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Next up in my look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori series is Kikaider! Like most of the manga we’ve seen in the past few weeks, this too was created and ran alongside a live action TV series in the 70s. Following the loss of his son, Dr. Komyogi throws himself into the field of robotics, creating a wide variety of robots for his sponsor, Herbert Gill. Ultimately, Gill reveals his true plans for the robots prompting Komyogi to create one final robot in the image of his dead son. Unlike his other creations, this one is imbued with an incomplete conscious circuit, giving it a semblance of free will, and constructed with the purpose of doing battle with Gill and his minions. But will the robot known as Kikaider turn out to be the worlds savior, or it’s doom?
Much like other series by Ishinomori, Kikaider follows a fairly familiar formula. A hero does battle with enemies who serve a mad man bent on taking over the world. Here however, the onus of the story is less on the external conflict itself and more on Kikaider’s internal conflict of wondering if he’s doing the right thing, what the meaning behind his existence is, and finding out where he belongs in the world. The philosophical aspect, while not terribly deep in this volume, still gives Kikaider himself a nice amount of depth. It also leads to other questions such as the nature of free will and what it means to be a human being. It’s not all heavy, dry navel gazing though, as the questions raised are often brought up alongside fight scenes as Kikaider dispatches his robot brethren, or battles for self control as Gill attempts to hijack his programming.
Ishinomori’s artwork in Kikaider is definitely an improvement from Kamen Rider. It sports a more polished version of his cartoony style and looks fantastic. The action scenes are fun and easy to follow, and Ishinomori makes use of several splash pages and double splash pages to depict some key scenes. Among them is a rather simple, but lovely sequence of Kikaider’s transformation from his human form to his combat robot mode, the first transformation sequence I’ve come across in these Comixology books! He also uses the visuals to further reinforce certain themes within the story. The idea of the conscience circuit being imperfect is reflected in Kikaiders a-symmetrical design, which in turn plays upon the idea of an imperfect man and what it means to a perfect human and similar themes mentioned above.
After reading the first volume of Kamen Rider, something I was really looking forward to, I was a little worried that these all might be bland and lifeless tie-ins. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Kikaider was a surprisingly good read with some interesting themes and ideas. While they’re hardly unique, they’re handled competently and simply enough that the volume never devolved into angst-y whining, and Ishinomori strikes a nice balance between the weightier issues and questions and the action and superheroic aspects of the story.
Kikaider, Vol. 1 is available now from Comixology.