Originally Posted by AkibaSilver View Post
I'd happily take a 3 page essay on why Kamen Rider Brain is secretly a deep subtextual message on how needless throaway jokes are no longer allowed to live as such things in the modern age of content. 

Almost fourteen years ago, as a friend and I were opening our comic shop, we were trying to figure out what to do with a blank white wall to the left of our checkout counter. It was too spartan to leave as is, but we couldn’t figure out what to do.

Most shops would make it into a display of “board books”: high-priced vintage comics. That’s not what we were as a store, though. We were reader-focused, so we weren’t going to be carrying those sorts of collectibles. There was the option of displaying the various promo posters we’d be sent by the various publishers, but that just seemed… I don’t know, obvious. We were looking for something unique, something that spoke to our perspective on a comic shop as a place where fans could feel a sense of ownership, a location to discover both books and community.

One of us (I think it was me, but: fourteen years ago) joked that we should just let people draw on the wall. We laughed, a little, and kept brainstorming. But, as we circled ideas that bored us, we came back to that Draw On The Walls joke. Could that actually work? Was there something in there that wasn’t a joke?

Fourteen years later, it’s a defining feature of our store. Tourists take photos, and professionals get excited about a chance to add to it. It was a joke, until it became a great idea.

It’s easy to disregard throwaway jokes as, well, throwaway jokes. Something’s a dumb comment, we laugh, we move on. But true inspiration can come from anywhere, and it’s okay to turn a joke into art. Closing yourself off to possibilities because something’s unserious, or meant sarcastically, is a weird barrier to erect. Half of my favorite business ideas started as a joke. It makes sense for Kamen Rider Brain to start as a joke, and then end up as a story.

One of the most delightful features of tokusatsu in general, and Heisei Kamen Rider in particular, is how self-deprecating and self-aware it can be. These are stories about heroic struggles and terrifying adversaries, but it’s still a kids’ show designed to sell toys. It can be serious, but it should also have room for humor. It should be serious, without taking it itself seriously.

Very early in my exploration of Heisei Riders, I learned that there is literally no joke you can make that didn’t already happen. So much of Rider history is ridiculous, if you try and explain it. Everything in it skirts the line of self-parody, if you feel ungenerous in your appraisal.

But so much of that ridiculousness is tempered by earnestness and empathy, which somehow becomes Brain’s story in this special. He’s a comedy-relief coward, but there are things that make him tragic, or even heroic. The idea of an enemy who’d refuse to see the need for his soldiers to have their own lives, that’s anathema to Brain. The Roidmudes struggled for years to prove their right to exist, so he’s not going to stand aside while some faceless creep hollows out hard-working supervillains. His fight isn’t for humanity (ha ha ha ha NO) or even himself; his fight is to ensure that every form of life gets treated the same as humanity. He doesn’t become a hero, per se, but he finds something worth fighting for as a Kamen Rider.

Everything about this special is a joke, from its constant self-referential gags (Dark Ghost pointing out that Brain’s weapon is a repaint; Professor “Crystal Peppler”) to the fake manga ad bumpers. Brain’s fighting style is goofy and irreverent. But the story in here is one of sacrifice and idealism, and it sits comfortably amid the shrieking cowardice and almost non-stop buffoonery.

The best thing about the way tokusatsu franchises work is that they’re allowed to end. But that ending creates unmet demand, and so we find ourselves in a constant stream of, well, streaming sequels and V-Cinemas. It’s something that bugged me, once, but I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing anymore.

A lot of it, I think, is in the ways Heisei Rider has evolved to be more of an ensemble. Like, Kamen Rider Drive is a solo-hero story, and it ends in a way where Shinnosuke’s story feels decisively resolved… but what about Kamen Rider Chase? Or Kamen Rider Mach? Or Team Roidmude, that only got stories around the edges? The world of Kamen Rider Drive was always bigger than Drive himself, so why not continue to explore that world?

I’ve said before that I think Team Roidmude is one of the best villain/”villain” groups, due to their personal quests for fulfillment, and how that story doesn’t require Shinnosuke’s participation or resistance. They’re a bunch of weirdos that are trying to figure out how to be happy, you know? The flexibility of that goal creates more follow-up opportunities than for nearly any other monster group. Sometimes fulfillment can take the form of villainy, and sometimes fulfillment can take the form of heroism. It’s a fascinatingly human option, and it’s why Drive could manage so many spin-offs. Toying with those possibilities, the kind of thing the hero-focused TV show could never have time for? I think that’s an okay thing to explore.

These shows have become so vast, with so many intriguing angles, that it’s only natural to want to revisit them, to want to shine the spotlight in different corners.

There’s also the kind of contradictory way we measure our time with these shows: both massive, and brief.

We spend an all-encompassing year with these shows. 48 or more weekly episodes, multiple films, HBVs, Net Videos, V-Cinemas, Twitter content… it’s a lot. The average American show measures less than half of that in a year. A prestige American show like Hawkeye aired six episodes. Getting dozens of hours of content in one year… why in the world wouldn’t that be enough?

It’s the “one year” part, I think. American shows air smaller chunks, but they can come back year after year. Movie franchises work the same way. We might only get a couple hours with, say, Steve Rogers in a year, but we’ll get seven years with that character. In comparison, the forced deadline to say goodbye to a show like Kamen Rider Drive is somehow going to seem like it’s all happening too quickly. (I mean, that’s assuming you’re at all invested in the show. If not, the transition to a new show can’t come quickly enough!) We haven’t spent nearly enough actual human time to get sick of these characters, this world.

Even Brain! Never my favorite character on Drive (too campy), he was still intriguing enough to want to see where he might go next. This, thankfully, doesn’t try to reinvent his character or anything, but it allows for some new notes. It’s a little bit more time spent with a character, which is a nice thing to get to do. And it’s nothing that really interferes with his story on Drive, which is crucial.

It’s a cute story, at the end of the day. Brain gets to have a little ego boost, and we fans get to see Team Roidmude (and Chase! And Krim, sort of!) again for twenty minutes. Its inessential nature is maybe a mark against it, but I think it’s more of a shield against criticism. It’s the sort of thing you can ignore if you like where Drive left things, or it’s a victory lap for a supporting cast guy if (like me) you can’t get enough of this series.

It’s based on a throwaway joke, sure. But sometimes good art can come from throwaway jokes. Why fight it?