Why am I just “whelmed” with Kamen Rider Fourze?

Kamen Rider Fourze, the final frontier. Or so one would say. Fourze is the 2011/2012 Kamen Rider and for the most part, the show is getting a fairly good response. Many are enthralled with the adventures of misfit group of students of Amanogawa High School. And from time to time, so am I. But, there is something about the show that is leaving me with a bit of a lukewarm feeling, or as a famous teen superhero from Young Justice would say, just “whelmed”. Not many shows do that, so I need to figure out…why?

So, what exactly is Kamen Rider Fourze all about? The story follows a group of students who found each other by chance and circumstance and form a club, called the Kamen Rider Club, to support Gentaro. Gentaro is a transfer student who’s mission is to become friends with everyone in his school. He stumbles onto the Fourze belt through Kengo, the one who has been working on both it and the switches in his father’s place in order to fight the Zodiarts. The Zodiarts have slowly taken over the school and are using its students as experiments for their own switches.

On the outset, the plot seemed fairly interesting. It was rather different from what we had seen in the past, with the setting being a high school. On top of that, the people working behind the scenes are a pretty all-star cast. Kazuki Nakashima, head writer for the show, is responsible for writing shows such as Gurren Lagann, while Koichi Sakamoto, producer and director of many Power Rangers seasons as well as director of the Kamen Rider W movie, A-to-Z The Gaia Memories of Fate and Ultra Galaxy Legends: Giant Monster Battle is the main director for the series. Obviously, fair enough reason to be excited for the show on many fronts.

But, since the very first episode the show has been a bit of an up-and-down roller coaster ride for me, and not in a good way. It seems like a few people felt the same way, as well. The debut episode for the season was actually pretty cool. We got a bit of setup for the story, and got to see Fourze in action for the first time. While I didn’t really like the suit, which I will get to later, the henshin sequence itself was impressive and actually has become one of my favorites. The fight scenes in those first couple of episodes were actually really good as well. I know that I, along with many others, say this a lot but Koichi Sakamoto knows how to choreograph fight scenes. And, he makes Fourze look pretty damn good. As with most shows, though, the first few episodes are pretty over-the-top to provide a hook for fans to latch onto. The real test would come in the episodes following as to whether it had enough for me to stay on-board.

As with most shows that have an ensemble cast, Fourze took its time introducing each member into the fold. Like Kamen Rider Den-O, each member of the Kamen Rider Club got a two-part episode arc showing a bit of their back-story and ending in them joining Gentaro in the fight. Of course, these are necessary to flesh out the characters, but it does tend to slow down the progression of the story a bit. Only after every member is assembled do we start to delve into the Zodiarts’ plot as well as what the Horoscopes are. This provided a bit of an increase in tempo in the show that brought it back from a lull for me. But, then it started to taper off a bit with the elimination of a certain Zodiart. I know that its natural for shows to have dips in storytelling that lead to build-ups to dramatic story arcs, but usually there is something else in the show that helps keep you occupied till you hit those certain beats. This, I believe is where Fourze is lacking for me.

Let’s start with the characters of the show. What originally put me off to the show were how stereotypical the students at this high school were. And not even Japanese stereotypes, these were taken straight out of an 80s/90s sitcom. There are the group of jocks, the cheerleaders, a nerdy girl, a goth chick, the social hack, and then there is Gentaro, who is probably the only character that seems Japanese in origin. They have gradually become their own characters in their own right, especially since the introduction of Ryusei/Kamen Rider Meteor. But, the problem is that they don’t really stand out enough for me to get to invested in their stories. The only story arcs that I find worthwhile are involving Ryusei and Kengo. The problem is that Kengo’s story has taken a backseat for the most part as far as what happened to his father on the Moon. It will, of course, come up later in the series, but we are 30+ episodes into the show and we haven’t delved into that aspect much at all. Aside from that, all of the other characters are literally there to support Gentaro. We get a bit of character development through interactions, such as with Miu and Shun. And, I thought we’d get more from Nozama as well, though she is actually a fun character to watch otherwise. I just feel that in between big climactic arcs, what helps keep the viewers interested are the characters and the action. So far, the characters have fallen short a tad for me. But, how about the action?

A big factor for me wanting to get into this show is that Koichi Sakamoto would be the main director for the series. This would mean that the action in this season would have a different flair to it, seeing as most of the work Koichi has done in recent years with Japanese Tokusatsu has proven such. Apparently, even though he is the main director, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be working on every episode. I know that it’s standard for shows to have multiple directors work on different episodes and arcs. And so far, Koichi has worked on 3 if I recall correctly. Maybe I’m just a big Koichi fan in general and am a bit biased (probably not far from the truth either), but outside of his episodes, the fight choreography has been average to sub-par for me.

Gentaro is portrayed as a bit of a delinquent with a good heart. This translates into him being more of a brawler than a skilled fighter. Usually that is fine by me, seeing as many Kamen Riders, such as Faiz, were also brawlers. And, despite having Seiji Takaiwa as the suit actor, I feel as though the fight scenes with Fourze are rather bland and at times boring. Even as the character gets used to the suit, powers, and fighting as Fourze, it never feels like he knows what he’s doing. I guess its part of the character, but from a choreography perspective, it leads to some mediocre scenes.

In contrast, Ryusei as Meteor uses a style of fighting heavily influenced by Bruce Lee, all the way down to his screams. In his debut episode, he seemed to use a lot of Bruce Lee’s technique, known as Jeet Kune Do. Meteor tends to use lots of parrying attacks as well as intercepting attacks with his own. And for a while, it was fun to watch. But after a few episodes, it seemed like it boiled down to just a few quick hand movements, some screams, and a long-distance kick. I saw a flash of creativity in the recent Koichi-directed arcs where more both Jeet Kune Do-esque moves as well as a bit of Wing Chun were implemented in the fight scenes.

While this is a nice touch, it just proves that outside of a few directors, a lot of people behind the scenes may have fallen into a certain format of fight choreography used just to get to the next scene. This is a bit sad, considering what’s going on in the Sentai front this year. The main action choreographer for Tokumei Sentai Gobusters is none other than Hirofumi Fukuzawa, the suit actor for many of the Sentai Reds in the past decade or so. And, honestly, the choreography he has been doing in Gobusters is probably some of the most refreshing and creative sequences in recent Sentai history, maybe even in Toku in general. If he continues with this profession, he will be one of the top action directors for Tokusatsu in no time. So in comparison, Fourze’s fights for the most part seem lacking in both technique and emotion. This can also be attribute to the Riders themselves and the arsenal they have at their disposal.

I’m gonna say this right off of the bat, I think that Kamen Rider Fourze and Kamen Rider Meteor are some of the worst suit designs I have seen in a while. I rarely look at suits and think they look hideous, and when I do, I am usually proven wrong by how they look on camera and how the characters use the suits. This time around though, I wasn’t proven wrong. I thought the suit for Fourze looked a bit goofy and uninspiring from the beginning, but gave it the benefit of the doubt that it would work in the show itself. While I have gotten used to it since, I don’t get that feeling of “Wow, that is a pretty awesome looking suit!” whenever Fourze strikes a pose such as “UCHU KITA!!”. Meteor’s suit is no different. It’s okay, but I can’t tell if it feels too clunky because of the chest plate and belt or too bare because there isn’t much else. The upgrades for both Riders also seem odd in some ways. Out of all of the forms, Fire States may be my favorite. It’s a nice bright red, though sometimes it seems too bright. The overall design seems pretty slick and the weapons actually looks pretty cool. Elek States is okay, the gold costume, though, always looked a bit rough to me. And the weapon, though I like swords, seems odd when he has to plug the electric cord into different slots each time he does a finisher. But at least it looks and works better than Fourze’s Magnet States or Meteor’s Meteor Storm. Both forms seem very out there and even though Magnet States kinda makes sense with the astronaut theme, Meteor Storm looks horrible. The colors, the design, and the weapon all seem out of place for the character, and that sort of kills it for me.

And, even though we like to say that we want deep stories and well thought out characters in our Tokusatsu shows, a big part of why we like these shows is because of the cool costume designs and weapons. It helps to set the tone for the show and gives you something appealing to look at. Costume design my not feel like a big deal, but when you’re dealing with a mediocre show it effects it a lot more.

This brings me to the weapons and arsenal of Kamen Rider Fourze and Meteor. Ever since Kamen Rider Double, we have had Riders who powers included changing forms within itself. Like, instead of having full costume upgrades, the costume or Rider is split up into parts and each part has its own unique ability. In Double, we had 2 halves, each side possessing a different power and weapon. In Kamen Rider OOO, we had 3 parts to the suit, the head, the torso, and the legs which also had different powers and finishers. Fourze now has 4 parts associating with each limb. Each limb’s ability is based on which Switch he inserts into his belt. There are 40 switches in all, I believe, and depending on where he puts the Switch, that limb gets a different weapon, whether its a Gatling gun, a chain saw, or even an extended arm.

This concept would actually work quite fine and make Fourze a pretty powerful hero, except for the fact that almost half of the switches activate useless weapons that sometimes make no sense in context. For example, the 25th Switch is the Pen Switch which activates a huge brush on his leg that, when he kicks his leg up, the ink becomes solid metal and can be used to shield off attacks. I get the whole “Pen is mightier than the sword” thing, but it just seems very out there for a show like this. There are other weird switches such as the Net Switch and the Giant Foot switch. And, even though I think some of the ways they use it are interesting, such as instead of the Pen Switch being used on an arm, its used on a foot, Some just seem random as hell and almost last minute. I just wish that more of the Switches made sense and actually had cool applications. It would make watching the fight scenes a lot more engaging to me.

Meteor’s arsenal for the most part are fine, not exactly memorable but they work. His weapon in Meteor Storm mode, however, makes no freaking sense whatsoever. He has a pinwheel switch that he uses in his belt to transform into Meteor Storm. And his weapon is a staff which he inserts the pinwheel-looking Switch into and uses it as a spin top or BeyBlade-type toy to finish his enemies. Really? This is the upgrade form to “Kamen Rider Bruce Lee”? How does this make sense? The only reason for this is for toy sells, which I get. Its just, why not something a little more in line with the theme of the show or character?

So, I guess you can tell that for the most part, I’m pretty on the fence when it comes to Kamen Rider Fourze. The story has a lot of potential, especially where it is at as of this article (which would be episode 32). There is still plenty of time to pull this out of the water and make it a pretty enjoyable show. But, there are a lot of factors to it that bring it down the list of my favorite Kamen Rider shows. Here’s hoping for a great 3rd act!


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