American Tokusatsu Shows: Masked Rider

Our look at the American Tokusatsu shows that tried to ride the Power Rangers wave continues with Masked Rider

If VR Troopers received a big push thanks to its inclusion in the MMPR Fan Club video, Masked Rider got the biggest introduction of all. In the third season premiere of Power Rangers, the team travels to the planet of Edenoi where they meet Dex, the Masked Rider. After a misunderstanding, exposition, and a fight, the Rangers return to Earth but are tracked by a new evil force, Count Dregon. Dex has to follow and protect the earth.

Story: Despite the set up in Power Rangers, the Masked Rider series ignores the Power Rangers team up and avoids any reference to that show’s continuity. As for the plot of the show itself, the opening narration sums it up pretty nicely.

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Masked RAIDUR. MASKED RAIDUR. On a distant and embattled planet called Edenoi, a young prince named Dex is given great powers by his grandfather the king and sent to the planet Earth. To protect it from the advancing evil of Count Dregon, and his vicious insectoids. Once on earth, he is adopted by a kind family, and learns to live as a human. With his companion Ferbus by his side, Dex is ever vigilant, ready at a moments notice to call on his powers to become, Masked Rider. MASKED RAIDURRRR, MASKED RAIDURRR…

(I’ll spare you the twenty more MASKED RAIDURs the theme has.)

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What Worked

A lot of fans would lead you to believe Masked Rider is one of the worst Ameri-Toku series simply because it adapted a fan favorite franchise (Kamen Rider) and took certain…liberties with it. However, Masked Rider actually has its own charms. Dex is a fish out of water on Earth and while he is determined to save his newly adopted planet, we see many instances of him missing his home world along with his family and friends.

In arguably one of the series’ best episodes, “Super Gold” Dex has to fight against one of his best friends, Denais, whom Dregon transformed into the evil Robo Rider. Dex, of course, succeeds but we get to see just how lonely he’s been without any of his kind. In that same episode we see recurring nuisance Patsy, and it’s revealed that despite her outward hate of Dex’s newly adopted sister Molly, she’s still her best friend. It’s a surprisingly deep moment for such a usually shallow character.

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Make no bones about it though, the main reason to watch this show is T.J. Roberts. While not exactly the greatest physical actor, the man has some of the most entertaining voice over’s this side of Brad Hawkins. He has almost a goofy energy about them, giving off an Elvis style grunt in one fight, and in others simply crying out, “EUARRRGGHHHHHH.” It’s a riot.

In the final episode of the series we get a nice little bit of world building with the introduction of the previous Masked Rider warriors, all hilariously mismatched from their Japanese counterparts.

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One thing never revealed in the series is that Dex later went on to make a show based entirely on his time with his adopted family. How do I know this you may ask? Go watch the Power Rangers Time Force episode, “Clash for Control.” Near the beginning of the episode Nadira is watching the series (and really getting into it) before Ransik changes the channel. At least Dex was able to make some bank.

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What Didn’t Work

From the outset, Masked Rider was never going to work. Despite where the story seemed to be going during the team up with Power Rangers, the series was always going to be a situation comedy. Dex lived with a wacky multi-cultural family that did wacky things. The dad makes crazy inventions! The mom wants her husband to stick with his diet and works as a caterer! The son teaches Dex about Earth by having him watch TV! Hell, Dex himself is played mostly for laughs with his love of insects and complete lack of understanding human customs.

Most Ameri-Toku series were saddled with adapting footage from a Japanese series and Masked Rider took that to the extreme. Dex would often wear the same clothes as his Japanese counterpart just to justify a few extra seconds of footage, meaning Dex had the strange tendency to turn Japanese or morph into a completely different Masked Rider warrior. The editing of the footage was laughable at best.

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The real black eye on the series is…Ferbus. Yes, added to the series after the PR team up, Ferbus, Dex’s pet and friend from Edenoi follows him to Earth and gets up to all kinds of high jinks. He loves eating! He gets into trouble that Dex as the Masked Rider has to bail him out of (including saving him from a baby carriage…I swear, the lengths they went to make that footage work). While he isn’t as much of an abomination as the fandom would lead you to believe, Ferbus didn’t do the show any favors. Power Rangers would have its goofy moments sure, but Ferbus was just too much.

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Why It Didn’t Catch On

Ratings. Despite the PR team-up the series quickly floundered in ratings and its last batch of episodes were burned off in syndication. The situation comedy just didn’t work and even Power Rangers was beginning to struggle with ratings around the time, and Ameri-Toku series weren’t quite the hot property they had been a year before.

Yes, Ferbus also didn’t help matters, although if Furbys aren’t based on him, I’ll eat my hat. He was just a sign of the overall problem with the series; the comedy and action didn’t meld. The fighting scenes, while decent thanks to the Kamen Rider Black RX footage, just didn’t gel with the broad comedy of the family’s wacky stories of the day.

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Is It Worth Watching?

Unless you really enjoy Ameri-Toku or T.J. Roberts battle cries, this is one to avoid. The show never found its footing and was trying to meld two genres that just couldn’t find the right balance with one another. That and the show is pretty hard to track down. It has never seen a DVD release in the states and has only had a smattering of episodes released abroad. Most of the episodes are available online in various places but some are in horrible quality. Come on Saban, when are we getting our Blu-Rays?

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Die hard Kamen Rider fans should probably stay away as well, especially if you think the franchise is “serious business.” Yeah, because Dex singing out to his insect friends isn’t just as dumb as the cooking contest in Kamen Rider Kabuto. Yeah, even the “serious” Kamen Rider franchise features a lot of stupid moments.

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Trivia

– One of the best elements of the series was its impressive array of stock music that would carry over to another Saban series, the dub of Digimon. So when you thrill to the Digidestined fighting off the Dark Masters? You’re actually listening to battle music from Masked Rider.

– While Ferbus is mostly hated by Ameri-Toku fans, he does have one huge claim to fame. In suit he was played by none other than Mini-Me himself, Verne Troyer!

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– In an interview with producer Robert Hughes, he stated that if Masked Rider had been a runaway success it was very likely that Japan would have continued making new Kamen Rider series. This would have brought Kamen Rider back half a decade before its eventual return in 2000.

– The pilot presentation for Masked Rider had some significant differences from the series as aired. Along with different actors for Molly and Albee, Edenoi is blown up. We also get to observe just how Dex adapts to Earth by dressing up as Elvis and dancing to “Hound Dog.” While never confirmed, I highly suspect some of this left over ADR made it into an episode as one of Dex’s battle grunts.

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– None other than Jason Narvy, Skull from Power Rangers, voiced Dex’s faithful bike steed, Combat Chopper.

– Candace Kita, who played mother Barbara was only sixteen when filming the series, which to this day still confounds fans.

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– While it’s been heavily reported Ishinomori, the original creator of Kamen Rider, hated the series it’s never been proven. If someone has legitimate proof of this and not just fan rumblings I’d genuinely love to hear.

– Despite the Masked Rider series not being in continuity with Power Rangers (unless it really is a TV series in that universe) the team up is still in canon. Events from it and referenced in “Alien Rangers of Aquitar” by Kid Rocky, so who knows? Maybe one day we’ll see another team up with the Masked Rider warriors in the Power Rangers Universe. A fan can dream can’t he?

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