Henshin! Kamen Rider Gaim takes to the stage

&ldquo;Henshin!&rdquo; (&ldquo;transform!&rdquo;) is synonymous with the <em>Kamen/Masked Rider</em> <em>tokusatsu</em> franchise since the first version aired in 1971. Tokusatsu is the umbrella term that contains the live-action shows with a significant amount of special effects, like <em>Godzilla, Ultraman</em>, and <em>Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger </em>(adapted into <em>Mighty Morphin Power Rangers</em> during the &lsquo;90s). Later creations that have most likely been inspired from tokusatsu include Guillermo del Toro&rsquo;s <em>kaiju</em> blockbuster <em>Pacific Rim, </em>and the Naoko Takeuchi&rsquo;s all-female <em>sentai</em> anime series <em>Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon</em>.

The birth of the <em>Super Sentai</em> and <em>Kamen Rider</em> concepts can be mostly credited to the prolific Shotaro Ishinomori (<em>Cyborg 009, Jinzou Ningen Kikaida</em>), and both endure to this day. While both are often marketed to teenaged boys, there is definitely an effort to keep the older generations of the genre, especially in the case of <em>Kamen Rider</em>.&nbsp;

Toei Company&rsquo;s <em>Kamen Rider Gaim </em>aired between October 2013 and September 2014 with 47 episodes. It would be pretty easy to write it off as another show designed to sell toys to impressionable young boys; but if you decide to give it a try, you might be surprised at its mature themes.

The basic formula of a Kamen Rider consists of a character striking a pose, yelling the signature catchphrase, changing into an alternate form, and using some form of martial arts to fight the monster-of-the-week. This has held mostly true since the first <em>Kamen Rider</em>, known as &ldquo;<em>1</em>.&rdquo; <em>Gaim</em> completely bypasses labelling anything in the actual show <em>Kamen Rider</em>, but the spirit is there. While the insect motif was the most famous in the <em>Kamen Rider</em> franchise during the Showa era, the first thing you will notice is that all the suits in <em>Kamen Rider Gaim </em>are modelled after fruit.

Main character Kouta Kazuraba, played by actor Gaku Sano, transforms into Armoured Rider Gaim using Lockseeds that enable the designated person to transform into fruit-themed suits. Among my favourite transformations are Gaim&rsquo;s Orange Arms suit with its Great Orange Maru sword (it looks like a slice of orange), the Durian Arms (&ldquo;Durian Arms: Mr. Dangerous!&rdquo;), and later on, Gaim&rsquo;s Watermelon Arms mech that can used to easily pulverize grunt Inves monsters. Each transformation comes with a catchy phrase, and as each suit levels up, it gains secondary characteristics, weapons, and powers.

It would be really easy to hide behind nostalgia, but <em>Gaim</em> has a lot of elements that bring a new flavour to the genre, like Kouta&rsquo;s struggles against the &ldquo;adults&rdquo; of the story &mdash; while many of the adults look down on Kouta for his optimism, I realized if I gave into the cynicism of growing up, I too would fall into the &ldquo;evil&rdquo; Kouta fought against. His desire to save everyone is a struggle that almost everyone can identify with, even if you get a little frustrated with his naivety at some points.

<em>Gaim </em>does have some shortcomings: while the characters are unique and creatively designed in order to illustrate the warring ideology aspect of the story, it is after all, a show aimed at teens/young children. The Beat Riders are essentially street gangs, but instead of the usual questionable activities, they dance in the city, and fight other teams for stage space to perform on. The local watering hole is a fruit cafe, and almost all the characters go in to have parfaits and snacks at one point or another. The special effects, including the CG creatures, rubber monster suits and gratuitous explosions, are spotty here and there; you might not go bananas about the fighting in almost every episode. But these are parts of the tried-and-true formula; <em>Gaim</em> is a fresh take on it.

There are definite nods to the past incarnations of <em>Kamen Rider</em> aside from the obvious use of transformation belts. There are Lock Vehicles (essentially, motorbikes) that are used to travel between the worlds, and the signature Rider Kick makes an appearance. I could give you a hint as to the direction of the story...well, I&rsquo;ll save you the trouble and say that Gen Urobuchi wrote this show, so you should know what to expect. This special mix of<em> Kamen Rider </em>does have its own sparkle, and it&rsquo;ll definitely remind you of your more idealistic days as a child, in a good way. Anyways, I&rsquo;m off to finish <em>Kanpai Senshi After V </em>for some lighter fare.