Friday, October 05, 2012

Tackle Week Part 2

Tackle Week continues with our heroine's rise, and a little bit about the actress who portrayed her.

Kamen Rider Stronger's premiere episode "I am the Electric Human Stronger!!" is notable for being the first time Kamen Rider really kicked off a series without the origin story. These days, it's become so common we don't bat an eyelid when Kamen Rider Wizard opens with Kamen Rider Wizard just showing up for a fight, because we know we'll get to the backstory eventually (even hints of it later in the same episode.) But back then, this was still considered an unconventional approach to opening a series. Shows like Jinzô Ningen Kikaider would have the hero up and running around before explaining where he came from, but it would still generally give us some details by the end of the episode. We basically got his origin story, just out-of-sequence. Alternatively, a show like Ultra Seven holds off on explaining just where the hero comes from until a little later into the series, but the first episode still plays like an origin story, with his first meeting with the show's supporting cast.

Stronger uniquely saves almost all its explanations for episode 2, with those opening 25 minutes throwing out a lot of stuff that is at once both reassuringly familiar and very different from what had come before. The closest thing we get to a mere suggestion of where Stronger and Tackle come from is Titan getting a strange feeling when he sees that Shigeru guy. Now if you'd been watching Kamen Rider all this time, the first episode stays true to the basic Rider formula (there's super-powered good guys, and they fight super-powered bad guys.) But our main character is a far cry from any of his predecessors, almost to the point where you're asking "this guy's the hero?" Ichimonji's the closest one and there the jolliness was just a cover; once things got serious he got serious too. But we're never quite sure if Jô Shigeru is just reckless, just crazy, or a little of both. I think it takes at least until the first time he becomes Stronger before we're sure he's on the level.

The villains are cut from the Shocker cloth, but they spend half the time as people with bugs in their ears and the other half holding their evil meetings in a hotel room. They're very public menaces. On the bugs-in-ears thing, since the very idea of that skeeves me out, I think it's one of Kamen Rider's most disturbing concepts and some of the grossest body horror the show was ever allowed to get away with on TV. God bless the 70's. Also notable is that our main villain eschews the elaborate costumes of most previous enemy commanders, just looking like a normal guy. He also seems to flat-out kill a hapless henchman with a cigarette, which is pretty awesome.

And then the lady the bad guys took hostage when they hijacked a hovercraft starts karate chopping people.

The introduction of Misaki Yuriko, aka Electro-Wave Human Tackle, is something' else. Since the show is also marking the debut of Stronger, he gets the coolest entrance in the episode, but it's not a bad outing for her either. Right away we get the basics of the character: she's capable, independent and feisty. Not unstoppable, and often up against people way out of her league, but she never backs down. She still takes beatings and gets tied up from time to time, but then so does Stronger (on multiple occasions.) I always felt this is less "hur-hur-hur, gurls can't fight!" and more demonstrating that it's a dangerous situation, but she can take bumps just as well as any male character. She's a fighter who faces risks, not a mere damsel in distress. In that sense, she's sort of like a super-powered female version of Taki, only I think Taki underwent far more torment (getting frozen solid and drained of blood in back-to-back episodes.)

Like Riderman, Tackle's got a "never give up" spirit to her that accounts for shortcomings relative to Stronger. And there are shortcomings, which I think is an important part of the character, regardless of gender (remember that at one point, Tackle, or what became Tackle, could have been male.) Tackle's ongoing deal is that she's a trusty, dependable ally and warrior, but she's never quite on the level with Stronger. She can beat up henchmen no problem, and tries her best against the Kikkaijin, but it's the big S who always settles things in the end. You could theorize that this plays into her design, being less-augmented than he is and being more of a prototype or new kind of cyborg. Of course all this will get thrown out the window with episode 30, but that comes later.

For a bit more insight on their origin, we look at episode 2. The first chronological meeting between Stronger and Tackle establishes their initial relationship: contentious, but friendly. Early-series Jô Shigeru is kind of a bastard, and was written partly before the casting of Araki Shigeru, who I credit with a lot of the character's evolution. Yes, there's a school of thought that over time Shigeru becomes a little bland as he loses his snarkier, pricklier edge... but I don't see it. What I see is a character who undergoes a very realistic transformation from a reckless, carefree larger-than-life heroic ham to a man whose personal war has left him older and more thoughtful, but who never loses his way and if anything, the damage has only reaffirmed his mission. And mind you, I have trouble typing "Kamen Rider" and "realistic" in the same sentence as it is, but think about it:

Stronger's the first Rider who became a Rider simply because he wanted to be a hero. V3 ostensibly does, but ultimately Kazami is transformed by necessity because the alternative is death. Furthermore, he wants to become a Rider only because Destron pushed him into that line of thinking. It's kind of up in the air with Amazon, who consents to his transformation, though I always thought it was more of a sense of obligation rather than just because he thought it'd be a laugh. At the end of the day, Amazon's also dealing with bigger issues than just "I'm not human anymore".

Stronger though... while Shigeru is out to avenge his friend, he's going about it in such an offbeat manner. Gorô died from Black Satan's attempts to alter him into a cyborg, so what does Shigeru do? Pretend to volunteer so Black Satan will turn him into a cyborg, then stage a radical break-out! Between that and New Kamen Rider episode 1, it'd be no wonder if Rider villains started instituting a policy of background checks. The point is though, it's very in-keeping with Shigeru's character at the start of the series, who is willing to do something frankly nuts for a greater good. In a lot of ways it's like a predecessor to Hayakawa Ken in Kaiketsu Zubat, with the "you killed my friend, prepare to die" thing, though by not showing us the actual moment where he first swore vengeance, the decision comes across as more frivolous. Which I think is the point.

When you really get down to it, Shigeru's having fun. At the beginning, he doesn't carry the kind of burden his predecessors did. Even the revenge angle is downplayed compared to V3 or X-Rider. Gorô was the spark that lit the flame (Spirits readers, give yourself a pat on the back if you got that) but ultimately Shigeru's doing what he does in part out of a greater sense of morality, but mostly because he loves being such a anarchistic wise-ass. Check out some of the faces he pulls in episode 2; this guy loves winding people up. Again, this is all important because once we get to episode 30, things change, and it really feels like the turning point of the series-long arc that is Shigeru's story. But even before that, Shigeru starts to undergo a change, and you can see it in his relationship with Yuriko.

Early on, there's lots of teasing and joking around, especially on his end. Watch the scene in the first episode where he shows up to save her (all credit to Okada, who actually let herself be hung upside down for that long!) Any of the previous Riders would have just gone ahead and gotten on with it, but Shigeru soaks in the fact that he gets to have a big hero moment. Heck, in their first meeting, he even comes off a bit sexist, but the narrative doesn't pretend he's right. I think it takes a good writer to make a character we're supposed to like still do unlikable things, and Igami Masaru is a pretty damned good writer. Just going by Yuriko's reactions to him (she's the more straight-laced of the pair) we're meant to see Shigeru as more than simply the champion of justice he introduces himself as. He's still got some growing up to do.

Speaking of that first meeting, it's also where we see the characters declare their titles. Last time, I brought up some asides about Riderman and Amazon I said to remember. And now that I think of it, remember X-Rider too. In Kamen Rider V3, Kamen Rider V3 is Kamen Rider V3 because that's what the Double Riders called him. Simple as that. They made another Kamen Rider. V3 later gives Riderman the title posthumously, though my feeling is that it isn't until that moment that you're really meant to think of him as being in the same league as V3. He's a mostly-normal man doing his own simulation of a Rider, hence the name (there's a reason other Riders are usually given an insect or animal as their motif, while Riderman's motif is often described as simply "Kamen Rider".) From that moment on, he is as Riderish as it gets, but in most of V3 Riderman is a unique case. He's almost like Gan Gan G, but played straight.

But then X and Amazon happened, and in both shows Kamen Rider is more of a catchword for "hero of the show" rather than some title that has to be passed down. Their origins are completely separate from the Riders before them, and "Kamen Rider" now works as an idea that just keeps happening. If there's evil in the world, there will be Kamen Rider to fight it. This is how it's handled with Stronger as well. The name "Stronger" is actually given to Shigeru by Black Satan, when the idea is simply that he'll be one of their Kikkaijin hordes. He names himself Kamen Rider Stronger to Misaki, who in turn introduces herself as Denpa-Ningen (Electro-Wave Human) Tackle.

So right there you have the reason why Tackle doesn't call herself Kamen Rider right off the bat. Why should she? It's just a couple of words this weird beetle guy spouted off. It doesn't mean anything at that point. Of course, as I said last time, there's a difference between in-show context and. franchise reality, which we'll get into for the next part. But suffice to say I think the plain-as-day reason why Tackle isn't called Kamen Rider Tackle in the show is because she doesn't need to be. That's just the name Stronger chose, as she chose her own (of course, it didn't stop 1970's kids' books from still using it.)

But let's shift gears and talk about the actress who portrayed Misaki Yuriko/Tackle, Okada Kyôko, seen here posing with Stronger in one of his earlier NG costumes (note the slightly smaller chest armor.) Okada is one of Rider's saddest behind-the-scenes stories, solely for the fact that she passed away far too young at the age of only 27 (she was 16 when playing Tackle, which is pretty amazing since I think the character feels at least early 20's.) Her career was far too short, with only a handful of credits to her name, and Stronger being her most famous work. But what a work it was. She even ended up marrying one of the staff members!

Despite her young age and relative inexperience, Okada's fantastic. I would easily put her in the Top 5 actresses for classic Rider (maybe all Rider, period.) She brings a lot to a role that required her to do a lot, especially when it comes to the in-costume stuff. Although Tackle had designated suit actor for stunts, most of the time she's onscreen, you're seeing Okada Obviously the costume sort of necessitates that, which again is a reason why I like the open-faced design. Okada didn't have much formal training in martial arts, but she did have training in ballet, which shaped her in-suit style. It also led to the creation of her signature Denpa Nage (Electro-Wave Throw), one of the first hands-free Rider combat moves used on a regular basis.

As mentioned, Tackle is shown to be a pretty competent fighter, if not on the level with Stronger. But the show never lets you forget that she IS a fighter, and she's part of the team along with him and eventually Tachibana, even when she's not doing a whole lot (there's episodes with little Tackle action, but Yuriko is still out and about doing stuff and being proactive.) A lot of that is due to Okada, who makes a lot out of sometimes very little. She acts great, and she looks great too: the leather jacket ensemble from the early episodes is practically Yuriko's equivalent of Shigeru's own trademark outfit.

I should also mention the chemistry she has with Araki, which is very good and I find very believable. They argue, they bicker, but you can tell they like each other deep down and by the end, I'd say it goes beyond simply "like". But we'll get to "the end" next time.


  1. I know Spark isn't anything to do with this, but how exactly did that whole thing with him work in the manga? Did he start off as a mindless Kikaijin like the rest and get his memories back or something? And wouldn't Tackle actually have had a s much reason to come back as Goro, since she is technically a Kikaijin, or is there something I'm missing?

    Also, random question but have you ever considered doing a look at the HERO SAGA stuff and explaining what the hells going on in them?

  2. If you mean in Spirits, as far as I know everybody who gets resurrected is basically a shadow of their former self, and requires some degree of mental coordination from Ambassador Darkness. That's not entirely true, but for the most part it's been like that. It's been a while since I reread the part with Spark but I do recall a lot of flashbacks between Shigeru and Goro. I'll need to go back and have a look at it.

    I would do the Hero Sagas if I could compile them all! I know they did put them into books eventually, but I'd need to track them all down. I think there are translations of a few of them floating around.

  3. I think you can find all 3 present collections of the Hero Saga on, there's also a collection of a predecessor story focusing around Kikaider 00, which also features the other Kikaider's, Hakaider and Bijinder. V3, K, and Skull Man (looking suspiciously like Rider 1) appear as well.

    I've read all the translations I can find but the majority is untranslated unfortunately, I really want to know the deal with Pre-Amazon. I think vol. 3 of the Hero Saga collects up to about may last year, vol. 4 (which I don't see happening for a few years) will include at the moment W, ZX and Gills stories (scans for all 3 are near impossible), I'm guessing OOO would be in there as well. But I assume you wouldn't want to buy monthly issues of Hobby Japan just for the HERO SAGA stuff anyway.