Death games are enjoying a resurgence due to the massive breakout popularity of Squid Game. This has led to long-time fans going back to old classics and those new to the genre searching for more deadly competitions to enjoy. Thankfully, a legendary but often overlooked death game series has just been fully released in America for the first time, and it's perfect for those looking for something new to watch. TokuSHOUTsu, the tokusatsu streaming service run by Shout! Factory has recently released Kamen Rider Ryuki, marking the first time the show has been totally available with English subtitles. First released in 2002, the show was a trailblazer that redefined the Kamen Rider franchise and the death game genre.
Kamen Rider Ryuki follows Shinji Kido, an intern at an online news service called ORE journal. While investigating a series of mysterious disappearances, Kido discovers a strange deck of cards in an apartment where all of the reflective surfaces have been covered with paper. While returning home, Kido is sucked into the mirror world, a parallel universe teeming with monsters that can be accessed through any reflective surface. He learns that this world is the cause of the disappearances, as creatures are literally sucking people into mirrors and eating them.
Kido makes a pact with one mirror world monster, a giant dragon called Dragreder, which allows him to transform into a Kamen Rider. Alas, by doing this, Kido has accidentally joins the Rider War. It turns out the deck of cards Kido found is made up of Advent Cards, and there are several other card decks, each drawing from the powers of a specific Mirror World monster. The rules of the Rider War are simple: the last Advent Card owner standing gets to wish for anything their heart desires.
On top of this, the Rider must feed their pact monster -- if they don't keep killing monsters for it to eat, they will eventually be eaten themselves, meaning there's no quitting the game after joining. As Kido tries to survive the game and learn about its true origins, he meets many other Riders, each fighting for their own reasons, noble and selfish. However, the nature of the game means that even the kindest person will be forced to do horrible things to survive.
While the first two series of the Kamen Rider reboot were pretty standard fare with heroic Riders fighting evil monsters, Ryuki turned everything on its head. It was darker than the previous seasons, and it was the first major series to focus on Riders fighting other Riders, rather than battling monsters. It was also the first Kamen Rider series to use the battle royale format. Producer Shinichiro Shirakura has said that he wanted to break away from the idea that Kamen Rider is justice, since justice is such a complex and often twisted concept. In fact, when the series began broadcasting, it was surprisingly controversial, with many arguing that it didn't feel like a Kamen Rider show. Some newspapers even printed letters of complaint that said the show was not appropriate for its young audience.
However, Ryuki soon proved to be popular with viewers, and many of the tropes it introduced have become series mainstays, including the evil riders and the idea of collectible transformation gimmicks. The series has also been credited for cementing many death game tropes that would become popular in anime in the years after the show's release, including the idea of fighting alongside supernatural forces and the concept of fighting to earn a wish where previous attempts at the genre would merely have survival as the ultimate prize.
Packed full of intense action set pieces, intrigue and a gripping plot, Kamen Rider Ryuki is a fantastic option for viewers looking for a non-traditional death game to sink their teeth into. While other Kamen Rider series have used the tropes that Ryuki introduced, none of them have done it in such a fascinating way, making Ryuki both an important Kamen Rider show and a great show in its own right.
Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 1 to 50 are available via TokuSHOUTsu now.