Sep 162014

I’ve just finished episode 45 of Kamen Rider Gaim, and if what I hear is true, the main story will probably wrap up by the next episode. Episode 47’s supposed to be a crossover episode with the series replacing Gaim. Or so I hear. Either way, we’re down to the wire now, and I wanna write a piece on why you should watch Gaim, particularly if you’re an anime fan. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum for this post, since if this convinces you to watch, I wouldn’t want to ruin any surprises, but I’ve got to talk about some of the themes, motifs, general story arcs and such.

Alrighty, let’s get this started with the “why” of why you should watch Kamen Rider Gaim, especially if you’re an anime fan. Is it a gateway to tokusatsu for the discerning adult viewer? Yes. But that’s not why you should watch Gaim. You should watch Gaim because it’s actually pretty good. But not just that, you should watch it because there just aren’t as many shows like it as there oughta be.

Here’s the thing, Gaim’s part of the whole Sunday morning children’s programming block thingy. Which means it gets a whole boatload of episodes. Now, in recent years, Kamen Rider shows have been getting shorter, but there was a time when being part of this segment meant an automatic 52 episodes. Gaim for its part, has 47 episodes, which is still a pretty respectable number of episodes. But what’s important isn’t the number of episodes, but what’s done with those episodes.

Again, Kamen Rider’s supposed to be a show for the kiddies. And usually, these kiddy shows with their automatic long runs just fill up the time with repetitive content. Episodes tend to boil down to a problem or mystery, which are then solved by fighting a monster. Rinse and repeat until the second half of the series, where it’s still the same thing, but now we’re peppered with teases that there might be an actual plot or motivation moving the baddies, until the story finally gets going in the last half dozen or more episodes.

It’s standard storytelling really. Ever noticed how the last 2 or 3 episodes of a 12/13 episode romantic harem comedy anime will suddenly shift to some DRAMA revolving around the main girl? Even if the entire series up to then has been nothing but episodic hijinks? Yeah, same premise. But stretched out over 52 episodes.

*Ahem* So back to Gaim. Gaim’s the equivalent of a 26 episode dramatic anime series which sets things up with some episodic eps early on to get you into the groove, then revs up and builds toward the final showdown. But told over 47 eps, which is what’s most impressive about Gaim when I look back at it. Things move pretty organically, so there’re some detours along the way, but things ultimately come together the way they “should”. Yet, there’s a truckload of intrigue that keeps you speculating until the very end, and if you’re a reader of Mecha Guignol, you know we love speculation.

Off the top of my head, it’s hard to think of a show with 50-odd episodes, that uses its time so well. I’ve seen 13 eppers and 26 eppers pull this off. But a full 50-odd eps is a rare thing. Western/American TV doesn’t really have it because if a show’s popular, it’ll just get more seasons. I suppose some might use Avatar: The Last Airbender as a comparison, but the ratio of episodic content and the general structure of episodes is more in line with the format other 52 eppers use. The big diff with Gaim is that while the first dozen eps are introductory eps, they’re also part of the “main story”, whereas with Avatar, the hijinks that occur early on are more like “side quests”. Eastern/Anime-wise, like I said, I can think of 13 eppers or 26 eppers pulling this off. But I’m hard pressed to think of a 52 epper in recent times. Shounen series with 70+ or 100+ episodes don’t fit the bill either, since they’re divided into arcs with the series itself having no end in sight until the abrupt ending of the manga due to a drop in sales. I guess eastern soap operas might fit the bill, but I’m appealing more to the geeks with this post, y’know?

So, that’s a big reason why you “should” watch Gaim. If for no other reason than because it’s a story told over an abnormally large run time. Oh sure, there are certain episodes shoehorned in, such as crossover episodes to promote some upcoming movie, like the Kikaider revival movie, and apparently, the head writer (Gen Urobochi) had to delay certain story elements to coincide with the release date of their accompanying toys. Nonetheless, as a whole, what we’ve got is one great big story told with sufficient time.

As for why you should watch it if you’re an anime fan, well, simply because if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably an anime fan, and Gaim is very much anime-fan friendly. The main dude’s pretty much your standard anime main character, right down to his acting.

Alrighty, so I’ve rambled on quite a bit, so I should cut this post a bit short, but I’m not gonna end it with a promise of having a follow-up post because we all know I’m NEVER gonna keep any such promises. So let’s proceed to an overview of Kamen Rider Gaim proper.

The opening premise of this show is street dancing, capped off with Pokemon battles with an evil corporation as the backdrop.

In the city of Zawame City, a group of loser street dancers called Team Gaim, suck at life and are constantly kicked off public stages by the top street dancing team, known as Team Baron. They get kicked off because they lose “Inves Battles” (Pokebattles) and thus, by the universal rules of the street dancing gods, must relinquish their time on the public stages.

The main character and overall hero of the series is a guy named Kouta, a former street dancer who’s come back to help his former troupe (because they suck at life). He would inevitably come across… stuff, that would turn him into a Kamen Rider, known as Armored Rider Gaim (yes, they’re called Armored Riders in a show called Kamen Rider… shut up). Oh, and his transformation into Armored Rider Gaim involves having a giant orange smash onto his head. Yeah, the “Armored Riders” in this show are essentially Fruit Ninjas. The main rival is banana themed and there’s even a watermelon themed mech in the show. The whole fruit motif might be a turn off for some people, although spoiler, they explain the reasoning for the fruit theme in the show… eventually.

Story or plot-wise, I wanna talk about the first dozen eps, give or take. The first 11 episodes, the first cour of the show if you will, are pretty representative of a decent tokusatsu show. It’s solid stuff, but nothing mind blowing and not anything I would do more than mildly recommend as far as getting into tokusatsu goes. There are worse wastes of time. If you’re gonna watch 8 pilots of new anime each season, only to find 1 or 2 worth watching, you might as well have “wasted” 6 of those 22 minutes + commercials on Gaim instead.

Anyways, yeah, the first 11 eps are okay and there’s a definite bookend. Episodes 12 and 13 are also okay but evidently, this is where the head writer was forced to bide his time. Once episode 14 hits though… that’s when we graduate from learner’s permit to full blown licensed driver. From there onwards, we’re on a ride that never slows down (except for the aforementioned movie promotional episodes). And now, as we near the end, I look back and yea, I say unto thee, “It’s been a rad ride, you should watch this show”.

The thing is, Gaim is able to maintain tension throughout 30+ frikkin’ episodes by constantly changing the stakes. We never peak to the point where it becomes pointless to carry on. Take Puella Magi Madoka Magica for instance, the series that made Gen Urobochi. It opens up with a couple of really intriguing episodes. Then it had the shocking death of Mami in episode 3 (btw, spoilers), made all the more shocking because up to that point, we got the impression that Mami was playing the main girls. But it pretty much goes downhill from there because the stakes peaked. Sayaka’s fate was pretty obvious almost immediately after that. Dragging it out for another 3 or 4 episodes before her fall, only made it even less surprising and “I don’t give a fuck”-ing, because we already figured out the consequence of becoming a magical girl long before that. Then we have a show like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which peaked in episode 15 or so with the big showdown between Simon and Lord Genome. After that, it’s just repetitive shit. Sure, it was cool to see how exponentially big things got with each passing episode, but in terms of getting you with the story, it ended with the whole Simon/Genome thing. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of the voice actors tugging at your heartstrings by making their voices more gravelly; punctuated with operatic hip hop.

Gaim escapes peaking by shifting the stakes almost constantly. We get revelation after revelation and we’re constantly kept on our toes by the ever shifting balance of power. But once you hit the (near) end of the series… well, let’s just say, I won’t say more on the matter.

Oh, that’s not to say the show doesn’t have its negatives. The fights, especially in the earlier episodes, are a tad nonsensical. Other tokusatsu, particularly Kamen Rider, have had much better “fight logic” and choreography. In 2007’s Kamen Rider Den-O for instance, the main dude has several forms. Each form has different stats and fighting styles. So if he’s fighting a monster with armored skin that he can’t break through, he might shift into “Axe Form”, who has high defense and offense. Or if he’s fighting an opponent that’s wily, he might use “Rod Form”, whose fighting style is about using feints and generally lying to/deceiving the opponent.

Gaim’s is just “Flynning” and there’s really no real indication in the choreography to denote whether one person’s doing better or not.

Acting-wise, they pretty much act on the level that you’d see in an anime series. No Oscar winners here!

Is Kamen Rider Gaim the best tokusatsu series ever? I dunno, I don’t watch as many tokusatsu as you might think, but it’s certainly one of the better anime out there.

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