Aug 25, 2013

Kamen Rider Hibiki, keep your beat!

So, I only just started watching Kamen Rider Hibiki, I’m only 12 episodes in but I felt like I had to talk about it because I’m hooked. I like Kamen Rider, I have for a very long time. But sometimes life can drag you away and I missed a few years and so with it a few of the different series.   
I started playing catch-up in a really random way, dancing around some of the series from the early 2000s. And while I was reading articles on Wikipedia about each series, trying to decide which one I was going to watch next I found Hibiki

What interested me so much was that unlike any other series the entire creative staff was pulled off the show half way through and replaced by a different crew of people. For many people in kamen rider circles this is a big topic of discussion then and still to this day, because the tone of the series apparently shifted. Because of that a lot of people ignore the second half of the series regarding Hibiki as an unfinished work. But that was only part of the allure of this odd duck in the rider franchise, apparently this series went places and took on themes that kamen rider had not done before and this along with reportedly less than stellar merchandise sales lead to the change. With my eyebrows sufficiently planted in the ceiling from intrigue I began watching and let me tell you this KR series is fascinating. I’m so used to KR being flashy, ruckus and dynamic, or just full of that in your face action that’s been in the series for years; that this was a refreshing slap in the face. It really is a different kind of KR. 

First the KR character himself the main one at least Hibiki uses a pair of customized Bachi drumsticks in his fighting attacks, his finishing move is to literally place a magically expanding drum face across an enemy monsters body and then beat it rhythmically and furiously like a Taiko drum until they explode into shards of dust and energy. It’s a very Japanese show, focusing on many aspects of cultural and historical appreciation and I’m sure that, that’s the aim of the series as If to say to its Japanese viewership, look at this wonderful rich heritage we have here, please don’t let it fade away. It's a very self aware series in many ways, very carefully playing out the way it presents itself. It plays with a story in which the mundane constantly crosses paths with the phenomenal, something along with producer Shigenori Takadera's approach to multi-cut, stylishly edited film making, really appealed to me. You can really tell that someone who loves cinema is behind the camera because some of the things that are done with lighting, framing and scene cuts are absolutely fascinating. Every inch of the visual editing makes sure to acknowledge the little interesting bits of what make Japanese culture so absolutely delightful to the rest of the world.
And then we have the action…the thing about this is, there is action, just not the over the top hyper paced wire performance action of the more contemporary series. there’s a lot less of this than you would come to expect in a KR or Tokusatsu series, and more of a slow buildup of each adversary leading to a very grounded realistic street fight between a magical man and a monster. Hibiki and his team of fellow monster hunters actually spend a lot of time having to track and plot out where the monsters are and sometimes have to come up with strategies on how to fight them based on their library of the entire history of KR/Oni who have been fighting over the centuries. I think more of what makes me really like this series is how unlike all the other KR series it seems to be, they spend absolutely no real time wasting on developing the Makamou, villain characters, not making them even remotely appealing or sympathetic on a human level. 

They are human hating monsters who have it out for us and deserve to be destroyed. They don’t have flashy, elaborate, monster designs; in fact they are very grounded in Japanese mythology and look very much like they rose up right out of the forests and mountains. Real monsters if you will with crackled furry bodies, or sallow sunken faces. Instead, the character development is saved for the protagonists and I like that. it seems everyone is so obsessed with the bad guy now, that they forget that the good guys can be more than one dimensional characters too. Hibiki seems like a straight forward hero guy until you throw 14 year old asumu adachi into the mix. 

 He’s everything that I was at 14, a quiet, seemingly boring daydreamer from a broken home who was woefully unsure of himself and what he wanted to do in life. But along comes hibiki and inadvertently changes this kid’s life. Not overnight but you can see it’s a slow burn. There’s not just a father figure thing going on here, but an assurance to younger viewers that it’s okay to be unsure of the path you want to take when you’re young, there are many options out there that you never even imagined and there are people just like you who are successful and happy in life. The all over tone of the series is great to me, it’s a wonderful break from the over the top, neon laced, action and pacing of say KR Wizard and delves into a more mature and subtle story. Because that’s very much what this is, a story less obsessed with showing you how awesome it can be with its lavish monsters, magical belts, odd ball characters and more with giving you something fulfilling to walk away from satisfied. 


It’s like if KR was in the real world, the people are real, the situations are real, the emotions, the resolutions, the pacing is real. This is the first KR series that I actually thought to myself I would watch multiple seasons of this if they existed. I still haven’t decided if I will go past the point in the episodes where the creative team changed up, but from what I have read it doesn’t seem like I would be as satisfied with it as I am now. And you know what… not even once does Hibiki yell the word “HENSHIN!” before he transforms, and with this series… I’m okay with that. This show marches to the beat of a different drum.

hit the beat, keep your beat, Hibiki