Kamen Rider Zero-One Episodes 2 & 3

“Is the AI Guy Friend? Or Foe?” & “He Was A Sushi Chef”

Aruto comes face to face with the forces of the mysterious Metsubojinrai.net, the villains responsible for driving Humagears insane. He’s both helped and hindered by the arrival of a new pair of Riders.

Zigg’s Thoughts

While Zero-One had a barnstorming first episode, that wasn’t enough to put my fears to rest. After all, we’ve responded positively to openers in the past only for the show to completely fall apart down the line. Fortunately, episodes 2 and 3 do plenty to assuage my fears. Neither have quite the impetus of episode 1, and we’re still very much in meat-and-potatoes story territory here, but there’s enough good stuff here to make me think the writers and directors understand the story they’re trying to tell.

At their core both of these episodes follow the same basic plot beats – namely that Aruto bonds with a Humagear and then that Humagear is corrupted by Metsubojinrai.net, forcing Aruto to take him down. Impressively though, both episodes approach this thread from a different angle, giving us a taste of how the new show will juggle its various plot threads. Episode 2 is much more character based, focusing on Aruto settling into his office, and on the conflict between him and Isamu Fuwa/Kamen Rider Vulcan. Their rooftop conversation is very much a sledgehammer upside the head of exposition, but it does lay out a clear and simple conflict between the two – Aruto believe Humagears are unique lifeforms, with the inherent value that that conveys, and Isamu hates Humagears and sees them as a disaster waiting to happen.

This is an obvious source of friction, but the writing does well to expand from this basic idea and give some backstory to justify these positions. So Aruto is attached to Humagears because one of them served as his father figure and saved his life, while Isamu was caught in the midst of the same catastrophe and almost killed by rogue ‘bots. In a nice extra layer of antagonism, this means he’s convinced that Hiden ran a coverup and thus has personal enmity towards Aruto as well as his costumed alter-ego. There’s a nice undercurrent of conspiracy-thriller menace in a lot of this, aided by a genuinely impressive flashback to teenage Isamu being pursued by the nightmarish looking rogue Humagears. It does appear from the episode 4 preview that they’re going to get into this quite rapidly though, and I’m not necessarily against that. Unless you’re very good at writing (see Urobuchi, Gen), stringing the audience along with mysteries can lead to the danger of anticlimax, so as long as the threat ramps appropriately I’m fine with the truth coming out sooner rather than later.

After establishing Isamu in episode 2, episode 3 mostly puts him on the back burner in favour of his supervisor Yua Yaiba, and let me tell you, I’m all for it. Kamen Rider has a notoriously bad history with…well, female characters in general, but especially female Riders, of which there are few and who mostly tend to be one-shot characters. Yet Yua comes to us fully formed and it’s great. Her tense, antagonistic relationship with Isamu is excellent because it’s entirely possible to be behind either or both of them. Normally Yua would be painted as the baddie for being the obstructive bureaucrat, but Hiroe Igeta’s snappy, no-nonsense performance let’s us know that she’s not a pen-pusher or yes woman, but a force to be reckoned with even before she becomes a Rider. I see great potential in the Isamu/Yua dynamic, and I hope they get to butt heads in full view of the camera.

Thematically, episode 3 goes for about the most well worn robot theme you can get, namely ‘do androids/cyborgs/replicants/whatever have souls?’. It’s a well-worn cliche for a reason though, and the show displays a surprisingly light touch with it. Grandpa Sushi Chef learning he maybe shouldn’t be so racist to robots is quite nicely done, and while in both episodes we don’t get the friendly Humagears staying dead for good, episode 3 does work to establish that something was lost in the process. In general the whole process of Humagears being taken over is pretty nightmarish, and generally played with the seriousness it deserves. It’s a little early to say, but the idea that a Rider show might be ready to ask genuinely interesting thematic questions is a tantalising one.

The final piece of the puzzle here is great action, and I’m happy to say that Zero-One continues to deliver in this department also. There’s some fab stunt work on display, most notably the multi-shot of the possessed Humagear flying through Isamu’s classroom window, while the direction remains a cut above. Compare Valkyrie’s debut battle, particularly the sequence of her using the crate as running cover, to any battle in Zi-O and you’ll see that the blocking and cutting is miles superior. Sugihara even gets to bust out his patented GoPro shots for a bit. Vulcan and Valkyrie share the sleek, clean look of the Zero-One suit, which means they look great. In particular the stripped back suit design pays huge dividends when it comes to powerup forms, as you’re not bolting attachments over attachments, which helps make the whole thing slightly less preposterous. The transformation sequences kick ass and even the silly broken English announcements have a level of dorky cool that’s been missing for a while.

Put simply, Zero-One continues to be compelling viewing, and it’s a really nice surprise to actually be excited for a Kamen Rider show to roll around each week. It’s still early days but I’m genuinely invested in where they go with this one. Hopefully you guys will join me on this ride.

Random Observations

  • As always, we’re working with translations from the vastly talented crew at Over-Time, who are celebrating their tenth year in the game. There’s nobody better out there.
  • This is the first Rider show since 2001’s Kamen Rider Agito (excepting Kamen Rider Hibiki) not to have ‘Mr Kamen Rider’ Seiji Takaiwa as the main Rider’s suit actor. Instead, the role has been passed to Yuya Nawata, who does well but is still clearly easing into the role. Takaiwa remains on staff playing one of the secondary Riders.
  • This year’s opening theme REALxEYEZ is performed by Jun Onose and Takanori Nishikawa, who’s better known by his stage name T.M. Revolution. Oh, and it’s a banger as the kids say.
  • The mysterious ‘Ark’ at the bottom of the lake sure looks a lot like the satellite Aruto uses to transform.
  • So Aruto is totally a Humagear right? At this point I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the twist.

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