American Tokusatsu Shows: Kamen Rider Dragon Knight

Kamen Rider Dragon Knight is by far our least favorite of the Ameri-Toku shows. Here's why...

In the mid 2000’s, long time Kamen Rider fans the Wang Brothers, famous in the Toku world for the Guyver films and directing an episode of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, began shopping around a pilot for a new Ameri-Toku series, adapted from Kamen Rider Ryuki. With funding for the series from Adness, the show would take three years before it finished filming and finally air. In that time the series was hotly anticipated by fans, with the producers promise to be a much more faithful take on Kamen Rider than the previous adaption, Masked Rider had been.

While the pilot received lukewarm response, the trailer for the series received universal acclaim. It looked like a serious contender to take some of Power Rangers‘ thunder, especially since this was around the time Disney had put the series out to pasture. The head writer, Nathan Long, promised the show would have more weight than Power Rangers and was written for the adult fans. Hopes were high.

Story: Orphan Kit Taylor searches for his father, but along the way discovers an Advent Deck, giving him the power to transform into a Kamen Rider and control incredible powers. He teams up with Len, Kamen Rider Wing Knight, who reveals an alien named General Xaviax captured his father and is planning to do the same to the whole human race.

Throughout the series, Xaviax recruits new Riders to fight for him through various forms of deception. Some of these Riders join Kit and Len, others fight against them, but in the end many are “vented” (killed). As the series reaches its conclusion two worlds collide and the group may even need the help of the Advent Master. During all of these events Kits friend, Maya, a budding reporter, investigates the Riders with her friends, not knowing just how much danger she’s getting herself into.

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What Worked

The Wang Brothers are known for action, having previously directed action movie Drive and those skills are on full display with Dragon Knight. The multitude of civilian fights were expertly choreographed and had a dynamic energy to them. The show’s fights were of such quality they were submitted for consideration during the first Daytime Emmy award for “Outstanding Stunt Choreography.” The show rightly won that award, making it the only Ameri-Toku to take home an Emmy (although Power Rangers Time Force had been nominated for a sound design Emmy many years previous).

The show really did try to be different and that does give it some points. It wasn’t afraid to try and take a different path by skewing the series a bit older in its story and plotlines. The show’s producers reached out to the fandom to help market the show and maintained contact with them as the series was airing.  The producers and writers really had a lot of love for the show.

 

What Didn’t Work

Everything that trailer promised us? All lies. The story absolutely killed Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. It plays out more like fan fiction than an actual television series. Plots are brought in and dismissed at the drop of a hat. When the main story of the series appears to be resolved with ten episodes left, the show scrambles to make something up to fill the rest of the time. Were you aware at all that some teenage hacker has more proficiency and skills than the entire US government? No? Well it’s okay, in KRDK world, it can happen!

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The show’s characters are one note at best. Our hero, Kit, starts off Ryan Steele-ing all over the place “I MISS YOU DAD” before he just sort of becomes… generically good. I’m fighting for earth! Cause uh… GOODNESS!

Len’s personality is pretty much “I wear sunglasses, a leather jacket, and train on top of roofs. Wanna see me spin this stick around? It’s pretty spiffy!”

Maya is… oh god I can’t even begin. Her friends are supposed to be comic relief but it just feels tacked on to the “serious” story going on around them. Maya does get to become a Kamen Rider for one episode, but it feels more like the producers wanted to get her into a tight black outfit for a few scenes than actually let her character develop.

The other Kamen Riders are even more of a joke. We’ve got such stellar characters as Richie. Who’s rich. “You look like a million bucks bro!” He gets killed in two episodes. Thank god.

Brad Barret, who always wins. Were you aware he always wins? Cause he always wins motorcycle races. He always wins! HE ALWAYS WINS! I’m pretty certain that’s all he ever said.

Oh boy, and Chris. Poor, stupid, Chris. He actually gets to be in one of the better episodes of the series. Where he dies! It’s okay though, MARINES! MARINESSSSSSS! Yes, Chris is an army brat but can’t serve because he has asthma. Not a bad idea, but his hacking and wheezing while screaming for dear life, “MARINES!” is more hilarious than heartbreaking. 

Oh, we also get a guy who is damn near a rapist to Maya. FOR KIDS. But it’s okay, when his totally not evil mirror universe double shows up in the last ten episodes? She gets with him! BECAUSE THAT’S HOW EMOTIONS WORK. Jesus, I hate this show.

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By the way, when the producers promised the show was made for teenagers they weren’t kidding. It was also clearly made by adults with teenager brains. Were you aware at all that fights = we don’t need a good story. JUST HAVE THEM FIGHT! WHO CARES IF IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! Oh also, here’s an unbearably long shot of a girls ass. THIS IS FOR ADULTS! Let’s talk about how necessary to the show it was to linger on the sole female Kamen Rider’s ass as she pulls out her advent deck. Oh right, it wasn’t.

The show seems obsessed with being “cool” but forgets to have any kind of substance. While the fights are undeniably stunning, they lack any real punch (see what I did there?) because they don’t have context. We don’t feel an emotional connection to what’s going on. Why are they fighting? To save the world? Oh yeah okay, cool but give me something more personal! Fighting for five minutes non-stop loses its steam without some emotional component. Maybe some people can solely be entertained by mind numbing action, but I need something a bit deeper.

“But Shamus, a lot of these shows aren’t deep at all!” you may point out. Well yeah, they’re Toku. They’re fun, action packed shows, with lots of flashy effects to get kids to buy toys (and if you think any differently, you’re dead wrong). It seems the producers of Kamen Rider Dragon Knight didn’t get this memo, promising a show that was going to be much better than Power Rangers because it was SERIOUS and wasn’t KID STUFF! When you make that kind of boast, you’d better back it up. KRDK couldn’t. That “seriousness” ended up making the show even more juvenile than Power Rangers. It was obsessed with something it could never be.

 

Why It Didn’t Catch On

In addition to everything above, the dreaded TOY SALES didn’t help, considering none of the toys were even released until after the show was pretty much finished. They were also terrible. I bought one at a convention for three dollars. I lost it. I haven’t bothered to find it since. Maybe the universe is just trying to help me hide the shame of forking over money for such a terrible series.

When your show is an ad for the toys, not having any really doesn’t help your case for a second season. Not that it ever had a chance, the show aired on the CW. Oh yes, the lowest ranked major network that hasn’t had a successful kids block in years. The network that plays endless reruns of Yu-Gi-Oh and… Sonic X. Gotta go fast! Oh, how far they’ve plummeted since the days of Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain.

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It also had a video game where former Black and Green Ranger Johnny Young Bosch voiced Kit…that was released after the show was finished. I have no idea who Adness was partnered with but they really needed to step it up. The whole way Adness handled the series was strange. They shot a pilot, shopped it around, no one bought it, so they just went ahead and shot forty episodes anyway.That’s…that’s….what? They waited to get a deal until AFTER it was shot. That….I….that’s not how it work. No wonder Adness is basically in the toilet thanks to this series, this isn’t how TV works guys!

Kamen Rider Dragon Knight is also a textbook example of why fanboys running the show can be a very bad idea. Some can pull it off, like Russel T. Davies with the new Doctor Who series. He knew what the show needed to be successful with a broad audience and it worked beautifully. The Wang Brothers were huge fans of Kamen Rider (they even made a fan film for it years previously) and were obsessed with KRDK being true to the Ishinomori legacy. That meant it had to match what they thought, that being it should be coooooool.

Let’s talk about what cool is guys, cause it certainly isn’t montages of guys in muscle shirts giving martial arts demonstrations on top of skyscrapers. Cool is actually having a story. Cool is having characters that do more than spout their one character trait over and over. “MARNIIINNESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” God, I’m so glad you died Chris.

Let’s put it this way. Masked Rider had more believable characters. Yes, that’s right, the series with Ferbus and an alien named Dex. It told you everything you needed to know about the show in its one-minute intro, while Kamen Rider Dragon Knight‘s opening similarly gave you a solid picture of what you were in for.

Let’s ride! Let’s ride! Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, together we can fight the fight. Dragon Knight, together we can fight the fight, so let’s ride! Let’s ride! Dragon Knight, together we can fight the fight. Dragon Knight, together we can fight the fight, so let’s ride!

Picture that, but in the voice you’d associate with a high school emo band. It’s thrilling.

Ferbus has more personality than half the Dragon Knight cast, and all he ever says is “DEXXXXXXX” and trolls the hell out of everyone. Dex’s car, Magno, has more personality than Brad “Always Wins” Barret. She shows concern for Dex but competes with his motorcycle, Chopper. Let’s state this again. An alien furby, a car, and a motorcycle have more character and depth than the KRDK cast. I hate this show.

Oh also, maybe people don’t like three minute long recaps that include full transformation sequences and three clip shows. One of which was the finale. Oh yes, the finale for KRDK was just one long clip show, you know, in case you missed the last thirty nine episodes this episode had you covered. Why forty episodes? Why? The show was adapting Ryuki footage and yet it reshot so much because…oh yeah, fights. We love fights, guys!

BRAD BARRET ALWAYS WINS…. Unlike Dragon Knight –ZING!-

 

Is It Worth Watching?

No. The moment you think the show has finally figured itself out? It just meanders into stupid plots about Roswell aliens and mirror universe doubles and I HATE THIS SHOW. Unless you’re some kind of hardcore action junkie and just skip all the talking scenes, stay away.

This is another Ameri-Toku series that was never released in any form in the states but you can get the full series in Japan. Apparently they just ate that thing up.

 

Trivia

– The series aired in Japan with a dub that actually featured several former Kamen Rider actors including the original Kamen Rider Knight dubbing Len. The show was even given a real theme song! Japan gets all the cool stuff.

You can read our coverage of all the other Ameri-Toku shows right here.