So starting from episode 41, there’s an arc that marks what I think is the high point of the series, where-
Oh wait, we’ve kind of skipped ahead from my last post. Let’s recap.
After the color filter shenanigans of episodes 25 and 26, Shouichi… loses his memories again.
Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me on rewatch, it comes across as an attempt by the writers to advance the plot without yet showing ALL the cards to the audience. And it works in that sense, but then immediately going back to the status quo with Shouichi’s character after revising important past events is a little frustrating.
Okay, a LOT frustrating. In fact, this is where I dropped the show for nearly a month when I was watching through it for the first time. I think I mentioned in my first Agito post that I usually don’t like amnesiac plots, and issues like this one makes up a large reason why.
But the momentum of the plot isn’t lost entirely, thankfully, and immediately following this return to form, several other events occur.
First of all. Ryou dies.
No seriously, straight-up dies through a combination of getting curbstomped by an Unknown, and a side effect of his powers themselves slowly killing him. The Real Shouichi picks him up out of a river and seeks to revive him, borrowing the power of the people with the seed of Agito (the supernatural abilities plus the potential to become an Agito themselves ) in order to do so.
In order to resurrect Ryou, he awakens the powers of a character we’ve been following since the beginning of the show – Mana, the adopted niece of the professor who has also taken in Shouichi. She goes through a several-episodes long arc where she deals with teenage angst coupled with trying to deal with her newfound powers. It’s sweet, but drags a little because, well, teenage angst.
Eventually though, she does bring Ryou back to life, exhausting her healing abilities, but retaining her more signature clairvoyant skill, which we’ll see used again later on.
With a newfound lease on life, Ryou Ashihara also regains new resolve and direction in that restored life. Once left adrift with no real purpose to his abilities, he sets himself fully to protecting others. We’ll see this more clearly in the upcoming episodes, but for now it’s highlighted specifically in contrast with the other survivors of the Akatsuki. Where they have walled themselves off from the world and from reality, or lash out against others when they gain the power to fight back, he just grits through the suffering and puts it to use.
This is also demonstrated by a really nice little stand-alone episode where he helps protect a little boy targeted by the Unknown, after the monster has already killed his parents. It helps to put Ryou’s own suffering into perspective, and he comes to see it as something that can be used to benefit others, even if it means sacrificing himself.
This brings to light a major theme that develops in the back half of the season – the purpose of the power of Agito. Shouichi’s use of it has never been in doubt. Since the beginning of the show he has willingly used it to protect other people. Now Ryou has come to the same purpose. But there’s another Agito (literally, that’s what he’s called officially, “Another Agito”) that gets introduced here, Kino Kaoru.
A brilliant surgeon who lost his license to practice officially after receiving a transplanted arm following a disaster while climbing a mountain with his younger brother. Younger brother dies, he lives, but carries on his arm after his real one was lost to frostbite. He’s also another survivor of the Akatsuki disaster, and has fully awakened to be able to transform into an Agito himself. We first think he’s also a hero who is willing to help others in need and protect others when introduced.
But the problem is that he also believes that he is the ONLY one suited to do so, and tries to kill not only Shouichi and Ryou, but also another Akatsuki survivor, a teenager who idolizes him. We also see this reflected in how he works as a surgeon.
It isn’t until Ryou as Gills gains a new powered form (Gills Exceed – sadly a really terrible looking suit, although the scene where it gets introduced is awesome) and uses it to beat him down, that he starts to relent. A little.
Ultimately, Kino at this point in the series is a man who sought to subjugate the power of Agito, but instead became controlled and subjugated by his own fears and failures.
Another important plot development happens around this time, the monster that created the Akatsuki disaster and has been haunting the survivors ever since appears again. When facing the monster, known as the El (or “Lord”) of Water, Shouichi has his first real crisis of the show. He begins doubting his ability since he begins to remember first fighting against it on the Akatsuki, and subsequently being painfully defeated and chucked overboard to presumably die in the stormy ocean waters. He’s getting his butt kicked in the present day too, I believe this episode marks the first time in the series he gets knocked out of his transformation!
But he eventually gets his resolve back, and gets a pretty sweet suit upgrade to boot.
Later on, Hikawa finds out that Shouichi is actually Agito, in kind of a comedy of errors where every single obvious hint dropped his way flies right over his head through the whole episode.
Brave, definitely. Kind-hearted, sure. But smart, Hikawa certainly ain’t.
All of these events help to bring the Riders closer together as comrades, since they’re now all aware of each other’s identities, and now have a common goal of eliminating the El of Water. This will play a key role in Kino’s redemption as Another Agito.
Well now that that recap is finished, I can get back to my original point.
Starting from episode 41, Ryou, even though he is on better terms with the other characters and a ready fighter against the Unknown, isn’t exactly in a hurry to rejoin “normal” society. Again, see my comments in earlier articles on him lacking a place to return home to. His “home” is a tiny little apartment, and we don’t see him do much of anything apart from fight against monsters. He sees the other characters as fellow fighters against the Unknown, maybe, but not friends.
For that matter, he doesn’t really see himself as a member of normal human society at all, given his interactions with Ozawa and his disdain for G3-X, wishing it to stay out of fights against the Unknown and leave these issues to him and the other Agitos.
Shouichi, on the other hand, is eager to bring everyone together as friends, and even wants to meet with Kino (who was trying to kill them just a couple episodes before), not just to work with him more closely to fight Unknown, but to include him personally within their odd little group of comrades.
One of my favorite tropes in these shows is a main character who sees the best in everyone, and therefore brings out the best in everyone because of that faith and optimism. It’s the reason why Ryoga, Abared, is my favorite Red ranger in Sentai.
Another point about Ryou’s character I’ve made in this article and others, he suffered in the series up to this point because he suffered alone. It’s the same problem with Kino. He suffered alone for too long after his brother’s death, and it has made him just as cold as the mountainside where he lost his arm and Masato lost his life. Shouichi wants to bring him out of that, to reaffirm his character from that social context with others that he’s been lacking.
A place to come home to, in other words.
The three Agitos – now that they’re all aware of each other – seek to join forces. Hikawa feels a little left out, but as I said before the irony is that he already is like one himself.
How he works with the G3-X suit not only lets him fight on par with the level of the other Agitos, but also provides the same fusion of will to power that allows the others to reach that level themselves! It’s what allows Shouichi to fight effectively as Agito, and what alleviates Ryou’s suffering in his role as well. The only difference is that Hikawa is still – biologically – a “normal” human being. But his duty, his job as the G3-X pilot means that he’s putting himself into danger just as much as the others. His life isn’t exactly boring or ordinary, human or not.
Speaking of comparing the profane vs. divine in this episode, I’ve said a couple times that the man in black that is referred to as “god” in this series is more appropriately a Demiurge figure. There’s a few reasons for that, but when I use the name “God” (capital G), it carries a specific connotation of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Abrahamic God. Man in Black may be incredibly powerful, but in this episode we see that he’s not omnipotent, it takes time and effort to return one of his servants, the El of Water that attacked the Akatsuki, back to its full strength.
We also see in a previous episode that he is neither omniscient, lacking knowledge to predict the actions and will of the humans he oversees, or omnibenevolent, claiming to love all humans, but seeking to destroy those who he can’t control (the Agitos).
We also see him as one side of a contrast between how different characters deal with the loss of human life. Real-Shouichi let his love, Yukina (not-Shouichi’s sister) die at her request, and still carries tremendous grief from it, which drives him to help the other Agitos.
Kino was unable to save his brother, and that grief drives him as a surgeon, but also his pride as an Agito to try to save everyone himself, even if it means destroying the other characters in the process.
The MIB killed one of the Akatsuki survivors his own bare hands early on in the series, and claims that he feels grief from it, but does not comprehend the emotion or why his action was wrong (the suffering of this action derives from its wrongness), and so continues repeating it.
Whereas the grief that the other two characters feel makes them value other lives even more strongly, it does not sway the Overlord from his goal of erasing the power of Agito from humanity.
So now the stage is set for the final showdown against the El of Water. All the Riders are now united together, seeking the same end, and have overcome their past suffering in order to protect others with the power they’ve gained from it.
Including the power to RIDE YOUR BIKE THROUGH THE WALL TO ENTER A FIGHT SCENE
Last thing to note – Shouichi starts getting all his memories back permanently at the end of this episode, after getting accidentally Rider Kicked by Kino during the fight against the El of Water.
This means that there’s actually two specific triggers for this awakening – the first was getting his ass kicked by Ryou/Gills and thrown into the ocean, which started the partial recollection that I commented on in my Color Theory post. Obvious symbolism related to the ocean, and returning to the beginning with that advent, but I ignored the fact that he was defeated by another Agito at the moment, until now. Couple that with facing down against the El of Water (which made him remember that it was the monster that attacked the Akatsuki earlier), and the two triggers combined make for him remembering the whole story this time, rather than just parts.
Moving on to episode 42, the story is mainly centered around filling in the backstory of the Akatsuki disaster via Shouichi’s flashbacks prompted by the present-day fight against the El of Water. Yes, IT TAKES 42 EPISODES TO GET THE FULL STORY RETOLD TO THE AUDIENCE.
I mean, granted, you can kind of guess what happened: they get attacked, something saves them, everyone else leaves in paranoia of getting attacked again. But the details as to how they were saved and how Shouichi first becomes Agito and subsequently loses his memory, were still unknown. Now they get revealed.
Hold onto your butts.
In the meantime, while Shouichi is knocked out cold and reliving these memories during the fight with the El of Water, it’s paralleled with more backstory being filled in via Yukina’s letter to real-Shouichi, which originally prompted our Shouchi to board the ferry in the first place. In addition, it was the envelope with his name on it in his pocket that led him to gaining the man’s name when he was found washed up on the shore with no memory after the disaster.
As Mana reads this letter with her powers, it cues up an audio voice-over that’s equal parts [mystical gibberish] and real Latin (I definitely hear “Tenebrae” in there, which means “darkness”). You can also note from the text of the letter that it’s heavily stylized – but very real and coherent – English writing. In fact if you pause and take a look at the writing during this scene, it explicitly lays out fragments of this setting’s version of the Genesis story, describing the origin of the two Overlords, Light and Darkness, that are in conflict. This flashback to the Akatsuki disaster represents a microcosm of this conflict played out with human lives in the crossfire.
Multiples times I’ve referred to the setting and backstory of Agito as “Gnostic”. In its simplest terms, Gnosticism just refers to multiple groups of heretical sects in early Christianity that focused on mystery cult aspects of the religion. Each of these sects had different beliefs and teachings between them, but also are defined by a few common threads. The first being duality, the idea that the physical and spiritual sides of our world are in exclusive opposition to one another, and that the creation of the physical world was an evil action that limited the power of humanity from achieving its full spiritual potential. Another shared link is the idea that human spirits are fragments of the divine that eventually return back to God. Thus, having the power of God, humans can awaken their spirituality by, again, denying the physical creation and focusing on the spirit.
Connecting this to the show in question, we can read the conflict between the Overlords of Light and Darkness within the context of the Gnostic idea of duality. You have a Demiurge set over the creation of the world and humanity who wishes to bind them to a mundane, physical existence (i.e the Darkness in this case). And then opposed to that is another deity representing spiritual awakening who gives his own power – like the Greek Prometheus – to humanity for them to achieve a higher state of consciousness or achievement in a select few who know the truth. This is the nature of the power of Agito, it’s fragments of this power that gives people the ability to display their psychic talents, and eventually, well, transform into superpowered bugmen who kick monsters in the face until they explode.
Bugmen aside, this is specifically “Manichaeism” or a type of dualistic Gnosticism that sees light and darkness as co-dominant forces. I’m going to quote Wikipedia because it does a better job of summarizing than I can here:
“Manichaeism conceives of two previously coexistent realms of light and darkness that become embroiled in conflict, owing to the chaotic actions of the latter. Subsequently, certain elements of the light became entrapped within darkness; the purpose of material creation is to enact the slow process of extraction of these individual elements, at the end of which the kingdom of light will prevail over darkness.”
Meanwhile, as this backstory is being revealed, Shouichi is still hallucinating vividly while unconscious as the full flashback of the Akatsuki incident is being revealed
Quick little side about more color theory, Kino in the flashback has regular glasses without the dark tint and white clothes, as compared to the dark shades and black clothes in present day. Kino’s character in general is a lot more mentor-ly and kind at this point, which is reflected in this dress and in his little motivational speech he gives on the ferry. They did just accidentally stumble across the body of a dying god, the Overlord of Light (although they don’t know it yet), and everyone is a little shook up when faced with a sudden reminder of their mortality.
Kino’s speech about how everyone should try to live their lives without regrets prompts a lot of them to have small side conversations about their plans, what they want to do after their respective trips finish up. Again, it’s REALLY tragic to hear since most of them are dead now.
After the full events of the Akatsuki are shown, Shouichi awakens (figuratively and literally) with new resolve to beat the El of Water. What follows is one of my favorite fight scenes in any Kamen Rider series, as all three of the Riders – Shouichi, Ryou, and Kino, all proceed to deliver Rider Kicks squarely to the El. Hell, Shouichi gets two of them in between his two upgraded forms, Burning form, and his final, “Shining” form
It’s a really cathartic fight, but it takes its toll. Hikawa takes a bad hit to the face, which crushes the G3-X suit, and severely injures him in the process.
Following their successful stand against one of his strongest servants, the Overlord of Darkness recognizes their true threat. Here, he stops playing around and redoubles his efforts to remove the Agitos – this time by outright stealing their power. Starting with Kino, and then trapping Ryou, both of them lose their ability to transform into Agito.
Although at the same time, the act obviously takes its toll on the Overlord, trying to physically reclaim and isolate the light that he opposes.
This new angle of the conflict brings to light (ha ha) a new issue, the question of whether it’s a good thing that the power of Agito exists among humans, or not.
Further compounding this theme is a reveal that Mana’s father was most likely murdered by Shouichi’s sister Yukina, when she was unable to control her powers. To make matters worse, we also see that she (briefly) transformed into Agito while being tested. This results in an absolutely heart-breaking scene where Shouichi begins to doubt himself right in the middle of a fight, remembering how Mana reacted with fear towards him.
Really, the first time that has happened in the show. She had been the first to find out he was Agito, and had stood by him and believed in him since extremely early on in the series, so it’s understandable why Shouichi loses the composure and assurance he had just a few episodes before. In this moment of doubt, he willingly allows the Overlord to take his power.
Paralleling this plot, Hikawa is also facing his own struggles. While he has otherwise recovered from getting backhanded by what’s basically an angel, his vision is significantly affected, and it’s starting to impact his ability to fight as G3-X. He doesn’t want to give up though, and this provides a nice foil to the other Riders who are struggling with a sense of powerlessness to fight on their own. Hell, even without the ability to transform, Ryou is the first one to want to go out and protect Shouichi.
Although it makes sense why he can’t give up playing the big hero, he’s finally found his purpose in life. Agito or not, he has no other life to return to.
Even more surprising, Kino joins him while depowered. We have seen his character shift in the past few episodes, but the loss of his powers reaffirms his original drive to help others, rather than the pride that sought to become the ONLY one to help others. He cements this final redemptive cap to his arc by putting himself in danger to perform an emergency operation on Shouichi to save him from an Unknown attack while both are powerless.
The combined urging and example of the other Riders helps to bring Shouichi back on track. This is in combination with Mana coming around to realize that even if others misuse their power, Shouichi and the other Riders are fundamentally good people who use it to help others. In fact, it makes it even MORE important that they are Agito, in order to help protect against others who may abuse that power.
With the combined power of all four Riders (the Agitos plus G3-X), they actually manage to weaken the Overlord of Darkness enough for Shouichi to punch him in the face.
Shouichi gets to punch a god.
In the face
Can you see why I consider this segment of episodes to be the highlight of the series now?
However, coming down from this high point, the next group of episodes leading into the finale I remember being frustrated with, as well as being disappointed with the finale in general. Hopefully upon rewatch my opinion of them will lighten up a bit, like it has with other aspects of the show.
But let’s face it.
It’s really hard to top “punching a god in the face”.