First Look: Kamen Rider Zero-One

Premise

Aruto Hiden is a young man who just wants to make it as a comedian. However, he’s going to have to put his dream on hold as he’s been named his grandfather’s heir, and that means taking the presidency of the vast Hiden Corporation, which has revolutionised the world with its lifelike robot HumaGears. When evil forces begin to take over the HumaGears and turn them against humanity, Aruto must use his grandfather’s final invention to battle them as the first Rider of the new era, Kamen Rider Zero-One!

Zigg’s verdict: Zero to One Hundred

It’s such a relief to be able to actually say something positive about a new Rider show. After a few years that have been rocky at best (Ex-Aid, Build) and disastrous at worst (last year’s howlingly embarrassing Zi-O), finally a Rider has burst out of the gate strong. This wasn’t a perfect debut, but it’s a damn sight more confident and composed than anything we’ve seen in a while, and that gives me hope for what’s to come.

One thing we’ve constantly criticised Rider shows for in recent years is their baffling pacing, alternating between breakneck sugar rush and languid boredom. Zero-One though, nails it right away – this first episode is snappy and brisk, yet never overloads us with information or worries about giving us too much set up. The basic beats are all there and all executed well – a quick and easy overview of the world we find ourselves in, a bit of time focusing on our hero, a clear and immediate danger and an excellent fight. It’s not rocket science but it’s such an important thing to get right. Zero-One does that and as a result things flew by.

There’s improvement on the character front as well, with probably the biggest single factor being that Toei seems to have actually managed to find a cast who a) can act and b) actually look like they want to be there. Again, smart choices and economical plotting give us great insights into our roster of heroes and villains without bogging down the story in tedious exposition. Little vignettes like the VP immediately having a much larger portrait of himself hung over his predecessors are really efficient storytelling – it’s a great visual gag, but also tells us everything we need to know about the character in the space of a few seconds. The presence of some kickass police (with actual guns no less) is also much appreciated, and gives me hope that we’ll get some strong, independent supporting characters with their own agendas. Plus it’s gotta be an intentional callback to Kamen Rider Kuuga right? The robot enemies, orbital transformation satellite and other trappings give a cool, techno vibe which is, again, something new and slightly different for the series.

The final thing which puts the spring in this episode’s step is the vastly improved direction and action. Super Sentai veteran Teruaki Sugihara takes the reigns here and while he dials back his trademark POV shots a fair bit, there’s still an energy and dynamism to the fights which feels fresh and distinct from the choppy, haphazard battles of Zi-O. Like the rest of the episode, it feels simple, direct and effective in a way the show hasn’t for a while. Even the suit reflects that – it feels stripped back to basics, largely shorn of extraneous flash. The result is the sharpest, most focused look since probably OOO.

The biggest testament that I can give this episode was that I felt palpably excited while I watched it. When I Iaughed I was laughing with the show, not at it, and when the action kicked in I was cheering Aruto along. I legitimately punched the air at that awesome Rider Kick, and it’s that feeling which reminds me why I love these shows so much. If they can bottle that and infuse it throughout the show, then in a year we might be able to say Kamen Rider is back for real.

Euri’s verdict: Reiwa really going all-out on this first episode

It has been a long, long time since the first episode of a new Kamen Rider series got me quite as excited as this one. For the record I’ve watched, at minimum, the first episode of everything since Wizard, and I’d say only a few of those were done particularly well. It might not mean too much in the grand scheme of things – after all, I’d say Ghost had a strong opener and we know how that turned out – but it’s good to feel positive about Kamen Rider again after what feels like far too long.

This feeling comes from two things in particular; the characters and the action. We learn about Hiden Aruto’s personal motivations very quickly, and while he doesn’t appear to be particularly complex right now, ‘making people smile’ is a much more believable goal than Tokiwa Sougo’s ‘I wanna be a King because some bad guy told me to do it after my parents were killed’. We also get a quick glimpse at Fukuzoe Jun, the vice-president of Hiden Intelligence, and his comical use of placing a larger portrait of himself over the portrait of the previous president, before he even becomes the new president, is a terrific start. He’s also a real-life comedian, which isn’t out of the norm as far as Kamen Rider casting goes, but you may recognise him if you’ve been watching Documental.

As for the action, it becomes immediately obvious that the suit actor has changed for the first show of the new era. Indeed, Takaiwa Seiji is not the man in the lead suit for the first time since Hibiki, and it shows. Nawata Yuya is our new mainstay, with Takaiwa apparently moving to a supporting role, and while Zero-One still does the usual kicks, punches and poses, it all feels very refreshing. Combat felt good, there was no GoPro footage thrown at us, and even though the CG still looks like ass, I appreciate that bus scene nonetheless. The rogue HumaGears are also an interesting implementation of the usual toku goons.

Also, the new suit design is rad. I don’t think we’ve had any truly bad base-form Kamen Rider suits lately (and even though I dislike Ex-Aid, I stand by his suit looking cool, fight me), but Zero-One‘s simplicity was a great choice. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the belt design, and the bored-sounding English voice at the end of his transformation is hilarious, but all in all these are very minor issues. Also, having a briefcase-come-sword is very stupid, but I’m super into it.

Oh, and maybe the best thing about the episode? That Rider Kick was sweet.

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