A Tale of Two Demographics

Kamen Rider Calliope Update 2!

Big news! Kamen Rider Calliope has an official publishing date. Drop by the site around 9:00 am on January 14th to read the first part of Myth 1!

Something I’ve struggled with in explaining Kamen Rider to the uninitiated is how “it’s a show that’s merchandized to little kids, but the storyline and character development are written for an older audience”. I feel like that idea can’t expect a warm reception from people who are used to Western (or maybe just American/Canadian?) TV shows. In the culture I grew up in, if a show is made to sell toys to four-year-olds, you can safely assume the plotlines you’ll see are generally mind-numbing to anyone outside of preschool. YES, DORA, IT’S THE BLOODY MAP, WE GET IT, HURRY UP AND GET EXPLORING.

When shows end up cross-pollinating audiences it tends to be seen as a happy accident for merchandisers (see My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). However, recently I’ve come to realize that Kamen Rider might take great care in planning this dichotomy. I’ve worked with four-year-old kids in Japan who think Kamen Rider is the hottest shit ever, a sentiment that is widely shared amongst their age group. However, the plotlines of the Kamen Rider TV shows contain stuff like kidnapping, torture, gunfights, tragic death and just straight-up murder on the reg.

I’ve been wondering for awhile how the show reconciles these two sides to its identity. And I think the answer is… they just don’t. Kamen Rider is what it is; both a glorified Sunday-morning toy commercial and a serious, occasionally morbid, narrative about heroism and the nature of evil with solid character development. The thing is, I get the sense that some young kids who love Kamen Rider don’t even watch the show regularly; the merchandise is prolific enough in their lives that they can enjoy the franchise without even having to turn on the TV. All their friends talk about it, and they see all the toys, clothing, branded food items, school supplies, toothbrushes, what have you, and their intense imaginations can fill in the rest.

Thus, the investors get their money from the younger demographics, and the older ones too, many of whom will still buy action figures, gachapons and DVD sets after watching the show. Instead of extracting revenue from one target audience, the Kamen Rider franchise liberates itself from the supposed hypocrisy of making a show directed at multiple demographics at once. Thus, you get a show where you watch a literal serial killer get backed into a corner by a protagonist skirting the line of vigilante justice… And then they transform using the exact same toys you can probably get in a McDonald’s kids meal. It’s understandable if you can’t suspend your disbelief in the face of such brazen product placement, or feel too much aesthetic whiplash from the slapstick comedy bits running into angsty melodrama. But, if this kind of weird and lovably-imperfect mish-mash is endearing to you… there’s so much good stuff awaiting.

— Nagi