With its first episode airing in September of 2011 and its finale in August of 2012, Kamen Rider Fourze was the 22nd installment in the long-running Kamen Rider franchise. It aired weekly as one half of an hour-long programming block called Super Hero Time on the Japanese television network TV Asahi. The franchise itself has attracted a worldwide audience thanks to its generally solid writing and exceptional contributions to the collections of toy connoisseurs. Although it hasn't left a strong mark in Western culture like its spiritual brother, Super Sentai, managed to do with its adaptation to Power Rangers, Kamen Rider is thriving as an international success.
As both the 22nd series and 40-year celebration of the birth of Kamen Rider, many good things were expected from Fourze. The details that were released prior to the show's airing painted what many fans considered a mixed bag. The overall theme of the series would be space, the setting would be a high school, and the plot dealt with Kamen Rider Fourze using the mysterious powers of the 40 Astro Switches to lay the smack down on zodiac-themed monsters known as Zodiarts (Note: "Zodiarts" is both plural and singular, like "sheep") and their own Switches that had been given to them by a mysterious evil group. While people looked forward to the plot, many were on the fence about the setting and theme. Space seemed a bit bland and a high school setting felt as generic as possible, so how could Fourze possibly make these interesting?
The pilot episode does a great job of giving the viewer a more established look at the core of the show. Right off the bat we are introduced to an ill, no-nonsense boy named Kengo Utahoshi, a girl named Yuki Jojima who is obsessed with space, and an eccentric transfer student named Gentaro Kisaragi whose sole goal is to befriend as many people as he possibly can. After fishing a love letter out of the water after Kengo threw it away and reconnecting with Yuki, who turns out to be his childhood friend, Gentaro learns that Kengo was given the tools necessary to defeat the Zodiarts. However, Kengo lacks the stamina to both become Fourze and operate the PowerDizer mech, so Gentaro takes the former upon himself and leaves it to the much more knowledgeable Kengo to strategize.
The main cast of Fourze is very diverse in that it pulls a member from every clique of the school and gives them personalities that both reflect the stereotype they represent and establish them as unique individuals. The down side is, of course, individual character development becomes a bit difficult with a cast of eight people and no room for filler episodes. While the development of a few flourished, a couple of others remained at the same points throughout the series. The list of main antagonists was even larger with one for each horoscope, so the first 30 or so episodes felt like the show was weeding out the weakest. A few, such as the Taurus Zodiarts, played such a small role overall that it was a bit disappointing to even consider them as main antagonists.
Pacing played an important part in Fourze's run, as it does in any show with as many (48) or more episodes. While it may seem like there is plenty of room to goof off in such a long run, it's quite often the exact opposite with Kamen Rider and Super Sentai alike. From start to finish, Fourze fed viewers plot nonstop. Whether it involved introducing a new villain, showing off a new power, or strengthening the bonds within the cast, each episode efficiently served its purpose. Later episodes rewarded the audience with an exciting set of twists and shocks leading right up to the end, which did a good job of wrapping the series up.
Overall, Kamen Rider Fourze was certainly much better than it was anticipated to be. It had the feel of a fun high school comedy, but sprinkled with darker scenes that viewers who were older than the target demographic would appreciate. I, personally, would rank Fourze among the top Kamen Rider series of all time due to how fun it is. Fourze was a celebration of both its franchise and what it means to be a friend, and it served its purpose with a light-hearted attitude that impacted me directly. The character of Gentaro Kisaragi both inspired me to be more outgoing and style my hair into a pompadour in the privacy of my own bathroom. I bestow upon this show a rating of 9.5/10, and I implore you to watch it if you find yourself with some free time.