An Introduction to Kamen Rider Black

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I am looking back at Kamen Rider Black, the series that introduced me to the world of Shotaro Ishinomori's creations.

KWEH!

Kamen Rider Black was my gateway into the franchise and converted me into a follower. Arguably, it is the most famous Kamen Rider series of the Showa period (1926-1989). It is also the second to last series of that period. This is an introduction to the show and some of my own guesses to why the Kamen Rider franchise is not as popular in the West.

Kamen Rider Franchise History

Shotaro Ishinomori and Kamen Rider Black
Shotaro Ishinomori and Kamen Rider Black

The late Shotaro Ishinomori is the mind behind the franchise. Ishinomori is a renowned manga artist who worked with and studied under the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka. Ishinomori gave birth to the idea of transforming (henshin) heroes, cyborg heroes, and the Super Sentai franchise (the first being Himitsu Sentai Gorenger that was created by him).

So, who are the Kamen Riders? Initially the concept started with protagonists who get altered or mutated to become super powered beings. It could be from science experiments or accidents. Though, more recent Kamen Riders receive their powers from external artifacts such as belts, cards, locks, coins, and more. With their newfound lives, they fight against evil groups who want to take over the world, face many tragedies, and eventually overcome them. The name Rider also denotes their preferred transportation vehicle, juiced-up motorcycles.

Kamen Rider 2 (red gloves and shoes) and Kamen Rider 1
Kamen Rider 2 (red gloves and shoes) and Kamen Rider 1

The first Kamen Rider TV series started in 1971 titled simply, Kamen Rider. It gained fame in Japanese pop culture over the years and became one of Japan’s beloved live-action franchises alongside Ultraman and Super Sentai. Interestingly, the actor of the first Kamen Rider, Hiroshi Fujioka, who played Takeshi Hongo on TV, is still one of Japan’s most famous Riders to date. Due to his many public appearances related to Kamen Rider, I consider him as the face of the franchise. You may know him as Segata Sanshiro, the martial artist mascot for a series of goofy and over-the-top Japanese Sega Saturn advertisements.

Kamen Rider Black (仮面ライダーBLACK, translated as Masked Rider Black), was the eighth show in the franchise. It is noted for its darker, scarier, and more mysterious atmosphere compared to the previous ones. It was also a collaboration between Ishinomori Productions (now Ishimori Productions, dropping “no” from the name) and Toei.

Brief Story of Kamen Rider Black

Kurata Tetsuo as Kotaro Minami
Kurata Tetsuo as Kotaro Minami

Kotaro Minami (played by Tetsuo Kurata) and Nobuhiko Akizuki (played by Takahito Horiuchi) are two step-brothers kidnapped by an evil organization named Gorgom. The evil group implant the two with the powerful King Stones with the intention of making them fight until there one is left. The winner will possess both King Stones and be crowned as the new Creation King that rules over Gorgom.

Kotaro is able to escape but he was not able free Nobuhiko. As the result, Kotaro eventually learns to use the King Stone’s power to become Kamen Rider Black. Nobuhiko however, was successfully transformed into Shadow Moon, one of the main antagonists that will haunt Kotaro for a long time to come.

As the story continues, Kotaro learns more about the Gorgom’s secret influence over the country, gains new allies, finds out what happened to his step-brother, and retaliates against the evil forces.

Legacy

Kamen Rider Black set new precedents for the future shows. The main actor, Tetsuo Kurata, has a few distinct honors thanks to the series. One: due to the popularity of Black, the studios renewed Kurata’s contract and made the next evolutionary step of Black, Kamen Rider Black RX. It is a full sequel set after the events of Black. To this date, Kurata is the only Kamen Rider actor with two full seasons under his belt.

Kamen Rider Black and RX HENSHIN!
Kamen Rider Black (our right) and RX: HENSHIN!

Two: in the more recent Kamen Rider Decade series, Kurata got to reprise his role as BOTH Black and Black RX. One of Decade‘s main themes is inter-dimensional-universe-timeline travel. In the series, Decade, with some help, is able to summon two Kotaro Minamis to aid him. Just imagine, two of my childhood heroe fighting side-by-side. Excuse me while I faint.

Three: Kurata played a mentor in a Kamen Rider inspired series in Indonesia. Satria Garuda BIMA X (roughly translated as Garuda Knight BIMA X) was a collaboration between Indonesia’s MNC (a media company) and Ishimori Productions. In the series, Kurata plays Kou, a mysterious figure who guided the main character. Black and Black RX were very popular in Indonesia, so it should come as no surprise that Kurata was invited to act in the series.

Saban-Masked-Rider

Kamen Rider Black RX was later adapted into a US re-imagining, just like what Power Rangers did for the Super Sentai franchise. Renamed Masked Rider, it has a very different storyline than the original source. Unfortunately, it was not as popular.

How About Western Popularity?

Kamen Rider Dragon Knight
Kamen Rider Dragon Knight

Speaking of popularity, I have always wondered why Kamen Rider, or even other kinds of tokusatsu shows are not as popular in the West. Sure, the Power Rangers franchise made a huge splash and continues to be one of the longest running kids/young teens show in the US. Saban tried bringing the franchise with Masked Rider and Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight (adapted from the original Kamen Rider Ryuki). Dragon Knight even won an Emmy award for “Outstanding Stunt Coordination”.

Some of you may even remember VR Troopers, Big Bad Beetleborgs, and Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad. All of them were adapted from Japanese counterparts. None of them became as successful as Power Rangers.

Perhaps the success of the Power Rangers franchise has completely overshadowed the others? Masked Rider had a little bit of a complicated crossover with some of the Power Rangers. Though the complication supposedly arose from how the two separate shows were formatted. However, the idea was to introduce Masked Rider by way of the more popular series, Power Rangers. A piggybacking move if you will. This to me, seems like the strongest cause.

Maybe the marketing for the other series were not as aggressive? Not quite. Dragon Knight (Ryuki) was chosen because it has many Kamen Riders and was deemed much easier to create a line of merchandise for. To some extent, that was the case and people did buy the toys and figurines as you can see here. That was also the last Kamen Rider brought to the US.

Or what if the popularity or monetary gains from those series simply did not reach the expectations of the producers? Unfortunately, I cannot answer for certain that since I do not have any info. I would shelf this under “maybe”.

Nevertheless, as a fan of the series, I wish the franchise could be legally brought to the West. Crunchyroll has brought several Ultraman series for streaming, maybe they will do the same with Kamen Rider? I can only hope.

Sources:

Reddit (Kamen Rider in the West), Henshin Justice (Dragon Knight Merchandise), Wikipedia (Shotaro Ishinomori), Kamen Rider Wikia (Kamen Rider Black), TV Tropes (YMMV – Kamen Rider), Wikipedia (Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight), and Snap Thirty (The History of Kamen Rider – Showa Era).

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Astra W

I am a Chocobo mug who loves puns and is driven by the thirst for nostalgia. You will usually find me writing about days past like an old person. Other than that, I usually gawk at different visual arts or exercising my fingers on games. Or napping in the kitchen cabinet.

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  1. Hi, Det!

    Great article about one of the franchises I kindly remember from my childhood. Quite a few of your TBT hit me on that sweet ‘nostalgia spot’. Thanks for that!

    I think the main reason Kamen Rider didn’t get as popular as Power Rangers was that it was very ‘japanese’ something the American audience wasn’t very fond of. Much like other tokusatsu shows (think Jiraya or Jaspion), it was impossible to adapt such a story to the US, like they did with PR. One must accept the fact that the setting was asian (at least).

    Also, at least in South America, many sentai and tokusatsu got quite a following. Kamen Rider Black RX, in particular, was HUGE in Brazil in the 90s.

    I’m really digging your TBTs. Informative but not too long/boring, and you let your opinion come across clearly without sounding biased.

    Makes me feel old, but I like it 😀

    1. I try to hit those nostalgia feels with every TBT articles.

      KR franchise being too “Japanese”. Hmmm. That is an interesting preposition that I didn’t think of. But at the same time, Super Sentai is also very Japanese. Maybe they win because boys like big robots? Yes, Jiraiya and Metal Heroes series are also very topical. You know, it might be too late to adapt any one of them even though Japanese anime/manga/drama culture is much bigger now than ever. Those older titles are just too old. Unless they are coming up with new shows, not many people would even consider bringing it to the West.

      True, Latin America seems to be much more receptive than NA in this respect. A lot of the things I researched about every other TBTs usually mention how big the shows/anime are in Brazil or Mexico.

      I dig my memories a lot for TBT inspirations. Thankfully there’s still fairly plenty. XD

      1. Yes. I’ve heard people saying that certain sentai/henshin shows were impossible to relate to because of this.

        Sentai shows portrait characters that happen to be Japanese, but could be German or American and would be pretty much the same. Henshin heroes, on the other hand, show aspects that are more… intrinsic to Japanese culture. Monsters based on Japanese mythology, for example, are common today but were rare during the 80s or 90s outside of anime/videogame fandom.

        Watching some henshin shows when I was a bit older, I started noticing many things a kid that wasn’t Japanese wouldn’t really know what it was. Fuurins, Kotatsus, Bosozuku, Onigiri (remember how 4kids switched Pokémon’s Onigiri to “Jelly Doughnuts” because they were afraid kids wouldn’t recognize them otherwise?) and many more examples.

        Try rewatching episodes of Zyuranger and Kamen Rider, and write down everything you see that is common to the Japanese, but not common for us. Kamen Rider wins by a landslide.

        I can’t speak for Mexico, but in Brazil, a huge factor that contributed to tokusatsu being popular was the astonishing amount of Japanese immigrants. Ultraman and National Kid got pretty popular because of that, so one of the main TV channels decided to bring a few more tokusatsu (Jaspion and Kamen Rider, if I recall correctly) and Saint Seiya. In a few days every kid was watching it, so they started airing a lot of anime and sentai shows. As lot as in ‘8 hours a day, 7 days a week’. No, I’m not exaggerating.

        I hope you have plenty of memories left. I was never a fan of TBT-like articles, but these are really hitting home with me. Thanks!

        1. I know exactly what you’re talking about regarding daily things and the mythologies. KRB shows quite a lot of day-to-day happenings and it is easy to see how “Japanese” it is.

          Yes, the Japanese immigrants definitely played some parts in it. I was kind of baffled to learn how many there are in Brazil. I saw a short documentary of them probably about a decade ago and it was quite unexpected for me.

          Mexico might be similar to Brazil in terms of tokusatsu’s popularity. I saw some vids of Super Hero Spirits 2000 on YouTube and was pleasantly surprised that the organizers were able to invite so many different singers to the event. There was another one in 2004 and 2006 it seems? Popular enough for the event to happen multiple times.

          1. There are a lot of Japanese immigrants and descendants of said immigrants. I met quite a few when I lived there.

            This kind of popularity makes me kinda jealous. Where I live, NOBODY even knows about Kamen Rider, let alone other tokusatsu franchises. A guy who was supposed to be an otaku once told me the Japanese versions came AFTER Power Rangers.

            Needless to say, merchandise is impossible to find.

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