Review: Bandai S.H.Figuarts Kamen Rider 1 (The Next version)

Originally published on Fanmode on 29 September 2008

Bandai S.H.Figuarts Kamen Rider 1 (The Next version)

That a country that has undergone two major society-wide changes should favour transformation as a central theme for its superheroes isn’t surprising. Super sentai and Ultraman are arguably the most famous of Japanese transforming heroes internationally but there’s another long-running Japanese superhero franchise that features henshin (change) as a core element. The Kamen Rider/Masked Rider franchise may be less familiar internationally compared to tokusatsu titans like Ultraman and Godzilla but it’s big in Japan.

The original Kamen Rider, a creation of famed manga-ka Ishinomori Shotaro, made his television debut in 1971. The first Kamen Rider series told the story of Hongo Takeshi, a young man surgically altered against his will by the terrorist organisation Shocker to become a powerful cyborg. Escaping Shocker’s clutches, Hongo would turn against the organisation and as Kamen Rider, battle its bizarre minions and stymy its equally bizarre plans.

There have been numerous series, specials and movies in the franchise since then, and while the names may change and the costumes differ, each and every Kamen Rider story has featured a transforming superhero, with a heart burning for justice and a penchant for stylish poses, battling evil in all its rubber-suited forms.

The franchise, too, has had to change.

In 2005, it was decided to revisit the original Kamen Rider and update it. The post-millennial iteration was meant to be edgier and darker, and geared towards an older, more sophisticated audience. Unfortunately, the resulting movies, Kamen Rider the First, and its 2007 sequel, Kamen Rider the Next, aren’t good with a few short scenes of stylish action hardly making up for awkward storytelling and stilted acting.

Kamen Rider the Next, the movie, may have been terrible but Kamen Rider the Next, the merchandise, was much better executed. Bandai saturated the market with something for every market demographic at every possible price point. There were unposable soft vinyl figures, cheap candy toys, edgy action figures and high-end sixth-scale figures; you only had to pick a style and a price tag you were comfortable with.

Previously, Kamen Rider fans wanting an action figure representation mainly had to look at the Souchaku Henshin and S.I.C. lines. Both lines have their devotees but neither might satisfy a purist wanting a gimmick-free action figure faithful to the source design.

Enter the S.H.Figuarts line.

Debuting in February 2008, Bandai’s latest collector-oriented line emphasises sculpting and articulation — two key areas the older toy fan would be particular about. The 14cm-tall action figures in the S.H.Figuarts series retail for between 2200yen to 2500yen. Though the first few figures released may have given the impression this would be a Kamen Rider line exclusively, the release of G Gundam’s Domon Kasshhu suggests this might be an eclectic line with some decidedly odd character choices.

Bandai played very safe with the first figure released in the line, however, opting for a classic Japanese hero.
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