For the second year in a row, I'm able to kick things off with a classic manga from Shotaro Ishinomori, and it might be the best one yet.
KAMEN RIDER (Kamen Raida), by Shotaro Ishinomori. First published in 1971 and first published in North America in 2022.
Hongo Takeshi was a young man with just as much talent for science as he had for motorcycling. His life is forever changed when he is captured by a mysterious organization known as Shocker, who seek to transform him into an animal-human hybrid cyborg as part of their plot to dominate all of humanity. Hongo escapes before the transformation is complete, but he swears to use his super-strong body, strange new powers, and souped-up motorcycle to stop Shocker from conquering all of Japan.
I don't have any attachment to Kamen Rider as a franchise, but fortunately you don't need any pre-existing familiarity with it to enjoy this manga. Even moreso than Gorenger, this is just an exceptionally well-made shonen manga.
Ishinomori was making this alongside the release of the original tokusatsu series, but wisely chose to diverge from the show's plot as it went along (although he does incorporate the unplanned change in lead actors after the first suffered a terrible accident). This allows him to take the material in some darker directions, as well as to better incorporate some strong environmentalist and anti-corporate themes. He even name-checks things like Minamata disease and the plight of the hibakusha, things that were still in the news at the time this manga was being serialized.
More than anything, this manga reminds me of Go Nagai's Devilman (a fitting comparison, considering it came out just a year afterwards in the same magazine and also ran alongside its own Toei-produced adaptation). Perhaps Kamen Rider is not as fatalistic and gruesome as that series, but its anti-authoritarian streak and themes of alienation feel more akin to it than you would expect. It's not so edgy that it would be inappropriate for the show's young audience, but it's mature and consistent enough that an adult could read this and get a satisfying, complete experience.
Once again, it's the art that takes this manga over the top. I continue to be impressed with Ishinomori's skill as a draftman, his panache for panel and page composition, and the ambitious, cinematic approach to his manga. Here you can see him start to stretch his legs as a character designer, moving further and further away from the rounded, bulbous forms he learned from Tezuka. He also gets to show off during the many action sequences, between the numerous splash pages, the stop-motion-photo style montages of kicks, punches and leaps, and sick motorcycle antics. There's even some color pages, as Hongo's initial transformation and escape from Shocker is rendered in vivid color.
While we don't get the same introductory essays we got with Gorenger, we don't lack for extras here. There's a bunch of period tie-in comics, all drawn by Ishinomori. These are clearly short, punchy little bits made for kids (to the point that I half-expected Kamen Rider to start talking about Hostess fruit pies), but they're fun in their own way and I'm glad they have been preserved and presented here. I do wish they had been presented in color, since it's clear that's how they were originally published.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available. All 4 have been published in a single omnibus that is currently in print.
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