Today's the two-year anniversary of when I started Kamen Rider shows. It's my Riderversary!

I don't know if that's a thing. I didn't do anything special about it last year, that I recall. I noticed it back when I started watching Agito, and I thought I'd try and do something to commemorate it this year. The timing worked out, anyway. I thought, "Oh, maybe I can rewatch the first-ever Kamen Rider thing I watched, and talk about that experience.” You know, see if I can find in it the thing that ignited my fandom for Kamen Rider.

(Is a Riderversary a thing? Do you remember the day you started Kamen Rider? Have you ever celebrated it?)

So, just for tonight, I'm going to delve back into the first episode of my first-ever Kamen Rider show, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid! I'm excited to revisit a story of--

Oh. OH. Oh...

Okay, look, I definitely didn't plan on watching such a, uh, fraught setting when I thought of rewatching this a few months ago. Obviously, it's not a topic most people want to see in their entertainment right now. You don't want the fears of a pandemic, the destabilizing effects of viral outbreak. You want escapism.

And, man, I assume I wanted escapism a couple years ago. I remember bits and pieces of my path to Ex-Aid. I've mentioned it before, on other threads, but I've been a pretty hardcore Transformers fan since 2011. (Another thing I got into later in life! The origin story on that one is its own thing.) I'd read the TFW2005 boards and articles pretty regularly, especially on breaks at work. Sometimes, when boredom would get the better of me, I'd tab over to the other fan pages on the network, HissTank, ToyArk, and TokuNation. I didn't know anything about toku stuff back then. I'm old enough that when Power Rangers hit the US I was pretty much too old to get into it. I was aware of it, but I never watched it or anything. Kamen Rider, I knew zero about that one. But I'd see these Figuarts reviews of Ex-Aid figures, stuff like Bang Bang Simulations, and I'd be mesmerized. I didn't know what the hell I was looking at. Reading the reviews, and following the links, I'd start to build a totally-wrong version of the show in my head (definitely thought it was post-apocalyptic, I remember that) that was intriguing to me. I don't quite remember what made me take the leap to TOTALLY LEGALLY downloading the season of Ex-Aid, but it was probably just eventually getting curious enough to try it.

So, yeah, all of that led to me watching the first episode of Ex-Aid two years ago today. Since then, I've watched all of Ex-Aid, and eleven other Kamen Riders besides. How does that first episode hold up now that I'm deep in the fandom? Does it still work? Can I say why it worked for me back then?

I... I think this might be the best first episode of Kamen Rider? I don't know. Nostalgia's a hell of a drug, but this thing moves at a brisk, thrilling clip. There's an appropriate amount of set-up for Emu, for CR, for the Bugster virus, and it's all wrapped up in an easy to understand The Hero Wants To Save A Young Boy story. The stakes are clear, and small enough to feel vital, immediate. The hero runs on a mix of My Duty As A Doctor and a personal connection, the need to be the example that another doctor set for him as a child. You instantly get who Emu is as a character, and Asuna gets to play a neat foil. She's harsh when she needs to be, and helpful when she can be. And, like halfway through the first episode, we get glorious technicolor Ex-Aid aesthetics.

I talk a lot nowadays about themes and character arcs and intricate storytelling and all of that. (I just did!) But the thing that captivated me back then, I'm pretty sure, is the second half of this episode. Shooting the Salty fight outside, in the daytime, on these rolling hills, it's beautiful. It's such a smart move, just bright and clear. The color of the Ex-Aid figures is what got me curious, and the back half of this one is reds and yellows and neon pinks and electric greens. It's huge HIT and LEVEL CLEAR and MIGHTY CRITICAL STRIKE callouts. It's a sweeping Henshin, one that I get chills rewatching, the promise that everything's about to change forever, that you'll never forget what comes next. It's a bulky comedy suit, a dopey gag of a cartoon, and it's unexpected in its piss-taking. All of it, it's about having fun, about the joy of games and the feeling of freedom that comes from them. That anything can happen, as long as it's fun.

This episode... god, it felt good to watch it again. It's not perfect, mind. There're things that don't work. (I never ever liked Hiiro's dad.) But they're things the show would lessen over time, the pratfalls and wacky disobedient children. The core of it, all of the stuff I love about Kamen Rider, it's all here in the first episode. A hero who wants to make children smile. A colorful world of bright costumes and exploding monsters. An epic landscape of heroes and villains. I'm glad I found it. I'm glad I've got so much more to go. Here's to another year of Kamen Rider!