Hot off the heels of the successful Team Rider meet up in New York City and ahead of the upcoming C2E2 event in Chicago, I had the opportunity to correspond with Chris Boothroy of TokuNation (known in the toku community as “TokuChris”) regarding all things tokusatsu and Kamen Rider. Here’s what he had to say:
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. To start off could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your involvement in the tokusatsu community?
Thanks for reaching out to speak with me! My name is Chris – known more as TokuChris on social media. I’m a husband and a father first and foremost. I’ve been a fan of tokusatsu for roughly 30 years and have really gotten in to the greater community of it in the last 10 years. I started TokuNation back in 2012 because aside from a blog or a Facebook group here or there it was hard to find streamlined news and information for toys, collectibles, and the shows. I’ve also started PwrRngr.com as a completely Power Rangers focused website in hopes that it can be a bridge to the casual fans of Power Rangers in to the greater world of tokusatsu as a whole.
TokuNation is one of the largest and most popular English language sites regarding tokusatsu. Can you tell us a bit about your work with TokuNation and the site itself?
Sure! The original idea behind TokuNation was to take a very similar approach to what our sister sites TFW2005 and ToyArk do but specifically targeting tokusatsu – giving users easy access to tokusatsu news (whether it be show or toy related) but also to showcase some of the amazing toys in gallery form that get produced. I was incredibly fortunate enough to find a group of dedicated tokusatsu fans who managed to become great friends who take a lot of pride in being part of our little family. Whatever I may have started they have taken and turned it in to what it is today and they deserve all the credit. As for my current role – I am officially the managing editor while Jordan (Den-O / @DenO_TokuNation) handles most of the day to day operations as editor in chief. Basically – Jordan keeps the content flowing on a daily basis while I organize, plan, and execute the larger projects (like the NYC Team Rider meet up for example).
— Team Rider (@TeamRiderUS) February 23, 2020
There was recently a large scale meet up of Kamen Rider fans in New York City as part of Team Rider. Can you tell us a bit about how the meet up came together and what Team Rider is all about?
So I’ve been working with both Team Rider, and before that some of the individuals who would help found Team Rider, for about a year now. David, the Team Rider Brand Manager, reached out to me in January of this year with Team Rider’s desire to get some fans together while we were all in New York, thinking a picture in Times Square would be a lot of fun and help showcase the love that US fans have for Kamen Rider. We were expecting 20-30, hoping for 50, and wound up with nearly 100 people who showed up to the event during its duration. Everyone was blown away – the attendees, Team Rider, and all the people no one knew were there watching :) (NOTE: David has stated prior to be visible with meet ups and cosplay because “you never know who is watching” and that was in full effect at the New York meet up!)
As for Team Rider – the mission is simple: We want Kamen Rider available everywhere! Getting CSM belts and DX Belts here is just the beginning – the goal is to open up as many product channels and entertainment channels as possible. We want to eventually even be able to have collectors be able to order Premium Bandai items and not have to rely on middlemen services out of Japan. A lot of people also comment “Well, what about me in ____?” (the UK, Europe, Australia, etc.). While Bluefin Brands and Team Rider don’t have any legal capabilities to do anything about that the trick we have to remember is that all the success that happens in the US (and Canada) is only going to increase the chance and likelihood for similar results all over the world. Can Kamen Rider become a global brand? Let’s find out and work together – as a team. Team Rider!
The Kamen Rider series predates the Super Sentai series which many know as Power Rangers in English speaking countries. However Kamen Rider has not seen the same success as Power Rangers in the West, with two attempts to adapt it for Western audiences with Masked Rider in the 90s and Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight in 2008. Why do you think it is that Kamen Rider has struggled to find a wider audience in the same vein that Power Rangers has in the West?
I think the answer to that question is a lot more simple than people think. Kamen Rider has failed in the West because all previous attempts to adapt it were the result of people who failed to realize what the identity of the brand is versus what they want it to be. Basically – Kamen Rider isn’t Power Rangers but to executives in the West that is all they saw it as. The brand has been exploited as a hopeful attempt to “get rich quick” by cashing in on what they think is their own brand of Power Rangers.
As to why it fails to find a wider audience overall – the answer is obviously the lack of any official presence in the West in terms of media. You can go to your small local anime convention and likely find bootleg DVD’s of fansubs of a variety of Kamen Rider series but that isn’t increasing the visibility as much as it is increasing the bootlegging. What the West – and eventually the rest of the world as a whole – needs is for an official subtitled translation to release somewhere. Once that happens then fans need to rush to support it which will help open the possibilities of it being released officially elsewhere.
The Kamen Rider series is a massive phenomenon in Japan and across the Asian-Pacific. What do you think makes Kamen Rider so unique and enduring a series given that it is nearing on its 50th anniversary?
One of the joys of Kamen Rider is the journey of our main hero. We can all lose count how many start off innocent and naive to the evil of the world around them only to continue to rise up to the challenges that they face only to eventually overcome them in the end. All that and the fact that even as a superhero show targeted to a younger demographic than a lot of the international fans that enjoy it you never see it treat its audience as children. For as many heroes that have risen up to become heroes of justice – how many have made mistakes? How many friends have been lost in their journey? How many lessons had to be learned the hard way? For those who watch numerous series – I challenge you to say you haven’t at least gotten misty-eyed at least once – whether it was the final moments between Chase and Gou, or Jonouchi remembering Hase, or as Evolt cut through each and every single one of our friends … What other “kids show” – or television show for that matter – can manage to do that time and time again year after year?
To take things to a more personal place; what was your earliest memory of Kamen Rider and how did you first become a fan of the franchise?
My first full Kamen Rider series from start to finish was Kamen Rider Fourze. I went through what every newcomer went through in terms of dealing with trenches of the mid teen episodes of the earlier “Neo Heisei” Kamen Rider series where you start to lose interest and get bored. I’m so glad I stuck through it because Kamen Rider Fourze, to me, was a very unique series that resonated with me in ways that other series haven’t. I was hit and miss with Wizard – but everything changed with Kamen Rider Gaim. No joke – some of the guys on TokuNation used to all log in to someone’s television livestream being broadcast online to watch the raws as they aired – then talk about them – then wait for fansubs to release and then talk about them again. We were that invested in Kamen Rider Gaim. To this day I can say that is the only series I purchased every single “action figure” – whether the basic “Arms Change” figures or the S.H. Figuarts or more recently the S.I.C. series of figures. I even commissioned a Kamen Rider Zangetsu helmet from Aniki Cosplay and – from what I understand – is one of the only ones they’ve produced.
Since then I’ve watched a vast majority of the shows (except Ghost … I just couldn’t and I apologize) and am currently waiting another couple of weeks before beginning the binge of Kamen Rider Zero One.
For those interested in getting into Kamen Rider or other tokusatsu series, what options are available to be able to watch these series in the West?
Sadly – there aren’t a lot of “legal” options available. If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can at least watch the two seasons of Kamen Rider Amazons for free. Aside from that – you’ll need to go through unofficial fansubs. Rather than skirt the legality of that – just Google search something like “Kamen Rider fansubs” and take it from there. And if there ever is an official release of something – I urge you to support it.
There is also a very popular toy and collectable component to the Kamen Rider series and tokusatsu as a whole. How big is this collectable and toy scene in the West and what is the marketplace like?
The collectable scene continues to grow in the West for Kamen Rider! Until the recent changes in Premium Bandai (limiting purchases to 2 per household vs unlimited) I was part of a group of easily 30 people that routinely purchased Premium Bandai items from a middleman. Hobby Link Japan, AmiAmi, and Mandarake continue to be quick “go-to”s for fans wanting to purchase the latest Kamen Rider items or an item they missed out on in the past. Bluefin Brands and Team Rider see that and have been working to get some of those items made available in the West (United States/Canada) – and you can see that in the US distribution of CSM belts! No more middleman fees and paying for shipping twice – just go to GameStop or one of their partners and order and pay one shipping fee – a US shipping fee – and you’re good to go. They continue to work on getting more S.H. Figuarts and other premium collectibles made available in the US. Stay tuned – hopefully some exciting news will come out soon!
Kamen Rider has obviously connected with fans across the globe. Team Rider’s mission statement is to expand Kamen Rider and tokusatsu. What projects does Team Rider have in the works that we should know about?
Team Rider’s goal has been to continue to get the product fans want from Japan in their hands in the West (US/Canada). Things like the NYC Team Rider meet up help to increase the visibility to Bandai Japan that there are passionate fans just waiting for a chance to buy their merchandise. All the polls that fans remember doing on TokuNation and then eventually from Bluefin Brands in 2019 was all used to help get Bandai Japan on board for CSM belts being brought to the USA/Canada. So let’s find out what the NYC meet up does for future product endeavors!
As for current future projects – they’re working hard and things change constantly so it is hard to say something is 100% yes or 100% no. But I can tell you at Toy Fair they were jazzed about some of the stuff they were working on for the future. I would say keep your eyes tuned to @TeamRiderUS on Twitter for future announcements because they’re coming.
Future meet ups for Team Rider are also on the table. There’s a lot of interest in these things popping up all over the United States and Canada – and while not all of them can have Bluefin Brands present that doesn’t mean they can’t be Team Rider meet ups! Stay tuned for more details in the future!
To wrap things up can you tell us about what we can expect from the Kamen Rider series and tokusatsu coming up in the near future?
There’s a *LOT* coming in 2020 and sadly none of it is in my place to announce or share details on. I will say this – if you’re a toku fan living in the US or Canada, you will remember this year as the year that everything changed. And when the dust settles after a slew of announcements in the coming weeks/months – remember this is just the beginning. And that it was made possible because the fans wanted it to happen. The future is bright and is ours for the taking – we just have to reach out and grab it.