Kamen Rider Zero-One Retrospective 1: Episodes 1-16
Riding into Reiwa!
As the starting point of the Reiwa Era, Kamen Rider Zero-One had a lot of expectations and a lot to live up to. Being the face of a new generation of the franchise, Kamen Rider Zero-One is preceded by Kamen Rider Ichigo, the iconic mascot of the series, and Kuuga, a beloved series in the franchise in its own right. Now as we count down the weeks remaining until Kamen Rider Saber, Reiwa's 2nd Rider, let's take a look back and see if Kamen Rider Zero-One has what it takes to be a cult classic in the fandom. Does it live up to its predecessors? is it a worthy successor? Let's dive right in into a discussion of the first story arc of the series, covering the first sixteen episodes of the show: The Metsuboujinrai.net Saga.
Oh, real quick before I forget, The retrospectives are going to be based on my rewatches of the series as opposed to first impressions; if you do want my inital impression on this arc, feel free to check out my reviews. Anyway, let's jump in.
- Going into this retrospective, all thoughts and opinions are based on recent rewatching of the first 16 episodes and not the written reviews. If you want more in-depth opinions on the first 16 episodes click here
- SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FIRST 16 EPISODES GOING FORWARD!
MetsubouJinrai.Net Saga: Episodes 1-16 Summarized
Kamen Rider Zero-One takes place in an alternate 2019 where the world has taken full advantage of AI technology, creating AI-infused Androids known as Humagears. Humagears are designed to be a compliment to humanity, aiding them in various job-like tasks such as law enforcement, education, childcare, and especially in the medical fields. The series opens with Hiden Intelligence and the brains behind the Humagear revolution, Korenosuke Hiden, introducing us to the world of Humagears before it's revealed that he has passed away. Meanwhile, struggling comedian Aruto Hiden, his grandson, suddenly finds himself thrust into his Grandfather's old position as CEO of the company, along with a letter implying that with his passing, a threat was on the horizon, one that threatened the livelihoods of both Humans and Humagears alike. To counteract this measure, the sitting president would have to use the Zero-One Driver, as its the only defense of what's to come. Reluctant to go along with it initially, Aruto ultimately takes on the mantle by transforming into Kamen Rider Zero-One to stop a hacked Humagear, subsequently becoming the new CEO in the process.
Aruto, along with his sidekick, the secretary Humagear Izu, works to push his Grandfather's dream of making Humagears a vital asset in an evolving society. However, this doesn't excuse itself from various challenges along the way. Isamu Fuwa and Yua Yaiba, agents for the Artificial Intelligence Military Squad, "AIMS" are investigating the hacked Humagears and the connection they may have to Hiden Intelligence, also having the abilities to transform into Kamen Riders Vulcan and Valkyrie respectively. And the 3rd faction, the main antagonists of this story arc, Horobi, and Jin, are members of the cyber-terrorist organization MetsubouJinrai.Net. This mysterious group is the one responsible for hacking Humagears and changing their programming from their initial roles to become agents for the destruction of Humanity. They as well can also transform into Kamen Riders, with Jin, in particular, stealing Aruto's Flying Falcon key to do so.
Each episode we learn more about the world of Zero-One, including the Satellite Zea, which is the central hub of all Humagears globally, the Daybreak incident, the first major instance of Humagears going berserk thanks to the influence of MBJR, to the concept of "Singularity" a moment where a Humagear, after experiencing an intense emotional moment, becomes self-aware, which makes them targets for hacking by MBJR, along with auxiliary forms for our riders, like Zero-One Biting Shark, Vulcan Punching Kong, and Valkyrie Lightning Hornet. We also learn that Horobi and Jin, who were thought to be Human, are actually Humagears themselves, and their goal is to resurrect a mysterious entity known as the Ark, by collecting data from the corrupted Humagears involving negative emotions such as malice and despair. By Episode 7, Horobi introduces Lil' Assassin, a Humagear specifically programmed to kill. As flamboyant as it is, this Humagear was not one to be trifled with, as it served as the penultimate boss monster at Episode 13, based on the mystery involving its implied resurrections and its growth into Singularity, where it turned its back on MBJR and decided to take matters into its own hands. As a result of this, the period between 7 and 13 brought into question both Aruto's competence as a CEO, and the image of Hiden Intelligence as a whole, as the image of Humagears, is continuously being questioned, shining a bad light on them as well. Aruto however, with the first major upgrade of the series, Shining Hopper, was able to take down a fully evolved Lil' Assassin, ridding the world of one of the biggest threats to date.
Episodes 14-16 saw the first appearance of MBJR's 3rd member Ikazuchi, through hacked Astronaut, and Zea Maintainer Humagear, Raiden, using Lil' Assassin's Zetsumerise Key to transform into Kamen Rider Ikazuchi. Fuwa also achieved Assault Wolf, a key created through the Ark's technology, a key that Horobi points out Fuwa shouldn't be able to use due to it being specific to MBJR. During the final battle between 15 and 16, Horobi seemingly dies after taking a hit by Fuwa's finisher, as instructed by the reawakened Ark, which triggers Jin's own Singularity and enables him to finish what they started. In the process of all that, Izu is gravely injured and, ready to end the fighting, Aruto catches up with Fuwa and Yaiba and achieves Shining Assault Hopper, a slightly upgraded form of Shining Hopper, to counteract the conflict at hand. Jin, who up to this point struggled with conflicting interests, similar to those of a child, is defeated by Aruto who wishes things were different between them, seeing the innocence of Jin's mindset.
Finally, behind the scenes there is another mysterious figure who is slowly watching everything unfold. Appearing in Episode 3 and finally revealing his identity in Episode 10, we learn his name is Gai Amatsu, CEO of ZAIA Enterprises, a major competitor to Hiden Intelligence. He's left as a minor player, aside from being Yaiba's superior, to whom she reports everything to, and it's throughout the episodes where her motives raise questions in regard to her manipulating certain situations and why, this includes being one of the reasons why Lil Assassin was brought back. By Episode 16, Yaiba learns that it was Gai who has been pulling the strings the entire time, by being the creator of the Ark. The Ark was the original Satellite that was to be shipped into space. By filling it with negative data based on Malice and the like, the AI within was corrupted into deeming that Humanity's destruction was well beyond warranted. Daybreak and the formation of MBJR was the result of Gai's influence. Using the Ark's technology as well, a new Progrise and Zetsumerise key were fabricated for him, as the first Act closes with Gai issuing a TOB against Hiden Intelligence, regarding the several months prior of Humagear incidents...
CharactersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Aruto Hiden is a struggling comedian turned CEO of his grandfather's company. His goal in life is to bring smiles to everyone through comedy; the only thing is he's not funny to most if anyone at all. After becoming CEO, he and his partner Izu decide to live up to his inheritance, as Korenousuke's aim was for humanity to embrace the evolving technological world with open arms to enable their ability to reach their dreams. Aruto, as its revealed was raised by a Humagear himself, treats Humagears like his family which puts him in stark opposition to anyone who threatens their livelihood, or doesn't see the value in them as he does. It's because of this desire of his that motivates his customers to appreciate the value of them like he does, as more than just machines, and more than just tools.
Due to his honest, albeit optimistic outlooks, it leaves him, victim, to moments of naivety, especially when it comes to his new position. Some cases shine light about the business world's deceptive tactics to preserve the public image, as well as conflict of interests and said consequences following. At the same time, however, it's because of this optimism that he fights as hard as he does for that world he dreams of.
Naturally, however, with Hiden's reputation continually taking hits, as well as the looming shadow of Gai slowly encroaching him, he fights harder, claiming that the HumaGears are his family while facing a dismissal when the threat of MBJR brings the company's reputation to its lowest point. Despite all of that he's able to bring an end to the group with Jin's death, earning the respect by the other board members, allowing him to stay in place.
Izu is a special Humagear designed to be the right hand of the CEO of Hiden Intelligence. She takes her role very serious, and rather literal at times, being very straightforward and robotic in nature. However with each episode, and especially in episodes 12 and 13, she little by little begins to experience new emotions, such as irritation, sadness, guilt and humor, the latter of which is brought as she imitates Aruto's jokes, going from explaining them, to mimicking his gestures alongside him by episode 6.
The tipping point and her first true sign of singularity, was when Waz, her "brother" took her place in adding the battle data required to complete the Shining Hopper Key. When handing Aruto the key, the tone of her voice is softer, and less robotic-sounding, clearly having emotional weight. This is further solidified in Episode 15 when she, Aruto, and Subaru go to visit the grave of his family, and the concept of Waz being her family synchronizes with Izu and she understands the meaning behind it.
It can also be argued that she showed even more human emotion during the Reiwa, the First Generation crossover movie, which supposedly takes place between episodes 9 and 10, but due to the debate with movies and their canon placements, it's hard to tell if it had any impact.
Field Captain of A.I.M.S., Fuwa starts off the series as a biased, overconfident Rider who has an intense and arugably "racist" view of Humagears, only seeing them as murdering machines and nothing more. This is based on a traumatic experience when he was a kid, where rampaging Humagears tore through his school and seemingly murdered everyone. Since then, his only goal in life is to destroy every single last one of them, making him a direct foil to Aruto and an annoyance to his partner Yua Yaiba. In Episode 4, he discovers the face of the Daybreak Incident in Kamen Rider Horobi, and in Episode 8, when his robo-racism hits its peak, he is utterly curbstomped and left for dead by Horobi. At death's door through Episode 9, the realization that he was saved by a Humagear kickstarts a budding appreciation for his robotic counterparts, albeit very slowly.
That is of course until Episode 14 where I have to retract that statement, as he's back to his biased outlook when dealing with Raiden. Stealing the Assault Wolf key and despite being told that only MBJR users can use it, he responds by saying "screw that" and uses it anyway. His drive to end MBJR overcomes basic self-care, nearly killing himself during the final assaults. In the aftermath, when he finally has a moment to think about it, even he questions that all of the rage he felt for so many years. Seeing that it was towards a bunch of machines puts things in hindsight in a way.
In regard to Yaiba, Episode 10 has him confronting her about leaking the footage of Lil' Assassin to the media, and while debating on his stance with her, when she was in need, he stepped in to save her, just like she did in the episode prior. This shows a drastic shift of respect compared to the early episodes, where it shows that Fuwa and Yaiba's relationship has grown into mutual respect on both ends as opposed to reluctant co-workers. Towards the end of the arc, the animosity somewhat comes back, as Yaiba nags him to take better care of himself due to his insistence to see the fight to the end, making the pair butt heads once more, but in the aftermath, as they're broken up they leave on relatively decent terms, as Yaiba notes that she's relieved that she doesn't have to babysit anymore.
Yua YaibaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tech Advisor of A.I.M.S. Yaiba is the more level-headed one of the A.I.M.S. duo but likewise the most mysterious of the trio. She also provides a bit of a realistic middle ground between her two male counterparts, as she doesn't see Humagears as an asset to humanity like Aruto, nor as murderous machines like Fuwa. Instead they're just another set of tools to be used and replaced eventually. She butts heads with Fuwa due to his arrogance, and while initially it seemed as though she was somewhat complacent with this, her debut as Valkyrie in episode 3 solidified her as the one who is in control, highlighted by her direct interactions with Gai starting in the same episode.
She clearly knows more about the grand scheme of things, and Episode 7 shines light on her mysterious motives, with the kidnapping and reactivation of Lil' Assassin, granting Aruto the Freezing Bear Progrise key, and the theft of the Mammoth Zetsumerise Key. Episode 8 reveals that the mysterious benefactor that she reports to is a part of ZAIA Enterprise, and she explains to Aruto in Episode 11 that she was transferred to A.I.M.S. as a tech advisor from ZAIA. Around the same time towards the end of the Arc, she begins to question her superior's motives until it is finally revealed that Gai is the one responsible for the creation of the Ark, and she realizes that, in an ironic twist, she's a tool manipulated alongside Fuwa, Hiden Intelligence and MBJR, all in an attempt to turn Kamen Riders into a money-making weapon. And despite this, she reluctantly continues to follow him, opening up questions as to her odd sense of reluctant loyalty.
HorobiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Horobi: The mysterious leader of MBJR, he comes off as cold, calm and calculating with a singlular objective in mind and the willingness to see through to it. His personality plays off well with Jin's sadistic child-like mindset, even more so with the reveal that Jin is his "son", in the sense that Jin is a Humagear that Horobi made. Outside of that Horobi proves to be extremely powerful which makes his objective to turn HumaGears against humanity all the more of a threat towards the heroes, as he proves that nothing will stop him from getting what he wants.
All this in mind, as the arc goes on, we realize that he's more or less a blind cult follower, with undying loyalty to the Ark, which he is able to resurrect thanks to Operation Magia. This loyalty goes as far as willingly sacrificing himself to save Jin, not because he cares, but because the Ark says so. The Ark instructs Horobi to die to push Jin over the edge and achieve Singularity, even admitting that him calling Jin his son was just another asset for the Ark's end goal. Whether or not he truly saw him in such a light remains to be seen, especially since afterward his body is left in captivity in A.I.M.S., with it also mysteriously reactivating itself before the episode closes out.
JinClick thumbnail to view full-size
Jin: Horobi's crazy, immature second in command, Jin comes off as a psychotic child-like killer that makes him extremely dangerous and unpredictable at face value. From episode 5 forward, when Horobi reveals to Jin that he is his father, Jin's personality begins to change, questioning his relationship with honest naivety, about what a Father and Son relationship is supposed to be like, with Jin, after hearing Aruto's rebuke of his actions in Episode 6, attempts to rectify his actions, understanding that Horobi's definition of "father" is clearly wrong. Horobi however quickly reverses that, and, revealing that Jin is a Humagear, Horobi uses a Forceriser on Jin and hacks him. This in turn not only creates Kamen Rider Jin, but also erases any conflicting feelings he may have had prior; for the time being at least.
Regarding Lil' Assassin, Jin acts as though he has a brother to have fun with, yet he steadily grows jealous as Lil' Assassin matures, as highlighted by Horobi's joy to learn that Lil' Assassin attempted to kill the Actor Humagear Matsuda Enji at one point. At the same time though, Jin is equally upset when Lil' Assassin betrays them in Episode 12. Episode 14, he hacks Raiden, an astronaut Humagear, revealing to him, Aruto and Fuwa, that Raiden is a mole, following up with adopting him as his brother and corrupting him with a Forceriser and the Dodo Key. When Raiden, as Kamen Rider Ikazuchi, is killed, Jin gets his first painful experience, implied by Horobi that he's close to Singularity. Episode 15, Jin attempts to make a grave for Lil' Assassin and Ikazuchi, in which Horobi chastises him for acting like a Human, which is ironic considering that Horobi is axed minutes later, being the last push Jin needed.
Jin's personality at this point loses its child-like enthusiam, and becomes cold and brooding, like a broken teenager. He admits when fighting Aruto that he doesn't know why he's fighting, outside of following Horobi's orders, and the empathy that Aruto shows confuses and upsets him, causing him to lash out and attack. Aruto finishes him off, and Jin dies, reaching up towards the sky, a moment I interpreted a long time ago, as Jin trying to reach out for freedom from the confusion that tormented him until his dying breath.
Lil' AssassinClick thumbnail to view full-size
The major threat of the latter half of the story arc, Lil' Assassin was introduced in Episode 7 and was defeated come Episode 13. A different approach of Horobi's part by using a Humagear with learning capabilities, Lil' Assassin was trained as an assassin, starting off as a goofy, flamboyant Humagear, and turning into a cold, bloodthirsty killer post-Singularity. Since Humagears are basically robot shells with AI, Lil' Assassin's AI part would be backed up via Dodo Zetsumerise Key, allowing for the constant revivals and the change in personality with each one, as each iteration of the character was colder, smarter and inching closer to Singularity, not to mention each iteration of the Dodo Magia was an evolved concept of the original body.
Lil' Assassin early on, was a tool utilized by Yaiba to paint Hiden in a bad light, portraying a Humagear attacking citizens out of its own volition, due to its blue-eyes, instead of the typical red ones. Episode 12, after reaching Singularity, he betrays MBJR and goes on a rampage, and isn't defeated until Episode 13, with his Dodo key being retrieved by Horobi for intentions revealed later on.
Raiden/IkazuchiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Raiden/Ikazuchi: A hot-blooded, tough and prideful Humagear, Raiden debut in Episode 14 as one of two Humagears tasked with maintaining Satellite Zea. As luck would have it, not only was Raiden a Daybreak Survivor, but he was a mole agent for MBJR. Raiden's role was to feed information about Zea back to MBJR and when he's hacked completely, he becomes Ikazuchi. Operation Magia's final goal is met, using the Zetsumerise keys as well as the stolen Progrise keys to force the data from Zea and transfer it into the Ark below, powering it up to reawaken. This transfer kickstarts the old technology to print the Assault Wolf key, which Fuwa not only steals but uses to beat Ikazuchi into scrap metal. It didn't matter much to Horobi, as Ikazuchi and Lil' Assassin, fulfilled their duties.
Gai AmatsuClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gai Amatsu: The mastermind behind everything thus far, Gai is the president and CEO of rival company ZAIA enterprises. Little is known about him in the first sixteen episodes, appearing in Episode 3 as a shadow figure that Yaiba would report to, as he played with a chessboard in the meantime. As the head of ZAIA and Yaiba as A.I.M.S. tech advisor, its implied that ZAIA manufactures all of A.I.M.S. tech, and Progrise keys, meaning that he had a wider range of influence than initially anticipated. All of which he uses to paint Hiden Intelligence in poor light so he can attempt to take them over via TOB.
Personality-wise, he's very calm and arguably overconfident. Stereotypical villain aside, Yaiba's reluctant loyalty towards him is questionable and adds a layer of mystery to him, even more so the reveal that he created the Ark, which in turn caused EVERYTHING else to happen like a domino effect, just emphasizes his threat level and gives an idea of how far he's willing to go for his goals. Being the main villain in the 2nd arc, it remains to be seen just how far he'll go.
ThemesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Thematically, in my reviews of the first 16 episodes, I always pointed out to the theme of binary code--by which I mean the zeroes and ones being polar opposites to one another and how that related to the characters. Aruto and Fuwa have opposing views on Humagears, one viewing them as an asset, while the other a murder weapon. Aruto and Izu are a double act comedy duo Aruto being the Funny Man and Izu being his Straight Girl, which ironically Izu gets more laughs from the audience than Aruto does. Fuwa and Yaiba butt heads all the time due to their views on how to handle situations, Horobi and Jin are polar opposites as well.
All that said, it's because of the opposite personalities that they mesh together so well while on screen. Additionally, Aruto and Jin's relationship helps Jin question himself, Fuwa and Yaiba's relationship help them to grow to appreciate one another, Aruto and Izu, pushes, herself to grow closer to singularity. Even Aruto's relationship to the aforementioned A.I.M.S. agents help him see on a grander scale the amount of responsibility he has to prove the case for Humagears.
Another theme that comes to mind is the classic Man vs Machine trope. Being a kid's show, it's written to be very easy to understand at face value. Where the nuance comes in, is the fact that the human characters have opposing views on the value of the machines, and the machines themselves are responding to these views in real-time and achieving self-awareness due to these external forces. Fuwa's comment in Episode 16 where he thinks how he spent years training and fighting for the moment where MBJR fell, only to see that his feelings were towards a literal machine, gives it an anti-climactic feel.
And then there's everything else in between. Taking responsibility for your actions, adapting to a new environment, decision-making in morally gray areas and overcoming pressures, and unexpected turnouts when things seem to be going your way. Aruto had to face each and every one of these circumstances and by learning from them, it's shaped him into someone who refuses to let obstacles get in the way of reaching his dream.
Closing ThoughtsClick thumbnail to view full-size
When writing my initial first impressions for the first 16 episodes in the past, I will admit that I was probably biased due to this series being the first of the Reiwa Era, and the first one I decided I was gonna analyze beat by beat. And watching the show week after week, and since we're close to the penultimate episode 44 at the time of writing this, I never lost that spark of excitement, watching the show and picking up on narrative beats along the way.
Now, rewatching the show, and going into it, knowing what's gonna happen and how the narrative is going to progress, I find myself still enjoying it. Not with the same level of enthusiasm, but knowing the true motives of the characters and what's to come. It gives the characters more complexity and it helps to understand their reasoning and true motives more, albeit, with this foreknowledge, it does weaken their arguments slightly. Just slightly.
Operation Magia, for example, was honestly weird to me, as originally Episode 14 just felt weird and out of place and I didn't understand things from a narrative perspective, especially after Episode 13; Now, realizing the whole point of Operation Magia was to use Zea to activate the Ark, things make a whole lot more sense. It makes Raiden's character make more sense to me. Fuwa's random burst of anger that I thought was written off in Episode 9 came back in full swing this time and I understood it now because he was never truly over his gripe, as it went from Humagears in general to specifically MBJR. I even caught some other hints and implications as well, which I'll cover in the 2nd retrospective about Gai's influence in everything that I only caught by chance. Just goes to show the benefit of revisiting certain things.
Overall, The first story arc of Zero-One started strong and ended strong and somewhat neat. It's not as perfect as I remember, but its nonetheless one of the strongest story arcs we've had in a while. So, while we close the book on this story, let's move on to the 2nd arc of the series, the ZAIA Workplace Competition Saga.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Nolan Johnson