Kamen Rider Ryuki overall might not be perfect, a lot of its stuff might end up being unexplained or messy, but it manages to be quite consistent with its writing, plot and characters and I applaud it’s writer, Yasuko Kobayashi, for it . While not the best nor my favorite, it’s an excellent choice to watch for anyone who’s interested on Kamen Rider.
Kamen Rider Ryuki (仮面ライダー龍騎) is a tokusatsu hero show made in 2002 produced by Toei, it’s the 12th season of the Kamen Rider franchise, and the third series in the “Heisei Era”. It’s 50 episodes long, with one TV special in a separate timeline and a movie that works as an alternate ending (we’ll get there when we get there), a 3 episode continuation as a Kamen Rider Zi-O Special and an american adaptation in the form of “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight”.
Thirteen mysterious card decks have been made for each Kamen Rider, which have made contracts with monsters from the Mirror World, a parallel dimension where only Kamen Riders (and also the monsters of the week) can exist to fight in the Rider Battle, a battle royale organized by the creator of the cards where only one can survive, with their wish will be granted and as the catchphrase of the show goes “Those who won’t fight won’t survive”.
The protagonist is Shinji Kido, a good-hearted man that works in ORE-Journal as a rookie, he ends up getting involved in the Rider War becoming the titular Kamen Rider Ryuki. His goal is to protect people no matter what, and also to stop the Rider War.
There’s also Ren Akiyama as the co-protagonist, he’s Kamen Rider Knight, a lonely and brooding man that gets on fights a lot of times, his desire to fight in the Rider War is to give his girlfriend, (who’s in a coma after a mysterious encounter with a monster) a full recovery.
Ren works with a girl called Yui Kanzaki, who tries to find clues about the disappearance of his brother, Shiro Kansaki, who’s the mysterious figure pulling all the strings of the Rider War.
I think Shinji and Ren share a good dynamic and development over the series, starting as complete strangers and ending up having a strong brothership at the end of the series, their beliefs and means make them get in conflict a lot, Shinji might be quite simple in contrast, but his heroic personality makes up for it making him a great protagonist and role model for kids while Ren offers a more mature and complex journey as Knight.
There’s also the other two recurrent riders:
Shūichi Kitaoka, a super lawyer who’s Kamen Rider Zolda, he might be sort of an egocentric jerk but he’s not an inherently evil character, and his reasons to fight are quite tragic. He’s sort of the third main rider in the series, we end up seeing interacting with the main characters in a lot of funny and interesting ways. Takeshi Asakura, Kamen Rider Ouja, a serial killer who escaped prison and just fights in the Rider War for the sake of it, whenever he’s on screen, the stakes for the characters can be high and he offers a sense of danger on the show.
Both characters share excellent charisma thanks to their writing and the actors who portray them, and they have an excellent and almost poetic send-off. Kitaoka might be my favorite character of this season, and I never expected a serial killer to be more sympathetic and less of a jerk than Kaixa from Kamen Rider 555 to be honest.
As for the other Riders, a lot of them are pretty well written while not lasting that long, with their deaths and reasons to fight being quite tragic and painful after getting to know them more while others are just fodder to show the stakes of the Rider War.
There’s also the ORE Journal staff as the comedic characters, while the attempts at comedy sometimes can be annoying, sometimes they’re genuinely entertaining characters, with Shinji’s boss even mentoring him and giving good lessons to him and the audience.
As a tokusatsu series, the special effects, fights, suits and choreography are an essential part to what makes Ryuki a Kamen Rider show, and they nailed its concept and purpose quite decently, having excellent suits and a quantity of Riders in the same show never seen before, interesting and creative fights with the card’s powers and abilities are frequent, the computer generated effects like the monsters or the SFX might not have aged quite well, but overall it’s pretty entertaining to watch.
The tone of the series is dramatic, complex and dark, while still being for all ages, it might be one of the most dramatic Rider shows out there, as it’s common with a lot of the first phase of the Heisei era. This is what made a lot of people mad with the shift in tone with the ending making it all seem pointless, that’s why Ryuki offers a movie as the alternative, but I personally think the series ended in the most natural way it could end.
Ryuki’s overall message with its original ending might be that, we shouldn’t chase impossible dreams, just cherish our lives as much as possible no matter what our outcome might be, ending in sort of a flat, but bittersweet and poignant note.