Kamen Rider has existed in many forms in its long history, from TV and film to, of course, creator Shotaro Ishinomori’s own classic manga. But how do you bring a series that has such a peculiar history in the west to contemporary Western comics?
As part of our ongoing look at Titan Comics’ new Kamen Rider Zero-One series this week, Gizmodo recently spoke to writer Brandon Easton and artist Hendry Prasetya over email about their history with tokusatsu, and the particular challenges of adapting a legendary franchise like Kamen Rider into comics. An even more peculiar layer to that is introducing audiences to a version of the transforming hero — Kamen Rider 01, a.k.a. Aruto Hiden, a struggling comedian thrust into control of his family’s robotics corporation and into unlikely supeheroics as the masked rider — that hasn’t actually been legally accessible to fans outside of Japan for all that long.
Kamen Rider’s spotty history in the West aside, it was only earlier this year that Shout Factory officially released Kamen Rider Zero-One in the U.S. for the first time. So how do you deal with a character who paradoxically has both a huge legacy and is almost virtually unknown to people who might see a fluorescent, bug-like superhero costume on a comic store shelf and be intrigued? Check out our chat with Easton and Prasetya below to find out.
James Whitbrook, Gizmodo: Tell me about your personal histories with Kamen Rider. What made you want to join this series?
Hendry Prasetya: My first (and all-time favourite) is Kamen Rider Black, which I watched as a kid, and followed the whole series ever since. As a fan of the franchise (and Tokusatsu in general), this was a huge opportunity!
Brandon Easton: I didn’t have a very long history with the franchise, but I am extremely familiar with similar Sentai-style series as well as the Mobile Suit Gundam mega-franchise, so the style of storytelling and themes of heroism spoke to me immediately. Also, David Clarke (of Namco/Bandai USA) is a good friend and he reached out to me regarding writing the series. I’ve always wanted to write a big time Sentai-esque adventure so it was an honour and a pleasure to have this opportunity.
io9: Hendry, the design of a Kamen Rider obviously changes from series to series, but what do you think works best about 01’s design? What makes Aruto’s design stand out to you compared to other Riders?
Prasetya: The Zero-One design is special because it was back to basics. The grasshopper design with its bold yellow/green colours was striking as a beginning to the Reiwa period. Plus, I loved the overall concept for the series that had a real feel of sci-fi with the rogue AI as the main antagonist.
io9: What can you tell us about the design for the new villain, Ragnarok?
Prasetya: When I was designing Ragnarok, I wanted it to be a mirror image of [Aruto’s] Shining Hopper combined with a Hell Rising Hopper. The concept of Ragnarok was a mysterious energy emanating from his body — I imagined that his body is a like a lava made of raw energy. I added the cape for a mysterious effect, and also as a nod to the Kamen Rider W enemy Kamen Rider Eternal, which I thought was a cool idea.
io9: When you’re working on something like this, similar in a way to Power Rangers, there’s already an established visual design language. When you’re ideating new looks for characters or new designs in general, how do you go about keeping things like they feel they’re part of that design language?
Prasetya: In a series like this, where things are established already, there’s usually room for us to play around with — I wanted to make it wild, but still with an element of being in control.
io9: Brandon, obviously Kamen Rider has a really, really long history of different heroes over the years taking on the mantle. What drew you to Zero-One and Aruto’s story in particular?
Easton: Zero-One has a very modern feel and a style that makes it easy to connect with. You don’t need to be a lifelong Kamen Rider fan to jump right into the storyline and understand the mechanics of that universe. Aruto is extremely relatable and a fantastic character to take on a hero’s journey. He tries to be a comedian but there’s a superhero that’s always been buried beneath his facade. He’s a fun guy to write and the other characters like Izu and Fuwa are fantastic too.
io9: You’re adapting not just this franchise that is, although thankfully a little easier to come by in the West lately, still quite unfamiliar to a lot of people. When you’re planning a series like this, how do you strike a balance between hitting the beats that established Rider fans want to see, while making sure it works for an entirely new audience?
Easton: It’s a delicate balance but somewhat easier to hit because the shows operate with a specific formula in mind. You know what you can and cannot do with the characters based on the events of the TV series so as a writer, there’s a narrow pathway you must walk but it helps to have a strong structure already in place. As I said, Zero-One is a far more accessible show to Western viewers because of the funnier soap opera aesthetic that exists for the show.
io9: You’re also telling a new story for Aruto here, off the back of a story told across nearly 50 episodes of TV and a bunch of movies and tie-in specials and condensing that into a limited comics series. What’s your approach to trying to do something new with a character who’s already gone on such a massive arc like that already — and one some readers might just not be familiar with already?
Easton: With any established character in a long-running franchise, there’s the potential to explore aspects of their personality in original stories that don’t contradict any canon events. I’ve written Vampire Hunter D, Judge Dredd, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and a bunch of other legacy characters that are decades old. The trick is to do some research and figure out what hasn’t been said about the character. What lesson haven’t they learned yet? What situation have they not been presented with? And so on. That’s how you can find a universal concept that any reader can connect to regardless of their preexisting knowledge of the franchise.
io9: Hendry, Kamen Rider obviously has this long history as a tokusatsu series, with such a defined cinematography and feel. What was it like trying to bring that kind of feel to your art for the series? What is it about these kinds of shows that you thinks works so well being translated into the medium of comics?
Prasetya: The most interesting thing about this project was the near-futuristic element — it was so challenging but fun to draw. I think the action will be a great fit to explore in the comics medium.
io9: Brandon, why do you think Kamen Rider has endured for so long? What makes now the right time for it to start making more of an impact stateside?
Easton: The themes of sacrifice, heroism, teamwork, and justice resonate with audiences all over the world. Kamen Rider heroes tend to embody those characteristics throughout the 50-year span of the various series. Because Asian pop culture — anime, manga, K-Pop, J-Pop, etc. — is so popular in the United States, there’s always the potential to introduce long-standing series to the American fanbase. Kamen Rider already has a powerful underground following and that will only help the character reach new audiences here.
io9: What do you hope readers take from the book?
Easton: A sense of fun and incredible action sequences. Also a great story about learning how to take responsibility for the damage a person may cause even when doing the right thing. I really hope anime and manga fans give this book a chance. I think they’ll enjoy a new spin on such an important and pivotal character in the toku genre.
The first issue of Kamen Rider Zero-One hits shelves November 23.
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