Promotional material for the upcoming Kamen Rider Drive has stated that Tomari Shinnosuke calls the Drive Driver Mr. Belt, it will be its own character and a co-protagonist. Long time fans of the franchise, and the quick studies among new initiates may have had previous entries come to mind after learning of Drive’s talking Driver with a personality. Battle Hopper, Acrobatter, Rideron (the Car of Light), Auto Vajin and Kivat all have served in varying degrees as communicative assistants in 4 separate series over 27 years. There was an 11 year break between Black RX and Kuuga, so perhaps the link is a bit tenuous, but it feels real enough to me. I like the concept a lot, but the one thing linking these four unique additions to the series is that they all could have been done better. While I don’t believe there was a concerted effort to create a progression from a machine affecting life to a fully fleshed out artificial intelligence, that trend can be seen by those who wish when taking a broad view of the material. If I wanted to I could stretch this premise to include Ichimonji’s use of the Typhoon’s remote control for Cyclone that randomly appeared in episode 26 of the original series, but I won’t.
The exception to the lack of intended progression is Battle Hopper which was reborn as Acrobatter and then had its life force used to spark Rideron (the Car of Light) to life. They both spoke in a way, without intelligible words or voices, and had some measure of personality. Ryuki introduced the talking belt to the series and, the following year Faiz featured an underused bike that transformed into a fighting robot in AutoVajin who would help out Takumi in fights now and then. Five years later, Kivat (Kibat) served as a sort of butler to Wataru Kurenai, in addition to helping him transform into Kiva. Kivat would give Wataru advice, encourage him to persevere and fight Fangire without Wataru when the two disagreed. I hope to see Mr. Belt go beyond all of these roles, especially because each iteration of this type of character or element of the show has differentiated itself from its predecessors.
Three possible roads Drive could take handling Mr. Belt that I would like to see are:
- Phillip done well
- Battle Hopper or Auto Vajin + real personhood following the model of the Roimyuudo
- Late-Manga Takeshi Hongo
The World’s Finest Partners, but Actually
Phillip and Shotaro are allegedly the world’s finest partners, but I think Riku Sanjo failed to fully support their relationship, so it wasn’t as meaningful as it was supposed to be. We didn’t get to see them just hanging out enough and the closing of the gap between them could have been more teased out in a more satisfying way. As this is Sanjo’s show and the promotional material says that Mr. Belt and Shinnosuke are partners, the show provides a perfect opportunity to upstage W, one of the most popular series in recent history, in the Super-Partners department. I know not the appeal of the bro-fest, given my favorite Riders have a surrogate family as a group of friends, but if bros sell, then do it well. SInce Mr. Belt docks into Tridoron and Shinnosuke wears him, I hope they will get to talk a lot and form a really strong relationship. I admit that I dislike Shotaro a lot and his character almost entirely made W an unpalatable show for me, though I liked it just fine for the first 36 episodes or so. That being said, I am open to what Sanjo will do after having helmed Kyouryuger more or less single-handedly. He has more experience now and will hopefully be approaching this series with different things in mind. If Shinnosuke and Mr. Belt’s relationship can surpass that of Wataru and Kivat, I think the title of “world’s finest partners” will have to be relinquished by the two-in-one detective.
Roimude After All
Battle Hopper and AutoVajin are vehicles and are sort of like people. They have some ability to operate on their own and a modicum of personality, but that could be pushed farther. Kivat is a good mark to shoot for, but he could have been pushed even farther and more fully fleshed out. The more I think about this, Cheeda Nick (Red-Buster’s Buddyroid) comes to mind as a good model. He and the other Buddyroids were very much alive. Interestingly, the scant information available on the Roimyuudo makes them sound similar to Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters’ Vagras, in that they were manufactured for a purpose and are acting in a way that is deleterious to Tokyo’s citizenry because of that. It’s unclear if they are renegade or if some just don’t execute their programming in the nicest ways. The Roimyuudo start off as fresh machines with a blank slate and strive to surpass humanity with their superior robot nature. They evolve by associating with humans based on a common trait, proclivity or interest. I would like to see Mr. Belt grow more human over the course of the series as a result of his interactions with his car-fanatic partner Shinnosuke. Since Mr. Belt is part of a machine and we live in an era of interconnected gadgets, with programs and files that sync across multiple platforms, it would be really interesting to see Mr. Belt’s autonomy and personhood blossom in a way that leads to him to driving and controlling Tridoron while Shinnosuke is running around as Drive.
If you haven’t read Ishinomouri’s Kamen Rider manga and you are a Western fan, I think you should go buy it all now, funds permitting, to put money in coffers as thanks for the hundreds of hours of live-action Kamen Rider content (and the stack of Kamen Rider SPIRITS) sprung from the success of Ishinomouri’s classic. The 42-year-old show is good, the manga is better (at minimum, it is a good divergent take on the show). I’d like to see Mr. Belt and Shinnosuke’s relationship be like that between Ichimonji and Hongo towards the end of the Kamen Rider Manga. They were just two guys fighting against the same enemy, relying on each other to do together what neither could do alone. I might even like to see Mr. Belt get a body and become “the second Rider” of the show if that must happen. With my point about programs syncing across multiple platforms, it would be interesting to see Mr. Belt fighting alongside Drive in his own body as well as helping him from his waist.
What would you like to see?