Episode 1: I’m a Kamen Rider!
The Name of the Game: Emu Hojo is a doctor-in-training at Seito University Hospital, an avid video
gamer, and an absolute klutz (much to the chagrin of his co-worker Asuna). When the mysterious,
video game-borne Bugster virus threatens the life of one of his patients (and the city at large), Emu
must put his pride as a doctor and his skills as a gamer on the line by transforming into the
superhero known as Kamen Rider Ex-Aid!
The premiere for Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is certainly an interesting first outing. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode and will definitely recommend people to watch it, but there were definitely some nagging issues with it. The pacing was a bit off, some of the directing was utilitarian at best, and the premise of video game super heroes and doctors didn’t work that well together. But overall, I still really enjoyed the episode.
So let’s get all the negativity out of the way first and get on with my criticisms of the episode. The most glaring issue I had with the episode was the severe clashing of the two motifs that are present in the programme: a medical drama and videogame superheroes. Now I am not inherently against these two motifs thrown together; it’s odd but we have had bizarre mixes of premises before in Kamen Rider (such as Kamen Rider Gaim and its fruit/armour themed superheroes who are also members of dance teams). But here, it just seems a bit off. There is no reason why doctors would need to get involved with videogames. There is no in-universe reason for this to happen, apart from the fact that the villainous virus is born from a videogame; but even then it still feels a little too far-fetched.
I suppose the reason why Ex-Aid’s weird premise bugs me more than most is that it tries to be semi-realistic through the involvement of a government agency trying to combat the Bugsters (the evil viruses who are this series’ villains). The show is trying to have its cake and eat it with a serious/realistic approach to why the Riders exist, yet having goofy and over the top designs for the riders and a more cartoonish tone when they appear. I just don’t see how a serious governmental agency somehow creates these anime eyed power suits that derive their powers videogame characters. I’d be satisfied with a sequence where someone asks why the belts and riders are like this and somebody responds with a quick “well the designer likes videogames a lot and he’s a genius so we let him do what he wants; he’s still helping us after all”. This dissonance between the show’s want of realism and also goofy-cartoonish antics genuinely affected my enjoyment of the show. The reason why it annoys me so much is that it gives a bit of a reason why the Riders exist, but not enough to really explain anything. However, I’m quite confident that as the series continues, there will be a reason why the suits are designed as such and I will be quite satisfied with that; but there is absolutely no reason given in this first episode, so I am going to criticise it for that.
Another issue I found with this episode was the awkward pacing of the initial scenes which introduce the characters and the general world of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. There was nothing particularly wrong with the quality of them; it just felt extremely rushed so as to make room for the action scenes later on; which, now that I think about it, most likely contributed to my annoyances at the lack of explanation of the videogame motif: there just simply wasn’t any time for it. Finally I felt the directing of the doctor drama sections of the episode was very utilitarian and not particularly interesting or special. This is such a minor complaint, that honestly, it really didn’t affect my enjoyment of the show; it was just mediocre, especially compared to the direction of the action scenes.
Now that all of my complaints are out of the way, let me get on to the positives of the episode, which is frankly most of it. Firstly, I want to discuss the characters as, for me, they are usually the most important part of Kamen Rider shows, more so than the plot sometimes. To begin with, I want say that I really like the protagonist, Hojo Emu. He may be an absolute mess as a medical intern, but that, combined with his noble wish to make his patients smile, just really endears him to me. However, these ideals were acknowledged to not be perfect. This, for me, makes Emu more of a three dimensional and believable character since he does indeed have noble ideals, but is presented to not be perfect. Additionally, this opens his character up for further development as the show is willing to acknowledge his flaws and work on them. What was also extremely enjoyable was how Emu changed into a more confident and capable character once he transformed. This was a nice touch since he was quite obviously established to be skilled at videogames; so of course he would be far more confident, to potentially cocky, once he transformed. Overall, I really like Emu as a protagonist and hope he does grow beyond this mostly goody-two-shoes personality to something a bit more fleshed out.
The other major character introduced within the first episode was Kariono Asuna/ Poppi Pipopapo (which I will never spell correctly so I’ll just refer to her as Poppi). Now Asuna/Poppi is certainly an interesting character. On the one hand she is this straight laced and serious nurse who scolds Emu for taking the patient out of the hospital; but on the other hand her true identity is that of a dancing game character named Poppi Pipopapo who acts exactly like what someone with that name should. I was actually greatly amused by this stark contrast between Asuna and Poppi, especially as it was thrown at me right at the end of the episode. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she does go on to get further development and importance as she is currently the only female lead in the show; it would be disappointing for her to stay exactly as she is or even worse, regress into eye-candy/there to be fought over/have her life be only for the men (as some series of Kamen Rider are want to do). But for now I really like her character, but I wish her nurse outfit was less short as at this moment in time it just looks really fetishistic, especially when looking at the other female nurses’ outfits which are far less fanservice-y. Finally, I just want to mention how it was very nice that the show didn’t try to cram introducing all the other riders and main characters in this first episode and left them to have cameos as the end; it gives the next few episodes a clear focus on introducing them and thus making the overall show feel less rushed.
Now let’s get to the action scenes and the general aesthetics/style of them, since that is sort of the meat and potatoes of Kamen Rider. I was initially jarred by the design of the lead rider when it was first leaked, but honestly, it’s really grown on me. The obnoxious and goofy colour scheme, the silly anime hair and the anime eyes all add up to a very striking and unique looking Kamen Rider. Yes it may not be ‘cool’, but I honestly don’t mind. It’s kooky and fun, like how Kamen Rider really should be. The designs for the mooks was certainly interesting and wacky, much like Ex-Aid, and I also liked that they seem to be wearing outfits associated with whatever is the monster of the week, which is quite hilarious. However, the design of the monster of the week was honestly quite lacking; it didn’t seem particularly interesting and there wasn’t much screen time dedicated to it for it to really have any interest for me.
Yet on a more positive note, I adore the aesthetics and direction of the action scenes. The AR-esque overlay the mise-en-scene gets during the fight scenes is so pleasing aesthetically and just simply works with the premise of the show. On top of that, it gives a reason for the somewhat lacking CGI as it’s meant to be this old-school looking AR videogame overlay; it just fits. The direction of the action was also very, very good. It’s so nice to see Kamen Rider Wizard’s director (Nakazawa Shōjiro) return to the franchise. He has such a great understanding of how fluid fight scenes should be and reflects that both in his camerawork and his directing of the stunt actors. Every move, punch and slash of a sword looks just right; I’m very much looking forward to the rest of his work with the show.
So all in all, the first episode of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid was very entertaining and I enjoyed it. There were some issues with it that I will still believe are worthy criticisms, but they indeed a symptom of this episode being the first; they could have done better, but I’m not going to be too harsh a critic. If things do improve, which I certainly think will happen , due to more time being available for development rather than exposition in further episodes , I think Ex-Aid will have a very promising future.
The premiere episode of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid feels like a really good mobile game. There’s not too much depth in it to start, and you have a lot of disbelief to suspend throughout the episode. It throws a lot of content at you and expects you to be right on board, because the writers feel like they need to pull you in right away, and you get sped forward right into the action without much pomp or circumstance. But, a good mobile game never shows you all the cards it has to play, because they want you invested before they throw the curveballs at you. That same principle applies to “I’m a Kamen Rider!” and its rapid-fire storytelling.
The show’s plot is absolutely rushed. We get backstory, exposition, character introductions, and a glimpse at the overarching villains of the show all in the span of twelve minutes. We’re thrown terms like “Bugster,” “Gamer Driver,” “Gasshat,” and “Mighty Action X” at full throttle, with the show basically telling us “Just roll with it.” With less than half an hour to work with, it’s understandable that they’d try to get to the “good stuff” quickly, but I’d forgive the episode having a little less action and a little more story and character development. While you can get a good feel for the main character, Emu, and his overall personality (or rather, the two different attitudes he adopts as both a doctor and a gamer), you don’t get as much for the supporting cast (with some exceptions, as Sean detailed above). As well, the doctor drama elements seem to in the picture mainly to serve as a subtle cue to what the theme of the episode will be. If I had to wager a guess, that’s the formula this show will fall into: the medical drama will inform the overarching “lesson” of the episode. While this formula can absolutely work if done well, having it in the premiere made it feel like the show accelerated the plot in order to get to the wacky video game action, leaving the other episodes in the show to presumably pick up the slack.
That being said, the wacky video game action in the latter half of the episode is the best part of it. There’s a lot of cheesiness to it (the short, Mario-before-a-mushroom style first form Emu has to take before “levelling up” takes the cake in that department), but it’s just so much fun to watch. The design of both the battlefields are inspired, with lots of little flourishes like how the chocolate “blocks” break apart into individual pieces when hit. The visual effects are mostly on point, with lots of bright colors and creative design work throughout. While the first form of the Bugster infection looked kind of boring (just a bunch of orbs with eyes in the center), the fight against it (along with the “Hit!” “Critical!” “Perfect!” animations) looked downright spectacular. The costume designs for both Ex-Aid and the villains are pretty clever as well, though the minions look slightly like rejected designs from Octodad. I actually really liked the design for the main villain of the episode, who looks like Dr. Eggman if he was fused with a moustache-twirling 1940s cartoon villain. The fight against him, compared to the battle against the minions (which showcased a variety of different camera angles, impressive stunt work, and a nice sense of comedic timing) was actually kind of anti-climactic with the exception of the brawl’s finale.
There’s a lot to love in the technical aspects of the show so far. The cinematography is pretty creative, with viewpoints and angle choices that evoke a lot of emotion and offer a solid sense of tone. The music, a mix of traditional action tunes and video game chiptunes, works well throughout the episode (especially in the fight sequences). There’s a strong sense of direction throughout the episode despite its rushed nature, and it knows exactly when to bring out the stops for both the comedic and dramatic sequences. And, while very silly-looking, Mighty Action X (the game within the show) obviously had some effort and care put into its design, making it look like the kind of quirky indie game you might see floating around Steam Greenlight instead of an obviously fake title.
“I’m a Kamen Rider” was a solid entry point into Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, and there’s a lot of potential that (while slightly ignored in this episode) could lead to a very entertaining show down the road. It just has to take another page from mobile gaming and keep us coming back for more.
Next time: An RPG surgeon enters the fray!