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Kamen Rider ZO as a manga plays out rather differently from Kamen Rider ZO as a movie, despite having near identical stories. The differences come from the changes in character and events in the movie. The four chapter manga came out around the same time as the movie and it…is an interesting take on ZO, but would I call it the definitive one? I know there have been opinions in the past that this thing was actually better than the movie, but is it?

No. It really isn’t. Like. No. Man, this manga is…it’s an interesting way to give as a different look at ZO, but I still consider the movie the definitive work of ZO. The manga here feels so different and plays characters as near opposites to who they are in the movie, mainly Masarau. Honestly it doesn’t even feel like Kamen Rider ZO at times despite having more or less the same plot. The Masaru you get in the movie is definitely not the Masaru in this manga.

The series opens up much the same as the movie – Masaru awakening in a forest and being called by a voice to save Hiroshi. This is where things start to change. Rather than go directly to the fight scene with Doras, we get Masaru…encounting his ex-girlfriend! Yes, this version of Masaru was apparently seeing someone before he disappeared. We learn that the relationship between the two had become strained because of the time Masaru spent working in the lab with professor Mochizuki. The girlfriend here isn’t much of a character, she’s just a stand in for someone that’s been hurt and has tried to move on, despite her lingering feelings.

After Masaru’s conversation with his ex ends with her storming out, he is alerted to Doras by…that giant grasshopper from the movie. Okay, maybe I didn’t notice it, but I think they still didn’t explain what the heck is up with this thing. Is it the one from J who just hasn’t learned how to speak English yet? It strikes me as very bizarre that it’s never explained yet plays such an integral role in the story at times.

Anywho! Masaru does battle with Doras, but rather than fending it off like he did in the movie, he gets his butt kicked. After some inspiration, he manages to get back on his feet and send Doras packing, at least for the moment. Masaru is knocked out with the attack that sends Doras packing and he awakens in a hospital. I have no idea how he was treated in a hospital but okay. It seems like he healed pretty fast, all of his scars having already healed. He of course “blames” this on the fact that he’s become a cyborg now.

If there’s one thing I do like about this version of Masaru a little better than the movie version is that he does angst a bit, okay, a lot more about being turned into a cyborg. That short run time really hurt ZO as far as the expansion of the characters and motivations go. Here we learned that ZO pretty much hates the fact that he’s a cyborg, he feels like he’s trying to hold onto the past when he was still human because being a cyborg has brought him noting but pain.

This actually leads to a pretty cool development later one when the stand in for Hiroshi’s sister in this version…who I don’t think is his sister here, teaches ZO to let go of his past and focus on channeling his power into what he has to do now. Something about having all that power and letting it go to waste. I thought it was a cool concept, but the way the speech was delivered just seems to completely ignore the way Masaru was feeling. It could have gone over very badly. Also, yes, This is the manga where we see ZO train while transformed and wearing a Gi. It’s not any less bizarre than it sounds…but at the same time, is it odd that I can picture something like this actually happening and working with one of the older shows?

Back story for the monsters is also something we get to enjoy here. Well, at least for the Spider-Woman character. We learn that Doras created a bat and a spider and sent them off to find hosts so that they could mutate their bodies. Who did the Spider-Woman find? ZO’s ex-girlfriend. ZO doesn’t realize this is his ex until well until the battle when he already has her beat. Earlier on in the series she told Masaru that she was engaged to someone else and that she had moved on and…it turns out that it was all a lie. She waited for Masaru for the longest time and when he finally returned she realized that, although she still loved him, she couldn’t risk the pain that he put her through in the past and lied to him. Ouch. That’s some pretty heavy stuff there for Rider – I think this series does a nice job of punctuating the sacrifice that a Rider has to make to actually live as a Rider.

The rest of the manga plays out more or less like the movie as far as the final battle goes – though with the Reiko stand in character along for the ride.

In the end, it’s…well, it’s not that great of a work. Certain themes are there and I love them a ton, seeing them worked into the movie would have really rocketed that thing to the top for me, but sadly it wasn’t meant to happen. The art also just isn’t there, sometimes it’s just downright ugly to look at. There’s not much of a sense of style here and you sort of just want to turn the page in hopes of something pretty looking popping up. If you read this, it probably won’t be for the art. That said, there are some pretty awesome spreads to be found throughout the four chapters, but they’re certainly the exception.

The thing that I disliked the most about this though? It was Masaru. Masaru in ZO the movie and Masaru in the ZO the manga are two totally different characters. There is next to no interaction between Hiroshi and Masaru here, so that heroic sense of justice doesn’t present itself. Rather, Masaru does most of his bonding with the Reiko stand in. Masaru here also seems like more of a hard noses former asshole with a chip on his shoulders. Definitely not the older brother type character we got in the movie. I think it’s sad too, you could have worked that Masaru into this manga and coupled with the tragic love story? You would have had something great on your hands. Sadly,  ZO in both universes falls just short of being a true stand out, but presents great ideas. And if anything, the manga will always be known for the fact that we got to see Kamen Rider ZO training in a Gi.