In Japan, Kamen Rider is a well-known franchise, and the television series is renowned for being among the best in the Tokusatsu subgenre. The series, as well as the heroes that go by its name, have become enduring icons of Japanese popular culture because they combine costumed, motorcycle-riding heroes with monsters and mayhem. Even if one TV show made an effort to do so, that success hasn’t been replicated in the West.
The second effort to introduce the shrouded motorcycle heroes to Western audiences was Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight. Sadly, while being produced in a similar vein to the Power Rangers, it achieved little to popularize the franchise outside of Japan. However, it is still a vast improvement over a notorious predecessor, and it probably would have been successful with a few tweaks.
Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight Was the Second (and Last) American Kamen Rider Series
The CW broadcast the live-action series Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, which ran from 2008 to 2009. It used fight scene footage and outfits from the Japanese series Kamen Rider Ryuki, the franchise’s 12th main entry and third since Kamen Rider Kuuga returned to television in the 2000s. A young guy named Kit Taylor was the protagonist of the show’s plot, who learned about the enigmatic “Advent Deck” while looking for his father, who had vanished.
As a result, he can change into the armoured superhero Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, whereas Len, his antagonist, can also change into Kamen Rider Wing Knight. They battled the wicked alien invader Xaviax together, who wanted to use the inhabitants of Earth to rebuild his world. A more extensive mythology surrounding the Kamen Riders and other worlds would emerge along the way. With this, the focus shifts from solely defending Earth to now including Ventura.
Given that show didn’t air on a more popular network for kids’ programs, like Cartoon Network, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight ran for 40 episodes, which is very impressive. Kit and the other characters were performed by Western actors who weren’t a part of the original Japanese program, and the fight sequence video from Ryuki was blended with new material created for the Western show.
Similar to how Saban’s Power Rangers franchise used Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad, which used footage from the Japanese series Gridman, this technique was both economical and successful for producing stories. A Power Rangers spinoff had already attempted to adapt Kamen Rider, but the results weren’t nearly as impressive as Dragon Knight.
Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight Was Much Better Than Saban’s Masked Rider
Masked Rider was the first to introduce the Tokusatsu series to the West, much before Kamen Rider Ryuki or Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight. Prince Dex/Masked Rider made his television début at the start of the third season of the popular Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which served as the inspiration for this spinoff. Alpha 5, the robot companion of the Ranger, was developed on his home planet Edenoi.
Before the aforementioned Kamen Rider Kouga, Saban’s Masked Rider utilised material from Kamen Rider Black RX, the last full-length Kamen Rider TV series. Sadly, it was the poorer series, and the same is true when comparing it to the later Dragon Knight. The American show that used material from it was also inferior. The overuse of the sillier elements from the first several seasons of Power Rangers hurt Masked Rider. Similar to how Masked Rider used footage from a much older series, there wasn’t as much of it.
A benefit of being much more contemporaneous with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was that fresh footage could be shot using the still-in-use suits for Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. The fact that the show felt and appeared far cheaper than even the extremely meagre budget made available to MMPR didn’t help. That’s why Dex being a fish out of water in a comedy setting was so heavily emphasized in Masked Rider, not to mention the pointless addition of the “cute” alien creature Ferbus.
It often lacked the same level of intensity as Saban’s flagship series and appeared to be the studio’s hurried and expedient attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. Due in large part to its reliance on more recent source material, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight featured a considerably more series-like tone. Even with this qualification, it might be said to be a little bit more formal than some of the Power Rangers programs of the day.
The series won a Daytime Emmy Award for its amazing stunts, and there was a winning combination of footage outside of the suits and the battle scenes. When compared to Power Rangers, it excelled in these fight scenes, yet Masked Rider felt less impressive. Finally, Dragon Knight avoided using only kids and there was no more Ferbus or anything similar.
Possible Success for a Slightly More Mature Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight
Even while Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight unquestionably outperformed its predecessor, it didn’t exactly become a big hit. As a result, aside from the Kamen Rider: Zero-One comic books, it has continued to be the only Kamen Rider adaptation in the West. Because it was on a more specialized network for kids’ programs, it received less attention and promotion, which contributed to the problem. Even the powerful Power Rangers weren’t quite as popular at the time, therefore Dragon Knight had a higher admittance barrier.
On the other hand, attempting to compete with the same group might have ended the series. Ferbus, for example, was gratefully no longer a part of the program, but it still had the impression that it was trying to barricade itself by staying in the “kiddy” market. This was reflected in the occasionally forgettable and one-note nature of villains like Xaviax.
It could have been wiser to pitch the program as a more sophisticated series akin to the well-liked series Smallville because it aired on The CW. Although that DC Comics adaptation was by no means geared at an adult audience, it was also created with a wider audience in mind than only children. This kind of scale would have increased the potential for Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, which might have been marketed as “Power Rangers for adults.”
A content style like The CW’s later Arrowverse episodes, like The Flash, would have been a worthy goal, even though an outright adult rating was best avoided. In addition to perhaps extending its lifespan, this may have made it popular during the era of streaming, when Asian-inspired entertainment, anime, and superhero shows are all quite popular. Unfortunately, despite Dragon Knight’s best efforts, Kamen Rider still has no place in Western popular culture.