The saddest time of the year is upon us once more. It is a time of goodbyes. It is a time of fresh starts. It is a time of change, a time where we must let go to what we have loved for so long as we welcome in strange, new changes into our bodies...
I am, of course, referring to the coming and going of one Kamen Rider series as we welcome in the next.
With the last true episode of the series behind us and only a crossover special with newcomer Ghost remaining to close the series proper, Kamen Rider Drive has, for the most part, officially come to a close.
Now, admittedly, it's not all goodbye forever yet. Drive and some of his cohorts will be returning for a followup crossover movie in a few months, featuring himself and Ghost as the stars, and it's quite likely he'll return for the next Super Hero Taisen movie, this time almost definitely by himself, but cameos like that aside... Kamen Rider Drive is done.
The story the series was telling is over, most of the sets and familiar places will probably be torn down (or retooled into different sets, as is the tradition) if they haven't been already, and we now must move on to the story of next year (next week's at this point)'s hero, Ghost.
If you had told me six months ago I would miss this show, I... Well, okay, I probably would have believed you, but more on the basis that I've lived through Kamen Rider Wizard, miss it quite a bit despite the show being pretty weak and have squandered virtually all of its potential. Basically, I generally tend to feel a little melancholy when these shows end (the ones I watch week to week as they air in particular), regardless of overall quality.
It just happens when you watch something and follow it week in, week out for a whole year, you know? I think it's especially true when it's a live action series. I know people love their Chinese cartoons and their comics, but you can't really see how Nuh Roo Go or Itchy Toe grew over the course of their animus and mangos like you can just watching these actors week to week. Whether it's seeing how the story grows or unfold, or even just how they got better and grew into their role, live action's just... different like that, I think. Hope that doesn't sound elitist at all, it's not meant to be, but whatevs.
Well, y'see, early on, Drive... really wasn't doing it for me.
It wasn't just that last year's series, Kamen Rider Gaim, was a hard act to follow, either. That would have been true even if Drive had been amazing right from the starting line.
The humor came off as forced and the parts that weren't trying to be funny felt stale and lifeless. The first few episodes in particular just made me feel like the whole show would be forced quirks and gimmicks and catchphrases, on top of being a hollow imitation of previous Kamen Rider series (and fan favorite), Kamen Rider W.
That's not even touching on how they couldn't even make the toys (this year's theme? toy cars! that were alive!) not look cheaply made in the show itself from the first episode, forget towards the end, which tends to happen as budget shifts from one show to the next.
Now that I sit here at the end of the show, I have to say ... I'm actually really going to miss it.
Once it finally started going faster than 15 MPH like it was for the first dozen or so episodes, it actually started picking up. We did experience some traffic that slowed us down as we headed towards the early 20s, but on the other hand, when it took the first major turn at around the halfway point, it hadn't just picked up, it started getting really, really good.
I honestly can't remember for sure when I really started to feel like I could say this show was all that, but it was probably in the mid-20s. Around the time when they finally stopped pushing the toys so much and when the show was just given free reign to be itself, I'd say.
It's sort of sad, since the whole toy aspect doesn't have to be something that takes away from these shows. Gaim's toys were, for the most part, used pretty darn naturally, and in my opinion, the best parts of Fourze were when it was just a bunch of high school students goofing around and trying to make the show's toys work, as Fourze actually (to me) started slowly falling apart after that.
Ah well. Let's get back to Drive. Try not to drive away when you see some of his forms, okay?
From the beginning, Drive tried to add a level of "the police are actually involved! it's not just a guy keeping a secret while the police doesn't exist and/or is incompetent!" to the series that had been absent since some of the shows from the early 2000s did it (save some brief spots in Wizard), to the point that Drive himself was an actual police officer. They sadly didn't really do too much with this at first, just having them going around on cases and such, but towards the halfway point of the show, that began to change.
We slowly began to find ourselves exposed to conspiracies from within the police department. Mysteries surrounding the murder of Drive's father over a decade prior began to start popping up, corruption begins to reveal itself, and the bonds of family and friendship are tested as all kinds of crazy stuff starts to go down.
This next paragraph is a SPOILER, so skip it if you haven't seen Drive yet but this is at all sounding interesting, okay?
As it continued on, with misdirection and false leads pulling Drive away from the truth, as his main enemy, the robots he'd been fighting from the start of all this, continued their thing all the while, the subplot eventually culminated in one of my favorite story arcs of the franchise: A series of episodes culminating in a two part conclusion where Drive and his father's murderer find themselves alone in an emotional confrontation in a room for much of it.
No transformations, no superheroes, no supervillains, just two ordinary humans and a gun between them.
I don't want to get too much into the closing arc of the series (I actually spoiled the hell out of it with the pictures I used for my response to this month's Bloggers Wanted challenge though), but it was fairly excellent too. The pacing was solid for the most part, the writing was great, and we didn't have a last minute villain pulled out of nowhere, as occasionally happens with these shows. The heroes all came into their own, and they all grew far past what I had initially pegged as simple quirks.
Drive grew up quite a lot over the course of the show. Even as the second Rider, Mach, entered the fray, he'd already grown quite a bit, taking on the role of older sibling towards the other Rider as he came out of his funk more and more. The third Rider came with his own share of problems, unsure if he should even be a Rider at times, but once he decided what he wanted to do, he fought just as hard, if not harder at times, as his comrades.
What's more, their interactions with the villains were solid, grounded, and had a lot of feeling to them. Each of the series' three Kamen Riders had their own motivations for fighting, but none felt fake or shallow as they fought their enemies.
And speaking of villains, I have to take one brief moment to say just how much I am really going to miss Drive's. While the show itself, and even its main character, may not have endeared itself to me right away, the characters that were at the forefront of the villain side of things were ones I was drawn to fairly quickly.
See that handsome devil? He's a probably one of the best friends you could ever have. He's an all around compassionate sort of guy, really. He's the kind of person who feels sad when he hears about someone dying, even if he'd never met them before. He would mourn them as though he knew them personally, and he would probably try to avenge them if he could.
When it came to his enemies, he wouldn't take advantage of them being at a disadvantage, though if they had wronged a friend, he wouldn't let them get away with it all the same. At the same time, if a friend were to leave his side, to become an enemy, he wouldn't hold a vendetta against them. He would be wounded by their choice, perhaps, but he would hold them to it and accept it.
He was a great guy. Certainly one of my favorites to watch, for sure.
For the majority of the show, he was also the one standing as one of its primary antagonists.
Heart, alongside the other top Roidmudes (yes that's what they were called), really helped make this show. If it was just Drive and the human side of things against regular old robots, this really wouldn't have been nearly as great as it was. For a show that came down many times to being about emotion, the lack of it from the villains could have destroyed it in another life.
Heart's compassion for his fellow Roidmudes, Brain and Medic's shared devotion/obsession with Heart (and in turn jealousy when the other got attention from him), and Chase's... well, everything, at least before all of that reprogramming stuff went down. Not to mention some of the villains I'm not mentioning for plot-related reasons.
If I had one lasting criticism for the series and how it handled its villains, it would probably be that Heart and Chase never really got any kind of major resolution, since Heart's focus became mostly Drive as things went on... and if I had a second criticism, I'd maybe comment on Medic a bit, since they could've handled her exit better, especially given she was such a fantastic villain early on, but I digress.
All in all, they did a damn fine job with these guys. I've been wanting to see another Kamen Rider series play more with the idea that the monsters they're fighting, often a sentient species in their own right, might be just as human as humans are for years now, and Drive came so, so close to what I've been hoping for that I just have to give it props for it.
As I said, Kamen Rider Drive still has a few things left to show us. There's a Kamen Rider Drive and Kamen Rider Ghost crossover movie coming up, the special airing next week that will serve as a brief epilogue to Drive as well as a crossover with Ghost, most people outside of Japan still hadn't seen the Kamen Rider Drive movie yet, and who knows what cameos Drive himself will make down the road?
Heck, on a personal note, I still haven't watched last year's crossover movie with Gaim because I didn't want that ride to end yet... and then it didn't because Gaim turned out to be successful enough to warrant a bunch of straight-to-video movies (something that normally doesn't happen a lot), so good going, me!
And hey, if nothing else, like other Riders before him, while the actor and the series may get left behind, the suit that symbolizes Drive will at least live on for years to come. Or maybe Kamen Rider will get put on the shelf again like it did during the '90s and we won't see it for a while. Who knows?
Whatever the future brings, for now, it's so long for now, Kamen Rider Drive.
Here's hoping Ghost doesn't go and turn the franchise into a spirit once you leave it behind.