As I sit here watching 2 A.M. television, insomnia being a bother once again, I attempt to focus on my task at hand. Finding the most suitable topic for my first article to premier on RRR, a task just barely started and so close to the end of my personal deadline for when I wanted it done. As the insanity that is 2 A.M. commercials flash before me my mind drifts through the many options that I have from the various shows under my viewing belt. I attempt to determine the best starting point, the best series to act as a forerunner for the rest, the best character to bring a start to my run of articles.
Now I don’t think I’m alone in saying that one of the first images that comes to mind when I think of tokusatsu is the ever popular Kamen Rider. A series that has had such a heavy meaning to me over these past several years that I could think of no other appropriate character to start out with than the first Kamen Rider himself. Unfortunately, I have not see the original series in whole so a secondary choice was necessary.
Not just any Rider can be first though, with such an iconic figure not being an option I remembered that Kamen Rider, in its up and down history, hasn’t had just one beginning. After a long break through the dark age that was the 90’s, Kamen Rider came back on air with a full series with the forerunner of the Heisei era, Godai Yuusuke otherwise known as Kamen Rider Kuuga.
-Warning: There are things past this point that are spoilers. You’ve been warned, so don’t come complaining if something gets spoiled for you.-
The first thing that anyone would think of when looking at Yuusuke is that he is an unrelenting optimist, something that is nice to watch but a nightmare to write about. He’s practically always smiling and rarely gives any signs of wavering from his rather happy-go-lucky attitude. He’s always kind and incredibly inspiring, which in itself is something I’ll cover in a little bit. This kind of optimistic character makes it hard for someone like myself, a glaring pessimist, to analyze properly because he is virtually without depth on first glance. He can be summed up rather easily, making for a somewhat short article. I will say though that Yuusuke’s optimism gives him a nice contrast to the very series he’s in, which takes a relatively dark approach story wise. To be honest, such a bright and happy character is actually perfect for the darker story and because of that its really hard to see anyone one else being able to bear the burden of Kuuga other than Yuusuke. In a sense Yuusuke’s happy and enthusiastic demeanor is what saves him from succumbing to depression or even power, or the otherwise common tropes that we would later see out of some main Riders.
Now there’s a reason I start out explaining Yuusuke’s optimism rather than some of his more trademark quirks. It is because his optimism isn’t just something that demonstrates him as a person but also shows who he is as a hero. While Yuusuke is very heroic he does stray just a bit from our general ideas of heroism. He doesn’t really fight out of revenge or any sense of justice, rather he fights out of his own personal ambition to protect people’s smiles. That’s something that really sets him apart from a lot of Riders, he isn’t looking at his deeds as any sort of justice or even heroism. He simply does not want other people to be sad. Sure others are no less heroic, but most heroes, let alone Riders, see it as a sense of duty. Yuusuke displays a more personal feel toward his actions, rather than it being something he needs to do it becomes more of something he wants to do. He just wants to protect people’s smiles. Such a simple goal, but one that speaks volumes for a character. Yuusuke truly is one of the most selfless Riders, let alone characters, of the Kamen Rider series on a whole.
On the surface Yuusuke’s overly happy demeanor makes him look a bit goofy, which at first led me to believe that he would be yet another male lead that would fall into the trope of being a dim and strong headed but loveable hero that we do so often see. He is not, however, anything of the sort. While at first he does seem to not be the deepest of characters it isn’t long into the series that he begins to show the intellect that lies within him. Yuusuke actually isn’t as goofy as he appears, but is rather quick and resourceful when it comes to the dilemmas he faces both in battle and out. Yuusuke’s usually capable of picking up on the situation he’s in and figuring out a way around it, a lot of times even before the police and other characters that aid him can.
While Yuusuke seems like a goofy guy sometimes he never really becomes the butt of any jokes like a lot of main characters in the Kamen Rider series after him do. In fact, the only real joke surrounding Yuusuke is the fact that several of the characters don’t know that he’s Kuuga even though he frequently mentions it. Its nice to see a character that doesn’t, in a sense, get picked on by the other characters. It seals in his reliability as a hero and a main character instead of making him a joke and seemingly unreliable. Like I mentioned earlier he’s actually looked up to a bit by other characters in the show. Quite a few of them seem to be inspired by his positive outlook, his enthusiasm and his trademark “Everything’s alright” thumbs up. There’s several moments in particular where the characters of Tsubaki Shuichi and Ichijo Kaoru impersonate Yuusuke’s thumbs up pose, as well as mention how much he and that trademark pose of his inspire hope. One moment comes to mind when Shuichi is discussing Yuusuke with another character. In this scene Shuichi states that even though fighting makes a person feel terrible Yuusuke continues to get stronger and continues to throw himself into battle, and even though he is scared and in pain he never complains because he’s doing it to protect people’s smiles.
Yuusuke is a very comforting person, usually capable of finding the right things to say even when its himself that might be the one in trouble. He’s incredibly capable of picking up on other peoples feelings, understanding those feelings, and then saying just exactly what needs to be said. Its in these moments that he really shows his maturity, or rather the maturity that comes from his somewhat childish optimism and ideals. I say this because Yuusuke is a very simple person. He’s got simple view points on life, simple goals, and a simple mindset in general which can be viewed as him being somewhat childish. This again sets him apart from several other Riders. You frequently see Riders who try to be mature but end up looking rather silly, or some that are mature but still come off as a joke to the other characters. I’ve seen quite a few Riders, but anymore it would seem that most lack that subtle balance of childlike maturity that Yuusuke seems to have. Again, it all goes back to Yuusuke being simple while other Riders and characters seem to have too many layers at times. You tend to see Riders who have some form of complexity to their personalities, something that they hide, but Yuusuke doesn’t really hide anything. He doesn’t worry about hiding his feelings or even his identity. Yuusuke is always Yuusuke. Even when he seems like he’s hiding behind his optimistic manner he isn’t, his optimism really is him. In a sense it’s Yuusuke’s simplicity that allows him to see so clearly, its that simplicity that lets him be the more mature person in the end with the added bonus of never losing his smile.
Not everything is all sunshine and rainbows with Godai Yuusuke though. There are two episodes that show just how much this dark series can affect such a good person like Yuusuke. Within these episodes there is a Grongi that is attacking and murdering high school students, during which the Grongi states that their suffering pleases him. Yuusuke meets with a high school student who is being targeted and the young boy asks for what reason he and his classmates had to die. Yuusuke states that there is no reason, there’s no reason behind the murder of a person and that’s why he’ll protect him. Throughout these episodes it’s clear that these deaths are having a significant affect of Yuusuke, and just like Yuusuke to not hide anything he promptly tells Ichijo that he’s angry. No mincing of words, no lead up, Yuusuke is for the first time within the series properly and rightfully angry. This leads to the final fight scene with this Grongi, which is barely a fight but rather a beating. This fight, let alone these episodes, are frightening to watch as this is the first time we see Yuusuke act in such a violent manner, and this is our first glimpse into the ultimate darkness that lies within Kuuga. My point earlier about Yuusuke being the perfect person to be Kuuga is all the more apparent. With such a frighteningly destructive power within Kuuga only someone as selfless as he is can keep from going mad. These episodes are our glimpse into what would’ve been the outcome if Yuusuke wasn’t as pure as he is.
As I’ve continually stated Yuusuke is cursed to keep fighting as Kuuga, and even though he has the burden of keeping such destructive and dark power he never stops seeing it as a good thing. He never regretted putting on the belt and becoming Kuuga, because doing so allowed him to save so many people. It’s clear that he hates to fight, and it’s clear that he wouldn’t if he had another option but he doesn’t give up and never loses his courage. While hundreds of deaths weigh on his shoulders, and even with tears in his eyes, Yuusuke never loses his smile. I said earlier that Yuusuke is a very comforting person. He’s not only comforting to others but he’s a comforting character to watch. As I sat going through this series that was full of pain and hardship the one thing that comforted me was Yuusuke. Every time I saw him I got an indescribable sense of comfort, and he truly made this series the joy that it is to watch.
There’s plenty we can take and learn from Yuusuke. His amazing ability to see the good in even the darkest of things, his unending selflessness, but there’s one thing I would say beats all of the morals of this character. His smile. So next time you’re out under that big blue sky, look up and let the world and yourself have a smile. After all, out of Yuusuke’s 2000 talents nothing is more important than his first.