I won’t lie; I did not despise Kamen Rider Gotchard’s debut episode. But if it sounds like I’m praising it too highly, it’s because I kind of am. There’s nothing egregiously bad about this, but there’s also nothing that truly grabs my attention as a standout or promising feature. Every time we do a tokusatsu First Look, I make the disclaimer that, even more than with anime, it’s difficult to evaluate a first episode because the emphasis is invariably overly mechanical – the most crucial things are setting the premise and getting that sweet, sweet merchandise on display so the kids can run out and buy it. That is as accurate as it has ever been in this instance, although I believe there were some cause for concern.
Probably the thing that worries me the most is our major characters. Hotaro here can’t help but seem like a step back after Geats gave us an amusingly dickish title character, reverting to the consistently nice blandness of a default protagonist. Although it’s too soon to judge Junsei Motojima’s acting skills, he doesn’t exactly create an impact right away, and as is customary, the archetype of the “high school student” is among the most uninteresting ones to base a story around. Reiyo Matsumoto’s performance seems, well, let’s be nice and say ‘limited’ for now, I’m not feeling fantastic feelings either from Rinne, who seems to slip right into the classic icy, stand-offish sidekick persona. Casting an actual child as your lead bad guy seems like one of those ideas that is great on paper but really should have been halted at some point before it became reality. The villains are more interesting, what with their theming as the Fastes of Greek myth and Kanon Miyahara’s legit martial arts background. However, you get extra points for employing Nobiyuki Hiyama to simply say STEEEEAAAM into a microphone.
In terms of production, the situation is similarly erratic. The Gotchard outfit is generally appealing to me, though I have my doubts about how long that shiny finish will last. Our first monster costume is also really cool, and the chained ‘human’ arms are a wonderful decorative touch. However, there is still a ton of worthless CGI there, with the brief grasshopper transition sticking out as particularly offensive and needless. A more significant issue arises during the fight’s opening seconds, when the video quality drops so drastically that I’d be embarrassed to include it in a home movie…on VHS. This is a truly astounding example that I’m pretty surprised was deemed OK for broadcast and suggests some pretty serious time pressures on this episode. For a few years now, Rider and Sentai shows have very clearly been using off-the-shelf commercial drones for some of their more kinetic shots, and the resulting loss of quality has always been easy to notice.
The end result is an episode that is, I guess, perfectly OK. With the exception of that one shot, Gotchard’s debut isn’t particularly flawed, but it also gives the impression that Toei is merely going through the motions. Given recent shows’ turn towards ruinously expensive gacha-style gameplay, the trading card concept makes perfect sense, but it’s difficult to feel good about the impending wave of disposable powerups that will follow. Additionally, there is the lingering negative legacy of earlier Rider series with a “magic” concept that haven’t exactly been stellar in recent memory. Examples are Saber and Wizard. Let’s see if Gotchard can defy that pattern and build on this strong beginning to produce a story that is actually interesting. They don’t have my quick approval, but there is work to be done.