The latest Kamen Rider series at first seems like a curve-ball. It's strange and totally different from previous Kamen Rider series - setting the story in a high school, with a over-arching theme of space. It's much more comedic and like a soap-opera - but while it might not be for everyone, I found myself very much enjoying this new series: Kamen Rider Fourze!
That's the exuberant phrase always yelled out by Kisaragi Gentaro when transforming into Fourze. It's essentially like saying "Space is Awwwwesome!" Gentaro is an exchange student at Amanogawa High School - and he's very odd and off-putting from the get go. He has this goal of making friends with everyone at school. I don't know if that's riffing on the Facebook mentality of today - but it helps to force the character into the lives of people who don't necessarily like him at first.
Gentaro re-connects with Jojima Yuki, a friend Gentaro knew when he was young and was best friends with. She has an embarrassing obsession with space - an interest she still carries with her when she meets up with Gentaro again.
Gentaro's first encounter of rubbing someone the wrong was is with Utahoshi Kengo - a second year student who suffers from a weak body, probably from an underlying medical condition; he's obviously healthy enough to attend school - but a heavy burden has been placed on his shoulders than Gentaro gets caught up in. Kengo's father was a scientist working in space exploration and research - and left a significant legacy to his son when he was mysterious killed while on the Moon. A powerful technology, called Astro Switches, harnessing the cosmic power of space into incredible tools and weapons.
Kengo has been working tirelessly to develop the inventions his father had left him - including a powerful suit called Fourze, which on the Driver-Belt has four slots, using the Astro Switches to create powerful tools or weapons on the four limbs of the user.
Gentaro inadvertently gets involved with Kengo's secret project, which only Kengo and Yuki knew about before. You see, there's a space-portal established in a utility closet at the school - that when you walk through it, it takes you to a base established on the moon - called Moonbase Rabbit Hutch (In Japanese Mythology, rabbits come from the Moon). This place is where Kengo's father supposedly had worked, and is now used as a base of operations by his son.
It's not been explained yet, but there's supposedly a threat of Astro Switches being used for evil by a group called Zodiarts. They begin giving out Astro Switches to people (usually disenfranchised or angry students in school), who use the powers to become fearsome and destructive monsters - so far usually centered around revenge schemes against the the bullies of the school.
If this all sound somewhat cliched - it's because it's suppose to be. At it's heart this show is a high-school drama, and even seems to go out of it's way to portray an almost America-like high school situation. The most popular man on campus is Football star (not soccer; our version of Football), with cliques dividing the school students between geeks, nerds, goths, popular girls, ect, ect. Its all purposefully cliched - but within that framework we've already seen compelling development between characters - even the Queen of the school, the most popular and ruthlessly snobby girl, managing to make friends with Gentaro after she's targeted by one of her jealous underlings.
One of the best ways to make friends, it seems, to simply save them from danger. Because of his health, Kengo is unable to take on the mantle of Fourze. So in his place Gentaro becomes Fourze, doing for Kengo what his body isn't able to. The action and fights are very clever - but insanely wacky.
The Astro Switches give Fourze powers on different parts of his body - like missiles coming from the right leg - a drill coming from the left leg - with radar communication on the left arm, an a giant rocket on the right arm. The switches can be interchanged and mixed and matched --, like for his final attack Fourze will use the Rocket Arm and Drill Leg to fly high into the sky (sometimes even orbit, with an assist from a rocket-powered motorcycle) - with Fourze landing the drill directly into the enemy - much in the vein of the traditional "Kamen Rider Kick".
While the identity of Kamen Rider is kept a secret, Gentaro isn't exactly careful about concealing himself when danger strikes. He frequently transforms in front other students - and thus there is a growing collection of friends who become part of the so called "Kamen Rider Club" -- like a school activity, but based around Fourze - and protecting the school.
This is all inherently very silly - monsters showing up repeatedly at a public high school; but there are some explanations to help balance out the wacky nature of the premise.
The Principle, for instance, seems to be the master villain - the one who is distributing the evil Astro Switches among the kids. And even when there's an attack or assault on campus - school doesn't get canceled; with the flat explanation among the teachers that it's "The Principle's Will" that school continue uninterrupted.
While it's all silly, it's a genuinely exciting, exuberant, and charming series. I'm also very impressed with the special effects. A lot of battles happen in doors - and I've seen on some other shows that doing fights inside confined areas can hamper the action -- leading it to look less explosive and cool - and more fake and contrived. The cleaver use to repeatedly tiled camera angles seems to minimize this - and the fights usually do lead outside, or to some location more spacious.
It's a funny a cute series. I admit not everyone might like it, but if you give the series a chance, I'm positive it will turn into something tremendous and great - just like many of the previous Kamen Rider series.
Here's some more images I've collected from the series so far.