That's right people... KAMEN RIDER BLACK IS BACK! Legendary Japanese actor Tetsuo Kurata reprises his role as Minami Kotaro (Robert Akitsuki to us pinoy fans in the RP)... a role he has not played since the late 80's, and now he's guest starring in the new Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Decade! Upon seeing the footage of his return, it was both a joy and shock to me. While I'm happy about the guy's return, I can't help but feel sad that the man has aged and isn't as young and vibrant as we remember him... and that was over 20 years ago! While I am a fan of many of the Riders of the 21st century, this is the one that started it all for me. Kamen Rider Black was a childhood hero of mine... and he still remains so to this day. Journey back with me, as I look back at the history of a man who fought so long and hard, and still kicks ass to this day!
Kamen Rider Black was one of the more memorable shows back in my youth. While it was an Japanese superhero series geared towards children and teenagers, it was anything but light hearted and campy. In fact, the storyline was dark and tragic enough to make people cry like they were watching a soap opera.
Kick ass opening? Well, that's just a teaser. To understand the man behind the mask, here's a look back at the origin of Black.
Created by the late and great Shotaro Ishinomori back in 1987, Kamen Rider Black was the eighth installment of the long running Kamen Rider series of Tokusatsu/ live-action superhero shows. Its plot centers around a young man named Minami Kotaro, who lived a happy life with his adoptive family, the Akitsukis. While he wasn't aware of his true lineage as a kid, he was close with all of them, especially to his adoptive brother, Nobuhiko, whom he'd always compete with in sports and recreational activities. Both were born on the same day and on the same year, and their fates were destined for something more evil than anyone could ever imagine.
On the day of their 19th birthday, the dark organization known only as Gorgom surfaced and sought to fulfill the boys' destiny: one of them was to become the next heir apparent to their lord, the Century King. To this end, they kidnapped Kotaro and Nobuhiko, subjecting them to intense experimentation and transforming their human bodies into cyborg upgrades. Kotaro was to become "Black Sun" and Nobuhiko "Shadow Moon", each one implanted with a Kingstone - a belt like embedded object that gives the wearer extraordinary abilities and both were destined to battle to the death to decide who would become the new king. The final cog in the transformation process was to erase their memories - a revelation that did not sit well with Professor Akitsuki, the father of the boys who served Gorgom yet did not wish for both of his sons to lose their humanity. Trying to free them, Prof. Akitsuki succeeds with Kotaro, yet fails with his own son as Nobuhiko suffers an electric shock and is left for dead. With his father yelling for him to flee, Kotaro makes a narrow escape, and is soon on the run from Gorgom.
Trying to hide in the city, Kotaro's pursuers eventually catch up and try to convince him to return, as "he is no longer human". Unable to believe this, the young man tries to escape, but fails when he is telekinetically slammed into a warehouse. With the trauma he experienced and his rage already building inside, Kotaro emerges from the rubble and undergoes a startling transformation. His body morphs into a form that is clad in black and shaped like a locust, and a surge of strength suddenly fills his entire being. The man known as Minami Kotaro has transformed into Black Sun, to the surprise and awe of his attackers. Finally having the means to fight back, Kotaro does so, and manages to chase Gorgom away... for the time being.
Looking for answers, Kotaro tracks down his adoptive father in an abandoned Camp. Demanding the truth, Prof. Akitsuki finally relents and explains the entire history and nature of Gorgom to his son. He and Kotaro's real father were members of Gorgom, and for disobeying their orders, the Minamis were killed. After finding out the truth, Kotaro is unable to accept being a tool for evil. However, the conversation is cut short, as both are interrupted by the forces of Gorgom itself. Prof. Akitsuki is soon captured by monsters and thrown to his certain doom. With his dying breath, he asks Kotaro to take care of his children. Angered by the death of the man who raised him, a weeping Kotaro finally makes use of his power and transforms willingly. Calling himself Kamen Rider Black, he avenges his father's death by defeating the monsters, yet his victory is a hollow one. For as long as Gorgom exists, Kotaro resolves to fight them and protect the innocent... as Kamen Rider Black!
*Phew* That was a long summary, but it would be hard to explain who the character is without that origin, so now that's done, the rest of the story is simple - Kotaro eventually finds Nobuhiko, but he's turned into the side of evil as Shadow Moon, and seeks nothing more than to destroy Kamen Rider Black and become the new century king. Although he tried to reach out to him, the man who was his adoptive brother is unresponsive, and soon the two brothers fight. Eventually defeating him and the forces of Gorgom, Black soon faces the Century King itself, and after a hard fought battle, triumphs over the evil force that brought nothing but tragedy to humanity and his own life.
The Henshin sequence has gotta be one of the coolest gimmicks of the series. Look at it here:
While there's no doubt in anyone's mind that the series was heroic, it was awfully depressing as well. Kamen Rider Black was the trendsetter for me with live action superhero shows, right next to the likes of Bioman, Shaider, and the Ultraman series. While the opening (sung by Tetsuo Kurata himself) was memorable, the ending was by far the most emotionally gripping hero song I've heard. It was called "Long, Long Ago, 20th Century"... check it out and see/ hear how it sounds:
Sad, ain't it? But it was cool as well.
You'd think with Kamen Rider Black over, that was it for Tetsuo Kurata... but NO, he came back for a sequel series!
Released in 1988, Kamen Rider Black RX was the direct sequel to Black, and Kotaro Minami returned to deal with a new threat - The Crisis Empire. Defeated and his Kingstone destroyed, Kotaro was thrown into space and left for dead, yet fate intervened on his behalf yet again. His Kingstone was mutated by the sun's rays, and he was transformed into Kamen Rider Black RX~! With newfound powers and abilities, Kotaro once again fights for humanity and Earth, promising to defeat the empire and restore peace around the world.
Of course, no matter what form or version he was, I always liked the character of Kamen Rider Black/ RX - a headstrong individual who fought the good fight and never gave up. Of course, I'm partial to the Black saga, since it was old school and dealt with monsters rather than alien forces. His upgrade to RX was ok, but story wise it just wasn't as dark as the original. He did get more forms and weapons though, including a car! Either way, it was still the hero that kept me watching back then, and to this day I always feel a sense of nostalgia when I come across Black through one form of media or another.
Tetsuo Kurata may be older now, but the man proves that he's still capable of being the hero we know, as he assists the current Rider of this generation to fight evil once more! HENSHIN!