Monday, October 08, 2012

Tackle Week Part 4

Tackle Week continues with some comics and a lot of complaining.

As you can probably infer from Part 1, I've got a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to Kamen Rider's status in comic form. It's an aspect that I don't think a lot of fans outside Japan really ever talk about all that much, beyond the basics. Everybody knows about Ishinomori's manga and Kamen Rider Spirits, but that's all you ever really see brought up (if even that.) Granted, this is due to their relative obscurity in translated or even scanned form.

But when you get down to it, Rider's history in comics is about as prolific as it is on TV and film, though it's significantly less catalogued. It's possible to watch every single episode and movie through one means or another; it's almost impossible to read every comic, since there are just so many and only a portion of them have been reprinted. Admittedly, some of those yet to receive compiled re-releases are little more than SD Riders gag strips, i.e. nothing worth losing sleep over, but others are pretty significant. Did you know there was a monthly strip for Kuuga and other early Heisei Riders in Terebi-Kun? A pretty awesome BLACK RX & ZO team-up? Or my personal grail, the 8 Riders vs. Ginga-Ô adaptation? The list goes on.

Furthermore, I think the quality divide is much greater in comics than it is onscreen. At their best, comics can go toe-to-toe with the live action stuff any day, bringing a limitless budget and a kind of visual perfection that's only limited by the artist's abilities, if that even matters. Ishinomori hardly drew the most realistic-looking people, but he's incredible and one of the best sequential artists Japan will ever have (In comics, style is as important as substance, whereas on TV you can more easily get away with visible zippers and Kirby wire so long as it's backed up by strong writing, acting, directing and overall imagination. Comics generally need to look good as well as be good.) At their worst, comics can lead to the reader's descent into the dark depths of Lovecraftian horror-level insanity, the kind of stuff that makes one claw out one's eyes in terror while chanting the name of cosmic horrors like Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth or Mmm-Bop. Fortunately, when it comes to reprints and collected volumes, there's a good mix of both to go around and balance the scales.

Tackle's history in comics is sort of a distilled version of that: her portrayal in print has ranged from very impressive to pretty dire. Generally those that fall into the latter camp are the comics where she's never treated as much more than comic relief. They don't really do anything interesting with the character, who on TV got some humorous moments but was still treated with respect at the end of the day. Tackle's not GanGan G, who you can play completely for laughs and still works. As I've pointed out, she's even the more overtly tragic of the Stronger/Tackle duo, since she didn't choose to become a cyborg like Shigeru. In fairness most every straight Stronger adaptation handles the death scene decently, but only a couple really add anything to it or have something to say about it. Ishikawa Morihiko's take is nice since it gives Yuriko a little pre-death goodbye, though I prefer the more downbeat TV version; it's far more emotionally charged to leave the intent of her final gasp a mystery. Was she talking to Tachibana? Shigeru? Her brother? We'll never really know.

However, there are a couple comics which do some pretty interesting things with the character. Yamada Goro's take is one of the most visually memorable, with a very long-haired Yuriko (it doesn't hold over into her transformed state, alas.) Personality-wise I can't tell if Yamada just wasn't sure what to do with her or not, but she seems a bit more aloof at times, in a way almost more mature than even the TV version seemed. What I especially like though is that after her death, the comic brings her back at least once in ghostly form, when Shigeru undergoes one of those "why didn't you save her/me!?" crises and starts tripping out.

I'm a big fan of the idea that Tackle's death should kinda haunt Stronger, and it's the reason why he's a bit more somber in the end of the series and later appearances. Still upbeat and kind of a smartass, but he saves the sarcasm and vitriol for the villains, coming off as more genuine around the other Riders and everybody else (Araki does amazing work in the final story of New Kamen Rider, which is thematically one of the richest endings to a Rider series. It's also a pretty good one, but that's another story.)

We see some of this again in one of the Kamen Rider ZX adaptations. I can't remember offhand if it's Yamada's or not, since I don't have my copy with me (and it contains three different versions) but I feel pretty sure it's his. Anyway, when Stronger shows up, so does Tackle! Or does she? There's some pretty good interaction between the two, and while it's not the ultimate Tackle resurrection, it's not a half bad story either. It's a fair criticism that there hasn't been a lot of overt Tackle fallout since episode 31 of Stronger where Shigeru's concerned; you get the sense that she's always on his mind, but he's living for the two of them in the present rather than constantly reminiscing about the past. He's not bringing her up every other second. I think that's probably why artists such as Yamada and Muraeda Kenichi are so interested in exploring her, as there's still lots of untapped potential.

The two most notable uses of Tackle in comics are Muraeda's Kamen Rider Spirits, and Kamen Rider: 7 Riders Showdown by Narui Toshirô. Let's talk about Spirits first, since it leads into the other big thing I set out to dissect in these articles.

In chapter 12, the concluding half of Stronger's story line, there's some dialogue between Stronger and the evil proto-ZX commander (who, eventually, will be ZX himself) concerning Tackle and whether or not she was a Rider. I think most people are familiar with the chapter already so I don't need to explain why this conversation comes up (if not, what are you doing wasting your time reading this? Go read Spirits!) But what is interesting, and I think slightly problematic, is Stronger's response:

"She fought more than enough... and she never called herself "Kamen Rider". Misaki Yuriko is now... just a regular woman."

Now all due respect to the people who translated, are translating or will translate the comic (it's changed hands a few times) but I disagree with translating the above line as "She'll never be called a Kamen Rider". The verb used is nanoru which means "to call oneself" or "give one's name (as)" rather than "to be named" or "called" by someone else. I think that's kind of an important distinction, since it ties back to what I said about Tackle choosing her own name since, for her, Kamen Rider was just what Stronger went with. It didn't mean anything to her, not like it does to us now. Furthermore, I've seen it suggested that this line makes Stronger look like a sexist dumbo and undermines Tackle as a character, but that's a load of nonsense. It's a deliberate callback to their first meeting in episode 2, when Yuriko stated she was more than "just a regular woman." If anything, I think it's meant to be taken somewhat ironically.

On top of that of course, it also gets into the idea that Hirayama believed in, which was that Tackle dies, but she's buried and remembered as Misaki Yuriko (right down to her grave marker.) Because, tragic as it is, she gets the one thing all the other Kamen Riders will never get: she gets to be free, she gets some rest and she gets to  remembered for who she really was, while the rest of our heroes are basically doomed to keep on riding with a mask on their faces until the end of time. No matter how much time they spend as human, or how many friends they have, or even how many times they get together, they're always alone in their own separate ways. And they can't ever quit because they're heroes; it just doesn't work like that.

It's a downbeat idea, but Kamen Rider at its heart should always remember that it does kinda suck to be a hero; even in the modern shows where the Riders aren't cyborgs anymore, there's still an element of being an outsider. You can save the world a thousand times over and people won't thank you or even know you did it. One of the reasons I think Missing Ace is a great movie (despite all logical evidence to the contrary) is it's one of the few times where we really do see what life-after-Rider is like, and the characters are practically screaming for the good old days because a peaceful, regular life is empty to them. The sweet tragedy of becoming a hero is you can't ever really stop saving people until you're dead and buried, because that drive will always be there while you still breath. Even Fourze touched on it during the trip to Kyoto, with Gentarô trading a normal high school life for the one he's living. Granted, the more serious the show, the easier it is to get this message across, but even something like Den-O can get pretty deep between the all the wackiness. It's part of Kamen Rider's DNA.

But as I said, that line is still kind of problematic, as is the whole viewpoint of "Tackle isn't a Kamen Rider because Tackle is dead and now she's just Misaki Yuriko." And here's where we get into in-show context and. franchise reality.

"In-show context"

Based on everything I've written these past few days, you can work it out: In Kamen Rider Stronger, Tackle isn't supposed to be the same thing as Stronger. He's Kamen Rider Stronger, she's Electro-Wave Human Tackle. She is every bit as heroic as he is, but she views herself as being something different than him, and until the end of the series, he's the only Kamen Rider in the story. It's just a name. He's a renegade Black Satan cyborg who tacked Kamen Rider onto the "Stronger" part and became a hero. Simple as that. Tackle is not his equal power-wise, but she is his equal on another level. But she's also her own heroine.

That's within the context of Stronger and the classic Hirayama era of Rider. Outside that context we have...

"Franchise reality"

Let's not beat around the bush: a blindfolded man with his eyes closed and a bag over his head locked in a room with no light source at the bottom of the sea at night time on a planet that's falling into a black hole can see what's blindingly obvious: Tackle is a Kamen Rider. Yeah the stuff about her dying and being remembered as a regular woman is sweet and all, but it's a romantic notion that doesn't really hold up outside the original context where the Riders are immortal cyborgs doomed to ride the earth forever. See, I did it too. Surely reading that above you must have thought "wait, what about (insert Heisei Rider here)?" That's the real trick, as they say. It's all about context.

Tackle is a heroic motorcycle-riding cyborg who wears a mask and a scarf; by classic Kamen Rider standards, that's the very definition of Kamen Rider. No Rider Kick? Riderman didn't have one for years, long after Tackle. Doesn't say "Henshin"? Again, Riderman, and Amazon (and X at first.) Exposed skin? Riderman, Riderman, Riderman. She was never called Kamen Rider by anyone in the show? By that logic, Kuuga isn't a Rider, nor anybody in Agito, Faiz, and so on. And that's just silly. Another Agito doesn't have to be called Kamen Rider Another Agito (nor should he because that's a mouthful) but everybody knows what he is.

And when you consider how many Riders there have been where the "heroic motorcycle-riding cyborg who wears a mask and a scarf" part didn't apply, it becomes harder for me to see why Tackle shouldn't count once you venture outside the classic era and into Kamen Rider as whole, where the idea of what a Kamen Rider is starts to expand. If we can count a giant flaming dude from underground made up of some merchandise as a Kamen Rider because he sorta looks like Rider 1 on acid, the sky's the limit.

So ultimately while the Spirits line is good, it's just Muraeda's take on things, put back into context of the original story. I don't think it should be used as irrefutable proof of anything, and it's certainly not indicative of Toei's very noncomittal stance (more on that in the final part.) Ultimately it's just a really good scene in a really good comic and a self-professed Tackle fan's take on the character's place in the classic Rider universe. There are some excellent recreations of scenes from the show too. Not to mention, of course, that the comic's still going and Tackle pops up later on, in a kinda-sorta way, drawn beautifully to boot. So I wouldn't say that's his final word on Tackle just yet.

But let's finally switch gears and talk about Kamen Rider: 7 Riders Showdown, which is a fascinating little comic. Narui actually did no less than 3 different Stronger-era series, including a series-spanning ongoing as well as two 7 Riders-centric stories (the other one doesn't involve Tackle and is a story for another time, but the ending is pretty controversial to say the least.) This particular one is really unique as it came out in July of 1975, barely halfway through Stronger, yet it's definitely got a "series finale" feel to it. It's almost like the 70's comics equivalent of Episode Final, being the ending before there was an ending. Naturally, this results in some discrepancies with how the TV show actually ended, including one fairly major one.

The 7 Riders are all present of course, and they're fighting General Shadow, though he's still with Black Satan and effectively represents the whole organization (there's one dead henchman who shows up briefly, that's about it.) Most of the comic has our heroes slugging it out with the seven legendary giant beasts, including the Colossus of Rhodes (!) a giant ape called Jumbo Kong, a Roc (i.e. a giant-ass killer bird) the Trojan Horse (which is somehow still around as well as alive), the Sphinx (also somehow alive) and most unbelievable of all, the Statue of Liberty herself! Don't mess with Lady Liberty; that torch ain't just for show. The seventh guy, by the way, shows up late to the party, but I'm pretty sure it's Daimajin.

If all this sounds completely ridiculous, it is, but what makes it pretty awesome is Tackle's there. Yup, she's the eighth Rider! It's not a bad outing for her either. Despite being pretty light on any kind of deep character moments, she kicks butt along with the guys and gets to pose with them in the big double-page spread line-up (which is near-impossible to scan.) Not half bad! This comic has recently been reprinted in a bundle along with Ishikawa's Stronger run; it's well-worth picking up (though the previous release from a few years ago is even better, with reprints of vintage children's magazines stuff. It's worth tracking down if you want to own this story in some form.)

Honestly, I have so much fun with that comic it's worth an article in itself some day, but more to the point that's the basics of Tackle's time in comics. I think it's pretty notable that she's had at least 2 or 3 sort-of resurrections; you get the feeling a couple writers really want her to come back. But more on that in the concluding part of Tackle (a bit more than just a) Week.


  1. I asked you about the HERO SAGA stuff the other day, Tackle shows up in the Decade one, which as far as I can tell is a divergent from the original Stronger about the time Delza shows up.

  2. Whenever i deconstruct Kamen Rider (which happens almost everytime i read anything on this site) i usually think about what "Kamen Rider" as a name means. Since W people usually go for the "one who fight for others happiness regardless of their own", and while that is true, i think there is more to that.

    The main reason why i think Riders adopt such moniker is because by being transformed into cyborgs they have esentially lost their human identity, but instead of becoming "monsters" like the other cyborgs, they reject that identity too. Being a Kamen Rider is their only way to exist since they are not monsters nor humans.

    In that sense, i think the reason why Joe in KR Spirits decided to let her "rest" as a human is because he wanted to give her something he can´t have and had she lived she couldn´t have either, an identity.

    When it comes down to it, Tackle is a Rider, heck, by all means she is more of a Rider than Riderman and most of the cast from Ryuki (and ShadowMoon), but i think that the way this was "denied" in Spirits is not so much a statement as much as it is Shigeru´s way of honoring her, he knows that being a Rider is a lonely and painful thing, so remembering her as Misaki Yuriko gives him peace of mind, he doesn´t calls her Rider not only for her sake but for his own too.

    Or at least that is one way to see it.