Friday, August 14, 2015

Kamen Rider on Blu-ray: A (Rider) Breakdown

Announced back at the beginning of the month, the original Kamen Rider (1971~1973) is finally making its way to Blu-ray at the end of the 2015. Obviously this is huge news to yours truly, because— on the off chance that you weren't aware it's not only my favorite Rider series or my favorite Tokusatsu series, but my favorite TV series ever of all time bar none no question period. 

I love it, all 98 episodes, both all three movies, and every possible permutation thereof including Taiwanese remakes and Malaysian dubs. I have watched it in full more times than I can remember, and in parts more times than any well-adjusted person probably should.  I still recall my first episode (5, with Kamakiri-Otoko) and where I was when I watched the finale with my dad (New Year's Eve in 2001). The show has made me laugh, made me cry, and made me friends It has drained probably a million yen or so from my wallet, and that's a low estimate. I think you get the idea. We all have that one show that's gotta be our favorite, and this is mine. 

So of course I'm excited. Despite owning the show on multiple formats already (VHS, DVD, some of it on LaserDisc, and uh... "digitally archived versions" for when I can't carry the other three with me) I am all in on the Blu-ray releases. I have been so far with all the "box"-style Rider releases, in fact. While from OOO onward Rider series have gotten simultaneous 4-episode releases on DVD and Blu-ray, the shows prior to that have been slowly (sloooooowly) getting the Blu-ray treatment, spread out across 3 months (or 6, since they alternate one newer and one older series.) Thus far we've gotten Kamen Rider W, Kamen Rider Faiz, Kamen Rider Ryuki, Kamen Rider BLACK, & Kamen Rider Kabuto, with Kamen Rider Blade Vol. 1 out last month, and Kamen Rider BLACK RX Vol. 2 out earlier this month (not to mention Kamen Rider Drive, which is also being offered in box form as well as individual 4-episode volumes). And soon, the original show that started it all will join them.

Read on for my analysis of the contents and thoughts on the totally affordable pricing!

Toei basically read my mind in how to split the series up across four volumes, with each volume ending on a major turning point episode in the series. The selection of extras is both interesting and not entirely unexpected, but still welcome. Also, given that there's four volumes and the first one prominently features Rider 1 in his original look, I'm hoping they stick to a pattern and give us original costume Rider 2 on Vol. 2, New Rider 1 on Vol. 3 and New Rider 2 on Vol. 4 (he'll only appear in a couple episodes, but Ichimonji gets two of the franchise's best moments in 'em.) 

Here's how things currently look (subject to change as of this writing):

Volume 1 (episodes 1~26) On sale December 9th, 2015 (@Amazon Japan)

It's the original 13 with Rider 1 and the other original 13 with Rider 2. Highlights include... well, the first episode of Kamen Rider ever, Kōichi Takemoto's uniquely-directed fight scenes, the kick-ass two-parter with Shinigami-Chameleon, Taki "getting married" (igniting Igadevil's fanfiction senses years later) the crazily innovative Fujioka-less episodes, Rider 1's all-out battle royale against Tokageron and all his previous foes, Ichimonji's explosive debut, Kamen Rider's first time going puroresu, Rider 2 dueling Dokugander in the shadow of Osaka Castle, a trip up to Hokkaido, the predecessor to those episodes where Kuuga kissed a Mushroom and died, and the debut of Kamen Rider's first-ever onscreen reoccurring villain, Colonel Zol.

Extras (Tentative)

- Box for all four volumes (first edition only, so if you want this, get Vol. 1 sooner rather than later).
- Booklet

Bonus Disc (Tentative)

- Kamen Rider Memorial Vol. 1
- Go Go Kamen Rider trailer

Aw yes. The Memorials are awesome. Largely a clip shows, but they are comprehensive. They even give you the names of nearly every character and monster in English, which is informative and sometimes amusing. Also, it's basically an overview of the series as narrated by Fujioka and Sasaki (who get interview segments at the end). This is a great inclusion, since it's unlikely those would ever see individual releases. The Go Go trailer is nice to include. The actual movie is just episode 13 expanded and cropped for a Toei Manga Matsuri, and the only new thing is a title card that's in the trailer, so I'm cool with that. I won't comment on the booklets (included in all releases) other than I hope they're as good as the ones that came with the DVD-BOX, because dude. THAT is how you do a bonus booklet. Rare photographs and reprints of Televi Magazine articles? Yes plz.

Volume 2 (episodes 27~52) On sale February 10th, 2016 (@Amazon Japan)

Rider 2 rules the show, but Rider 1 returns for some guest appearances as Ichimonji battles Colonel Zol for 13 episodes, followed by 13 more for Doctor Shinigami. Highlights include kiddies getting hypnotized, people being electrocuted, Rider 2's emotionally-charged struggle against Arigabari, Taki as a hippie, our first possible glimpse at the Leader of Shocker, Egyptus setting people on fire, Torikabuto scaring the living hell out of 10-year-old me, the best Christmas episode ever, the first Rider team-up, Rider vs. Rider fight and and Rider Double Kick, the one where Rider 2 goes nuts punching one guy over and over again, Taki taking back-to-back life-threatening injuries and pulling through, a sea anemone that walks like a man and wants to eat us all, a fourth-wall-breaking crow, and Ichimonji's last stand before handing the show back to the original guy. And hey, what a day to release it on. Let's just hope Rider 3 doesn't screw things up.

Extras (Tentative)

- Booklet

Bonus Disc (Tentative)

- Hero Club 7 Kamen Rider: The Warrior of Skill! The First Rider
- Our Kamen Rider
- Kamen Rider (creditless version)
- Kamen Rider vs. Shocker trailer

The Hero Club videos are a relic of another time, but I loved 'em back then so I'm glad to see them now. It's more narrated clips, meant to be informative as well as providing a glimpse at Rider 1 during a time when you had to get something like 20 VHS tapes to see him in action. "Our Kamen Rider" is actually a short series overview put together and shown at "100th Episode Party" that took place in the week between the original ending and V3 beginning. It's notable for having Shinji Nakae just shoot and refer to all the characters by their actors' names, as well as providing tidbits and trivia from the series' run (including when Rider made ratings history in the early 20's). It's the sort of thing that would be nifty to have subbed (if it isn't already). We've seen it before (it's on the DVD-BOX bonus disc as well) but worth having here. I'm actually not sure what the no-credits thing is, since it doesn't specify which OP or ED it is (all of them? I dunno! I only remember seeing the first Rider 2 ED sequence, with the slow-mo fight on the bridge , done that way). A trailer for the first fully-original Rider featurette rounds out the set, which is fitting since it takes place around the point this volume ends.

Volume 3 (episodes 53~79) On sale April 13th, 2016 (@Amazon Japan)

Rider 1 gets a new look, a new bike (eventually) and a new villain in the form of Ambassador Hell. This volume covers his entire reign, and other highlights include the expansion of the Rider arsenal, the iconic skeletal Shocker soldiers making their TV debut, bike racin' action against Jaguarman and Saigang, the return of Doctor Shinigmi, two episodes where Fujioka is mysteriously absent (which are still pretty awesome) another tease at the Leader, the episode with IKA-FREAKING-DEVIL, location shooting in Kobe, an awesome two-parter down south featuring the return of a powered-up Rider 2, the ever-changing cast taking on its definitive incarnation, the debut of the Shōnen Riders (and New Cyclone's modern look with the blue around the headlights), some especially awesome monster designs in the 70's (episodes) and the final showdown between Rider 1 and Garagaranda that nails the coffin shut on Shocker... or does it?

Extras (Tentative)

- Booklet

Bonus Disc (Tentative)

- Kamen Rider Memorial Vol. 2
- Kamen Rider vs. Ambassador Hell trailer

The second half of the Memorial covers everything from this and the next Blu-ray set, which is cool. And you gotta include the Ambassador's movie trailer on a set that's got all his episodes. This is where I'm kinda hoping the "planned/tentative" next to everything on Toei's official page for the Blu-ray sets means "more is coming, we just haven't finalized it yet." The Memorial is a big enough deal on its own and this does mirror Vol. 1 nicely, but I dunno, I feel like they could squeeze a little more onto that bonus disc. I haven't seen any mention of a monster or artwork gallery, and those are pretty much home video staples on Toei's stuff (maybe they're in the booklet?)

Volume 4 (episodes 80~98) On sale June 8th, 2016 (@Amazon Japan)

The final stretch of the show wherein Rider 1 fights Gelshocker, a combination of the remnants of Shocker and the Geldam group. Highlights include the awesomely iconic debut of Black Shōgun and his crew on Sarushima, some of the show's most freakish monster designs (not to mention cruelly-characterized. We're officially in "mega-bastard" territory), Ishinomori penning the script and stepping behind and the camera to give us an episode like no other, the postman from hell, the most vicious canary you'll ever see, Gelshocker's attempt at an evil kiddie squad, the epic Shocker Rider storyline, Hongō turning into a cactus, and the grand finale with a dual atop a cable car AND a moving roller coaster (!) Also, it's my favorite episode of Rider ever, and the ending still gets me to tear up just a bit.

Extras (Tentative)

- Booklet

Bonus Disc (Tentative)

Hero Club 8 Kamen Rider: The Warrior of Strength! The Second Rider
- Kamen Rider's Birth 20th Anniversary Event (Full-length edition)
- CM Collection

This lends some credence to my theory that Rider 2 will grace the cover of this volume. And hey! I don't think I've actually seen his individual Hero Club video before, so this should be interesting. If the 20th Anniversary event is the one I'm thinking of (also included on the DVD-BOX Bonus disc) it's a nice mix of recorded history (Ishinomori speaks! Alla them guests!) and goofy nonsense (there's a stage show with a plot even I have yet to decipher). Also, Shin Kamen Rider turns up at the end since his movie was coming out soon. Yes, I know ZO is the 20th anniversary Rider, despite coming out in 1993. You know what? I don't think Toei's ever been particularly good at dates, since in a couple years this will all be part of the Showa era despite that ending in 1989. Anyway, the CM (commercials) are likely going to be all the old classics we've seen before (Rider Snack, the original DX belt) but they're pretty much a requirement to include.

And that's it so far! Now for the boring technical stuff:
When it comes to the home video releases for Toei's stuff, it's fair to say that they don't always put in quite as much effort when it comes to restoration work, although the original series is one show that did get a more noticeable upgrade from the LD to DVD releases (my litmus test: they fixed the part in episode 8 where the film rips) and yet more for the HD re-airing from a couple years ago. I've seen some criticism of how Toei handles the picture quality for early 2000's series on the Blu-rays, often taking the cheapest possible route. But, I've been fine with them, and the shot-on-film older stuff like BLACK looks pretty great. And, at the end of the day, I'm just happy to have the show than not, you know what I mean? I first watched Kikaider on tired, muddy copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy taped-off-TV VHS tapes for years, so the DVD upgrade looked like a million bucks by comparison, and the Blu-ray practically makes me feel like Professor Gill himself watching the whole thing via DARK cameras as it happens live.

Of course the big sticking points for a lot of people with these is 1) the lack of subs and 2) the price. The former I can't really help you with. KITsubs is still committed to the original series as far as I know, but barring Dairanger selling like a million-billion copies and Toei just handing over the keys to their library to somebody, I don't think you're ever likely to see more than that. Official subs on a Japanese release are understandably a rarity.

Now the price of these is steep, but if you're used to buying DVDs/Blu-rays from Japan (and more specifically, from Toei) you know that already. Also, there's some good news if you are considering these: you don't actually have to pay quite as much as the prices being reported (32,000 yen for Vol. 1~3, 27,000 yen for Vol. 4) The key is Amazon. Not the guy, but the site. Amazon Japan basically always marks stuff down before it comes out, and often even after while its still in production. All those other Rider series Blu-ray boxes? The usual SRP is over 20,000 yen, but on Amazon there's usually a 25% or so discount for the Rider Blu-ray sets, depending on availability. 

So while under SRP all of Blade will cost you over 64,000 yen, via Amazon right now is comes out to just under 48,000. That isn't a huge difference, but a discount's a discount. Also, when you also factor in exchange rates, there's either going to be a drop or a rise depending on your country's currency. If you're in the US right now, the exchange rate is pretty good, for example (this may change some day, so keep in mind I wrote this in August 2015, future readers.)

Ultimately it still ends up being a helluva lot, and that's not taking into account international shipping which is a real killer, I know. But my point is that with a little smart shopping, it's not quite as bank-bustingly bad as it seems (it's still pretty bad, but again, welcome to Japanese home video prices!) And, considering the episode count per volume on the original (26 vs 16 for other series) it makes some sense why these are going to be pricier. I'm not saying it's reasonable or even sane, but it is what it is. And, lest we forget, these releases are being spread out over half a year. I'm a crazy lunatic who is buying the releases every month, but if you just want the original (or really, any pre-OOO Rider series on Blu-ray) it's doable with some planning. Expensive, but doable.

At the end of the day, the DVD/Blu-ray releases are for the fans who want that show in physical form. I personally like owning hard copies of stuff, and this is Kamen freaking Rider we're talking about here, but nobody should be worried by the prices of these things unless they're seriously thinking about buying them. Then you can freak the hell out, and join others in trying to get them the cheapest way possible.

I say "others" because something they do with the Blu-Rays is also sell versions with a B2 poster that get less of a markdown, even on Amazon. Up until now I've skipped them, but this is my favorite show, and I feel like I'm gonna need these ones. I mean, I don't really need them, but... oh who am I kidding?

Let's Go, Rider Kick!

Sources: | The Tokusatsu Network | Toei's official Kamen Rider Blu-Ray BOX listing