If you've been reading ComicsAlliance for a while, then you probably already know that as soon as the calendar switches over to December, I start obsessively watching as many Christmas specials as I possibly can. Not just the big Rankin-Bass specials, either -- I do my best to watch out for the weird ones, like Christmas Comes to Pac-Land and that He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special where Skeletor learns the true meaning of holiday magic. And every time I think I've exhausted the well of the obscure and bizarre, I end up finding something new.

Today, my (relatively) newfound love of Japanese tokusatsu shows led me to sit down with the Christmas episode of the 1971 Kamen Rider TV series, and I'll tell you right now: It's not like any holiday special I've ever seen. Largely because the title for the episode is "WEREWOLF MONSTER'S HUGE MURDER PARTY."

If you're not all that familiar with Kamen Rider, originally created by Shotaro Ishinomori, the basic idea is that he's a superhero dressed like a grasshopper who rides around on a dirtbike jump-kicking monsters to death. The monsters, as well as Kamen Rider himself, are manufactured by an organization called Shocker with designs on world domination, which usually involved sending some weird cyborg out to cause trouble. It seems like a pretty inefficient plan, but to be fair, they have different branches trying to do this stuff all over the world. It's all summed up in the theme song with lyrics also by Ishinomori that were all about how Kamen Rider was going to jump and then subsequently kick his enemies, "Shocker, the army of Hell" until they were all dead. I think we can all agree that this is probably the single best premise any piece of media has ever had, and if you disagree, go back and read that part about how there are jump-kicks and dirtbikes in the theme song. I'll wait.

That's pretty much all the background information that you need to know.

Now, I call this one a Christmas episode, but to be honest, there's not really an overwhelming amount of yuletide content. It's more like Die Hard, where the time of miracles is just a background for other things to happen. Santa Claus is only seen briefly and nobody learns the true meaning of giving, but people do get jump-kicked pretty hard, something that rarely happens even in the best productions of A Christmas Carol.

The adventure opens with two businessmen singing "Jingle Bells" as they make their way home from an evening of drunken shopping. One of them heads offscreen to take a leak while they wait for the train, and when he doesn't come back after a few minutes, his pal goes to check on him, only to find that he has turned into a wolfman wearing a brand new John Cena wrestling belt:



Needless to say, this puts a bit of a damper on the evening's festivities.

The non-wolf businessman gets killed, and then the forces of Shocker arrive to contain him, revealing that he's their latest top-secret creation. We're also introduced to the true villain of the episode, Colonel Zol:



Or, as I like to call him, Evil Paul F. Tompkins.

EPFT berates his henchmen for letting their new cyborg werewolf virus (yup) get loose before it was ready, because they might've attracted Kamen Rider's attention and gotten kicked to death like they have for the past 38 consecutive weeks, but since the only witness is dead from a bite to the jugular, there's no harm done. Or so they think! For some reason, there was a tiny adorable orphan girl hiding behind a nearby column who saw the whole thing, because apparently orphans just roamed the streets at all hours of the night in the middle of winter back in 1971. It was a rough time.

Within a few scenes, Col. Zol is going to discover this information, because the girl, Kumi, accidentally leaves her shoe at the scene and, like most shoes, it has her full name and address written inside it. Now, even back then, you have to imagine that there had been enough of these stories told that everyone knew that when an orphan girl sees your evil plot, the best case scenario you can hope for is a quick death from Jean Reno. Nosy orphans just do not mix well with evil plots, and the best thing you can do when you end up with one is just leave town and start over. Zol, however, is going to stick this one out.

I mean, what are the odds that this one little girl actually knows Kamen Rider and is going to be able to tell him what she saw, right?



So yeah, the next day, Kamen Rider is hanging out at the orphanage getting things ready for a Christmas party when Kumi starts yammering about this werewolf that stole her doll.

It's worth noting that this is actually the second Kamen Rider, Hayato Ichimonji, who replaced the original after the actor playing him was injured in a stunt. In the show he was written out with the explanation that he was investigating Shocker's interests overseas, but in Ishinomori's manga, it worked out... slightly differently.

As for just what Hayato's doing at the orphanage, he's pretty much just there to fulfill our regulation amount of Christmas content:



How quickly these fickle children turn, eh Santa?

Once he's been tipped off to the presence of wolfmans in his neighborhood, Hayato and his pal Taki, who works for the FBI, head off to investigate. Shocker, meanwhile, has launched its own plan of action, raiding the orphanage and attempting to kidnap Kumi so they can silence her once and for all. They do this, it should be noted, in full costume, asking the lady who runs the place where Kumi is and then just walking right out the front door, presumably because they are unclear of just what this whole "keeping a low profile" thing is all about.

As you might expect, Hayato shows up to stop this dastardly deed, but before he gets into the fight scene, there's a bizarre moment where the evil Wolf Man tries to use Kumi as a hostage, only to be foiled because he got the wrong kid:



Far be it from me to tell Kamen Rider #2 how to do his superheroing, but, you know, that's still a kid. It's not a decoy or anything. You'd think one hapless orphan would be just as good as another when it came to keeping two good guys at bay, but no, when the Wolf Man threatens to kill the kid if they don't let him go, they pretty much just respond with mocking laughter because this dumbass grabbed the wrong kid.

And then comes the fight scene, which follows the Batman '66 model of being less about actual punching and more like swing dancing until it's time for the finishing move:



The immediate threat has now been dealt with, but can anyone truly be safe with Paul F. Tompkins still on the loose?

The next day, Hayato, Taki and the orphans are all hanging out when the FBI calls up with a new piece of information. This seems awfully convenient even when you consider that we've only got ten more minutes to deal with all this, but either way, the good guys are informed that Colonel Zol is celebrating the launch of "Operation Wolf" by throwing a masquerade ball at his secret headquarters, as villains do. One of Shocker's higher-ups is coming in by helicopter, and Hayato and Taki plan on meeting it when it lands.

They make short work of the bad guys, and in the process, they acquire an invitation to the ball, written on a set of stationery that I need to have in my life:



From there, it's off to Shocker HQ, where things start to get awkward.



For all their flaws, though -- not the least of which being that they consider mismatched Klan robes to be formalwear, which I suppose is to be expected from dudes who wear vaguely Nazi-ish uniforms in their day-to-day lives -- there's one thing you have to give to Shocker: they know how to handle their interior decorating.

Seriously, check out how they trick out their walls:




Unfortunately, the whole thing turns out to be a trap. Zol knew they were going to intercept the message and used it to lure Hayato into a trap, confining him in a room where he wouldn't be able to use his wind-powered turbine belt to transform into his more powerful cyborg state. But! Hayato and Taki were one step ahead of him, and sent Taki in there instead while Hayato remained outside!

This... is not really a great plan. I mean, if they were going to kill Hayato, they can probably kill Taki just as easily, and it's not like Hayato is outside transforming into Kamen Rider and launching an attack. He's just sort of standing there waiting for Taki to come out, which means that their entire counter plan hinges on the bad guys just not killing someone they already wanted to kill when he was delivered to them wrapped up in a dumb pointy hat.

And yet, it works, and Zol is brought outside for the final one-on-one confrontation with his arch-nemesis. But he has one more trick up his sleeve: His true form!



Seriously, those belts. I have got to get one.

Of course, once it gets to this point, the ending is pretty much already written. Hayato transforms, they dance at each other for a little bit, and eventually Kamen Rider punches him so hard that he turns into a dummy, falls off a cliff, and explodes.

Thus, the day is saved, but there's still one last matter to take care of: Those orphans still need their toys on Christmas!



Kumi gets a new doll to make up for the one the Wolf Man stole, and all the kids have a nice Christmas free from ersatz Nazis trying to make them into werewolves and usher them into a world of truly amazing wall art. And yet, I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed. I mean, it's nice to see Kamen Rider rolling up to an orphanage with a sack full of gifts, but there just wasn't enough Christmas in here, you know?

On the other hand, it did deliver on the promise of a wolf man's murder party, although calling a gathering of six guests "huge" is overselling it just a shade.