Ha ha ha, okay. Okay!

The most fun I have with these Kamen Rider shows... it's probably the beginnings. That feeling of being thrown to the narrative wolves, of being tossed into the thematic deep end, I really love it. Everything is a WTF moment, and every scene feels like it comes from a completely different show than the scene that preceded it.

Kiva's a show that is both densely packed with incident (it introduces a hundred named characters across two timelines and has about four hundred fight scenes), as well as one that I never felt overwhelmed by. There's a rhythm to the progression, which is maybe appropriate for a show that feels informed by music and performance. They keep throwing new information at you (or, data, at least), but there's a flow to the episode that makes it easy to not focus too much on the details that are clearly there for later exploration. (Like Kamen Rider Grease being Wataru's dad! That feels like it's going to be important! Wild guess! Also, holy shit, Zanki is in the credits!!!) It's smoothly constructed, which is what I'm most looking for in a premiere.

Like, there's a lot of fun visual ways that information is conveyed, you know? The stained glass border when we head back to 1986. Those little diegetic nods that we've returned to 2008; the cracked walkway, the plates. There's a playfulness to how scenes are shot, where it's not showy or theatrical, exactly, but... whimsical? There're decorative vampire monsters and exsanguinated transparencies, but it's still an action-y superhero show that wants you to have a good time.

One of the little touches I liked is how the late-night fight against the Horse Fangire feels extra Showa, since it's in 1986. It has a nighttime horror vibe, as opposed to the daytime Heisei fight later on. Also, if there's a Kiva active in 1986, I suppose I'd have to name him as my favorite Showa Kamen Rider. I will briefly truck with Showa, as long as Inoue's writing it.

Hey! Speaking of Inoue! A whole bunch of weird callbacks in this episode to his past works, amongst other Kamen Rider things. There's the obvious Spider Fangire to kick off the show, sure. But there's also the Horse Fangire as the second monster, which feels like such an obvious Faiz reference that I'd be shocked if it wasn't intentional. The Horse Fangire being named Tsugami in '86, again, real obvious Agito nod, gotta be on purpose. The weirdest reference, though, was the use of Kitaoka's office for the photoshoot scenes. Ryuki wasn't an Inoue show, but Kitaoka featured heavily in one of the stories he guest-wrote, so maybe that's why we're in such a recognizable space that literally no other Kamen Rider has used in the past five-six years.

And, like, thematically, such an Inoue show. Wataru's inability to express himself is, like, an Inoue hallmark. It's present in not just the literal sense, with his adorable notebook of apologies and cries for help, but in his need to use music as an emotional outlet. That's a thing that comes up in a lot of Inoue's writing, the value of self-expression through art, and it gets a little coverage in the first installment of Kiva despite tons of other ground to cover.

Wataru's ambivalence about his own humanity marks him as another questing Inoue lead. He feels a separation from the world he's protecting, and at this point it's tough to see if he's longing for a connection or wishing for isolation. (I mean, almost definitely the former, but I like that there's some ambiguity here.) He's a sweetly sad boy, and that little scene where Kivat offers some role-play toy psychoanalysis in the bathtub (from a floating violin-shaped soap caddy!) is a nice window into a character who spends the whole episode being weird around three-dimensional women.

And, shit, I don't know where these women are going to go in the narrative, but I love how they all kicked-off. Opening the series with Yuri throwing down with the Spider Fangire, hitting the midpoint with Megumi laughing at the gullibility of the Horse Fangire, and having Shizuka around to gently nudge Wataru away from being descended upon by angry villagers... just great, great characters. I loved each of the performances for their unique energies. Yuri is closed off, tentative, but intensely focused. Megumi is flippant, energetic, and never one to hold her tongue. Shizuka is perplexed, indignant, and loyal. With Wataru being a cypher for most of this episode (but an effective and charismatic one, somehow!), it leaves way more space for the various women of Kiva to make an impact, and they totally did for me.

This whole episode did it for me. I loved the inexplicable debut aspects, the insanity of some of the world-building (Kiva's Rider Kick causes a lunar eclipse that makes a Dinosaur Cathedral eat the soul of a decorative vampire monster???), all of that premiere shit that you take for granted on subsequent viewings. But I also loved the cleanliness of the delivery, the way plots and details rhyme across decades (Yuri and Megumi's God Has Erred declaration, Megumi and Wataru's fish obsessions, Yuri and Wataru's weirdness around tiny animals), how this blenderized inaugural episode was fun and charming and... and weird, in all of the most engaging ways. I'm not quite at the point where I know what story Inoue's telling yet (The Perils Of A Life Unlived would be an early guess), but I like the way he's started to tell it.