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Episode 1

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 4.5

It's easily the most prominent piece of discourse I've seen surrounding this show in the run-up to its premiere, so perhaps it's best to get the question out of the way first: As a follow-up to a non-anime production that can't be easily/legally watched in its entirety by western viewers, can FUUTO PI be jumped into without being familiar with Kamen Rider W? The story was supposedly specifically crafted to function for newcomers as well as returning fans, and as of this first episode, I would say it seems to work. Granted, that is coming from someone who does have familiarity with that predecessor show, but that also gives me more context to view how FUUTO PI opens as a 'new' series. It's hardly a straight do-over of Kamen Rider W's old premiere, but it does mirror a lot of the same beats, opening with a flashback to the night Shotaro and Philip first met and obtained their unique transformation powers, before jumping ahead to see them in media res working as private investigators while we're slowly introduced to the city of Fuuto and the kinds of people that populate it.

'Slow' might not actually be the proper adjective to describe this first episode; perhaps 'methodical' or even 'calculated' would be better. The anime, much like all the duality among the story's designs and motifs, is aware of having to pull double duty laying out the setting for new viewers while keeping following-up fans on the same page. It results in things like a line of dialogue noting that Akiko's husband is a detective with the police department: a key detail in general, but also one that confirms for those returning fans how this is a fully post-series sequel. That sequel status means many of those established details can be worked in and referenced as general world-building just like the past events in the original Kamen Rider W. As a mystery series that's laying things out for intrigue, FUUTO PI does seem structured to be as simple to get into as any other daytime detective drama.

And as for that sleuthing story itself? Well, it's a simple one that only feels like it's just getting started by the time this episode ends. That structural setup is perhaps to be expected, not just in how anime and their premieres tend to play out these days, but also on account of the original Kamen Rider W itself being constructed entirely out of two-part episodes. In fact it can almost feel aimlessly repetitive at points, with most of the momentum of the plot being based around seeing Shotaro pursue mysterious witchy woman Tokime around corners and into alleyways before losing her and needing to restart the investigation from another angle. Like any good mystery plot they do make clear early on and keep driving at the idea that there's more to the story behind their client's request than first appears on the surface. And interestingly, I can already feel that Tokime herself is going to be more instrumental to the story in the long term than the inciting inquirer of Chuuta. But it's just barely tantalizing snippets so far, with the only major arc of a plot in this one episode being resolved by Shotaro's ability to suss out where a woman might be able to bathe outdoors.

So absent any especially compelling mystery at the start, this premiere's all about drawing the audience in primarily on the broader bits and pieces constituting its vibes. Seeing all their favorite Kamen Rider W side characters make cameos is fun fanservice for those familiar, sure, but even new viewers who have no idea who the likes of Santa-Chan or Watcherman are can get a sense of Shotaro's familiarity with the town of Fuuto and its people through sequences like this. Being the first part of our introduction to the series, it makes sense that it would start with establishing Shotaro like that. I gotta say, I'm pleased to see his character coming through better than I might have expected in anime form. Even with a new character design and a voice actor that makes him feel at least ten years older, the energy of his characterization is intact, and he still comes off as the same half-boiled goober that we know, love, and are eager to introduce to new people. Here's a dude who snaps smoldering selfies while trying to monologue about what a badass he is, you immediately recognize what he's about. And (re)introducing us to Fuuto through his viewpoint helps play up Tokime's antagonistic approach starting this storyline, as she warps Shotaro's perception of his beloved city into something he can't recognize. It already applies a neat aspect of meta-adaptational sensibility to the show, taking us down familiar roads made unfamiliar.

Being an anime also allows FUUTO PI to play with this new kind of visual take on the material. As a heavily-promoted premiere that took a whole extra month to come out, it's perhaps expected that this first episode looks pretty good. But I ain't complaining—just getting to see the animated take on Kamen Rider W's first fight in the prologue is a tantalizing treat for where the toku-style action will go once it takes off properly (And can I just say how happy I am that the Rider is actually rendered in traditional 2D animation? I was genuinely worried they might use CGI.). The noir-tinted atmosphere of the franchise is communicated well by the framing and layouts so far, and they're already appreciably dedicated to recreating many of the recognizable old Kamen Rider W sets in anime background form (including several Toei shooting locations that continue to pop up to this day!). Animation lets them indulge in a bit more fantastical action though, from Tokime's unique way of 'running' up the air, to the multiple dynamic tracking shots we get to follow throughout. On the other hand, it is only a little distracting how dedicated they are to focusing on the way Tokime breasts boobily bobs everywhere she goes, though on the other other hand, I can't help but find it a little funny that after a whole original series of focusing on pretty-boy actors to keep the moms watching with their kids at home entertained, Kamen Rider W now has to swivel around to cater to the fanservice sensibilities of the late-night otaku crowd.

Obviously I'm a major mark for FUUTO PI, but even by the standards of modern anime first episodes, I can feel that it's only barely getting started with this premiere. They even held back the full reveal of Philip for the full episode seemingly just so they'd have something to end on for a fan-enticing cliffhanger! It means we overall don't get a lot to go on yet in terms of what this series is going to be apart from "Kamen Rider W anime that is also making an effort to be friendly to new viewers". It's a neat novelty as a concept for one introductory episode, but Kamen Rider W didn't work great as a 'gateway' series all those years ago simply by being an approachable Kamen Rider entry; it had interesting, entertaining characters and mystery writing on its own apart from all the toys and special effects. Hopefully, having gotten all the pieces out on the board in front of us with this one, the next episode of FUUTO PI will show us some of the really interesting moves it can make with them.


FUUTO PI is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Chris is a freewheeling Fresno-based freelancer with a love for anime and a shelf full of too many Transformers. He can be found spending way too much time on his Twitter, and irregularly updating his blog.

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