Good evening, internauts. I have no idea if I still have any followers after nearly two years of radio silence, but then again I never did this for the followers, or for recognition. I did this to get down some thoughts and flex my brainmeats.
In the last two years, we’ve had a fair bit of Toku to Talku about (see what I did there?), but I’ve neglected to properly discuss any of it.
For example, Kamen Rider Drive came and went. Kamen Rider Ghost began. Ninninger came and went. Zyuohger began.
For this particular post, I guess I’ll give you my (super late) postmortem of Kamen Rider Drive. Following the adventures of Tomari Shinnosuke, a police detective working with the Special Crimes Unit, Kamen Rider Drive was – in my opinion – one of the best seasons of Kamen Rider we’ve had in recent years.
Sporting the same head writer as Kamen Rider W (namely Riku Sanjo), Drive features an ensemble cast of similar size, with three total heroes by the end of its run. The similarities in tone are clear between W and Drive, so if you liked one you will very likely enjoy the other. Both seasons feature relateable protagonists, quirky side characters, the occasional goofy humor, and greater depth than you’d expect. Both seasons are ultimately about a rookie hero finding his way in life through a series of trials that are increasingly more dire.
Another common theme between the two seasons is the idea of compatibility. In Kamen Rider W, Shotaru and Phillip needed to achieve a certain level of compatibility before they could access their ultimate form as Kamen Rider W. Shinnosuke experiences a similar situation in Kamen Rider Drive. As new forms are introduced, Shinnosuke finds that he must be within a compatible mindset in order to access those particular forms. While this particular issue becomes less relevant as the show progresses, Shinnosuke’s mental state continues to have a direct effect on his strength while transformed. If his head isn’t on straight, you can be sure that he’s not going to win that fight.
Ultimately, Kamen Rider Drive is about emotions. Just as Shinnosuke’s emotional state can strengthen or weaken him, his enemies – the Roimudes – each exemplify a certain emotion. Each Roimude seeks to experience the very height of their individual emotion, and through doing so can evolve into a new form with far greater power. If enough of the Roimudes accomplish this evolution, it essentially spells GAME OVER for humanity.
It’s my personal belief that beneath Kamen Rider Drive’s primary narrative and tone, there is a strong undertone about depression. At the start of the show, we see Shinnosuke slacking off more often than not, plagued by the death of his father and his own perceived failings as an officer of the law. It’s not until Kiriko, his friend and partner, forces him to get off his ass and do his job that he ever accomplishes anything of substance. When his brain is in “top gear”, you can tell that he loves his job and loves what he does. Why then does he so often seek to avoid it, seek to be by himself? Personally, I think he’s depressed.
As the show progresses, he moves further and further from that behavior. He’s constantly reminded of the value of friendship and human relationships, he begins to feel important and useful. Once he solves the mystery of his father’s death, that specter no longer looms over him. By the end of the season, he’s like a new man.
I may be projecting, but Kamen Rider Drive being the story of a hero overcoming his clinical depression sounds pretty damn cool to me, and fits with another overall theme of the show – each of the supporting cast members has their own emotional trauma to overcome.
Kiriko has to overcome her feelings of powerlessness after nearly being killed by a Roimude prior to the events of the show. Gou has to overcome the guilt of being the son of the man who created the Roimudes, while also contending with the idea that maybe not all Roimudes are horrifically evil. Chase has to overcome the conflict of choosing between his people and his friends, and struggles with difficulty in expressing himself and his emotions. Other cast members battle loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and other very relateable emotional problems.
As a show about overcoming one’s emotional demons, I’d say Kamen Rider Drive is a solid 7-8/10. It suffers from being a kid’s show about karate bugmen, and thus the emotional traumas are relegated to background issues.
As a show about karate bugmen, I’d say Kamen Rider Drive is a solid 9/10. It can take a little while to get into gear, but once it picks up speed it doesn’t hit the brakes. Some of the suit designs are a bit clunky – I’m looking at you, Type Technic – but more often than not the suits are solid, and Drive has the sleekest final form I’ve seen. The script is solid, with enough depth to keep an older viewer interested, but not so mired in that depth as to lose a younger audience. The battles are by and large well done, though many of Drive’s Shift Cars only get used a couple of times, if at all. That said, the reason many of the Shift Cars don’t see use is because they’re just not practical or not that exciting.
Drive also has bonus points for having two of the best supporting Riders that I’ve seen. Kamen Rider Mach is spectacularly fun when he arrives, and once his particular “bad times” arc is complete he continues to be a fun, showy fighter. Kamen Rider Chaser is a solid homage to the classic Showa Riders, struggling with how different he is from those he cares about and dedicating himself to the protection of life and justice.
If you liked Kamen Rider W, OOO, or Fourze, I highly recommend checking out Drive. While OOO and Fourze weren’t spearheaded by Riku Sanjo, there are a lot of similarities in tone between all four shows, and each of them are of a similar quality in regards to production, design, scripting, and casting.
Drive was great, yo.