With the incredible success of Power Rangers, a show originally
made in Japan and adapted for US audiences, and the fact that anime currently
dominates children's TV programing in the United States, it's curious that
Japanese super-hero children's shows haven't migrated to the US. Johnny
Sokko and His Giant Robot and Ultraman were favorite after school
programs for many children in the late 60's and early 70's in the US and
are conspicuous in their absence on DVD. Yes, FUNimation did release
four volumes of Ultraman Tiga in 2004, but aside from that, there
hasn't been much in the way of live action Japanese TV. The Kyoryuu
Sentai ZyuRanger series (that was used for the first season of Mighty
Morphin Power Rangers in the US) would have a built in audience, as
would Spectral Mask, a masked-avenger series staring a young Sonny
One company is doing their part to bring these adventure shows to US viewers though. JNProductions, a company based in Hawaii, has licenced and released Kamen Rider V3 in a very nice 6 disc DVD set that contains the entire 52 episode series.
Kamen Rider is one of the longest running hero franchises in Japan (second only to Ultraman) with a new incarnation of the show (Kamen Rider Hibiki) currently airing. It has also been credited with being the first Henshin (transform in Japanese) series and started a whole genre of TV shows. Though it was preceded by Ultraman, Kamen Rider doesn't fight giant Godzilla-type monsters, instead he battles normal human sized villains. The first incarnation, simply titled Kamen Rider, started in 1971 and lasted two seasons. During this series Kamen Rider, a powerful cyborg, fought the evil organization Shocker. Over the course of 98 episodes Kamen Rider 1 (later aided by Kamen Rider 2) battled the creatures that Shocker created, and finally managed to defeat the group.
Following the conclusion of Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider V3 was
launched in 1973. This time the story involves Kazami Shiro (Miyauchi
Hiroshi). When he accidently witnesses the murder of a man, Kazami
and his family become targets themselves. That's because he saw the
operatives of Destron, an evil world wide criminal entity with a mysterious
leader who are trying to take over the world. Since they are a secret
group, anyone who sees them is killed. One night, a Destron mutant
breaks into Shiro's home. Kamen Riders 1 and 2 arrive in time to
save Shiro himself but not before the mutant kills his parents and sister
before his eyes.
The two Kamen Riders start perusing Destron, but quickly fall into a deadly trap. Kazami, who has dedicated his life to avenging his family, is able to save the pair, but in the process becomes mortally wounded himself. Riders One and Two are able to save Kazami's life, but only by turning him into a cyborg too. Now, with much of his humanity gone, he fights alongside the original Kamen Riders as Kamen Rider V3.
Not for long however. Almost immediately Destron attacks again. This time they have planted a nuclear bomb in one of their mutants, and plan to destroy Tokyo. At the last minute the two original Riders take the mutant and fly him out to sea, where he harmlessly explodes, killing the two heros (or do they really die?)
That leaves V3 to fight Destron alone. Aided by the original Rider's
mentor, Tachibana Tôbei, and the lovely Tama Junko whose life was
saved by V3, they set up a secret hide out for the newest Kamen Rider and
recruit a group of Rider Scouts, a bunch of Kenny clones who ride their
bikes around the country side and help V3 discover Destron's plans.
Though he has a lot going for him, V3 has some problems too. Riders One and Two died shortly after creating him, and they didn't have time to tell Kazami what his abilities and powers are. He knows that he has 26 secrets, but he has to discover them for himself. Even more importantly, V3 has four fatal weaknesses and he's not even sure what they are.
This was a really fun series. The great thing about it was that
it was more than a monster-of-the-week show. Yes, V3 did fight a
new monster in just about every episode, but there show was broken up into
two episodes stories. There would be a problem for V3 to solve, a
reason for Destron to attack, a usually great cliff-hanger after the first
show, and an exciting resolution. These two-part stories also advanced
the main story arc too, something that kept the show interesting.
They would also have smaller stories within the main arc too. The villainous Doktor G takes control of the Japanese arm of Destron with the purpose of killing V3 in one, and other officers are appointed during the course of the series too. Another exciting arc has Kamen Rider V3 meeting another masked person, Riderman. He was a scientist working for Destron, but has he changed his ways?
The show also keeps you guessing by killing off some unexpected people.
Not only do the original Kamen Riders fly off into the sunset, but there
are a fair amount of minor characters who are killed, and it often comes
as a shock because these plot points aren't telegraphed in advance.
If the scientist that V3 is looking for gets killed, what's to stop the
other characters from being sacrificed at the alter of moving the plot
With a new episode airing every week for an entire year, the production schedule must have been brutal. A lot of the credit for the show being so entertaining goes to star Miyauchi Hiroshi. He preformed all of his own stunts (though there was a stunt man in the Kamen Rider suit) and did a great job of adding an extra dimension to the production. He played the romantic subplot with Junko just right. With hardly any dialog he was able to establish that Kazami is attracted to her, and that he feels he can't have a relationship since he's a cyborg. He played it subtly and made sure that this plot never got too sappy. After watching this show it's easy to see why Hiroshi is one of the most popular SF sTV stars in Japan. He also went on to have staring roles in Secret Taskforce Goranger as the first Blue Ranger and Swift Hero Zubat.
This entire 52 episode series comes on 6 DVDs which are housed in a
fold out book (like the Buffy season sets) and comes with and illustrated
Originally airing in 1973 in Japan, the full frame image has been cleaned up, but is still showing its age a bit. While the picture is good and easy on the eyes generally, it looks like a 16mm print was used for the master, and there is some of grain to the image. There is bit of dirt on the print, but it's nothing significant. The colors look very nice though, with the colorful villains, not to mention Kamen Rider himself, are bright and vivid. The level of detail is generally fine, but some detail is lost in the dark scenes. While not a reference disc, this image is solid and acceptable.
Like the video, the Japanese two channel audio is acceptable not great. The range isn't great, and there is a slight bit of distortion now and again, but the dialog is easy to hear. The effects and music are strong and though I would have loved to hear this show in 5.1, this mix will do. There are two optional subtitle tracks, one a direct translation and the other with the mild swearing removed. Though I don't speak Japanese, I thought the translation was very good with the dialog sounding natural and seeming to capture the spirit of the original. The did not translate the word "kamen" (masked) when referring to V3 which was good (the less I recall of the American Masked Rider the better.) The term "henshin" (transform) was also left in tact when Kazami would change into V3 which also worked well, though when Boiler Toad wanted to attack V3 rather than Kazami he did goad him to "transform." As far as the cursing goes, it's limited to the frequent use of "damn" and "hell" to describe the Destron monsters with an occasional "bastard" thrown in when some particularly nefarious scheme is unveiled. There is no English dub.
This set has a lot of bonus material, much more than I was expecting. Each disc has copious liner notes discussing each episode and pointing out supporting character actors and production snafus. I'm not talking about 5 or 6 pages either, there are 50 to 70 pages of notes on each disc. These are very informative and contain more information than you'll ever want to know about the series. My only regret is that they didn't include them as a .pdf or text file so that you would have the option to print them out. Paging through 70 screens of information can get tiring, especially when you are looking for something in particular.
In addition to the notes, disc one also has two other text pieces. Who Was That Masked Bug-Man is a through history of Kamen Rider covering his creation to the latest feature film, and Destron: The Army with Roots in Hell is a nice background piece on the villainous organization that V3 fights in this series.
The rest of the extras are on the final disc. They include an interesting half hour interview with Miyauchi Hiroshi where he talks about his time working on the show and gives his opinions of the actors and talent he worked with. There are some interesting revelations such as the fact that he's never worn the V3 costume. (A stunt team did all of the costumed fight scenes.)
There is also a very complete set of character profiles, 71(!) in all. They describe the various villains and friends that appear in the series, and lists the episodes that they appeared. For those of you who can't get enough of the catchy theme music, there are six karaoke videos along with the option to play them all or to shuffle them.
The extras are rounded off with a listing of the staff and cast associated with the show, a trivia quiz, and a minute long promo for the DVD set. An all around excellent set of bonus material. JNProductions should be commended for their work in assembling such a nice package.
This series is a lot of fun for both young and older viewers. I viewed much of this series with my two sons, aged 9 and 13, and they didn't have any trouble reading the subtitles. Occasionally they wouldn't be able to finish reading before the word left the screen but this was the exception rather than the rule. I was also surprised to discover that the subtitles didn't diminish their enjoyment of the series. They never complained about having to read the dialog, and loved the show. We had a great time guessing the names of the mutants based on their appearance, often getting it right. (Though there were loud complaints when the costume wasn't accurate enough. "That doesn't look like an armadillo!")
I really enjoyed the show too. The series moves the story along at a good rate to keep things interesting and has enough surprises so you're never sure what's in store. The Destron mutants are hilarious at times, but the show is oddly addictive. Though the price might seem a bit steep at first, for the small, limited run that was pressed it really isn't bad at all. A 26 episode anime series on six discs would retail for more that these 52 episodes. If you buy this you'll also sleep, well knowing that you've helped support a company that's bringing entertaining Japanese children's programs to R1. This set comes Highly Recommended.
This set is available for purchase only through the Generation Kikaida web site.