It’s time to say goodbye.
Once again, it’s that time of the year when one Rider must fade and a new Rider rises to the call of justice. This year, we bid farewell to Ghost and welcome the doctor gamer Rider Ex-Aid and I for one am absolutely pumped for the upcoming newcomer! Just like last year, this year I decided to stock up the final episodes of Ghost (35-50) and watch them all in one sitting during my mid-semester break. However, the experience was… not as incredible as it was with Drive, to say the least. Despite my loyalty-driven bias towards Kamen Rider, I have to say that Ghost was disappointing. The series was childish, and lacked many elements that truly make a Kamen Rider series. It’s currently tied with Wizard for my least-favourite neo-Heisei series and even though Wizard was more boring, I think Wizard did a better job at being a legit Rider series. So here’s a little review/analysis of how Ghost failed to live up to expectations:
1. The Protagonist
Tenkuuji Takeru. From the beginning I was put off by this… child of a main character. Okay, it’s not that being a ‘child’ is a bad thing. Technically, Kouta was a child at the beginning of Gaim too. But he grew up. The thing is, something we love about Kamen Rider series is their portrayal of heroes. Heroes are not omnipotent. They are, essentially, humans just like us, who go through the same kind of human problems, face the same kind of human crises, and only manage to reach their goals through sacrifice and effort. That’s why we can relate to them and feel touched as we watch them struggle against fate and overcome the odds. These kinds of ‘human heroes’ can also be found in Marvel/DC comics and are the kinds of protagonists that appeal to older audiences.
Tomari lost Belt-san and Chase. He failed to protect the Roidmudes who, though enemies, were developed enough to be important both to him and the viewers. Kouta lost his entire world. He lost Kaito, he lost what should have been a normal future where Micchy never turned evil. He lost his humanity. And what did Takeru lose? Nothing. His was a happy ending where everything turned out the way he wanted, simply because he ‘believed in the infinite potential of humanity’. And because of that belief, he just happened to gain the power of Mugen Damashii. Takeru never had to earn anything, his path to victory was already laid out for him from the start and all he had to do was just follow it. Truly, the weakest protagonist of any Kamen Rider series to date. Even Fourze did better with Gentarou.
2. The Antagonist
The worst thing about Ghost isn’t that it had a childish main character. The worst thing is that they paired him with a childish villain. Adel was just a… spoilt brat. Unable to deal with neglect from his father, he became twisted and just decided to take over everything. The problem isn’t that such a villain is unrealistic. The problem is that nobody wants to watch two kids granted with godlike powers fight over the fate of the entire world because of their ‘issues’. I couldn’t sympathise with Adel. I honestly couldn’t have cared less whether or not he survived the end of the series but I think that his redemption ruined everything. Adel was too far gone to come to his senses with a few words from his siblings. If he had rejected them to his death, at least he could have sort of passed off as a madman like Banno. But no, they had to let him redeem himself at the end, emphasising his spoilt brat-like instability. I mean seriously, what was the point of everything he tried to do?
3. The Old Sage (and Yurusen)
I know this is a kids’ show but Kamen Rider doesn’t need joke characters. Especially bipolar ones that have serious flipsides and play a deep role in the plot. Also, the whole idea that he could have removed Takeru’s curse at any time completely destroyed any respect I had for his 99 day struggles. Just his presence alone soured my experience with the first few episodes.
4. The Ganma
They could have done so much with the Ganma. They could have related the Ganma Eyecons more with the Hero Eyecons and show how some Ganma actually gain the powers of certain historical figures (who were not turned into Heros). But no. In the end, they just made for the comical monster-of-the-week and eventually became irrelevant when the Ganmeisers appeared. And the Ganmeisers were just so… irrelevant. I really feel like they were created just to be overpowered enemies instead of having any intentional plot significance. I mean, the fact that they could be reproduced multiple times by Adel just destroyed any point of them being there. However, I will say that I like the fact that they ‘punished’ Adel in the end by taking over his body although it was too predictable. The part with the ‘Great Eye’? Meaningless, could have done without that episode. Also, allow me to take the opportunity to say that ‘Love Bomber’ was complete thrash of a finishing move.
5. Rider Power Relations
Now this is something that irks me. Makoto and Alan were both great sub-Riders with great characterisation. Makoto made the painful human decision to sacrifice Takeru for Kanon in the beginning and, in order to repay that debt, chooses to take the Deep Specter Eyecon despite Magistrate Eadith’s warnings. Alan is a young man who faces the dilemma of confronting a new set of ideals that contradict what he has been inculcated with. He is forced to choose between his heart and his education, and later also has to deal with Fumi-baa’s death which further defines him as a character. The clincher: he is unable to bring himself to harm Adel in the finale due to their shared blood. Fantastic! These are human characters! I loved watching both of them develop through the series. But what do they get? Well, the moment Takeru received Mugen Damashii, both Specter and Necrom became effectively useless. Deep Specter did okay for a while, then ultimately fell to the side with Takeru’s baseless power creep. Necrom? Received a recolour of Specter’s main weapon. Did it do anything for him? No.
6. Takeru’s Father’s Backstory
This should have been important, shouldn’t it? Why did Takeru’s father have to die? When the Old Sage’s flashback near the finale started, I thought: “Oh my god if the Old Sage was the one who killed Takeru’s father, this is going to be amazing.” It wasn’t, but I liked the flashback nonetheless, it gave us more insight into the sage’s relationship with Takeru’s father. In the end, all we got was a tiny glimpse of Adel finishing him off just to throw Takeru off in preparation for the climax. I’ll admit that I liked that conflict within Takeru but in the end he just tossed it aside like it was nothing (like he does with all the other problems he faced in the series).
7. The Theme of the Series?
So, this series was titled ‘Ghost’ right? So it should have been about mystical stuff and the afterlife? Well, the only ‘ghostly’ things about the series turned out to be Takeru’s spirit state and the 15 Heroes. Other than that I think Ghost was very sciency. The whole idea of the Ganma world (which I felt was an interesting way to look at life/death) revolved around the use of technology to simulate eternal life. Instead of a mortal vs spirit realm sort of war, we ended up with a war between parallel worlds. Later on, the Ganmeisers and Adel’s ideal world brought up the ideas of AI and connectedness. Starting with the whole AI idea, I found that it was a bit out of place. It fit with the idea of the Ganma world but it really wasn’t what I was hoping to see from this series. Adel’s connected world was rather intriguing though and I found it to be my favourite plot point. If they had added more motivational depth, more unpacking and more plot duration within the connected world, I think it could have turned out much better. I don’t like how they just associated it with Takeru’s developing superpowers. The writers had a tendency to attribute everything unnatural to the Great Eye and the idea of ‘surpassing humanity’ without further explanation.
8. Episode 50
Screw this episode. I am tired of final episode tie-ins to the next series which add no value to both plots whatsoever. Movie crossovers are enough. While Drive’s final episode tie-in with Ghost was quite enjoyable and served as an epilogue to Tomari’s character development (which was really important in concluding the series), Ghost’s tie-in with Ex-Aid was just rubbish. More unexplained events, more problem-solving just by ‘believing in the infinite potential of humanity’. I mean, the whole point of the episode was just to show us that Genmu would have the Shakariki Sports Gashat! Other than that, it did nothing. Well, nothing except create an Ex-Aid Eyecon which has absolutely zero plot value.
Okay I think I’ve ranted enough about Ghost. I wouldn’t say it was a complete trainwreck though, at least the suits designs were cool and the episodes weren’t as boring as Wizard (I guess?). I have very high hopes for Ex-Aid judging from the trailer though. I think we can expect a lot of clashing of ideals between the respective doctors and sweet hospital drama! So let’s look forward to a good Rider year ahead!
All images used in this article are taken from Kamen Rider Ghost footage and belong to Toei company.