than the two series to precede it and unlike the first two only introduced one Rider as opposed to the duos in the previous series. Kamen Rider X is notable for being the first to feature a giant enemy, something that would become more frequent in later series. The series also features the return of Kamen Rider V3 and Rider 2.
Rider X also had a pretty impressive motorcycle which was able to traverse land, sea and air with the special technology produced by his robotics scientist father. He also had many gadgets and weapons he could withdraw from his belt.
Ultimately X defeats the Government of Darkness and the world returns to a state of peace once more, for now…
Episode Count: 35
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider X also known as X-Rider
KAMEN RIDER AMAZON (1974)
Perhaps to most curious installment in all of the Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Amazon features one of the most ridiculous premises the series have ever tackled being essentially a cross between Tarzan and Kamen Rider.
After his family dies in a plane crash leaving him stranded in the Amazon Rainforest as an infant, Daisuke Yamamoto grows up in the wild and eventually begins living with an Inca tribe in the forest. That is until the tribe is massacred by yet another evil organization (the world of Kamen Rider is chock full of these organizatons). Resolute to seek vengeance against Geddon, the latest evil organization to rear its ugly head.
Rather than the standard scientific experiment origin that the other Riders had, Kamen Rider Amazon as he comes to be known, gains his Rider powers after a mystical ceremony performed by a magic Inca tribe elder. It is definitely out of left field for the series and makes for what is easily the strangest Rider thus far. Heck his costume is just utterly weird.
After eventually defeating Geddon, Kamen Rider Amazon returns home to the Amazon Rainforest but vows to return and help if evil was to ever return to the world. Which as you’d probably expect from Kamen Rider, didn’t take very long to happen.
Notably Kamen Rider Amazon is the shortest Kamen Rider series ever and was ended early due to the series intense graphic violence and content being deemed not suitable for children. In spite of that the series managed to spawn a film. Go figure?
Episode Count: 24
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider Amazon
KAMEN RIDER STRONGER (1975)
You guessed it, another evil organization has risen, this time it is Black Satan. Shigeru Jo decides to join this organization only to take it down from the inside to avenge the death of his best friend. Using the organization he performs the surgery on himself to become Kamen Rider Stronger to gain the power needed to get his revenge on Black Satan.
Shigeru Jo is eventually joined by Yuriko Misaki, a cyborg warrior created by Black Satan. She ultimately becomes his side-kick in his fight against the Black Satan organization under the name Electro-Wave Human Tackle (Yeah I don’t get it either). While many fans of the series debate whether she should be considered the first female Rider, she is generally considered NOT a Rider but instead a cyborg ally.
After the defeat of Black Satan, another evil organization rises by the name of Delza Army. In what was originally meant to be the conclusion to the entire Kamen Rider series, every previous Rider returns to help Kamen Rider Stronger and Electro-Wave Human Tackle defeat the Delza Army.
This was meant to be the big conclusion to the series and for several years it was until 1979 with a certain rider took to the sky.
Episode Count: 39
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider Stronger and honorable mention to Electro-Wave Human Tackle.
KAMEN RIDER SKYRIDER (1979-1980)
An anomaly in the franchise for sure, originally titled simply Kamen Rider, this series was supposed to be a reboot of the franchise before later being retconned as a sequel series and the protagonist being the official eighth Rider, Skyrider.
He was renamed Skyrider due to the fact that he is the first Rider with the ability to fly. The series quickly went a different route and became more of a natural continuation of the series.
Following on from the original run of series, Skyrider features an evil organization named Neo-Shocker, a revived sect of the original villainous organization Shocker. Skyrider gains his powers much like Kamen Rider 1 after surviving transformation surgery and becoming a hero to fight against the organization.
The series was notable for going back to the basics and avoiding the complicated plotting of series like Kamen Rider Stronger and Kamen Rider Amazon. The storylines are much more simple and hearken back to the style of the original Kamen Rider series.
Skyrider kick-started the series back on Japanese television after several year absence in a run that would last until the late 80’s.
Episode Count: 54
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Skyrider
KAMEN RIDER SUPER-1 (1980-1981)
Why is it that a lot of Japanese series get to a point where things have gotten so utterly insane that the only place left to go is outer space? It honestly happens more often than you’d think. Such was the case with Kamen Rider Super-1, a series about an aspiring astronaut who volunteers to become the first ever cyborg astronaut, however things go awry when the evil organization (are you really surprised?) Dogma Kingdom interferes.
After being the sole survivor of the attack on the United States Space Development Program Base, he becomes Kamen Rider Super-1 and begins his martial arts training under Master Genkai all in order to destroy the Dogma Kingdom.
Ultimately after defeating the Dogma Kingdom, Kamen Rider Super-1 departs for outer space finally able to begin his space mission after putting an end to evil on Earth for now…
After Kamen Rider Super-1, the franchise once again went onto hiatus and did not return again until the late 80’s. Leaving the Kamen Rider series in slumber for a whopping 6 years (longer than the break between Stronger and Skyrider). However there was a TV special that took place in the break which is significant for one particular reason: the 10th Rider.
Episode Count: 48
TV Specials: 0
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider Super-1
BIRTH OF THE 10th! KAMEN RIDERS ALL TOGETHER! (1984)
Not a TV series, but a notable TV special, Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together! featured the introduction of the 10th Rider, Kamen Rider ZX.
After his plane was shot down over the Amazon (this sounds awfully familiar) by UFO invaders, Ryo is transformed into a cyborg against his will, a cyborg called ZX. However Ryo manages to regain his memory and ultimately sides with the rest of the Kamen Riders and becomes Kamen Rider ZX in a battle against the an alien organization Badan.
The special was meant to give way to the next series supposedly to follow Kamen Rider ZX, however for one reason or another that never came to fruition and this remains the sole adventure of Kamen Rider ZX. Even stranger is the fact that later series and specials retcon the back story of ZX making this special up for debate as to whether it remains canonical or not. Irregardless of that, it does feature the first appearance of the 10th Rider and is significant for that alone.
Episode Count: 0
TV Specials: 1
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider ZX
KAMEN RIDER BLACK (1987-1988)
After returning to television after a 6 year hiatus, the Kamen Rider franchise came back strong with Kamen Rider Black, which many regard as one of the franchise’s all time best series. With far more dramatic and thought-provoking story telling than any Kamen Rider series to date, Black stood out with its powerful story, characterization and stunning cinematography.
Kamen Rider Black took the series to new heights and was the first series in the franchise to gain major popularity outside of Japan with countries throughout Asia being enchanted by the thrilling drama of the series.
Many consider it a TV classic in Japan and the tragic connection between the protagonist and villain of the series is often cited as one of the greatest stories ever told in the Kamen Rider franchise.
Black follows two stepbrothers who are kidnapped by a mysterious cult and forced into cyborg surgery to become candidates to become future Creation Kings. During the surgery the father of the boys attempts to save them but only manages to save one of them leaving the other in the cult’s hands. Both of the boys are known as Century Kings and destiny dictates they must one day face each other in battle to decide who will become the Creation King. Unable to fight destiny the two brothers become embroiled in bitter rivalry.
One brother becoming Kamen Rider Black also known as Black Sun and the other becoming Century King Shadow Moon or simply known as Shadow Moon. This is the first time in the history of the series that the main antagonist had such a personal connection to the protagonist and was given much more depth than being simply evil. Shadow Moon is significant for being the first ever evil rider in the series history.
Interesting facts about Kamen Rider Black include the fact that Black was the first Rider to not wear a scarf, he also had the first ever talking motorcycle and the Cult of Gorgom were notably different to previous villainous organizations. First of all the Cult was not exactly an organization at all, secondly they did not use random grunts to do their bidding and their goals were far more complex than mere global domination although that was a part of their plans.
Kamen Rider Black proved so popular in fact that the series got a direct sequel series the next year by the name of Kamen Rider Black RX, which continued the story of Black directly. There was even a TV special that took place between both series and featured all previous Riders fighting alongside Black. The series remains the height of the Showa Era of the franchise in many fans eyes.
Episode Count: 52
TV Specials: 1 (Debatable if it is part of Black or Black RX specifically)
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider Black, Shadow Moon (Not an official Rider)
KAMEN RIDER BLACK RX (1988-1989)
A direct sequel to the original Kamen Rider Black, Black RX saw Black evolving into another level of cyborg which was called Black RX. This new evolution allowed him to take multiple forms, something that had not been seen before in the series. The story takes place 5 years after the destruction of the Gorgom Cult where Black becomes captured by the alien Crisis Empire who seek to use him for their nefarious purposes.
The evolution of Black takes place after he is dumped into space by the Crisis Empire following his refusal to become their minion. As he floats through space, he is affected by Solar Flares which transform him into Black RX with a new set of powers. He had multiple different forms which he can manifest to fight alongside him based upon his various emotions.
Eventually Shadow Moon returns once more and is redeemed during his final fight with Black RX and the series concludes with Black RX baring his brother in his arms, reminiscent of the conclusion to Kamen Rider Stronger which saw Stronger carrying Electro-Wave Human Tackle in much the same way.
This series would ultimately be the final series of the Showa Era but also technically the first of the Heisei Era due to the death of Emperor Hirohito after the airing of Episode 11.
Notably the series was also used in Saban’s American adaptation titled Masked Rider. The series was cut to almost unrecognizable levels in attempt to make it a spin-off to Power Rangers, a poor attempt and a true disservice to this great series.
After this series the franchise would go on its longest hiatus yet with only a handful of TV specials released in the 90’s all of which were panned by critics especially Kamen Rider Shin which introduced the idea of an organic Kamen Rider, which is best left forgotten (oh, the horrors). That being said it was many fans belief that the series was concluded once and for all with Black RX.
Despite original creator Ishinomori’s desire to revive the series throughout the 90’s he would never see it come to be as he passed away before the series was finally revived in the year 2000, but that is a story for another article, one about the history of the Heisei era of Kamen Rider.
Episode Count: 47
TV Specials: 1 (Debatable if it is part of Black or Black RX specifically)
Riders Introduced: Kamen Rider Black RX, RoboRider and BioRider (Not official Riders, just different forms of Black RX)
That wraps up my exploration into the storied history of the Showa Era of the iconic Kamen Rider franchise. Hopefully you are a little bit more enlightened on the franchise and have a better understanding of its ins and outs. Stay tuned for the next installment of a Exploring the History of Kamen Rider as we dive headfirst into the Heisei Era of the series spanning from the year 2000 until 2015 with the current iteration of series currently airing.