Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who's That Guy: The Kamen Rider 3 Story

As you can probably guess, things haven't exactly been smooth sailing around here at IKRP lately. I totally missed my self-imposed February update mandate after Real Life™ got in the way again. But like V3, I am the immortal man, and like Riderman, I will never give up. And like Rider 3, I... wait, who the hell is Rider 3? There's another third Kamen Rider now?

That's the question that's been on a lot of people's minds for the past few months, ever since it was announced that the upcoming annual spring super hero spectacular would feature the character, in a very big way. He's even in the title (which doesn't feat. Super Sentai, though Ninninger will appear.)

Super Hero Taisen GP: Kamen Rider 3 marks the onscreen debut of a character most never knew existed until it was announced he'd be in it (so prematurely, all they had to show for it was production art, and the news still made it into papers!) Heck, I never knew he existed until just a couple years ago, that should tell you something. But who is he, and why is he suddenly a big deal again after 40+ years of obscurity? The answer is even more convoluted than you might think! Read on...

"That's right Black Shōgun! Along with Rider 1 & Rider 2... I, as Rider 3, will fight you!" 

The first time I ever heard about a character called "Kamen Rider 3" or 仮面ライダー3号, was around 2008, when the Kamen Rider Official Data Files had a small blurb about him in the topics, trivia & factoids pages for the original series. And that was pretty much the extent of it, until a couple years later when his original comic appearance was reprinted in a lavish collection of Tanoshii Yōchien's original Kamen Rider comics.

Tanoshii Yōchien, or "Fun Kindergarten" is kinda like Televi-Magazine (which shares its publisher) for a younger demographic, as that aims for more of a low elementary level. It still runs today, though its Rider coverage is minimal it's essentially the Pretty Cure magazine now, since 'Mag hardly ever features that (as of the May 2015 issue though, they sure like Sailor Moon Crystal I guess!) Anyway, once upon a time, TY ran its own monthly Rider comic, starting all the way back in May 1971.

Just trying to explain how original Kamen Rider comics work will take a couple future articles devoted to that subject, but the short version is this: it's complicated. The one everybody knows (and you can now read on Comixology in English) is Ishinomori's 1971 version that ran in Weekly Bokura (Our) Magazine and Weekly Shōnen (Boy's) Magazine.

As that wrapped up, Ishinomori's understudy/assistant Mitsuru Sugaya had versions that ran in the pages of Televi-Magazine and Adventure King, often referred to as "New Kamen Rider", not to be confused with the other New Kamen Rider. I say "versions" because there were differing versions in either publication, and believe me, trying to keep track of them is a headache in itself. To be fair though, Ishinomori himself has other, less well-known comic takes on original Rider, including a couple in a magazine named, I swear to you, Disney Land (and yes, it was affiliated with Disney. It also had some early 80's Sentai comics later on!)

To get back on track, Ishinomori wrote and drew the first several stories for Tanoshii Yōchien. At least the first 8, after which things get complicated. But to focus on those early ones for a second, they're really pretty fascinating (and thankfully were reprinted in the same book that features Rider 3's comic.) Given the younger reading audience, they're a lot simpler than his more well-known version, though primarily in plot and length (each one is about 4 pages, often with a full-page splash or two-page spread in there.) The art is still classic Ishinomori, and he even draws a couple monsters that rarely appeared anywhere else, including Ushi-Otoko (Bull-Man) in a story that ends with Kamen Rider busting out of the TV to tell some kiddies not to stay up too late watching. Owned.

I mentioned things get complicated: From here, Tanoshii Yōchien's Rider comic becomes a revolving door of writer-artists, with a number of installments being less full-drawn comics and more like photo stories with illustrated embellishments. I wrote about one on the Tumblr a while ago, if you need a visual. There's still more traditional comics though, and Ishinomori understudy Norihiko Ishikawa is the guy who does a bunch of them throughout late 1972, including the one that I've spent like ten paragraphs building up. Though, as if things weren't hard enough to follow already, it appeared in an "extra volume" version of Tanoshii Yōchien's October 1972 issue. I say this only because if somebody else out there is mad enough to try and track it down, you'll want to be aware to get that one, and not the regular Tanoshii Yōchien issue from that month, where Kamen Rider takes on some Deer-Men. Got it? Good.

"Rider 3 vs. Black Shōgun" is a 5-page color story told with two full-page splashes (seen above and to the left) and a two-page spread (which is where the image at the top of this article comes from.). The remaining page consists of Black and comics Gani-Koumoru (who looks very different from his on-screen self) talking smack about Rider 3, right before G-K gets kicked in the face as seen here. We get three shots of Rider 3 (who as you can see, looks like Rider 1 with some red stripes and a white midsection), find out his finisher is the Rider Cyclone Kick, and a caption on the first page tells us he was made by Shocker to destroy Rider 1 & 2, but he pretty clearly escaped and now "Ghost Shocker" (an earlier name for Gelshocker; "Black Shocker" being another) is out to get him. 

And that's it! There's even a caption at the end asking what sort of adventures Rider 3 will have from here, but we'd never find out, as this was the character's one and only appearance in the comic or anywhere else that I know of. The only thing that comes close is from the same month's Televi-Magazine article, "100 Secrets of Kamen Rider". Secret 11 (right)  raises the possibility of a Rider 3 and, very interestingly, Rider 4 and beyond. 

Obviously, this was being done to build up the Shocker Riders, who would debut a couple months later, but it is pretty interesting given how we've now got a "Rider 3" & "Rider 4" popping up in the onscreen Kamen Rider universe (speaking of Rider 4, he has no obscure comic version, but is totally new, apart from the name).

But before I get into that, some TV production history: as we saw in the Rider 3 comic, Gelshocker turned up (they would have been making their TV debut not long after the magazine's release) but with an earlier, unused-on-TV name. The transitional period where Shocker becomes Gelshocker on the show came about at a time when behind-the-scenes, there was a lot of talk about where the show was going to go from here. One idea was that a third Rider would be created by the Double Riders, but this one would be android, debuting in episode 85. Interestingly, Rider 1 would undergo a similar fate as his Ishinomori comics counterpart soon after, and Rider 2 would join in the 90's (episodes, not the decade) to form the Triple Riders. 

Of course, we all know how this story ends: the idea for a third Rider evolves into V3, who's still going to be in episodes 99 & 100 of Kamen Rider for a while, until it's decided he'll debut in his own series, but the links to the original are strong. Hasami-Jaguar and the Destron combatants all inexplicably wearing yellow boots & gloves in those early production photos suddenly starts making sense, doesn't it? And the rest, as they say, is history. V3 is Kamen Rider #3 (as his first episode clearly states) and he later christens Riderman "Rider #4".

But what if history took a swerve? That's the question asked by Super Hero Taisen GP, which brings Rider 3 to the screen, albeit with a lot of changes. The design has been completely overhauled, and now harkens back to the older costume of Rider 1, but also mixing in elements from the Ishinomori comic, and even touches of THE FIRST and SIC versions (also: three lines!) I like that they kept the classic Typhoon belt, which now will sport a Shocker emblem covering (he's also got Shocker cuffs on his arms and legs with bits of chain, like he ripped right off of the operating table. Also, note the color of the scarf.) He's traded in his off-brand New Cyclone for the Tricyclone car. No idea if they kept the Rider Cyclone Kick yet, but he does now have a human alter-ego, Kyōichirō Kuroi, played by actor/musician Matsuhiro Oikawa, who also sings the movie's ending theme.

Perhaps most significantly, they went back to his origin (created by Shocker to destroy the Double Riders) and used that as the starting point for the story, making a big point of it in the trailers and how it alters history. They're doing the "Ally or Enemy?" tease big time; he's shown to be both teaming with and fighting pretty much everybody else. From the trailers, it's unclear who's on what side at what point, and apparently there'll be some evil mind control at work in the Shocker-dominated world Rider 3's existence created. Also, a giant Rider robot.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of the 2011 anniversary film, OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders, which isn't a bad thing, since I like that movie a lot and "Shocker wins, History's screwed" is a plot I don't mind seeing again. Rider history should hinge on whether or not the Double Riders won and made the world safe for Drive to start his engine, etc. (alternatively, it can hinge on whether or not Hongō escaped in the first place. That'll probably be the 50th Anniversary film.) They even have Black Shōgun coming back for this one! 

But the movie's release is a few days away as of this writing, so I'll save the speculation and just see how it all plays out on March 21st. I know this much at any rate: Oikawa's a legit crazy fan, having appeared on TV to talk about spending a truckload of cash on oldschool Rider merchandise at Mandarake, so I like him already.

And until the movie's release, that's all there is to say on Rider 3 really! He's an oddity, forgotten for years and unknown to even the most dedicated fans. Even most of the people making the movie have admitted they didn't know he was a thing until recently, which is what makes him such a fascinating concept to explore. He's weirdly essential and yet redundant at the same time. On the one hand, sooner or later, somebody had to address the deal with him. He's V3 before V3 was V3, right? On the other, he's not exactly this trailblazer character who needs to get proper recognition long after the fact. As we've seen here, he barely even is a "character" in his original appearance. He's more of an idea, one that had an inauspicious debut and basically sat untouched for decades. Now, suddenly, he's turned up again, with a very new spin, and he wants a piece of the action. Will he have any staying power beyond this film? I dunno right now, but at least for the moment, history is taking that swerve, and we'll see just who that guy is.

"With Rider 3's arrival, the Riders now number three. What adventures will the Triple Riders have from here?"