Through Power Rangers, Japan’s iconic superhero franchise Super Sentai has been allowed a sort of renaissance in the west recently. So has Ultraman, thanks to growing international interest in the franchise. But one of Japan’s most enduring hero series, Kamen Rider, hasn’t been afforded the same chance... but that could be about to change. Could.
This past weekend saw the launch of Kamen Rider Zero-One, this year’s Rider show on TV Asahi in Japan. Set in a future where Japanese society has been augmented by the invention of highly advanced artificial intelligences called “HumaGears” — android workers that have supplanted humans in various workforces and become integrated as vital members of society — Zero-One follows the adventures of Aruto Hiden, a failed comedian who suddenly finds himself not just the new CEO of his grandfather’s A.I. development business, but the wielder of the Zero-One driver, using it in battle against rogue HumaGears corrupted by a mysterious faction of terrorists looking to destroy human society.
The launch of a new Kamen Rider show is always a big deal, but Zero-One has had a lot made of its debut as it’s the first new Rider series since Japan’s Reiwa Era began, with the ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne last May.
Given that Kamen Rider series have always classified themselves by these eras — Kamen Rider Zi-O, the series that preceded Zero-One, was an anniversary celebration of 20 years of Heisei era Rider heroes — Zero-One’s status as the first of a new age of Kamen Rider shows has attacted a lot of attention.
Which might be why, as Tokunation reports, to the surprise of Tokusatsu fans across the globe, Toei uploaded the entire first episode of Zero-One to the TV Asahi YouTube channel shortly after its broadcast... and made it available worldwide.
Now, the catch is that it is not actually subtitled — so unless you just want to watch the crazy fight scenes and explosions and not understand anything in the slightest, you’ll have to know Japanese to really get anything beyond that out of it.
It’s also unsure as to whether or not Toei is just doing this for the first episode of a new era of Kamen Rider, or if it’ll be a regular thing, as the video description states that the episode will only be available until the end of October. But even having the episode, subtitled or otherwise, legally viewable across the world hours after its Japanese debut, is a huge step towards a possible future where Kamen Rider starts making strides towards western shores again.
Unlike Super Sentai, Kamen Rider has had a far more distant relationship with English-speaking audiences. After the surprising success of Power Rangers, Saban and Toei tried — and failed spectacularly — to capitalise with Masked Rider, a goofy adaptation of the distinctly not-goofy Kamen Rider Black RX in the mid ‘90s. In 2009, The CW attempted to try again with Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, an adaptation of Kamen Rider Ryuki, but that was cancelled before its run even ended.
Meanwhile, Power Rangers has continued to flourish to the point that not only are Super Sentai shows getting official home releases in the west these days, but classic, pre-Power Rangers series are too.
Tsuburaya Productions, the studio behind Ultraman, has made huge intentions to bring the franchise stateside in many ways, from the Netflix adaptation of the Ultraman manga, to offering episodes of the latest series, Ultraman Taiga, subtitled on YouTube for free, to bringing past shows to Blu-Ray and DVD.
While there have been small moments for Kamen Rider — like the gory, more adult spinoff Kamen Rider Amazons made with Amazon Japan being made available on Prime TV — it’s never had quite the same push, so to see even the smallest of steps like this brings at least some possible hope of Kamen Rider fans outside of Japan being able to legally support the series instead of having to rely on fan translations.
Maybe the global access was a happy accident. Maybe this was just a one-and-done thing for the first episode of a new show in a new era for Japan. But if it isn’t, it could be a very tiny, yet also very major, step towards Kamen Rider having more of an official presence outside of Japan.