Build and Zero-One rival each other as my favorite Kamen Rider seasons. But with the latter still fresh in my mind and me craving for even more, it has the slight edge. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to be able to watch Kamen Rider Zero-One: REALxTIME ( 仮面ライダーゼロワン リアルタイム), the first of several (!) post-series movies. And it absolutely delivered.
Everything I loved and enjoyed about the season (well-developed characters, dynamic and exciting action, timely and deep stories) was present here in this film. And the higher stakes combined with the feel of getting to check-in with old friends made this a thrilling and satisfying experience.
The film begins a few months after the series where the mysterious Esu leads a worldwide cult of doomsday followers who believe destroying the world will lead them to a new paradise. Using stolen ZAIA technology, the followers are able to henshin into an army of Kamen Riders that begin to attack cities around the world.
Esu sends a video message to Aruto saying he will oversee the total destruction of the world in 60 minutes. A battle ensues, but Aruto is completely overpowered and momentarily sent to a strange world where he learns more about the origins of Esu and the mysterious Thinknet network that has linked the congregation of followers around the world.
Meanwhile, familiar faces back in Tokyo race against the clock to protect the people while trying to figure out what is powering the apocalyptic army and how to stop it.
It’s important to point out that the film was delayed last year due to COVID-19 precautions in Japan. Instead of being released during the series’ run, the film was pushed to later in the year, long after the series concluded.
But functioning as an epilogue instead of a detour during the climactic final arc of the season actually works much better. I’ve always been slightly annoyed by movies that premiere during the season if only because many times, events in the movie will affect what happens in the series. Or things like new power-ups or new characters get referenced in-series. Of course, many fans like myself would not have watched the movie until long after the season is over. So those little details get in the way of that fully immersive experience in the weekly series.
REALxTIME works especially well because it is both a standalone story as well as the continuing adventures of these characters that we have grown to love and care about over 45 episodes. One could certainly come into this film without knowing much about the series. But being familiar and even more so, being invested in these characters as you come into the film really makes the entire experience that much more worthwhile and satisfying.
Knowing these characters inside and out also allows you to jump right into the action and focus on the imminent and dangerous threat. And the film does an excellent job of setting the stage right from the first minute.
It’s hard to see how the film with its cataclysmic plot would really work in-series without it feeling like an unnecessary detour. So being the first of several post-series epilogues really elevates what would be an already solid film.
REALxTIME specifically expands on the idea from the series that Ark was fed by hatred. Though the series vaguely touched on religious themes, this film takes it a step further in a way that allows the material to be darker and more visceral. Certainly to the extent that would probably not be appropriate for the weekly series.
The idea of a cult of hate is a fascinating jumping off point for the central premise of this film. Hate fueling a hunger for destruction with a goal of rebuilding the world into some idealistic paradise. There are certainly twists and turns during the film. But that theme is certainly another timely one to tackle in today’s world.
With relation to the series, the film expands the world a bit by showing different perspectives on the aftermath of the Daybreak incident. In doing so, the film adds a bit more weight to the struggles our friends have gone through so far and allows the already multi-faceted characters to further deepen and solidify themselves as individuals.
And in building out the world from the series, the film also delves deeper into the effect of technology on our daily lives. Also another theme from the series.
The relationships between the characters also take center stage. Most especially that of Aruto and Izu. The emotional foundation laid out from the series makes many of the film’s most affecting scenes that much more effective. And by the end, it’s not hard to remember what made Kamen Rider Zero-One so successful when it comes to strong, character-driven stories.
It also goes without saying that the excellent cast also does their part in bringing these characters to vivid life.
Overall, this is a well-developed, well-executed epilogue of a film that can stand on its own while also offer more adventure for these excellent characters. Action-packed, emotionally resonant, Kamen Rider Zero-One: REALxTIME is simply a great film.