Ex-Aid #22 – Character is Destiny

This is my recap of episode 22 of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. To catch up with the series up to this point, check out my longer recap from last week, “Diagnostics”.

We open with Kuroto Dan continuing to gloat in his hideout after completing the Dangerous Zombie upgrade from last week. Too bad for him, there’s a tiny wrinkle in his plans – the feds have found his base.

TONIGHT, ON A SPECIAL EPISODE OF “COPS”….

In the process of apprehending him however, Kuroto starts showing symptoms of an infection, and it “breaks out” to create a Bugster monster, which runs roughshod over the agents who had been trying to arrest him. When the CR doctors get called into the scene, they beat it into submission, but are surprised to see who the victim is this time around.

The beginning of the episode, especially this scene, does a good job of establishing where the characters are now going into the mid-season:

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Emu is focused on dealing with the patients first, he sees his job as a Rider as an extension of his desire to help others as a doctor.

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Hiiro is still driven by revenge and wanting to see closure, but his connection with Emu is moving him over to that side as well, in that helping others brings that closure that he desires.

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Taiga has given up his role as a doctor entirely, lost when he was stripped of his title and license following Zero Day, he sees “closure” as “kicking the tar out of Kuroto” and is primarily focused on gaining the power necessary to do so.

Interestingly, even though Hiiro admonished Emu not to delve too deeply into the mysteries around this show before, we also see Emu’s words about avenging those who have died have influenced him. He takes the initiative to go through Kiriya’s belongings and finds a possible cure for the infection hidden in his files.

During this opening scene, Emu successfully talks the agents into letting him treat Kuroto at the CR clinc. While treating him, Emu just wants to know the truth behind Kuroto’s motivations.

As we witness the flashbacks associated with this explanation, we have no good reason to think that Kuroto’s lying at this point. Previously in the series, he manipulated the others by also telling the truth – but not the whole truth. The information we get here may be valid, but there’s always a purpose to what he does, and that purpose is always to advance his own goals and to be as cruel as possible to others in the process.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out he’s just a giant, petty jerkwad who got jealous that Emu came up with good game ideas in a fan letter he wrote to the company. Which made him mad enough that he engineered the virus into a game, sent it to Emu, and infected him as a kid.

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Ordinarily I would hate such a simple explanation, but for Kuroto it WORKS. He’s just always been an awful person, and that selfish ambition has only magnified as he grew and gained more power through his video game technology.

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The show did something similar with Nico Saiba’s character. Originally introduced as a mysterious girl who wanted Taiga to defeat Emu, it was revealed that she wants to see him beaten so badly because she used to be a rival of his when he was a competitive gamer, and was just mad that she never could beat him herself before he moved on to enter med school.

Now she still enjoys the thrill and challenge of working with Taiga to beat Kuroto Dan, but is used in a more constructive manner, rather than encouraging pointless in-fighting between the Riders.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

Kuroto’s explanation goes further than that though, it turns out that Kuroto had been monitoring Emu as he had grown up, and judged that the Bugster virus had matured within him after he won the video game tournament six years ago. After that point, he – no joke –  hired Dr. Pac-Man (Zaizen, the villain from the movie last December – which we won’t have subs for until like, May) to operate on him to extract the virus and turn it into its infectious form.

So Emu isn’t just Patient Zero, he was the original incubator for the virus, as arranged by Kuroto.

Even after all that, Emu is still willing to treat Kuroto as a patient, and not as an enemy. Kuroto references back to a line that he said before he was revealed as Kamen Rider Genm to the other Riders:

Now…

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And then…

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The line in context, was already a sign that Emu was being manipulated within the events of the show. At the end of this early episode, the audience finds out that Kuroto is Genm and had been controlling the Bugsters and the virus. Now with the most recent episode, this metaphor becomes a symbol of just how obsessed Kuroto is with destroying Emu’s idealism, as we’ll see more clearly in a minute

Also in this episode, Taiga continues to work with the developers at Genm Corp under new management, to create a Gashat that can defeat Kuroto’s Dangerous Zombie form. But nothing’s really coming together until Hiiro shows up with the new data on “reprogramming” the virus that Kiriya’s files held.

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*AHEM*

I believe I can be of some assistance here….

In short, the “central dogma” of Biology is that everything in an organism is determined by its DNA. The DNA holds the blueprints for every protein that is made in a cell. This can include messaging proteins that cause changes either within its own system or for other cells. Or it could be structural proteins that are used to repair damage, produce new cells, or are packaged and excreted out of the cell and moved to other places. Some proteins even activate other genes within DNA leading to new changes in which proteins are produced, creating whole elaborate systems of regulations, checks and balances.

“Epigenetics” refers to these checks and balances that determine which parts of the DNA are being read by the cell at any one time. Although every cell in your body has the same DNA, red blood cells are different from nerve cells, which are different from muscle cells, skin cells, fat-storing cells, and so on. The wide variety comes from epigenetics, or how certain parts of DNA can be promoted (read more easily by the cell) or suppressed. These might be naturally-programmed systems within the genes themselves, but a lot of times they are also triggered by environmental influences. For example, exposure to UV radiation might cause skin cells to produce more melanin, or dark pigment, which causes you to develop a tan or freckles over time.

What Taiga and Hiiro are proposing here, is to produce a Gashat that can modify the Bugster virus itself to become less infectious, or possibly even cure a person’s infection entirely by preventing the corrupted stretches of DNA from being read by the cell at all. It’s an ingenious solution, and again I’m happy that someone on the writing crew did their homework.

Meanwhile, as Taiga and Hiiro are discussing this new development, the building comes under attack by not just mook-level zombie Bugsters (produced when Dangerous Zombie loads a stage), but also an appearance of the Dangerous Zombie form itself. Which is odd…. Considering that Kuroto is currently being treated by Emu back at the CR. Taiga lets Hiiro have the level 50 Gashat back, which initially seems selfish, since he would rather try out the shiny new toy they just completed.

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However, it’s simultaneously a show of trust (that Hiiro can handle himself fine alone), and concern, in that Taiga knows he’s best equipped to handle any negative side effects the new programming might have.

Kuroto’s treatment wraps up very quickly, with a short fight and a flashy finisher from Mighty Bros. XX to put the BMX Bugster down for good…. Which allows Kuroto to collect its data for further developing Chronicle.

Oh come on, all of you should’ve seen this coming.

Emu’s gotten by on a combination of luck and raw talent so far, in gaining power-ups and being able to effectively use them, but this is one challenge he can’t overcome, a villain who uses his own idealism against him.

His passion for helping others has driven him to be a good doctor and a pretty impressively skilled Kamen Rider as well, but Kuroto has no such compunctions and merely seeks to gain as much power as possible. Not even power to be directed towards a good end, like Taiga’s characterization, just power purely for its own sake, to lord it over others.

And lord it over Emu, he does.

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So now Kuroto Dan not only has one more set of Bugster data to contribute to Chronicle’s completion, but also has reclaimed his company, the resources it has, and can defend the building with an army of immortal zombie clones that he can generate at will.

In addition to that, Emu’s Driver is broken in the fight against the newly upgraded Dangerous Zombie form, and neither Taiga, nor Hiiro, can make use of the new Gashat that is their only hope at this point.


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Uh-oh, are our heroes well and truly doomed before Kuroto Dan’s Master Plan?

…. Well good thing Kiriya gave his Driver to Emu before he died way back in Episode 12.

___________________

Overall, I find the reference to Epigenetics here interesting, because Emu’s been set up with a “can you fight fate” theme for his character. We hear it as his catch phrase even, exclaiming that he will “change fate” with his own hands in saving his patients, and Kiriya tells him to take control of his own fate with his dying words.

With this episode we see that Emu’s life has basically been controlled by Kuroto since he was eight years old. He’s lost and regained his identity already with his Bugster infection, and although the two sides of his personality are in balance, there’s still a question of what to do about his infection, which side of him is the “real” Emu? Are either of them?

How much of one’s genetics determines their destiny? How much of ourselves can we truly call our own? Kuroto Dan has never deviated from his inherent programming. He’s an awful person through and through, regardless of the factors that made him that way. But what will Emu choose to do now? And will that decision be truly his own, or is it just an extension of the virus within him?

Well what are you asking me for? I don’t know! But it’ll be fun to find out.

Addendum/ Post-Script

After publishing this article, I was discussing some of these points with other people, and came to a couple of pretty interesting conclusions that I felt would best be added here:

“M” is almost certainly the manifestation of Emu’s Bugster infection.

I was wary of pinning it down, since I thought there was evidence for either side to possibly be due to the virus. The “evidence” I saw for it possibly being the “Emu” personality had to do with the fact that Emu switched so suddenly from competitive gaming to an interest in becoming a doctor following the Dr. Pac-Man surgery six years ago. Now that we know Emu’s full story in relation to being Patient Zero, however, we know why that change occurred.

The operation didn’t infect Emu with the virus, it actually relieved the massive viral load that had been incubating inside his system over the ten years after his original infection. The “M” personality goes dormant as a result.

However, I don’t believe the “Emu” personality we see asserted following this point is exactly the same “Emu” that got infected originally, 10 years ago. 10 years of manifesting a separate personality that’s developed slowly and organically over time, as well as hosting the virus in a chronic condition that’s integrated it more tightly into his DNA than any other patient, has to have had a significant impact on himself. Just as I described last week in my “Diagnostics” recap, Emu’s two personalities complement each other rather than compete with each other.

This has been shown in the episodes following his recovery after “M” dominated his personality with Emu’s “normal” personality being much calmer and more even than we’ve seen before. Emu before this point was a bit of an anxious klutz. Now he more readily asserts himself while still controlling his emotions, even when Kuroto this episode is deliberately trying to provoke him. At the same time, he moves away from simply wanting his patients to be happy, to showing some righteous anger at Kuroto’s scheming and acting on it effectively in a fight.

To put it more simply, even if the “M” side of his personality is from the infection, it doesn’t make it any less authentic or important to his character than he is as “Emu”.

This also ties back into the crystal metaphor that Kuroto is fond of using. Crystals are pure, of course. That’s why they form crystalline shapes in the first place – they represent repeating, orderly patterns of molecular bonding that can only happen with a pure substance. But because of this orderly pattern, crystals also have faces. This is actually why a crystal shines, the light that travels through it refracts off of the facets of the crystal in different ways.

Emu shines because his dual personas can handle the course of both jobs that he takes on – as a doctor, and  as a Rider. Taiga has given up being a doctor in order to give himself entirely to being a Rider, and Hiiro has succeeded at being a doctor, only to struggle with defining his role as a Rider alongside it. Emu’s unique situation and perspective allows him to do both.

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7 comments

  1. “someone on the writing crew”
    Probably Yuya Takahashi seeing as he’s written the entire series himself, and the Pac-Man movie! Though he only has a supervising credit for the Brave and Genm special which, including Snipe special, are written by Minato Takano. (I don’t count CSHT because, iirc, has different producers than the main series working on it.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well props to Takahashi then, it’s incredible he’s been the main writer for everything directly involved with the series to this point. Especially a nice change of pace compared to the absence of Ghost’s main writer for much of the second half of that series.

    Like

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