I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a rewatch for me. This was the first time I’ve seen this show, but I absolutely had to write about it, so keep reading to find out why.
There’s a huge cast in this show, which normally I’d ramble off, but that would be a bit much. The show primarily focusses on our unlikely hero, Yusuke Godai, played by Joe Odagiri (with Kenji Tominaga as his suit actor), and his police partner Kaoru Ichijo, played by Shingo Katsurayama. As the Kamen Rider series tends to lean towards a more mature audience than the Super Sentai series, the show is packed with characters who all have meaningful relationships, contributing to the drama and realism of the show.
This show has depth, I can’t state that enough. To be honest, I watch these shows because they’re usually ridiculous and fun, and that’s what I was expecting here. That’s not to say this show isn’t fun. It is fun, but it’s also very good, shockingly good. The production values are very high for the year it premiered, the acting is great, and the characters are so grounded that you can’t help but feel for them.
In particular, Godai is absolutely the ideal hero. When we meet him, he’s simply a self-proclaimed “professional dream chaser” who wanders into his friend’s archeological dig. The dig uncovers the evil Grongi, and the Arcle, which will eventually allow him to transform into Kuuga. When his friends are attacked, the Arcle calls to Godai, and he puts it on, transforms, and fights off the Grongi without hesitation. Godai declares that his mission is to “protect everyone’s smile,” and that’s exactly what he does.
We’re all used to selfless heroes, but even our favorite heroes have moments of “Oh no, I’m going to miss my date,” or “I’m so tired from last time.” That is not the case with Godai. He relentlessly thinks of others first. Nothing in his backstory sets him up to eventually be a hero, he just accepts the responsibility and gets to work. That is not to say he doesn’t have a life outside of this. He works at his surrogate father’s restaurant and volunteers at his sister’s school, but if a Grongi is attacking someone, Godai is either fighting to stop it or still in a coma from the last fight. He also makes no effort to hide his identity. He’s always printing Kuuga’s logo on his clothes, painting it on his bike, and if he transforms in front of you, he’ll just give you a thumbs up. On the other hand, he makes no effort to tell people he’s Kuuga and capitalize on the fame. Godai is simply fighting because if he can’t stop the Grongi, people will stop smiling.
At the beginning, the police see Kuuga as another threat. Over time, lead by Ichijo, a whole team of officers, scientists, and a doctor are formed to support Kuuga. To be clear, the police are not simply here to be Worfed. They hold their own in a fight against the Grongi often, and their science team is constantly coming up with weapon advancements. Since the Grongi are playing a game to see which of them can kill the most humans in the most creative way, the police are often charged with determining the motive and method for the killings, locating the Grongi, and paving the way for Kuuga to finish it off. Throughout the series, the team, and Ichijo in particular, go from not trusting Godai to practically becoming family.
I cannot state enough, this is a good show, it is a shockingly good show. It’s easy to care about every character, and though the formula is often “monster appears and is defeated,” you’ll find plenty of engaging content between the margins.
You can stream Kamen Rider Kuuga for free on Shout! Factory TV. If you want to try one episode, check out Revival (the same episode embedded first in this review), which is the first one, because no matter which episode you start with, you’ll keep watching. If you need a smaller taste before diving in, I’ve posted several GIFs, mostly because Godai is so GIF-able. I was really expecting something ridiculous and fun with this show, but instead I saw something very good and fun. I hope you’re just as surprised as I was!