It’s sad how little time I have to watch things these days. It isn’t like I don’t watch a lot but tokusatsu tends to fall right to the bottom of the pile because I have so much American TV to work through every week. Now that things are starting to go off for mid-season, we jumped into the newest Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Drive, so I could get my first impressions out and… my first impression isn’t all that good.
Shinnosuke Tomari is a former “elite” police officer who, during a worldwide event called the “Global Freeze”, where time slowed and monsters called the Roidmudes caused havoc. He is haunted by the severe injury of his partner and is demoted to the Special Investigations Division which tracks and combats these “Heavy Acceleration” events. So far, we don’t know what the Roidmudes want, we do know that there was a Proto-Drive who died before the series began and a Reaper, another Rider working for the Roidmudes who hates Kamen Rider Drive. It’s early yet, they’re still doing a lot of set-up.
Before anyone says anything, I’m aware I haven’t given the series wrap-up for Kamen Rider Gaim because I haven’t finished watching it. I’m still about 10 episodes behind, it’s on my list of things to do, but as I said, there’s been a ridiculous amount of American TV to get through and no time for rubber suited monsters. I’m probably at least as far back on ToQGer. I’m working on it. Really I am.
And speaking of ToQGer, Kamen Rider Drive reminds me a lot of that show, in fact, the first thing I said was “this is one-man ToQGer with cars”. Essentially, Bandai has realized that lots of little fiddly bits sells lots of toys and therefore, Kamen Rider Drive is more like Super Sentai than it is Kamen Rider. A lot of people complain because there aren’t any motorcycles this time around. I’m not so concerned with that, as I’ve said before, sticking to a single formula and forsaking all innovation is a route to stagnation. I’m fine with Drive having cars and not motorcycles. What I’m not really so fine with is that Drive is so damn stupid. It’s not just a dumb concept, it’s pointedly and purposely ridiculous.
They spend a lot of time worried that someone might figure out that Tomari is really Kamen Rider Drive, but the guy is about the least subtle person in the history of Obvious-ville. He runs around wearing the belt and Shift-Brace everywhere. We see him and Kiriko driving around in the Kamen Rider car in full view of everyone. Heck, he parks the Kamen Rider Mobile in front of the bloody police station! He transforms in public without a care in the world, then wonders if someone might figure out that it’s him? Seriously?
It’s really kind of sad because Drive was designed by Riku Sanjo who previously did both Kamen Rider Fourze and Kamen Rider W. Both of those shows were good because they didn’t hold to the Kamen Rider mold, they went their own way, for better or worse, and I think they were great in their own way. Drive just doesn’t have the chops, at least so far, to compare to either of those shows. The other problem, even though I know it’s a money-grab, is the Shift Cars. Seriously, it looks like they went down to the local dollar store and grabbed the cheapest toy cars off the shelf and threw them on the screen. The addition of little magical tracks for them to drive on, very much like ToQGer’s railroad tracks and, perhaps, Den-O’s railroad tracks for the big trains, doesn’t help them be any less crappy looking.
I can’t help but compare this to Gaim, which everyone said would be horrible but turned out to be a really good series, despite the doom and gloom predictions. I knew from the very first episode that Gaim would be good. I can’t say the same thing here. The effects are poor, even for a Sunday morning show, I don’t remember recent Super Sentai or Kamen Rider shows looking this shoddy.
The characters aren’t a saving grace either. Tomari is very generic, we really haven’t learned much of anything about him in the first seven episodes that we didn’t know in the first 5 minutes of the first. His partner was injured during the Global Freeze and he’s lazy. That’s about it. His partner, Kiriko, has a handcuff fetish and loves dragging him back to base. The rest of the Special Investigations Division are equally useless and over the top. You have the annoying computer geek, the egotistical female scientist, the hard boiled detective and the chief with serious emotional issues. I’m just not attracted to any of them in any positive way.
But most of these shows are about the action and while there’s some decent wire work at play, the bad CGI really gets in the way. Because Tomari has to play with his toys every 45 seconds to get maximum screen time, the villains have to be stupid and wait patiently for him to stop jamming another crappy-looking toy car into his Shift-Brace instead of doing the logical thing and taking that moment to attack.
I’m going to give Kamen Rider Drive a chance to prove itself, 7 episodes just isn’t enough to get out of the growing pains stage but it needs to straighten up and fly right pretty quickly or I might just sit this season out. I don’t mind the changes, I don’t even mind the toys, it’s the lack of quality, good writing and compelling characters that I mind and so far, that’s all Kamen Rider Drive has given us.