This was the first Kamen Rider movie I ever saw. It was during the first Kamen Rider series I ever watched. I had no idea what to expect from a movie version of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. I'd only watched, what, less than a dozen episodes? I knew Emu, and Poppy, and Hiiro, and Taiga, and Kiriya. I knew Bugsters, and Parado, and Graphite. How much crazier could things get?

Friends, my eyes were opened. It could get so much crazier.

I really enjoyed Dr. Pac-Man the first time I saw it for how insane things got. Characters I'd never seen before would show up in a slow-motion walk, an entire section of the climax was dedicated to endless form changes that went by in an eye-blink, a cacophony of fight songs were played in a variety of musical styles, and NOTHING was explained. The first time I saw it, I was as surprised as Emu that the skinny dude guarding the villains' hideout was actually another Kamen Rider named Wizard. I didn't realize until he henshined that Tomari wasn't some supporting cast member from Ghost's show, since Ghost knew him already. There was so much information and so little context, I just let it all wash over me. I loved the density of what seemed like nonsense to me, the bright colors and frequent explosions and huge reveals about Emu's origin. I had a great time watching it, despite lacking context for virtually everything.

Here I am now, not quite 18 months later, and I'm up to my neck in context. I've watched Wizard and Gaim and Drive and Ghost and so much more. I was a little trepidatious, revisiting this movie, but also incredibly excited. On the one hand, I was scared that it maybe wasn't as good as I'd remembered it. Maybe I'd confused freshness for quality? Maybe now that I'd watched so many hours of Kamen Rider (so many), this seminal film wouldn't be as good as I'd remembered it. On the other hand, though, I was really excited to see it because I'd watched so many hours of other Kamen Rider shows. I'd seen a stack of winter films, caught up with scores of Legend Riders. I was hopeful that all this knowledge could make me see a different version of this movie than I'd seen before.

Seeing this movie now, I felt like it was wasted on me 18 months ago. Back then, seeing this movie after only seeing ten or so episodes Ex-Aid and nothing else, was like seeing Infinity War if you'd only ever seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure, you can follow along with the story, and sure, there are some core characters you can care about, but so much of what occurs is over your head. Now, rewatching Dr. Pac-Man, it's like I've binged the entire MCU and everything in this movie is for me. Everything. And it's so much better than it was the first time.

The Legend Rider stuff is maybe the best implementation I've seen yet. Everyone's there for a reason, everyone contributes, everyone gets a little bit of quality screen time. (I mean, okay, Gaim, sure, but he's integral in getting Mr. Belt back!) This movie, unlike so many Legend Rider appearances, goes to pains to explain why the other old Riders are involved. Tomari's a cop who's called in on the case, and he's got history with Takeru, so it makes sense he'd want to help. Haruto saw something weird and was like, "Lemme go see what's going on over there", and bluffs his way in, which is 100% in character for him, as is no one involved knowing who he is. Gaim is an all-seeing, all-knowing god, so, duh. It's so much more than a guy in a suit just jumping in from out-of-frame. After some of the previous series' movies that seemed to fill plotholes with more Riders, this all felt so cohesive and considered. Every character felt important to the story.

And that story actually mattered to the show it was ostensibly tied to! I know that might sound like damning it with faint praise, but that is a big deal. So many of these stories, the movies, feel like they're influenced by a TV show without really being a part of it. This one matters. It's got villain types from the show, it's got information that's important to the characters' development, and it centers the themes on what works best from the show. Emu even uses his doctor skills, not his Rider skills, to save the perpetually-murdered Takeru from dying again. (Makes you wonder if any of Takeru's so-called friends had bothered to learn the bad CPR that Emu learned, maybe Takeru wouldn't have had to die so often.) It's a solid story, so it doesn't need to be saved by Legend Riders, it's just improved by them.

Oh my God, is it improved by them. That whole sequence at the end, scored to their individual theme songs, as they hit all of their form changes in a row, *chef's kiss*. An electric, rousing bouquet of fan-service. It's all joy during that sequence, and anything I didn't like about those Riders' shows was swept away in how awesome it was to see them kicking ass again. Even the new suits, Tenkatoitsu for Ghost and Mighty Brothers XX for Ex-Aid, are thrilling and gorgeous. It's all just so much fun, which isn't a feeling I get from a lot of these Rider movies.

Far from feeling like this wasn't as good as I remembered, seeing Dr. Pac-Man again actually made me enjoy it so much more. It's not nostalgia, it's respect for an astonishingly well-told story with just the right amounts of action, mystery, drama, and, of course, superheroes kicking someone so hard they explode. Gotta have that. Everyone involved in the making of this movie should be proud.