So, a hundred Kamen Riders drop onto an island…
Zigg’s verdict: Uber Geats
Look, as always we have to open any tokusatsu preview with the standard acknowledgement that these are long, highly formulaic shows, driven almost solely by merchandising concerns, and as a result a first episode impression is going to be even less meaningful than it would be on a ‘normal’ show. Now, with that out of the way, I have to say I was really impressed and encouraged by what I saw from this premiere, which is definitely the strongest that we’ve seen in a few years.
For me the most encouraging sign was that the show immediately goes for what is, by kid’s show standards, a fairly ambitious narrative trick, presenting daffy everyman Keiwa as its protagonist. As someone who deliberately avoided most of the trailers and publicity for the show, I was totally taken in, largely because Keiwa seems like exactly the kind of bland, wishy-washy generic guy that Kamen Rider has favoured as its main character in recent years. Needless to say that the smug, dickish Ace is an immediately more appealing figure and the writing does a pretty good job of holding him at arms length here, making him an intriguing puzzle to be unpacked rather than a fully fledged character straight out of the door. Hopefully that means some decent room for character development and some tasty personal secrets to uncover. By establishing a firm objective and mystery right away – namely winning the ‘Desire Grand Prix’, and the question of its true nature – Geats already feels like a more thematically consistent and rooted show than Revice or Saber were. The trick will of course be maintaining that focus and how well they can tie their subplots into the main arc.
Elsewhere, a lot of the energy in this episode comes from sensible and much-needed nips and tucks to the Kamen Rider formula which pare back some of the excesses that have developed. So we finally get back to a belt which doesn’t have to read a telephone directory before doing anything for example, a blessed relief to say the least. The suit is stripped back and minimalist but still instantly recognisable, with the big ‘eyes’ giving it a distinctive silhouette all of its own. Even the inevitable CGI blizzard is somewhat more palatable this time, given it’s accompanied by some nifty action work and actual motorbike sequences too.
It’s important, of course, to note the disclaimer I opened with, and we gave Revice‘s opening episode a pretty positive review too. With that said, I think there are genuine reasons to be optimistic about Geats, not least of which is a premise that is explicitly tailored to the Rider-vs-Rider shenanigans which have become Toei’s bread and butter these days. Time may make a fool of me, but on the basis of this opener I’m willing to give them another chance at least.
I was apprehensive about Kamen Rider Geats – justifiably so, considering the franchise’s recent performance – but I had a surprisingly good time with this premiere. The video game theming is an understandable narrative shorthand for a last-man-standing competition that Kids These Days will understand, and more importantly it is nowhere near as obnoxious as Ex-Aid’s super-deformed, day-glo aesthetic. Geats himself has a clean design allowing for the now-practically-standard mix-and-match power-ups to be easily readable. The obligatory first episode CGI blizzard was almost tolerable! And (though it’s liable to change as the show progresses) the belt is enjoyably quiet, spouting a mere two or three words per form and special attack!! Wow!!!
Narratively, we have a fair bit to chew on. Just based on this episode, Ace Ukiyo / Kamen Rider Geats is firmly not presented as the viewpoint character, instead coming off as a heroic enigma while the camera follows the more conventionally unsure Keiwa Sakurai. Some form of Geats is also clearly the current “Desire Deity”, and it’s ambiguous as to why he has chosen to continue running the Desire Grand Prix when given the apparent privilege to form the world as he sees fit. He fiddles with a (comically fake) Roman denarius throughout the episode, which brings up the question of exactly how long the Desire Grand Prix has existed and how many “loops” he’s been through. It’s almost luxurious to have a Kamen Rider show where, even only a single episode in, I have questions about the plot and setting that I care to have answered at some point. Maybe after a year suffering through Kamen Rider Revice, a guy’s liable to treat scraps like a feast, but I’m looking forward to seeing where Geats is headed.