First Impressions: Fuuto PI

Fuuto PI
Fuuto PI is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

It's almost hard to believe it, but after all these years there's finally an official Kamen Rider anime series. Despite the potential for an animated series based on Shotaro Ishinimori's premier tokusatsu hero as well as the numerous manga release ripe for adaptation there's been over the years, somehow 1993's Kamen Rider SD has remained its only anime offering - until now. Announced alongside Shin Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider Black Sun as part of the franchise's 50th anniversary celebrations, the story of Kamen Rider W now continues in Fuuto PI! Based on the ongoing manga series of the same name (marketed in Japan as Fuuto Tantei), the adaptation is being done by Studio Kai - a relatively new studio whose previous credits include Uma Musume Pretty Derby 2nd Season.

Shotaro HidariTokime

Whilst surveying the windy city of Fuuto, half-boiled detective Shotaro Hidari encounters a mysterious woman who suddenly disappears. Back at the Narumi Detective Agency, he is approached by a client, Chuta Tsubosaki, who asks that he find the mysterious woman after she stole his bag.

After chasing the woman down, Shotaro suddenly finds himself in a building owned by the Tachikawa Group – later learning that one of their men was allegedly murdered by the woman. After tracking her down once more, Shotaro and Chuta give chase – finding themselves in a strange alternate version of Fuuto.

Shotaro and Akiko meet a clientThe alternate Fuuto

One of the biggest questions on everyone's mind in the lead up to this series' release was just how newcomer-friendly it was going to be. After all – an anime adaptation could mean big things for the franchise as a whole (just look at the success Gridman and Garo have had), but at the same time needing to watch a 49-episode series from 13 years ago could be considered a bit of a hurdle. There was also the fact that (much like the manga) Fuuto PI is distancing itself from being a Kamen Rider product when it comes to the marketing – both through its title and the lack of Kamen Rider Double appearing in any of the initial key images. It's a very difficult balance to strike given how important it is that the series succeed and the popularity of Kamen Rider W, so how does the first episode of Fuuto PI manage?

For those unfamiliar with the world of Kamen Rider W, this episode eases you into the windy city without completely omitting what makes it so special. The opening scenes of Kamen Rider Double's origin promise something much bigger later on, but for the time being it's an opportunity to be properly introduced to these characters. The episode primarily focuses around Shotaro, firmly (re)establishing him as the suave detective who isn't quite as hard-boiled as he'd like to think. He's a bit of a goofball, but also a good detective who knows his city and how to work it. From here we also meet Akiko, as well as a brief introduction to Philip – whose involvement in the Narumi Detective Agency arguably acts as the hook for the next episode. What might seem like a bit of a slow-burning premiere (by tokusatsu standards at least) instead comfortably delves into the detective aspect of the show, establishing its neo-noir charm before delving head first into Kamen Rider action. It's just as well the show takes this approach too, since the original Kamen Rider W series is (legally) unavailable outside of Japan and that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

Kamen Rider DoubleThe Taboo Dopant

Existing fans of the series certainly haven't been forgotten about though, as the episode is crammed full of references and call backs to make it feel like Fuuto never went away. Those opening scenes are immediately familiar as the events of Begins Night – chronicling the death of Sokichi Narumi and Shotaro's first meeting with Phillip. There's even an appearance from the Taboo Dopant/Saeko Sonozaki, immediately presenting fans with familiar imagery in 2D form. From there it's all about getting reacquainted with the people of Fuuto – and not just the Narumi Detective Agency either. Little moments like Akiko's slippers bring a smile but are expected to some degree, but seeing the various informants Shotaro turns to (Santa-chan, Master of Fumen) shows the love Fuuto PI has to its source material. At one point Shotaro meets up with detective Jinno (who hasn't forgotten his trademark backscratcher), and even Lily makes an appearance in a near-perfect recreation of Fuuto's coffee shop. While Fuuto PI offers the chance to make the city feel much bigger in a way the live-action series couldn't, immediately tying it back to all this familiarity already makes the world feel lived-in. It's the perfect kind of fanservice – enriching the show without alienating anyone.

Of course some aspects are new for everyone – namely a brand new character central to Fuuto PI's story, Tokime. Introduced as the rumoured "Witch of the T Junction" stealing from the people of Fuuto, Tokime's inclusion is something that takes the story into more manga/anime territory. Sexily seductive, she fits the noir setting nicely whilst also giving the show a (not too overt) element of fanservice – so far she definitely stands out as the most "not derived from live action" member of the cast. Once again the episode focuses on the character rather than the lore, only giving fans a glimpse of a Gaia Memory right at the very end. While the episode itself doesn't really have a lot to say about Tokime, it's a solid introduction that plays up the "mysterious woman" angle very well.

The Tokime mystery deepensThe best place for Gaia Memories

That dovetails nicely into the story itself, which looks to be dealing with a parallel universe of Fuuto. As an existing fan of Kamen Rider W the story itself is going to be one of the biggest curiosities, as in many ways what could be considered the "main" story has already been dealt with. Having to come at it from a sequel angle, all while striking the balance between making it accessible as a standalone product and reconciling it with the pre-existing lore, is ambitious in itself. But what story has been shown off here is good, and by exploring a more investigative angle Fuuto PI has already created a hook that could easily carry the series without the Kamen Rider element.

Although Fuuto PI is being handled by a (relatively) newly formed studio, the staff behind it have plenty of experience in the industry and it shows in how good this show looks. The aesthetic of the series mirrors that of the original manga, with sharp character designs that match their real-life counterparts whilst giving them some slight anime exaggeration. Touches like Shotaro's purple eyes or Philip's green hair might seem odd to those coming off the back of the live-action series, but they're good little touches that make the anime versions more unique whilst nicely tying into their Cyclone/Joker colour schemes (also Philip is exactly the kind of person who'd get obsessed with dying his hair). Even if the opening scenes of Double fighting a hoard of Masquerade Dopants isn't enough to convince you that the series will deliver when it comes to action, later scenes of Shotaro escaping a mysterious attacker as well as Philip's dramatic entrance certainly up the ante.

AkikoPhilip returns

Overall this is an extremely strong start to Fuuto PI, giving Kamen Rider fans the kind of animated series they've been waiting years for whilst also comfortably inviting new fans into the fold. What the episode lacks in superhero action it makes up for in world-building and mystery – offering up a brand new adventure for Shotaro and Philip. That lack of action certainly isn't a negative though, with that Begins Night opening showing the audience exactly what the show has in store for them. Fuuto PI may be a key chapter in growing Kamen Rider's popularity outside of Japan, so getting off to a strong start is crucial. This premiere suggests there'll be little to worry about, so I can only hope it captures newcomers the same way it has Rider fans.