Though it has since been followed by 2019’s Kamen Rider Zero-One, 2018’s Kamen Rider Zi-O was the last Kamen Rider series of the Heisei Era. As such, the series holds a special place in the Kamen Rider legacy. Since the show’s first series back in 1971, Kamen Rider Zi-O is the 29th series in the history of the show and is the 20th series in the Heisei Era.
Coming at the end of a decade as well as at the end of an era means that the series serves as a bridge between Kamen Rider’s history and future. An exciting prospect, to say the least.
Kamen Rider Zi-O’s Place in the Larger Kamen Rider Picture
1971 was an interesting year in Japanese history. It was the latter part of the Showa Period, which was the time in which Emperor Showa served as the Emperor of Japan. The Sci-Fi genre of tokusatsu film and television had already started to become popular, with early henshin (in English, ‘transformation’) superhero series such as 1958’s Moonlight Mask and the Super Giants films finding much success.
Originally, producer Toru Hirayama intended Kamen Rider to be an adaptation of the 70s manga Skull Man, until Hirayama and series designer Shotaro Ishinomori changed the look of the central hero to resemble a grasshopper. When the original Kamen Rider actor, Hiroshi Fujioka, broke both legs in a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, a second character was introduced, played by Takeshi Sasaki, as Kamen Rider 2. This replacement character would be replaced by Fujioka’s character upon his recovery, and eventually the two Kamen Riders would reunite and work together.
As a result, the spirit of passing on the torch from Kamen Rider to Kamen Rider existed in the show’s DNA from its very beginning. This trend would help the show transition from series to series from then on. By the time the Showa Period ended in 1989, there had been a total of nine different Kamen Rider series and ten different Kamen Riders.
The last series in the Showa Era of the show was Kamen Rider Black RX, which aired from 1988 to 1989. In the finale, all ten of the earlier Kamen Riders reuniting to defeat the Crisis Empire.
Though there would be manga adaptations, stage shows, movies, and more, it wouldn’t be until 2000 that a new series of the show would return to television, Kamen Rider Kuuga. This would be the first series in the Heisei Era of the show, which would eventually consist of two phases and 20 different series, as well as a number of movies.
The final series of this era is none other than Kamen Rider Zi-O.
Plot and Characters of Kamen Rider Zi-O
Premiering in September 2018 and ending in August 2019, Kamen Rider Zi-O followed directly after the conclusion of 2017’s Kamen Rider Build. In fact, Kamen Rider Zi-O first appeared in the 2018 movie, Kamen Rider Build the Movie: Be the One.
With a plot that involves a lot of time travel, Kamen Rider Zi-O centers on the character of high schooler Sougo Tokiwa. Born in the year 2000, Sougo has always dreamed of being a king. When he meets a girl from the future named Tsukuyomi, she warns him that he ‘will become the king of all time, Kamen Rider Zi-O, a demonic king destined to rule the world.’
From that point on, Sougo has to protect the fabric of spacetime and the legacy of the Kamen Riders from the evil Time-Jackers. Helping him is a Kamen Rider from the future, Geiz Myokoin, and a prophet named Woz.
As the final series of the Heisei Era, Kamen Rider Zi-O is full of little details harkening to the Kamen Riders that came before. For example, each episode has a title that’s a reference to one of the series’ Heisei Era predecessors.
Overall, the series consists of 49 episodes split into four story arcs. Each of these stories pays tribute to a different Kamen Rider series from the era. The first arc consists of the series’ first episodes and is called ‘Birth of Zi-O.’ It has tributes to Kamen Rider Build, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Kamen Rider Fourze, Kamen Rider Faiz, Kamen Rider Wizard, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Gaim, and Kamen Rider Ghost.
The second arc runs episodes 17-30 and is called ‘Oma’s Day.’ These episodes are tributes to Kamen Rider Ryuki and Kamen Rider Blade. The third arc goes from episode 31 to episode 40. Called ‘Road to the King,’ this arc has tributes to Kamen Rider Agito, Kamen Rider Hibiki, Kamen Rider Kiva, Kamen Rider Kabuto, and Kamen Rider Den-O.
The fourth and final arc consists of episodes 41-49 and is titled ‘The New Demon King’. It bears tribute to Kamen Rider Drive and the Kamen Riders that only appeared in movies.
Kamen Rider Zi-O’s Movie Appearances
Aside from being introduced in Kamen Rider Build the Movie: Be the One, Kamen Rider Zi-O has also appeared in a couple of other movies. In December 2018, the movie Kamen Rider Heisei Generations Forever brought together Kamen Rider Zi-O as well as the casts from Kamen Rider Build and Kamen Rider Den-O.
Kamen Rider Zi-O the Movie: Over Quartzer was released in July 2019. Taking place after episode 43 of the series, Over Quartzer is an alternate ending to Kamen Rider Zi-O and features cast members from Kamen Rider Drive. It also serves as the first introduction to Kamen Rider Zero-One.
The official transition from the Kamen Rider Zi-O series to the Kamen Rider Zero-One series would happen in the movie Kamen Rider Reiwa The First Generation. Released in December 2019, it sets the stage for the most recent Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Zero-One.
With Emperor Akihito’s 2019 abdication of his throne, and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, becoming the new emperor, Japan officially left the Heisei Period and entered the Reiwa Period. As such, Kamen Rider Zero-One is the first series in the show’s freshly started Reiwa Period.