By Joseph Walter
On the subject of Lost Galaxy, I also mentioned that it had a stellar incidental musical score for each episode, complete with memorable and exciting musical motifs. And although it had an orchestral sound, it was all done synthetically. Today, things are different.
At the height of the Power Rangers phenomenon, Saban decided to branch off into other tokusatsu productions, such as the pretty great VR Troopers, the incomprehensible Big Bad Beetleborgs, and the truly awful Masked Rider.
Using footage from the venerable Kamen Rider franchise, Saban and co. decided that instead of taking the dark tone of the source material (like they did with VR Troopers, and quite well, I may add) they'd make a surreal sitcom out of it, and then have out of place battle sequences interspersed between. And it's not only the basic premise that's bizarre, but the content and choices that were made. Dex, the main character, is an aloof alien forced to adapt to life on Earth while his evil Uncle tries to track him down and destroy him. His adoptive family is a heavy-handed multi-cultural mishmash, and then there's... well.... ugh. There's this thing named Ferbus, and I'll be damned (God damned, even) if it was not the source material for the horrifying Furby craze of that era.
So, the plot, premise, characters and concepts are already pretty big "whys," but the greatest "why" of all is about to make its presence known: out of each and every Saban tokusatsu adaptation, Masked Rider inexplicably has a legitimate orchestra for its background music and theme song. They felt that this property, which barely understands itself, needed that kind of quality?
And the weirdest part? Shuki Levy delivers an excellent score. He didn't even half-ass it like the show half-assed its birth.
Aside from the abnormally enjoyable music, we have the theme song which, while having high compositional quality, is just as conceptually beleaguered as the rest of the show's identity crisis:
Instead of just having a straight playing of the orchestral theme, there is a rhythmic chanting of "MASKED RIDER" over it. A lot of people hate this, and I sort of do, too (especially since there's no truly clean version of the fully orchestral version out there) but... I don't know... I kind of like the rhythm of that chanting, despite the fact that it drowns out some of the superbly performed excellence at the core of the music. And there's also a schizophrenically light-hearted sequence (sadly, with no chanting) but hey, I kind of like that part, too.
.... I don't want to be clever. I just want to say "let's listen," because I can't bare to - ECTO-PHASE ACTIVATE.
Following this, there's a light-hearted but lively sequence meant to illustrate the goofy "sitcom" (quotes necessary) aspects of the series before it transitions to a (thankfully) chant-free rendition of the main motif with yearning strings that play against thinner-sounding horns before they're rejoined by the bulk of the orchestra (and even the chanters) for one final climax (and spectacular modulation!)
So, as your ears can tell, this is a pretty special piece of music, and Shuki has some great talent (I'm also a huge fan of his theme for Teknoman, and the show in general, but we'll discuss that another time.)
If it's any consolation, the score was so good that they wisely didn't let it go to waste on this dried up bug carcass. It lived on in the English dub of Digimon and Shuki was once again granted an orchestra to continue this particular sound for the Digimon movie (and thankfully so, because that, too, is amazing.)
Now we can only hope that at some point in the future, the complete scores for both Masked Rider and the Digimon Movie will be released to hungry music nerds such as myself!