I have been thinking about this for a VERY long time, actually!
Because I grew up in Thailand before coming to live in New Zealand, I’ve got to watch many other splendid shows originated in Japan aside from anime. I don’t even think people around my age who also grew up in Asia can deny the fact that there was more to children’s entertainment than just anime, two of them being Kamen Rider and Ultraman installments.
Though, I’ll leave out Ultraman for maybe later. Let me share an awesome series that is Ryuki, a very old show (15 years ago, man!) which actually never feels old for me.
Not to be confused with the American version that is Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight
The synopsis is below:
All over the city, innocent people are being mysteriously abducted, never to be seen again. During his investigations of these incidents, Kido Shinji – an intern at the online news service ORE Journal – discovers one of the Advent Card decks at an apartment where every reflective surface has been covered by newspaper. He is soon sucked into the Mirror World, discovering the terrifying truth behind the disappearances: people are literally being pulled through mirrors by the monsters of the Mirror World so that they may feed. He is about to be killed by a powerful dragon named Dragredder when he is saved by Kamen Rider Knight: Akiyama Ren. Ren seeks to win the Rider War at all costs. He works with a young woman named Yui Kanzaki, who seeks her missing brother: the master of the Rider War, Kanzaki Shirou. Seeing Ren’s strength, Shinji enters the Rider War not for the prize, but so that he may protect innocent people from the threat of the Mirror World, and stop the senseless fighting between the Kamen Riders. With Dragredder as his Contract Monster, he becomes Kamen Rider Ryuki.
This really sounds like your typical battle shounen anime synopsis, however I can guarantee you that Kamen Rider Ryuki has a bit of everything from…
- Action (this one is very obvious)
- Mystery (people don’t stop disappearing!)
- Romance (mostly for supporting characters)
- Slice of life
- Supernatural themes and
Though, what’s more interesting than the genres present is most definitely how this show goes to take on multiple themes of Kamen Rider’s classic beat-em-up monster fights, heroes constantly questioning morality and first time in Kamen Rider history; it involves a staggering thirteen different riders (not counting some odd ones, of course).
On top of fighting monsters to save innocent people of the Earth…
Riders undergo a war to determine who is the strongest and is most worthy for an omnipotent wish, filled with rules and such.
Sounds familiar? Because yes, there is something in anime like this…
Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night!
Instead of having magic and servants, humans take on Kamen Rider forms, gaining unique abilities which add to flavorful fights throughout the series. Unlike the two anime, 99% of the fights happen inside mirror world, where it is considered unseen and unreachable by normal human beings unless they either possess the Card Deck or are the target of the monsters (they have also done a great job in literally mirroring everything except the riders on scene). But just like the two anime where some servants kept on questioning their goals to be fulfilled shall they receive the holy grail, some riders do question their ultimate goal in fighting within the rider war. Some people are born to fight mindlessly, some fight for themselves, some do it for fun and some fight for others. There is also no law regarding rules being broken when it comes to a mixture of goals.
This puts many questions onto each and every one of the people who are chosen to become riders as their standings ranged from lawful good to chaotic evil. Naturally the show has a protagonist who goes into the war not for the prize as stated via the synopsis. Doesn’t this heavily remind you of both Emiyas? (Kiritsugu and Shirou).
Seeing his development makes the overall story for this series even more complex than your typical Kamen Rider. Just over halfway through the show, there is already an unmistakable, visible change in Shinji’s character as he comes to familiarity with the rider war and its painful nature.
At first he learns that the point of becoming a rider…
Perhaps looking back at it today I do somewhat believe that Ryuki is hella complex for a children’s show!
Kido Shinji is pretty much on his new job. One screw-up and technically he should be gone. The fact that he isn’t gone makes up the light comedy that is much needed by the first few episodes. Coincidentally, becoming a rider has made him more aligned with this real world job which is actually a pleasant sight to witness. However, I cannot forget that Shinji starts off knowing absolutely nothing and unlike Fate/Stay Night, there aren’t people showing him the starter ropes. For the people that did, they are not the most friendly ones out there, neutral at best if he is lucky. It’s like being in class with an incompetent teacher; you are most definitely learning but it’s harder than it should have been.
When I say that Kamen Rider Ryuki is dark, it really does get dark halfway through. Things such as deception, lies, betrayals and dirty tricks (this one is a biggie)…
They combine to make up thrills on top of the highly anticipated action for each episode from there on. Then there are rivalry and chivalry; these two swap places to be the frontal theme in the storyline so often you won’t ever be sure about what to believe.
And you think that Fate/Apocrypha is new…
No, boys and girls. The ‘character who wishes to put an end to fighting’ has already made an appearance to a show involving a war. Also, Kamen Rider Ryuki came out before the entirety of Fate franchise. I can start an argument as to who copied who but I would rather not.
It is practically fated that disobedience results in punishment, directly or indirectly. Without any sort of spoilers, you should be able to guess that it never ends well for such people. It takes a monster to fight a monster; it will also take power to end the powerful. It is this underlying theme that makes appearance every time someone happens to convince the people Shinji deeply cares for.
What does it mean to have power above others?
Are you instantly in debt to other (innocent) people? As in, do you owe them anything from the moment you become a rider?
Collateral damage from the rider war, are you really responsible for it?
These questions happen to be in application for every single superheroes show, no matter anime or not.
Often we forget that there can’t always be only one person holding such miraculous power. Humans are greedy, jealous, determined, but most important of all they seek confirmation of whatever they are or whatever they wish to become. We see a lot of it in superheroes movie such as The Dark Knight Rises where Batman has to fight Bane, who practically comes from the same place as himself and in The Man of Steel where Superman has to fight General Zod, who is of the exact same breed as himself.
So here we have thirteen riders with similar set of powers. When their ideals don’t align, there will be conflict. In a world of the powerful, there is no wrong; if you can’t beat them, join them.
It becomes more than just fighting monsters and saving innocent people from harm. After learning a hell lot from the rider war, Kido Shinji goes reverse with this idea, attempting at making Kamen Rider Ouja change his character because he thinks his ideal of peace is correct.
Surely you know the reason why he thinks like that but I’ll pull out Shinji’s quote from Episode 25 anyway.
“I want to change the Riders as humans. If everyone changes, the fighting would naturally stop.”
Specifically the riders, they have an insane amount of story for nearly all of them. The obvious advantage of the show being of 50 episodes is more time allotted for firm backstories. In addition to their goals as riders, some of them have their real life issues to deal with on a daily basis. This pique my interest as Kitaoka/Kamen Rider Zolda exercises his powers as a corrupted lawyer and a Kamen Rider, putting businesses flat on the ground while getting rid of people at his convenience in order to preserve his reputation. Then there is Akasuka the convict and a jail breaker. His goal is very straight forward; he fights because he feels pissed off. That is really it. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about an omnipotent wish whatsoever. He however has a goal that can be accomplished without fighting any other riders and that is to kill Kitaoka, though he wants the fun out of it so he only does so in rider form, in a rider fight.
The supporting characters are actually much more complex and interesting than the main ones!
The use of Advent Cards and the existence of Mirror World!
Absolutely the reason why I got extremely interested in this series. I have seen a bunch of random episodes of various Kamen Rider franchises. But it was Ryuki that I managed to fully finish. What sets Ryuki apart from every other franchise before it is the use of cards to enhance the battle. The cards play huge part in the story, in fact for Ryuki series, rider powers are practically created from the cards which is created by a group of people. That is a tiny spoiler there…
When I was a kid, I’d made a bunch of Advent Decks and belts to actually pretend that I was indeed a Kamen Rider. No, it is not chuunibyou since I wasn’t even an eighth grader at the time. I had also been playing around so much with Ryuki’s final vent, literally getting on the high ground and sky-kicking things or my friends who also pretended to be ‘playing riders’.
As mentioned earlier, mirror world can’t be seen by normal human beings unless they possess the Card Deck, but transformations take place outside the mirror–in real world. There would eventually be a time when someone catches riders do their thing, and there indeed is.
So when a kid catches Ren transforming into Kamen Rider Knight, he has to bear the burden of secrecy.
Thankfully, unlike Fate series where servants will attempt assassination for every single witnesses, Kamen Rider Ryuki teaches that very witness about how much of a burden it is to become a rider. The concept of mirror world is excessively fun to take in on the first few episodes. Eventually the riders themselves know to take advantage of mirrors as part of their weapons, making this all seem like a mind game.
If you’re burned out on anime and still wanting some saucy entertainment, Ryuki will do just right for you!
This is not the time for me to be discussing piracy and such since the series is so freaking old (2002) you’re almost guaranteed to be unable to find a legal copy of it. Start watching here!