Spoiler warning: This review discusses plot details and story beats of the entire series. If you would like to avoid spoilers, please jump to the end of this article.
Celebrating Kamen Rider’s 50th anniversary and Kamen Rider Black’s 35th anniversary, Toei in collaboration with Ishimori Productions brings Kamen Rider Black Sun: a 10-part Amazon Prime Video series which released on October 28, 2022 on the streaming platform worldwide.
Kamen Rider Black Sun (仮面ライダーBLACK SUN) is a complete reimagination of the original Kamen Rider Black released in 1987. Kamen Rider Black, known in the West as Masked Rider is a tokusatsu franchise featuring a titular superpowered character themed usually around an insect but that has changed over time. One of the most iconic series from the franchise is Kamen Rider Black and its sequel Kamen Rider Black RX, the latter of which was picked up as the first Saban release of Masked Rider which did not get the same love as its Power Rangers brothers.
Over in Japan though, Kamen Rider and its tokusatsu timeslot brethren Super Sentai has always held a light and humorous take on the superhero genre, one which has endured enough for nearly half a century. Though aimed mainly for kids, tokusatsu has occassionally flirted with mature themes with both Super Sentai and Kamen Rider’s final episodes usually focused around a winner-takes-all, high stakes final battle. Still, the portrayal of death is quite limited and our toku heroes rarely kill if not never. In recent times, we’ve seens numerous reimaginations going all the way back to the 2005 with Kamen Rider The First and 2007’s Kamen Rider The Next.
Both were excellent takes on their source material and stayed loyal to what Kamen Rider is. Fast-forward years later and we get both Kamen Rider Amazons (Amazon Prime’s first Rider) together with Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame along with Shinji Higuchi joining up for the most stellar film release of a classic Japanese film yet with Shin Godizlla. Pardon the history lesson but its vital that we setup the precedence for this show as we Kamen Rider Black Sun follows in these films’ foot steps and taking a source material as iconic as Kamen Rider Black is a big undertaking.
Kamen Rider Black Sun veers away from its Sunday morning counterparts as it opens up to a world where racism is taken to a new extreme. Humans exist alongside Kaijins; altered humans created by other humans brought upon by government scientific experimentations from 50 years ago.
Aoi Izumi is an activist that wants to end racism towards Kaijins. She is not a Kaijin and her parents, as introduced later in the story, aren’t either. She’s just a plain nice girl. We’re introduced to her speaking at a UN members meeting which begins her journey into becoming a targeted by Gorgom, a political party under current Prime Minister Shinichi Dounami.
Gorgom thugs eventually revealed to be Kaijin tracks down Aoi but she’s saved by Kotaro Minami, a tracker working bounties to get by and his next target is Aoi. With the Spider Kaijin reveals itself and stabs Kotaro, Kotaro transforms into Black Sun. Shunsuke is powerless against Kotaro and Kotaro takes Aoi with him. Before taking her, Kotaro discovers Aoi’s necklace which glows after he touches it. Cutting away to Gorgom’s HQ, a prisoner is shown transforming to similar form to Black Sun but with a silver carapace and green eyes. This is revealed to be Shadow Moon aka Nobuhiko Akizuki, Kotaro’s childhood best friend and brother of sort. Gorgom’s High Priest members are also alerted of the stone’s reaction and this reveals Black Sun’s presence to them and realize he’s still alive. This encounter sets up the tangled web of character stories that will feature primarily in this tight cast for Kamen Rider Black Sun.
Following this, the show will follow a somewhat similar format to classic Kamen Rider shows with a monster-of-the-week feature while telling a story in two timelines. For those familiar with Kamen Rider, this is similar to Kamen Rider Kiva where the story takes place in two timelines, in Black Sun’s case its 2022 and the 1970s. The episodes go back and forth telling the story of how Gorgom came to be and what Kotaro and Nobuhiko’s involvement with Gorgom as well. As the story progresses, all these threads that connect our characters intertwine, ultimately leaving a tangled mess of what motivates which character. Even Nobuhiko and Kotaro aren’t safe from this as Nobuhiko, despite his newly found motivation in 2022, only joined Gorgom because he’s trying to hook up with a girl, Yukari.
Yukari along with Oliver Johnson, Bishum, Baraom, Darom, Koumori, Bilgenia, Black Sun and Shadow Moon comprise the original Gorgom. A group of Kaijin rights activist from the 70s which holds a young and brash Shinichi Dounami, grandson of then-Prime Minister Michinosuke Dounami. Being the sly politician himself, the elder Douname offers a deal to Darom. A rift in Gorgom creates 2 factions within, Darom’s group and Yukari’s group. Both group believe what they’re trying to do is for the good of all Kaijins with Darom’s group subjugating themself to Dounami while Yukari’s group intends to kill the Creation King, the source of all Kaijin and one that would end Kaijins forever. This will allow existing Kaijins to live out their lives but no Kaijins will ever be born. Darom’s plan on the otherhand allow Kaijin’s to live continuously as they are but will be at the mercy of the government.
This narrative choice alongside its vast cast is terribly laid out and as likable as some of them are, its hard to keep track of which character actually matters. This is all setup in a backdrop of political corruption, social discrimination and betrayal. Although if you focus solely on Black Sun and Shadow Moon, it does get easier. Ultimately, its a very dark Kamen Rider series and one that doesn’t shy away from showing violence onscreen while tackling social issues on politics head-on.
Much of the hallmark that defines this series are its callbacks to the original material. From the first henshin pose to the transformation sequence to a true Kamen Rider, Black Sun follows beat for beat many of the greatest scenes from the original Kamen Rider Black. Some notable scenes include Road Sector’s revival scene and of course, a special treat for fans with the opening theme of Kamen Rider Black serving as episode 10’s opening itself, following beat for beat the entire opening sequence as a tribute while original actor Tetsuo Kurata sings the opening song in the background.
The weight of the previous episodes all come to a head with the emotional gutpunch that is episode 10. No noise from background characters, just 2 men with different ideals. Its as emotionally-charged as any Kamen Rider show can get and despite being a cliche, has all the emotional investment all 9 episodes carried within it. A proper final episode which sees proper closure to our main characters.
Kamen Rider Black Sun features great cinematics in the film but avoids heavy grading like The First but still tastefully done. Photography looks distinctly Japanese and despite the obvious limited sets, they manage to create a community enough to replicate nationwide issue. Still, eagle-eyed viewers may find the relative reuse of characters tiring and uninspired. To its credit, Black Sun takes indoor fights to the next level which unlike its goofy Sunday morning show counterpart, heavily relies on practical effects and well-used CGI. It does forego Kamen Rider staples such as punching thru walls or throwing off enemies to a distant construction yard although with most of the fighting heavily in Gorgom’s building, it does get tired although motivated by the plot.
If there’s one this show is guaranteed to leave a mark on you, its the soundtrack. The score is excellent and Black Sun’ main theme is quite memorable. Sprinkled at the just the right scenes, the entire soundtrack is tastefully mixed into scenes that matter and while not a vast soundtrack, its going to leave you with the same satisfaction as the original Kamen Rider Black’s opening theme which opens each episode. The ending song does feel a bit flat but as a binge-series, its usually skipped. Its not a bad song but in this era, only a few songs really get that playworthy treatment despite the “next episode” loading bar.
Kamen Rider Black Sun is a polarizing show. If you’re fan of the original and demand loyalty in any derivative, you will be disappointed with this show. But as a derivative, it does have the right to be whatever it wants. Kamen Rider Black Sun chooses to be a social commentary series that focuses on current events with just the right of testosterone but ultimately something that could’ve been done in 2 hours. Black Sun didn’t need to have its extensive run time and took its sweet time to tell a story for even the smallest characters yet skip ones that don’t make sense (Kujira).
Despite its long run time, the upside to this is there’s more on-screen realization of something many Kamen Rider shows have shied from: a brutal battle between Riders with actual blood and gore yet still keeping a noble sense of ideal to our main characters. All while adorned with a great soundtrack. A strong leading cast anchors the viewers to the main plot while it struggles to keep character arcs from unraveling.
It may not be the ideal Kamen Rider Black Sun that purists want but as a standalone Kamen Rider show, it has enough merit to stand on its own.