Kamen Rider Agito – “What are you going to do when you’re not saving the world?”

As I stated in my last Agito post, the finale didn’t really sit well with me when I first watched the show about a year and a half ago. It was weirdly paced, had a few odd directions for some characters, and overall just felt like it was padded with unnecessary items while giving just a cursory development to ideas I wish would’ve been developed more.

How does it hold up on re-watching? Well, mostly the same, but there are a few things that I can see more clearly in context after picking apart the rest of the series.

PREVIOUSLY ON AGITO:

I don’t think it’s any coincidence we see the red filter return here.

We learned the secret of the Akatsuki, why Agitos are appearing, and the nature of both the Unknown monsters and the Overlord who commands them. In the process of saving Shouichi and Mana from an Unknown attack while de-powered, Kino Kaoru, Another Agito, sacrifices himself and later succumbs to his injuries. With the Overlord of Darkness humiliated and his strongest soldier destroyed, he retreats to plot a new way to bring humanity to heel….

Episode 47

Shouichi is back to working in the garden at the professor’s house, but the newfound peace also brings problems, the G3 unit is being put on suspension with no Unknown attacks to fight against for the past several months. Both Shouichi and Ryou are also faced with the issue of what to do with their lives with the seeming disappearance of the Unknown threat.



The phrase “I don’t know what to do with my life” and variations appears a LOT throughout the the show, but in cases before this point, the answer has been obvious, though difficult to accept. Those who become involved in this fight must fight to protect others, and fight against monsters who threaten humanity. Now however, with all the monsters gone, what do you do when you’re not saving the world?

One thing I commented on when watching through both Kamen Rider Gaim and Samurai Flamenco,  is that usually the main difference between heroes and villains is that heroes don’t mind living in a world in which they don’t have to be a hero. They don’t need conflict to define themselves. Villains, or at the least anti-heroes who go about JUSTICE all wrong, generally do. They need a status quo in which they are justified to stand atop others with their power.

Ryou and Shouichi are both initially reluctant to change the status quo of being itinerant fighters, but it’s the more familiar inertia of facing a major life change, not some selfish desire to keep their lives centered around punching things with their superpowers. When offered new, mundane  jobs, they accept and move on with their lives into reintegrating back into boring, human society.


(If Ryou were to just take up motorcycle racing now, he’d be a Showa-era Rider in all but name)

Either way this leads to a cute scene where both of them are just hanging out of Ryou’s apartment, talking about their plans and reminiscing. Not as Agitos, but friends.


Accompanying job offers for each of them is a potential love interest introduced, both of which mirror their own characters and development arcs. Now that Shouichi and Ryou have come out of their ordeals as better people, they get a chance to serve as mentors for others.

Ryou meets a woman who is using her bike to run away from her suffering, just like how he threw himself into fighting with no clear reason why in the first half of the show. Shouichi helps out a girl who is apprenticing at the restaurant that employs his skills, who wants to cook, but is unsure of her own abilities. What she IS sure of is that she doesn’t appreciate Shouichi’s help and wants to achieve her goals on her own.

When I first watched this part of the show, it always struck me as TOO convenient and TOO neat to give them such easy reflections of themselves – but with boobs. I figured the writers did so just to be able to paint their characters in broad, recognizable strokes with only four episodes until the end. It seemed to me to just be lazy writing, and could’ve been handled in a more natural way.

For other aspects of this show that irk me on re-watch, this assumption has proved to be a rule that holds true. Shouichi gaining then losing his memories after getting the Inoue curse of being tossed into a body of water, Hikawa magically having Soap Opera Malady that magically resolves itself in the month between punching the Overlord and now, and now Shouichi and Ryou coincidentally both getting waifus? All of these seemed to come too easily, and disappear as soon as their purpose to advance the plot was finished. But as it turns out, unlike my first two examples listed, this subplot is actually better-crafted than I gave it credit for originally, and I appreciate it being used here at the end.

Of course, the show’s not over yet so we’re not done with the threat against humanity either. Still smarting from getting punched in the face, the Overlord of Darkness gives up trying to just kill the Agitos and makes a move to murder humanity in general. By…. moving a star in Scorpio out of alignment. Which suddenly starts killing people who have the horoscope sign of Scorpio.


Don’t ask me, I don’t make this stuff up.

Either way, the Overlord appears to real-Shouichi and explains his plans. He also explains that he was the one who brought him back from the dead after his suicide following Yukina’s death (surprise!). He offers him immortality if he serves him, but dead-Shouichi turns him down.


In dead-Shouichi’s meddling with the Agitos, trying his best to test their character by granting them the full extent of their powers, he’s found that humanity is stronger and more resilient than he was in his life. Where he and Yukina fell into despair, others found hope. This is expanded on more explicitly in the finale episode.

The Overlord’s method of exterminating humanity is pretty brutal, triggering suicides via bizarre means, such as overeating, flinging oneself into a wall, or choking yourself to death. Just as he thinks humanity will turn on itself to destroy the Agitos, he forces humanity to turn its own hand on itself to systematically kill itself. This is symbolized by the victims all seeing a copy of themselves right before succumbing to these self-destructive urges.

Things get worse as another high-level Unknown appears and literally throws Ryou off of a building.

 

Episode 48

With the question looming of what to do with the G3 unit following the apparent disappearance of the Unknown threat, Ozawa suggests strengthening it to use in case other monsters appear. Which seems reasonable to me, after all the G3 unit was created originally in anticipation of another threat like the Grongi in Kuuga, only to be co-opted into fighting the Unknown.

….Granted, that side of the story was dropped quickly as the producers and writers sought to distance Agito from its preceding series, but taken as a whole narrative, it still is appropriate.

Hojo agrees with her about prepping for future threats, but already sees a new threat that the G3 unit must be used against – the Agitos themselves.


Remember, he’s a pessimistic narcissist who sees everyone in the world as a reflection of his own problems. He projects his own duplicitous, selfish nature on to others.

Ozawa doesn’t project herself as much as assume the worst based on how she’s been treated in the past by others. Both of them don’t naturally trust others, but Ozawa has grown to see better sides of humanity through Shouichi and Hikawa’s examples, whereas Hojo remains fixated on his own flaws as representative of human nature as a whole.

Elsewhere, Shouichi and Ryou continue working in their ordinary jobs, even with the threat of the Unknown beginning to resurface. As I mentioned, I originally didn’t like this romantic subplot for both Shouichi and Ryou because I felt their female understudies were too similar to them to be believable, but when re-watching this episode in particular, it’s apparent that Kana, the new apprentice in the kitchen Shouichi works with is actually diametrically opposed to him.


Shouichi is incredibly laid-back and friendly, she’s aloof and a driven perfectionist. He naturally attracts other people to himself, she pushes them away to try and do everything herself. Shouichi had a lot of different talents, but he had no drive to pursue them to prove himself to others, he never cared about that. Instead he enjoyed cooking to help his adopted family and to make them happy. Kana’s perfectionism, paradoxically, is holding her back because it keeps her isolated.

Ryou’s new friend has some significant differences from his own character too. She is revealed to be “Scorpio”, a well-known speedster in town that attracts police attention. Ryou covers for her at the garage where he’s taken on a job, but is frustrated with her thrill-seeking.


Earlier in the series, he had sympathy for people who wanted to run away or ignore their problems rather than dealing with their life in reality, but at this point in the series he doesn’t have as much patience for it.

He does indulge her in some racing in order to earn her respect and allow her to open up a bit more. However, he has to force her to bail out when she was about to accidentally hit a group of kids crossing the street during their duel. This is representative of the difference in their characterizations, Ryou was reckless with his own safety and health, but it was because, even at his most aimless periods, he always put the safety of others first and didn’t value his own life at all in comparison. Scorpio’s recklessness not only hurts her, but those around her.

It’s not all contrast though, we do see some similarities between the two girls and Shouichi and Ryou here though. Scorpio used to be a star track and field athlete until an injury forced her to quit.



Similar to how Shouichi lost his sister, Kana lost her father tragically, which left her questioning her place in the world, and how to define herself in his absence.



Reflecting on these similarities, and how they would behave in their position, both Shouichi and Ryou  promise to help the girls out in their own way. Shouichi, by helping Kana learn how to cook at the restaurant, and Ryou, by just being with Risa as they ride together.

Episode 49

I had originally feared for the worst with seeing a cliffhanger unfold between the last episode’s end and the opening here, where both Shouichi and Ryou’s promises get sidetracked by an Unknown fight at the worst time. But even though they get injured and beaten as a result, they manage to hold true to their word and arrive without the famous “misunderstandings” that Inoue’s plots tend to fall into. This is also illustrative of where both characters are in this point of the show, they are able to hold both sides of their selves and their lives, their responsibilities as Agito and as normal human beings.

However, while I like this subplot a lot more on rewatch, there are some other bizarre aspects to this show that crop up at this point, which prevent me from enjoying the finale as much as I should

First of all is this wackiness with using Scorpio the constellation to kill everyone with the astrological symbol Scorpio. We see that the constellation is rearranging itself to become… a cross.

I GUESS??

I’m at a loss too, I can only decide they wanted to continue the Christian symbolism and figured that was good enough. I can’t think of a good connection to justify the odd use of astrology here, much less what a cross has to do with anything.

Another bit of weirdness in this episode, while investigating the rash of bizarre suicides, Hikawa jumps straight to “doppelganger” with zero evidence that the victims saw copies of themselves before suicide.

This is emblematic of a larger problem with this finale, it tries to do too much with only four episodes, so everything feels either weirdly rushed, or stretched out to fill space. Allowing Ryou and Shouichi to serve as mentors for other individuals who can share in their experiences, but without being exact mirrors of themselves, is a fantastic idea. But this “death by mass suicide” plot isn’t pulled off well, and is a weird bit of plot to be thrown in at the last minute while not explained properly.

But those are only a few small speed-bumps. Overall, the driving questions and themes of the final five episodes deal with the divide between Agitos and Humanity as I described above, and are developed in an effective, interesting way. Shouichi and Ryou have come to settle into an equilibrium between the two sides of themselves, but others cannot see that possibility. Others, like Hojo.


See, here’s the issue with Hojo’s fears about the Agitos. He’s absolutely correct in his assumption that some people are going to abuse their power and try to subjugate other humans. But he ignores the fact that there are people with the power of Agito who fight for a place for even those normal humans to live. Shouichi and Ryou don’t just protect Agitos, it is in their nature to help everyone! That’s what they do. And just like how they protected people from Kino being awful earlier in the series, they’d protect others from any threats, not just Unknown.

Hojo mistakenly believes that they’d only protect their own, because as we’ve seen this entire series, that’s what he would do in their place.

Speaking of the Unknown, while the Overlord is busy trying to kill all humanity, he sends out another Unknown to resume specifically murdering people with the Seed of Agito. Said Unknown also cribs a line you’ve probably heard before. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.


For those who aren’t Catholic, you may recognize it as a Biblical line, describing the mortality of humanity. It also shows up around this time of year, specifically, during Lent.

Interestingly, when this news gets back to Hojo at the police department, he starts having second thoughts.

The face of a man who knows he’s royally screwed up this time.

Overall the episodes so far have been largely just character setup, putting everything into play and lined up. Now we will see where the dominoes fall.

Episode 50

Despite Hojo’s misgivings, his fear of the Agitos motivates him more than concern for the other characters he’s fought alongside during the series.


This is oddly similar to how the Unknown were described earlier on, as being afraid of humans with the Agito power, and what they might become. Hojo and the other police officers who wish to use the Unknowns to eliminate the perceived threat of more Agitos are also doing so from the same motivation.

Similarly, the Overlord of Darkness wishes to eliminate the Agitos, not out of compassion, but from the fact that he is unable to control them. Then when he is unable to maintain that control of humanity at large – given their ability to fight back with the G3-X system, as well as dead-Shouichi’s continued stubborn opposition to his aims – he seeks to simply wipe out all of humanity and start again.

Hojo’s fear of the Agitos is borne from a reflection of his own flaws onto others, but also from the lack of control he has to manipulate and stand above others. He even states as much, saying that he serves as a vessel for the will of humanity later on. He puts himself in the place of the “reasonable” person that legal standards hold to, and assumes everyone thinks the way he does.


This also ties back into his original jealous conflict with Hikawa from early on in the series. He couldn’t understand why Hikawa was seen as a hero and rewarded for it, when he misses the obvious fact that Hikawa actually is a hero. But Hojo doesn’t possess that heroism himself, and so never learns to recognize it, or other virtues, in others. But Ozawa points out that if they succeed in wiping out the Agitos, then there is nothing to stop the powers that be from subjugating humans further.


Hojo says that he is just opposed to the Agitos developing right now, but we all know that there will never be a “good” time for him to accept such a power in human beings other than himself.

Some characters also invoke “Armageddon” here, the mythical final battlefield in the fight of good versus evil. They see an inevitable war between two sides, and seek a preemptive strike.


As a result, the G3 unit is turned over to Hojo (seriously though, why??? EVERY TIME you give this guy extra promotions he screws everything up.), Hikawa is reassigned, and Ozawa quits rather than be used as an accessory to enable Unknowns to kill more Agitos. Omuro sticks around though, eager to be useful, but even he has second thoughts about their actions.

During this episode, we also see that Ryou and Risa are adorable together. Ryou is fantastically grumpy, it’s been so long since he’s had emotional attachments to other people he honestly doesn’t know what to do with himself.

It’s nice to see this juxtaposed with the police unit’s fears about the Agitos. The one who started out as the most maladjusted and antisocial is just a big dork who wants to be left alone to work on bikes. But even though he tries his best to put her off, he’s just happy that someone cares for him, after so long being on his own and rejected by those he originally reached out to.

They’re perfectly compatible with each other because of their similar, shared experiences of rejection and questioning themselves, of reaching self-destructive behaviors, and coming back from the brink by someone who reached out to them and believed they could be better.

It’s just too bad Inoue is a cruel master who demands that Ryou must suffer more.

Because remember, Risa is a Scorpio.


Seriously there is zero reason for this, much less for killing her right in front of Ryou, and I think it works better for his character if he actually gets a happy ending here! It shows how far he’s come with this own character and developed throughout the show. Especially for a series that has stressed the importance of social context in terms of developing one’s identity, forcing Ryou to be alone eternally is just a giant dick move for no reason.

After Risa dies, Ryou fights the Unknown he thinks was responsible, but then just asks it to end him, and he gets summarily stabbed and tossed into a river.


This is what the Ryou of the teens or twenties of this show would’ve done. But he’s developed so much to come to the endgame of the show, rediscovered a reason to fight, cultivated real connections with other human beings and even made a couple friends. To have him commit suicide-by-Unknown erases all that and puts him in the same self-destructive personality that he had gradually shed since coming back to life.

This chunk of the episode is probably the one part of the finale arc that actually makes me angry, rather than just being a weird non-sequitur.

Meanwhile…


We had a couple hints at this before – mysteriously moving objects, Kana mentioning that her dad was killed in an impossible fashion in an unsolved case – but this is the episode where we get explicit confirmation that she is awakening as an Agito herself.

Her fear of such a change is understandable, and this ties into the fear that Hikawa thinks most people have, when he talks to Shouichi before his reassignment earlier in the same episode.

To be fair, I’d be scared of superpowered bugmen running around without knowing who they are or what their motivations are.

But that’s the important part, we know the Agitos in the show so far, their flaws, personalities, and most importantly know that they’re just people trying to do their best with the power they’re given. They make mistakes, but it’s their context in relation to others in their lives, their relationships and responsibilities, that help bring them on track and right themselves when they make those mistakes. Hojo’s problem, along with the police officers who sign off on the new plan to eliminate the Agitos, think of them in a vacuum, without these connections.

Hikawa knows them well too, even though he was the last to catch onto Shouichi’s identity. Like I said in an earlier post, Hikawa is like an Agito himself, both in terms of the power he has as G3-X’s pilot (or had), but also with his heart and determination. In the end, that’s what characterizes the Riders of this series, rather than an ability to kick monsters in the face until they explode.


Lacking this personal experience, however, Kana thinks her life as a normal human is over, and contemplates killing herself. This is obviously set up to parallel Yukina’s death before the events of the series, but we see here the main divide between the different perspectives within this show.

The people who fear Agito see them as something fundamentally different and removed from humanity. The people who have learned better know that just because they have special powers, they’re just as human (for better or for worse) and have the same strengths and weaknesses as anyone else.

Ryou made a connection with someone who knew and loved him as a human, rather than just as a Rider. Shouichi reaches out to Kana and shows her empathy when she beats herself up for failing as a chef, and when she’s terrified of what she might become as an Agito. Yukina ultimately was driven to suicide, and allowed to die by soon-to-be-dead-Shouichi, because no one saw her as something other than a test subject specimen. Our Shouichi knew her better as a loving sister, but she lost perspective of that side of herself, and couldn’t regain it again.

Just when Shouichi is about to lose Kana as well, though, an unexpected hand appears to help.



Both Shouichis work together to pull Kana back from the edge.

Later on, talking in the park, she echoes the repeated phrase we’ve heard throughout the series “what should I do now?” The irony is, with this series, that no one can make that decision for her. She has to choose what to do with her power.

But she doesn’t have to make that journey alone.

 

Episode 51 – The Finale

Turns out Hikawa didn’t follow instructions to leave and go back to his original assignment away from Tokyo.

Remember, this is the man that when confronted with a crazy magical disaster at sea, dove straight into the eye of the storm to save everyone he could. Even when he doesn’t know what’s going on, Hikawa’s first instinct is always, ALWAYS, to protect others.

Hitting Shining Form again, Shouichi drives off the new, powerful Unknown when it attacks them in the park, and begins to chase it back to the source, the Overlord of Darkness who has been hidden away for the past few episodes. With newfound strength on this consecrated ground, the Unknown turns the tables and starts wiping the floor with Shouichi. Without backup, and now being double-teamed by two extremely powerful Unknown, his bravery seems to be in vain.


Good thing Hikawa and Ozawa literally hold up the G3 trailer at gunpoint to hijack Hojo out of the system.

There is a reason why Hikawa is hands down my favorite Secondary Rider in the entire franchise.

But even Hikawa’s ridiculously huge reserves of willpower (and ridiculously huge guns) may not be enough to save the day!

Who else can they turn to in order to help defeat the Unknown once and for all?


Ryou  Ashihara, that’s who. Even losing the first real relationship he’s had in a year to a tragic death won’t stop him from continuing to protect others. That is his “immortality”. Regardless of how much he suffers (THANKS, INOUE), he’ll always be back.

Ultimately, the main theme here, about the direction and fate of humanity being determined by humanity itself, is one that gets echoed in a number of other Rider series. Riders fight for the freedom of humanity, and in practical terms that usually involves allowing humans the freedom to engage in their own lives, to fight their own small battles, and make their own decisions without being beholden to another’s will just by disparate strength.

At the beginning of the show, Shouichi said that he wants to fight so that everyone has a place to belong. Here, that means a place for everyone to have a chance at living, whether they are Agitos, or normal humans.


In reflection of how we’ve come full circle, they actually bring back Believe Yourself as the insert theme song during this fight. Have to say, I definitely missed it during its absence the second half of the show.

The show’s not over yet, as the Overlord of Darkness prepares to finish his work by killing all of humanity. Shouichi is having none of that though, and prepares to end things finally.


By kicking him in the face. Until he explodes.

They try to set expectations of the aftermath of this final Rider Kick by foreshadowing Shouichi’s death hard, with the audience seeing the plants have withered in his garden that he leaves behind. However, we know that Shouichi was successful in getting the Overlord to shove off, because he appears one final time to dead-Shouichi to propose a new observation of humanity. An academic experiment, like what dead-Shouichi engaged in before, to weigh the nature of humanity. But this time, as detached observers, rather than active participants.

This is the victory that Shouichi (both Shouichis!) earns, not to destroy a god entirely, but to create a way for humanity to live out their own hopes, desires and dreams without being oppressed or tinkered with by an outside force.

ONE YEAR LATER

Omuro becomes the head of the newly-formed G5 unit, taking the example of his mentors and teaching the lessons he learned to those who come after.

Hikawa still puts his life on the line, but as a mundane detective, rather than as the pilot of G3-X.

Ozawa takes an academic position in London, teaching as a university professor. She runs into Hojo and… well one thing leads to another and it turns out they’re both in love with each other???


….Yeah I never understood this either. It seems like they needed a way to end their characters in a different place than where they started, and figured they could tie both of them together at once in this way. I wouldn’t mind so much if this was hinted at any time before the last five minutes of the show, but we’ve seen them show nothing but contempt for each other at every point before this.

And regardless of what bad anime romance clichés show, contempt and infatuation are not the same thing.

Ryou finds an abandoned puppy and adopts it. And because Inoue hates him and wants him to suffer, Word of God claims the dog dies two days later. Screw that though, both of them ride off into the sunset to continue righting wrongs and kicking butt as far as I’m concerned, and not even the head writer of the show can tell me otherwise.

And finally, Shouichi himself finally has a place to truly call home, a place where he belongs, a role that he has in the world. Not as Agito though, but as a restaurant owner.

Really, especially for early Heisei-period Riders (which generally are a little darker in tone compared to series that come later), Shouichi gets one of the most unequivocally positive, optimistic endings to his character arc.

In Conclusion

Overall, I’m really happy I was able to re-watch this entire series again. Several things that bugged me a lot about the show on my first watch were lessened, or cleared up, when viewed in context with the series as a whole and the major character themes. Throughout the whole show, the main emphasis is how individuals are defined mostly by how they relate to others. Whether it’s through bonds of family or camaraderie, or other forms of love and affection, it’s the duties and responsibilities we owe to each other, as well as the affirmation we receive in return, that helps us find our own places in the world. When characters go astray, it’s because they ignore these connections, or lack them in the first place.

It’s also how the show keeps a fairly upbeat ending in regard to the question about the Agitos at the end. Other people have come to accept them, rather than fear them, because they see the individuals who have this power in context with normal relationships. They see them as individuals, rather than as an unknown, threatening force through this personal connection.

Apart from the overarching themes of the story, I like a lot of other aspects of this show. The suits are all fantastic (with the unfortunate exception of Gills Exceed), the characters are likeable and have interesting development arcs, the action is good, and it has some of the best insert songs out of any Kamen Rider series. But there are also things I was frustrated with, specifically, how it drags out the amnesiac mystery for longer than necessary, and Inoue’s infatuation with making Ryou suffer continuously.

Talking with others about this series, I heard someone remark that it should’ve been half the length, and I can agree with that as well. This show would’ve benefitted much more from a tighter, more consistent focus with a shorter season.

But if you want a visually inventive, engrossing story with great characters, there are certainly worse Kamen Rider shows you can pick. My general opinion of the series improved quite a bit on re-watch, and if your only exposure to Agito is through these articles, I highly recommend you track down the fan-subs of it to experience the show for yourself.

So, good night, and remember to always BELIEVE YOURSELF! [ASHITAAAAAEEEEEE—EEE!]

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