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by Christopher Farris,

Kamen Rider Kuuga

GN 2-3 Review

Kamen Rider Kuuga GN 2-3

Godai Yusuke's transformation into Kuuga was only the beginning. The twisted game of the Gurongi has now well and truly gotten underway, and all of the human race are in their competing crosshairs. Not only must Godai get a handle on his evolving abilities, he must contend with the rest of a police force that might not be as accepting of his metamorphosed presence as Ichijo is. The hero's path can be a lonely one to ride down, and Godai will interact with friend and foe as he comes to understand the struggle that destiny has thrust him into.

Kamen Rider Kuuga is translated by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, with lettering by Jessica Burton and Caleb Ward.


The end of the second volume of the Kamen Rider Kuuga manga includes, as a bonus, an interview with Toei producer Shinichiro Shirakura. In it, Shirakura talks about some of the decisions made in creating the manga, going with Tohshiki Inoue as the writer, and the mindset that led them to some of the choices and changes in this version of the story. In particular, Shirakura singles out the series' main character, Yusuke Godai, as "boring" in his original interpretation. The producer goes on to assert that Godai doesn't shoulder as much as secondary lead Kaoru Ichijo and that one of their goals for the Kuuga manga was to "restore" Godai by portraying him and Ichijo in more equal roles in this version of the story.

It is undoubtedly a choice of an argument to make about the character. I could sit here and discuss the apparent character foibles Godai demonstrated across the TV series that made it such an endearing hit to be nostalgically mined some fifteen years later, but that would fall far outside the purview of reviewing these subsequent manga volumes. After all, Shirakura also acknowledges that this new Kuuga adaptation may also be designed for those who did not watch the original Kuuga, and that goes extra for this English release from Titan Comics, brought out for a western audience that is just barely seeing the arrival of varied Kamen Rider content in an official capacity. Still, Shirakura's comments provide a compelling window to view this take on the story as we move through these next two volumes.

For all the seeming attempts at easing in audiences with the more grounded, adult situations of Ichijo and his police-procedural business in the first Kuuga manga volume, it becomes apparent that slow-burn start has passed almost as soon as the second volume kicks off. We start off with a recreation of the show's iconic battle between Kuuga and the bat-based Gurongi in a burning church, and from there, things start to resemble the Kuuga we know and love just a little more. Fully introduced now, the reader starts to get more of a read on Godai and the agenda of fleshing him out that Shirakura and Inoue seemed so dedicated to in this context.

A major beneficial component of tackling Kuuga fifteen years later, and in a format like manga that can allow a bit more textual interiority of its hero, is that the writing can take the time to explore the psychological effects of events on someone like Godai. Yes, Kuuga is still the sort of superhero story where whole bucketloads of civilians are killed by the monsters before the hero can defeat them, as it was in its tokusatsu television show form. But in the manga's take, Godai directly watches the Gurongi kill people right in front of him while he's still finding his footing as a transforming hero, and he's just too late or too weak to save them. It lends a raw motivation to the evolutionary component of Kuuga's form-changing strength as he grapples with his still-growing efforts at heroism and the imperfect results.

It fits with the grittier, darker take on Kuuga and the manga's world. By the third volume, the transformational take on Godai has even intersected with Inoue's efforts at characterizing the Gurongi themselves with more nuance than this part afforded them in the show's story (not least of all because we can understand what they're saying from the beginning here). The plot with the cheetah Gurongi known as Mebio takes up a significant chunk of that third volume. It shows off that even this "restored" version of Godai carries the all-loving capacity for empathy, extending it to a being he knows to be malicious and murderous in an attempt to turn that relationship with humanity around. It doesn't take, of course, in an affecting turn that lays bare the unknowable moral system of the Gurongi and the portents that maybe we really can't ever understand each other.

Godai's hero's guilt becomes a central focus as Kuuga's full story gets going after that setup-laden first volume. But the other characters in orbit around all this have their contributions, and they might cause the confines of these humble volumes to buckle a bit. This book's creators already singled out Ichijo as the most relatable character, but now he has a PTSD-stricken sister to care for and a conflict with his former police partner who inflicted it on her. That character, a mercenary known as Tetsuya, along with his assistant, are brought into the plot to ramp up that tension on Ichijo's side, alongside his interactions with scientist Enokida, who has been significantly re-engineered in terms of looks and personality from her TV incarnation. The volumes even find an opportunity to crowbar in points from Kuuga's follow-up series, Kamen Rider Agito, leaving on a cliffhanger of exactly how the whole of the story will converge in on itself. These elements all appear in orbit around the core stories of Godai and the Gurongi, barely having time to develop beyond their base pathos and crowding out previously established characters like Sakurako.

The Kamen Rider Kuuga manga affords more room for that kind of character exploration than its famously drama-styled forerunner. But that doesn't mean it's skimping out on the jump-kicking action it's so well-known for. As with the personal focus point, Godai being formally introduced and inducted into the role of the titular Kamen Rider means there are plenty of opportunities for him to do the "Henshin" thing and mix it up with monsters. Another aspect discussed in that Shirakura interview is the idea of pursuing battles that are "over in a flash" to make up for the lack of impact that can come without on-film transformations and stunts. Still, even with that imposed limitation, the Kuuga manga gets up to a broad swath of action across these volumes, selling Godai's explosively evolving abilities, bits of characteristic bike action, and the now-expected horror-inspired violence.

These are stylings that artist Hitotsu Yokoshima continues to be well-suited for. The design of things still leans towards the humanoid, suit-based sensibilities of Kuuga and the Gurongi in the show, but with just a bit of fantastical flair afforded by the on-page possibilities. The grasshopper-based Gurongi sports elongated lower locust legs he kicks off buildings with, and the cheetah Gurongi is depicted as keeping pace with cars on the freeway. In between adapting the toku-style elements of the action, Yokoshima does find time for some delightfully indulgent pieces of art, like Mebio's shattered eye reflected in the ripples of water. In fact, between that particular injury and the kind of violence repeated across these volumes, you get the impression that Yokoshima just has it out for eyes in general.

It's an overall presentation marred by Titan Comics's choices in putting these volumes together. Manga with previously colored pages now reproduced in black-and-white is a semi-standard practice. Still, it disappoints in moments when those original printings were supposed to showcase Kuuga achieving specific color-coded transformations. In this case, that can only be codified in-text and said text for these second and third entries comes off wanting. And that subject itself requires a digression about the release of these volumes.

StoneBot and Titan's translation for the first volume of Kamen Rider Kuuga was noted for issues in its stiffness and awkwardness (problems I regrettably rather skimmed over in my review of that first volume). In response to these issues being called attention to, StoneBot released a statement, claiming they would be revising the translations for later printings of the first two volumes, and delayed the release of Volume 3 from March to May. However, with physical copies of Volume 3 now having appeared on shelves, I was able to source one for myself and compare it to the preview copy I was provided for this review months ago (before the company's statements on the translations and supposed dedication to revisions), to confirm that no changes or revisions were made to the manga between the review copy and the physical release.

It's a mess of a situation that only further draws attention to an English translation that has scarcely improved from that flawed first volume. The dialogue feels stiff and stilted in many places, with characters often lacking distinctive voices. Puns like a character referring to alcohol as a "Moderate Poison" are rendered through clarifying parentheticals with all the grace of a mid-2000s fansub. All this comes packaged with scattered typos and case issues, which make the decision to keep using an untranslated "Henshin" for Godai's transformation call feel quaint and even downright negligent in comparison. Even that interview in the second volume I talked about at the beginning of this review reads with an incredible degree of awkwardness, feeling more like a transcript from an interpreter than an accurate English translation of the text (less charitably, it could be argued that it reads as if it were machine translated).

The first volume of Kamen Rider Kuuga was an appreciated curiosity of a release, a unique slow-burn of an adaptation to indulge in. But with these subsequent two volumes, the story has gotten underway on its own terms, and it proves to be a bumpy motorcycle ride for us and our hero. It is still interesting from an adaptational standpoint. If you enjoy coming along on Toshiki Inoue's messier indulgences, you'll likely find something to latch onto on an individual level here. But as it continues and branches out into expansions of character canon, odd opinionated interpretations of its main hero, and incorporating of follow-up shows, it more and more marks itself as something that primarily exists in conversation with the original series and those that have seen it. It is still interesting as a novelty but feels less intriguing than it did at the beginning.

Overall : C
Story : B
Art : A

+ Horror-infused art continues to impress, Interior exploration of Godai is an interesting take, the storyline with Mebio in the third volume is compelling
Addition of more characters and concepts crowds out other elements, the translation and localization for these volumes is rough, and StoneBot's statements that they would revise the translation in response to fan outcry don't seem to have been followed up on

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Production Info:
Story: Toshiki Inoue
Original creator: Shōtarō Ishinomori
Art: Hitotsu Yokoshima
Licensed by: Titan Comics

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Kamen Rider Kuuga (manga)

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