Being a Kamen Rider fan for many years, I’m no stranger to the fact that the franchise is just one big toy commercial. However, to succeed in its endeavor to sell toys, both the show and the toys need to be good in their own right and play off each other’s strengths and unique characteristics. On top of that, in order to keep the long-time fans buying, innovations and improvements must be made to keep things fresh and updated.
In my opinion, the 2013/2014 Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Gaim, is a phenomenal show. Whether you love it or hate it, we can’t deny the fact that it took the series to new heights and took a concept as silly-sounding as Fruit Samurai and turned it into something serious, epic and mature – a series full of intrigue, twists and high-stakes that even non-Kamen Rider fans could enjoy. Hardly surprising, if you ask me, considering it was written by none other than Urobuchi Gen, famous for his other works including Saya no Uta, Psycho-Pass, Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Yes, that Urobuchi Gen.
However, I don’t think that the show’s success can solely account for the 390% increase in toy sales and a total revenue of 10 billion yen over the course of the series run. No. If you ask me, the toys had a part to play as well. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at various aspects of both the show and the toy line to see why it’s just so ingenious.
WARNING! There are spoilers for the show within this post! While there aren’t any plot spoilers, the various forms and abilities for a number of the Riders are discussed!
Let’s start by talking about the main collectible of the show, the Lockseeds. For those not familiar with the newer Kamen Rider series, Bandai has made them very collectible heavy. Meaning to say that, aside from the belt and weapons, you’d need to spend even more of your cash on little devices in order to access the myriad of forms and abilities of the Riders in the show. These include Gaia Memories for Kamen Rider W, Core Medals for Kamen Rider OOO, Switches for Kamen Rider Fourze, and so on. With a number of the franchises such as OOO, Fourze, Wizard, Drive and this year’s Kamen Rider Ghost, the collectibles themselves did not contain any electronics or sounds in the slightest. All the lights and sound effects were contained within the belt and all that these collectibles did was “unlock” sounds in the belt. Just like with ULC for games, this left many fans (me) feeling indignant as even after buying the belt, they had to literally buy even more merchandise to unlock sounds that they had already paid for.
Kamen Rider W’s Gaia Memories, another hit with fans, contained lights and sounds of their own. Buying a new Gaia Memory would reward you with something legitimately new, add to your experience and leave you with the feeling that it was worth the extra expense.
Kamen Rider Gaim’s Lockseeds took the Gaia Memories one step further. First of, design-wise, they are far more distinctive than Gaia Memories, giving them each a more unique identity, making them easily distinguishable from each other. While the Gaia Memories only differed in terms of stickers and plastic color, the Lockseeds have a translucent, molded and painted plastic face, 2 different inner face stickers and different unlocking mechanisms depending on the Lockseed. For the sounds, the Gaia Memories only had one special attack each while the Lockseeds have 3 unique ones. Unlike the re-used “Maximum Drive” call, all the attack names like “Sparking” and “Squash” are rerecorded for each Lockseed. They even have extra sounds that can be played by themselves by pressing the button on the back. These range from Inves Game sounds to bonus voice clips from the show’s actors. Let’s not forget that the Lockseeds also have an on-off switch that the Gaia Memories did not, with a unique activation sound to boot!
Within the show, each Lockseed is meaningful. For Switches, Rings and Shift Cars, they had a ton of superfluous abilities that were one-time-use only and were made for very contrived situations. In Kamen Rider Gaim, each Lockseed summoned a unique armor and weapon set. They were legitimate transformations and forms. Due having a large cast of Riders, they had an excuse to justify the many different arms and most of the arms had a good amount of screen-time. Yes, there were ones like Kiwi that didn’t see much use, but they were few in number compared to the absurd number of Switches, Rings and Shift Cars that fell by the wayside. The arms and weapons were generic enough to be applicable in a variety of situations but unique enough so that they kept being re-used even in later episodes when the time called for them. For instance, Baron would always switch to Mango when he faced enemies with a harder shell.
From a production standpoint, as each Lockseed contains its own lights and sounds, just like Gaia Memories, the producers weren’t limited to what was pre-recorded into the belt. If they chose to, they could have made changes to the upcoming toys. They’re even free to produce Lockseeds for as long as they are profitable. For fans, this adds to the belt’s longevity and worthwhile nature of its purchase.
Moving on, the belt actually makes sounds of its own. An improvement over the noiseless W Driver, the Sengoku Driver plays a part and has value in its own right. Just like with the W Driver, the sound effects come from two sources. But instead of coming from two Gaia Memories, it comes from the belt and the Lockseed. If you add in the Genesis Core (which I will be addressing in a bit), the number of interacting sound sources is bumped up to 3!
Speaking of the belt, it has the ability to differentiate between Riders, just like Kamen Rider Ryuki’s V-Buckle. Instead of Advent Decks, here we have Face Plates with each Rider’s side profile stylistically emblazoned on them. Depending on the design of the Rider’s armor, be it Japanese Samurai, Western Knight, Chinese Warrior or Roman Gladiator, the stand-by sound would change as well, giving each Rider more individuality and you a reason to change the Face Plates. You can be whoever you want and feel like it because the belt goes one step further by acknowledging it, essentially increasing its play value dramatically. Once again, Gaim one-ups a previous Rider’s toys.Not to mention, there’s also the mass-produced belts as well. With these you can even insert yourself into the show and have it make sense.
Finally, the act of unlocking the Lockseeds, placing it in the belt and slicing it open adds an element of visceral, physical play and interactivity that Fourze’s belt and switches were so famous for.
For all the previous series that had a secondary Rider, there was little incentive to purchase the Rider’s belt unless you wanted to role play as that specific Rider. Not so for Gaim.
Together with the Genesis Driver comes not only the ability to become 4 (technically 5 or more) new Riders, with the Drive Bay, it allows you to add even more functionality to your Sengoku Driver – unlocking an entirely new form for our main Rider. And as mentioned above, it adds another speaker into the mix (pun intended). If I am not mistaken, this is one of the first times where one had an additional impetus for purchasing the secondary Rider belt.
Even if you had no interest in the Energy Riders, the Energy Lockseeds are relevant to the main Rider as they gave him unique abilities that saw use even after he obtained even more powerful forms. Jimber Cherry gave him super speed and Jimber Peach gave him super senses. To reflect this, the Energy Lockseeds all have unique transformation sounds that are triggered only when used together with the Sengoku Driver.
Bringing in Gaia Memories once again, each of them had a designated side and sound delay so you couldn’t mix two Gold or two Silver memories together. However, every single non-Energy Lockseed has a pre-programmed delay when inserted into the Genesis Driver’s Drive Bay making them compatible with every other Lockseed.
With the weapons like the Metal Shaft and Trigger Magnum, they could only function with specific Memories that granted them specific functions. For Gaim, I will not deny that there are throw-away weapons like the Banaspear and Budou Ryuuhou. However, with the main weapons like the Musou Saber, Sonic Arrow and DJ Gun, you can use any Lockseed with any of them and even have weapon-only sounds come from the Lockseeds. All this in addition to the individual weapon’s own host of features.
Even the weapons themselves can interact with each other. The DJ Gun (final weapon) can combine with the Musou Saber (first weapon), creating a bad-ass sword mode. That’s how you make people want to buy your product.
A little tangent, but I’d like to point out how brilliant it was to have the DJ Gun’s sword blade only extend during sword mode. With Wizard’s Axecalibur, I always found it strange with regard to how he always held it by the blade… Hm…
A final form is something special. For OOO or Wizard, all that was required to unlock the final form was just another collectible – the PuToTyra Core Medals and the Infinity Wizard Ring respectively. For Gaim, we get more than just another Lockseed, we get a Lockseed fashioned into a key. Not only that, it interacts with the Kachidoki Lockseed, Gaim’s mid-season upgrade, working in tandem with it to unlock a brand new transformation sound that alternates speakers. This not only makes the final form feel special and powerful, it makes the mid-season form’s item indispensable right till the very end. The same cannot be said for many of the other Kamen Riders.
Speaking of relevancy, the Kiwami Lockseed packs a whopping 16 weapon names and sound effects with corresponding colored lights. Remember the throw-away weapons I was talking about earlier? They once again come into play together with the Kiwami Lockseed as it could summon and allow the user to wield any of them in the show.
Legend Rider Lockseeds
An indispensable staple of the Kamen Rider toy line, these are the collectibles that cash in on the popularity of past Riders. Here, Gaim once again excels. In past toy lines, only a section of past Riders’ transformation tunes would be included with the toys. For the Legend Lockseeds, numerous sound effects, in addition to the transformation music, such as stand-by sounds and final attack sounds from previous generations are included. All this together with catchphrases recorded in the Lockseed announcer’s voice. A ton of time and effort was spent cleverly incorporating the best elements from past Riders into these Lockseeds and it shows.
Arms Change Figures
Another staple of any Kamen Rider toy line are the gimmick figures. Ones that sacrifice accuracy for the sake of recreating the gimmick of the show. Why are these just so amazing? Well, once again, it comes down to execution of the show’s concept, uniqueness and interactivity.
I’m not going to repeat everything I’ve said already, but just like with the Lockseeds and belts, the armors and Riders are separate. This means that you can mix and match them to come up with your own combinations. None of the armors feel superfluous as they all have their own unique designs and weapons, especially when they are tied to a particular Rider. In addition, each armor is able to recreate its Saint Seiya esque transformation from the show to a T – unfolding from a mechanized fruit into genuinely cohesive armor. The fact that each armor features a unique transformation scheme just adds to the overall collectability and the fruit modes even allow the armors to be displayed separately.
Another little feature that I still can’t get enough of is how the design of each Riders’ visor changes accordingly with the armor – making each change even more significant and less superficial.
Not too much to say for Suika Arms, but I was tickled by the fact that they were not only able to incorporate the token CG mecha into the show well by having it just be another Arms, they were also able to explain away the ability to not use it that often (due to the expensive nature of CGI and its power advantage) by having it have to recharge after one use.
In conclusion, all this culminates in a toy line that takes all the best elements of previous Riders’ toy lines and turns the dial up to eleven. It has a level of versatility and freedom that no other toy line has ever had before. You can be any Rider you want to be and due to the fact that the belts and Lockseeds do not share electronics, you can mix and match to your heart’s content and still have it make sense within the context of the show. Every new toy adds to the features and functions of previous toys in the line. In short, what we have is an unprecedented amount of features and sound effects that maximizes play value through making each toy last longer, stay relevant and work together, creating a form of synergy throughout the line.
Let’s not forget the role of the show in all of this. It allowed all the toys to shine within the context of the story and without it, the toys would have been meaningless.
Hopefully, we’ll be seeing another brilliant series like Kamen Rider Gaim again soon. Let’s just say that, unlike me, my wallet has been pretty happy this past year with Drive and will probably remain happy for one more year to come with Ghost.