First Look: Kamen Rider Drive

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Six months ago the world was almost destroyed by a catastrophic phenomenon known as ‘Slowdown’. Shinnosuke Tomari lost his partner that day, but now he fights against evil as the warrior on four wheels, Kamen Rider Drive!

Aqua’s Verdict: Shifting Gears

How do you try to improve on perfection? It’s simple; you don’t. As expected, Kamen Rider Drive is a throwback to the wacky, idealistic, toy pitching onslaught of the Neo-Heisei era after the genre-defying grimdark of Gaim, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. It’s unambitious, shallow and just a tad bit infantile, but that’s no reason to write it off immediately. As per Riku Sanjo tradition, Drive opens up with a rather chaotic opening episode. Toy cars zoom around the screen begging for you to buy them and a rather obtrusive camera effect fails to set the Slowdown mechanic apart from a similar gimmick used in Kamen Rider Kabuto almost ten years ago. Is fighting while time slows down going to be Kamen Rider‘s equivalent of Super Sentai‘s recurring dinosaur theme? Like the equally cluttered Kyoryuger, Sanjo tries to cram all of Drive‘s concepts and ideas into a single episode-long pitch, but with over forty episodes to get your point across, a lightspeed pacing like the one seen in this episode tends to divert attention from all of your show’s draws. And draws, Kamen Rider Drive most certainly has.

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For starters, the fight choreography is absolutely mental, featuring JoJo’s-esque machine gun punches, crazy accelerated slide kicks and a finishing move so demented it has to be seen to be believed. Our leading man, Shinnosuke Tomari, plays the generic nice dude main Rider trope a bit straight, but Ryouma Takeuchi plays the role with conviction, and Tomari’s endearing-quirks-slash-traumatic-backstory-combo gives him a easy way towards sympathy lane. Equally entertaining is our female lead Kiriko, a hilariously serious police woman with a degree in kicking ass and taking names à la Hana from Kamen Rider Den-O. It’s refreshing to see a Kamen Rider girl joining in on the action, and Rio Uchida has enough chemistry with Takeuchi to make it work. Of course, this being a Kamen Rider show, Drive features an extensive supporting cast of quirky weirdos, yet in grand sloppy introduction tradition, they immediately throw all their wackiness at you before you even get to know them. It’s a bit of a pity, because they certainly seem like entertaining people I’d love to get to know.

In the end, the potential for Drive to become a hugely entertaining addition to the Kamen Rider pantheon is most certainly there: colourful characters, over-the-top acting, wacky humour and balls-to-the-wall action. However, it feels oddly uncomfortable in its new position as for now, hastily trying to make a case for itself and begging time for its smoke to settle down. I’m willing to grant it that, as both Wizard and Gaim have, in negative and positive ways respectively, taught us that a Kamen Rider show can take some time to reveal its true colours. As such, it’s hard to put down a verdict on Kamen Rider Drive; not only because it’s only the first of over at least forty-five episodes, but also because Toei’s tokusatsu shows — especially those helmed by Riku Sanjo — often feel clunky, messy and cringe-worthily merchandise-driven (har har har) before they reveal their buried heart. It will be understandably hard for some Gaim newcomers to stomach the franchise’s usual fare, but for now Drive has my provisory thumbs-up.

(GIF by notsuki)

Zigg’s Verdict: On The Right Road

Obviously whatever followed Kamen Rider Gaim was going to be something of a fall back to earth, but it’s at least a reasonably familiar one, as Drive happily returns to the status-quo which has defined much of the show’s ‘Heisei’ era (from it’s 2000 revival series Kuuga onwards). That means a broad mix of comedy and cartoonish drama, a Rider with multiple base forms, a quirky supporting cast and relentless commercialism. It’s just like coming home.

Having said that, all of these things can be put to good use, and Riku Sanjo is arguably the man to do it. We loved Kyoryuger to bits and his previous work on this franchise, Kamen Rider W, is also a favourite at Glorio Towers, so the man has form. Having said that, there’s perhaps a little too much W in this opening episode, what with the dead friend, quirky female support and general law enforcement premise. It’s also incredibly busy, something which also affected Gaim. I understand that first episodes are incredibly important for hooking people, especially children with short attention spans, but the pacing is very haphazard and it feels like we’re skipping over key character stuff. There’s very little time devoted to expanding on our protagonist or any of his support team and while there’s plenty of time for that later, it gives this episode a curiously detached feeling. The highlight is definitely the ultra-serious Kiriko, who comes off with considerable charm and ample asskicking ability, definitely projecting the most initial interest onto the screen.

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Elsewhere, the show introduces a few concepts I’m not super fond of. The idea that this time the belt *actually* talks and is a character in its own right is worrying to me, especially since the powerup and transformation sequences seem more hopelessly convoluted than ever before. Elsewhere, there’s way way WAY too much horrible CGI used for the cars, and I desperately hope they tone it down from now on because while the idea is great, the execution is simply bad, and Kamen Rider is a show that works best visually when it knows its limits. I’m torn on the Slowdown effect – it looks stunning when someone is moving through it normally, but when everything is just stuttering, it looks like a bad video encode and distinctly unimpressive.

In other ways though, I’m impressed. It’s a sharp looking show, with great suit design, intriguing looking villains and strong camerawork. The action choreography is outstanding and the fight which takes up most of the final third of the show is a thrill to watch, with the powerups being unique and one hell of a finishing move. I’m impressed the production crew built a functioning version of the Tridoron too, and it adds a lot to see Shinnosuke just pull up and step out of it. Overall, this episode didn’t blow me away, but it was good clean fun and left plenty of interesting threads to be followed up on. Not the cleanest start in the world then, but they’re up and running at least.

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Random Observations

  • We’re returning to our old friends Over-Time Subs for Drive, so grab new episodes from there if you’re following along.
  • The opening theme is sung by Mitsuru Matsuoka, well known to Kamen Rider fans for playing the villainous Kamen Rider Eternal in Kamen Rider W.

4 thoughts on “First Look: Kamen Rider Drive

  1. Wasn’t the ‘belt as character’ part was also used in Kiva before? G Den-O also talks, though he resides in the Rider Pass, not the belt itself.

    The fact that Kamen Rider Eternal’s actor is singing the opening already excited me from start to finish. I hope that Riku Sanjo can bring back the excitement I felt when I watched W. And I hope he stays focused; I heard he’s also writing the story for an Indonesian tokusatsu at the same time, if I’m not mistaken.

    • You’re absolutely right, I’d completely forgotten Kivat, which probably tells you something about what I think about Kiva in general. Eve is a borderline case, since he doesn’t really live in the belt and has just straight up become G Den-O by the end of that movie.

      • Pretty much the only thing I like about Kiva are its motifs, so there you go.

        Also, I noticed that the ‘zippers closing’ sounds that happened when Kiriko fastened her boots (you know, when she was ‘arresting’ Shinnosuke’) was also used in Gaim. As for the Rider Kick finisher…I have no idea what kind of kick(s) was that, but it’s pretty much my new favorite Rider Kick. It’s just so ridiculous and awesome at the same time.

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