Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider

It hardly seems possible today, but there was a time not that long ago when I knew precious little about either Ultraman or Kamen Rider. I had heard about them, read about them, and seen a few pictures from the various series. I had even managed to glimpse some tantalizing video clips here and there. And yet, I'd somehow missed seeing the big picture. They were both mysteries - the kind that were so commonplace back in those days before the World Wide Web was everywhere.

The beginning of all that changing was when someone (Andre DuBois, I believe?) reviewed the video we're discussing today in an issue of Kaiju Review (#6, I believe?). I think I learned more about both Ultraman and Kamen Rider in that single review than I had anywhere else. It made me hungry to learn more about both franchises. The simplest solution was to track down my own copy of ULTRAMAN VS. KAMEN RIDER.

I wasn't disappointed. Even today, over 15 years later, this video is an excellent sampler of what the two biggest Japanese superhero properties were all about up to that point. It might seem a little quaint to those people who regard ULTRAMAN TIGA and KAMEN RIDER KUUGA as "old stuff", but it's dynamic and powerful and gives a good overview of just about everything.

I won't bore you with listing the individual sections of the video. Suffice to say that each one rocks, hard style, and gives you a peek into the world of every Ultra and Rider up to that moment in time. Yep, even poor unloved Shin Kamen Rider and Ultraman Great get their turns! The latest production when the video was created was KAMEN RIDER ZO, so neither KAMEN RIDER J nor ULTRAMAN POWERED (the U.S.-filmed ULTRAMAN : THE ULTIMATE HERO) got their turn in the sun. Although, speaking of Rider J, this video supposedly influenced him.

In a move that rivals the original Superman/Spider-Man meeting as an unlikely hero team-up, Ultraman and Kamen Rider get to fight TOGETHER in a short film near the end. It's not exactly plot heavy (to put it mildly), but the coolness factor is off the scale. It's the original versions of Ultraman and Kamen Rider (Ichigo for the latter, if you're in the know), united for the first and probably only time. I won't give away the climactic surprise, but you might be able to piece it together from the clue above, if you don't know it already. Oh, and watch for the highly amusing scrambling of the two characters during the closing credits. Somehow, Ultraman astride a motorcycle and Kamen Rider doing the Spaceium Beam pose never fails to bring a smile to my face.

As far as reality goes, the special also features the much-beloved pair of Koji Moritsugu (ULTRASEVEN) and Hiroshi Miyauchi (KAMEN RIDER V3) in interview segments with directors from their respective series. But the most amazing segment is the discussion between Noboru Tsuburaya and Shotaro Ishinomori. When these two express their mutual admiration and shake hands, it's perhaps even more impressive than the team-up between the two fictional heroes. It's a moment that seems even more important today than it did at the time, and one which can never be duplicated now that both gentlemen have passed away.

ULTRAMAN VS. KAMEN RIDER came out through Bandai/Emotion Video back in the day, and because of how much things have changed since 1993, I am doubtful we'll be seeing it on legal disc anytime soon. But nothing can erase the memories it created, for it's probably one of the biggest reasons I've been following Japanese superheroes ever since.

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