Ex-Aid #23 – Occam’s Scalpel

Previous Ex-Aid Recaps:

Diagnostics (#1 – #21)

Character is Destiny (#22)

The Story So Far:

Kuroto Dan has manipulated Emu. First into buying him time to extract another set of Bugster data to further complete his life’s work in the present day – Kamen Rider Chronicle. But Kuroto was also was responsible for using him as a guinea pig to develop and weaponize the Bugster virus itself since he was eight years old. Now in position to forcibly infect the city and finish development of Chronicle, the Riders’ only hope to defeat him is to figure out how to use the new Maximum Gashat. Made with the contributions of all the characters who have been manipulated by Kuroto’s insane ambitions over the show’s course, it’s only missing one last piece of the puzzle to be completed…

Episode 23

We pick up with the Riders of the Cyber Rescue division being given an ultimatum by the head of the Ministry of Health. Either they defeat Kuroto immediately, or their standing as doctors with the CR will be revoked.

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Don’t apologize, Emu, this is silliness.

Now this seems odd to me, it’s true that last week the administration said that they would face penalties if their treatment of Kuroto led to more casualties. That would be the consequences they face right now after Kuroto literally walked into the Genm Corp. building and overtook it with an army of zombie Bugster mooks.

However, if they fire all the other Riders, who could POSSIBLY take down Kuroto in their place? As we see immediately, the actual police strike forces that they send in to try and take him out do precisely nothing to stop him, or even slow him down in the slightest. He ENJOYS beating up on all of them with his newly-upgraded immortal form.

Taiga and Emu answer the call to try and halt his rampage, while Hiiro stays behind to attempt to complete the Gashat that Taiga failed to use last week. In the process, both Taiga and Emu get completely trashed, as per usual, unable to match Dangerous Zombie’s now-limitless power and immortality. Just when all hope seems lost, Hiiro finally comes out and throws the Gashat to Emu, saying he’s the only one who can use it.

This has been relatively obvious since last week, considering that Emu is the progenitor of the current strain of the virus, he should also be able to create new Gashats based on the ideas for games that he had as a kid, similar to how he created the Mighty Brothers XX Gashat earlier in the show. The same game ideas that set off Kuroto’s insane jealousy now are their hope for defeating him.

But even with knowing what must be done, it doesn’t come easily, as the Gashat stubbornly refuses to activate in Emu’s Driver.

During this whole scene, while Emu is struggling to use the Gashat, Hiiro is trying desperately to hold off Kuroto while only having access to level 2 and level 5 forms, and yet somehow pulls it off anyways.

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I’ve said in the past few articles that Hiiro has developed the most of all the Riders, and this episode puts an apparent cap on that. Instead of treating Emu with disdain, and taking the safe and confident route in a fight, he puts his faith in a crazy long shot, and acknowledges Emu’s own talents and skill before his own. This would have never happened in the early episodes with Hiiro.

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He even goes so far as to call Emu by his first name. This sounds like an insignificant detail, but he has never done this before, either being excessively formal, or simply calling him “intern” in every conversation. Emu’s influence on him, his passion for saving patients and putting his life on the line for others at every turn, has rubbed off thoroughly on Hiiro. Now he puts his own life on line for not just his co-worker, but a partner and a friend.

It’s this faith in him, plus a reminder of Kiriya’s hope with his dying words, that finally encourages Emu to embrace both sides of himself fully – his role as a doctor, but also his skills as a gamer that come from his Bugster half.

As a result, the previously separated sides of his personality merge together and allow him to make the Maximum Mighty Gashat, which sits firmly at the top of the tier list with a ranking of level 99 (the typical level cap in most games).

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Okay, admittedly while I really like a few forms in Ex-Aid (all the level 2 forms, Dangerous Zombie itself), I can’t get past this giant bulky robot suit of a form. It just looks so silly. I’m sure I’ll get used to it as the show goes on, but man I really miss the slimmer, more minimalist forms from shows like Agito or Kuuga.

Either way, Emu goes on to beat the snot out of Kuroto, even going so far as using the “reprogramming” ability of the form to undo Kuroto’s immortality hack and put his health gauge back in play. When they beat him down enough to put his health in the red, Emu suddenly de-transforms, and claims he can’t kill him because he wants to see him live to atone for his crimes against others. Taiga objects, not only has he basically lived for Kuroto’s demise since Zero Day, he reminds Emu that he’ll have his role as a Rider stripped if they don’t eliminate him at this point.

However, before the others can secure him to bring in to the authorities, Kuroto escapes. In the process, while he’s on the run, he sees an opportunity to harvest the last two Bugsters he needs – by basically infecting an entire city block of innocent civilians.

At the same time, Parad appears to Emu.


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One thing you should notice about Parad’s dialogue with Emu, he almost never addresses him as “Emu”, but as “M”. Parad is a Bugster himself, and takes the idea of playing games very seriously, enforcing a weird sort of honor in keeping the rules fair. But that’s more because he’s not entertained as much by unfair or uneven matches. In this conversation, he tries to convince Emu to play by those same rules of the game, rather than treat the matter as a doctor.

Essentially, he wants Emu to give up his sense of mercy in favor of justice. Kuroto is a bad guy and deserves to be defeated, just as any player would fight and kill a boss in a game.

There’s multiple reasons why this would be very bad advice to follow that I’ll touch on later on in this article.

The Riders converge on Kuroto’s position for one last time, however, even with his immortality disabled, Kuroto isn’t going to go down easily and summons two Dangerous Zombie clones to occupy Taiga and Hiiro, while he and Emu in Maximum Mighty form go at it. After an extremely flashy fight, and a Marvel-Vs-Capcom-style launch combo to finish him off, Dan is forced out of his transformation and is truly without recourse.

While not killing him, Emu used his finishing move to further modify the virus that Kuroto used. This eliminates his compatibility with the Gamer Driver system entirely. Now Kuroto is just an ordinary – albeit completely insane – human being and no longer poses an imminent threat to anyone.


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Even with this mercy, Emu takes it a step further. Other people in his position may have been content to see him rot in prison for the rest of his life, or set up for the death penalty, given the magnitude of his crimes and his stubborn, petty, jealous brand of evil that has consumed him since a very early age. But Emu doesn’t see that. He sees him just the same as every other patient he’s treated, and holds out hope that he can change eventually. Kuroto really does have talent, and Emu wants nothing more than to see that talent used to help others rather than to destroy lives.

It’s this willingness to see the value in EVERYONE, even those who seem irredeemable or beyond hope, that characterizes a lot of my favorite toku heroes (my favorite superheroes in general, honestly). Ex-Aid does a really good job of establishing this with its lead characters as well, Emu’s grown a lot as a character by having this mindset put to the test repeatedly, and coming out stronger because of his adherence to his idealism.

However, we’ll never see if Kuroto can really be redeemed or not, since Parad shows up to punch him in the gut and then forces him to Game Over.

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No, really, he takes the Dangerous Zombie Gashat and the Buggle Driver that Kuroto had been using to manipulate the virus, in order to extract the Game Over programming from the Gashat, and shove it back into Kuroto’s body. In essence, he doesn’t just force him to endure the Game Over that he suspended way back in episode 11, but also every single lethal hit he’s absorbed since then.

This scene is actually shockingly painful to watch. Parad had been almost playful and on neutral territory before this point, but while the audience may have forgotten about his true nature, the writers certainly did not. This is a forcible reminder that the game that Parad likes to play is a game of life and death, and he doesn’t care who falls on one side or the other as long as he’s entertained. Kuroto annoyed him, and thus deserves to die for it.

In other words, Parad decided that he would provide more entertainment dead, than alive. His sole worth – the sole worth of everyone else around him – is determined by how much entertainment they can provide to him

The Ministry of Health sees it in a startlingly similar way, congratulating the Riders on putting a stop to Kuroto. Similar, that is, not in the sense of them wanting to derive entertainment from this whole situation, but in terms of using simple utility to judge value of other human beings. Emu is torn up at the loss though, that he couldn’t save Kuroto from himself, or his horrifying death at Parad’s hands. Hiiro understands how he feels now, after all both of them are doctors and hold themselves to the same duty. As he leaves the room, Hiiro reminds Emu that how he deals with this loss going forward will define him as a doctor.


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So what does Emu do following this?

Break down into ugly tears on the roof of the building over the events of this episode.

Some of the characters in this series might just see this as simple weakness, but in reality, this is Emu’s strength as a Kamen Rider.

Emu’s persona as a doctor is characterized primarily by his compassion. Even if Kuroto was an absolute shit, he was still a person, and with his life, a possibility to be more than what he was. After all, if Emu can grow from a self-centered gamer consumed by his virus-fueled passion, and from an insecure klutz, into the strong-willed, passionate doctor he is now, who knows how Kuroto could have grown if given a chance and someone who believes in him.

__________

So quite a bit happened this week, and as a result there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s get started, shall we?

The Ethics of Lethal Force

The question of “is it ever okay to kill villains?” is an extremely common one in both Western superhero stories, as well as Japanese toku. A universal dilemma that is played out over many different scenarios, hypotheticals, and with varying details, the answer to this question can vary based on those details, as well as the perspective of the characters involved, and really the perspective of the author itself. I’ve always found it helpful to look at the actual legal basis for justifiable self-defense, which has several parts that must be proven to exonerate someone from being charged with murder in the case of using lethal force to protect themselves or others.

The first aspect that must be demonstrated is imminence of threat. Are you, or another person, in imminent danger of death from the bad guy in question? Beaten, humiliated and un-transformed, Kuroto wasn’t in much position to strike back against the stupidly powerful new form that Emu now possesses, so it makes sense why Emu would stay his hand following both fights in this episode.

However, as multiple characters point out, letting Kuroto live puts other people at severe risk due to his schemes. This gets into murkier territory, as Emu wants to trust that Kuroto also can reform, but I can’t say that I have his idealism in that respect. Kuroto has proven himself to be a viper, and must be kept out of striking distance until proven otherwise.

The other part of proving justifiable self-defense is the question of disparate force and necessity of lethal force. Was killing the bad guy the only option possible to prevent imminent death of yourself or others (or worse)? In this question, we can definitely say that beating down Dangerous Zombie required disparate force given how, well, dangerous his power level had become. Emu was the only one who could possibly stop him with his new Maximum Mighty form.

However, because of this new power, Emu can afford to be merciful and not strike a lethal blow. Instead, Maximum Mighty offers him the option of removing Dan’s ability to transform at all, removing the force disparity AND any imminent threat in one action. In this, Emu demonstrates a third option that some poor examples of this dilemma ignore. He refuses to murder Kuroto, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to continue to put others in danger. He’s taking the best steps in order to assure that EVERYONE can live, rather than picking and choosing the many over the few or vice versa.

It’s Emu’s idealism that allows him to seek out this resolution in the first place. Parad’s conversation with Emu shows that he wants him to essentially forgo this mercy in favor of brutal, blind justice. Kuroto is clearly an evil bad guy, wouldn’t it be better if he were simply eliminated? However, while this sounds attractive on the surface level, the question becomes who decides who the bad guys are? Parad’s sole reason for seeing Kuroto as an obstacle is the fact that Kuroto doesn’t provide enough entertainment to amuse him. Following this morality leads to a justice that only obeys one’s whims and preferences at any time, which makes it not really justice at all.

This is an argument I’ve brought up in discussing other shows, since a LOT of Kamen Rider shows have at least one episode that deals with vigilante justice that crosses the line into simple vengeance, or worse, spree-killing. If your only guideline for who gets beat up or killed is “people who I think are bad” then you wind up falling down the slippery slope really quickly. Parad is encouraging Emu to give up his idealistic morality and simply play by the rules of the “game” – but ultimately those rules are shifty and malleable, and change based on who has the most power at any one time.

Even though it’s the harder path, one that will inevitably lead to him continuing to face challenges and suffering, Emu chooses to follow his ideals as a doctor above all else, rather than holding some lives as more valuable than others.

That’s really interesting and all… but what’s up with the title?

Overall, this episode was a trip to watch through, even watching the un-subbed raw video. Remarkably so, considering that the big plot twist of Parad backstabbing Kuroto is really obvious in retrospect.

No, really, most people had predicted Parad to pull something like this ten episodes ago. But ten weeks (two and a half months!) is a long time, and so much happened in the series since then that many of us had assumed that scenario was now off the table. In fact, I saw multiple people predicting that Parad was headed for a redemption eventually based on his behavior the past few episodes.

This is Ex-Aid’s main, shining strength as a series, and has helped to make its first half – quite honestly – the most exciting and engrossing of any Kamen Rider series I’ve seen. Usually Rider series have a slower first half, or middle run, as they establish characters and plot events at a more gradual pace, and don’t start tying everything together until after the mid-season. If you read through my articles regarding Agito, the show doesn’t really hit its stride until the mid-thirties when all the various plot threads and characters start interacting in more meaningful ways.

Ex-Aid however only has one speed and that’sDAMN THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD”. Because of this, an insane amount of content gets established each week, whether it’s characterization growth, fights, new forms being shown off, or new plot reveals and mysteries both in turn laid down. There’s such a huge density of subplots being advanced and established (remarkable for a show that focuses on such a relatively small cast of characters), that something as obvious as the possibility of Parad backstabbing Kuroto was overlooked by the audience at this point.

And yet in retrospect, everything that happened this week neatly ties up all the crazy mess of plot threads into a pretty bow and delivers it on our doorstep.

I said last week that the reveal about Kuroto’s character just being jealously petty continued a trend of Ex-Aid’s script going with the simplest explanation for resolving characters and plot reveals. That is taken to its logical conclusion this week as well, with the extent of Parad’s hedonistic amorality brought into sharp relief. In other words, this show makes good use of the principle of Occam’s Razor (or as it’s used in genetic research – parsimony).

You may know it better as the phrase, “The simplest solution is usually the best.” Many people forget there’s an extra caveat attached to that, in that it refers to the simplest solution that resolves all the points. In one fell swoop, this episode has resolved Kuroto’s death flags, solidified the first arcs of Emu, Hiiro and Taiga’s characters, AND keeps the momentum and imminent threat of Chronicle’s advent as the main challenge that must be fought against by those characters.

I have no idea how this series will read in retrospect on re-watch, or from someone new to the franchise who marathons their way through it, but watching it from week to week as it airs has been an absolute joy. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, barreling ahead in a straight line, the rest of the audience holding on for dear life.

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7 comments

  1. “who could POSSIBLY take down Kuroto in their place?”
    Obviously, hire new riders. Take the gashats and belts and give them to others.

    Also, I really liked your write up this week. The others, to me, felt like mostly just recap, but here even the recap portion had some nice bits of opinion and analysis.

    Like

    • One of the weaknesses of me having to watch one episode at a time. For my other articles on series, I can combine episodes together to talk about larger thematic points. Here, I can only work with what I’m dealt!

      Like

  2. Have you ever watched Gaim? It’s the best paced Kamen Rider season I’ve ever scene. It had so much content that it was like three seasons, paced to perfection.

    Like

    • I have seen Gaim! I love that season a lot, but I actually have some issues with the pacing and direction of the plot in the finale arc of the show. It’s definitely in my top five favorite Rider series despite its endgame fumbles though.

      Like

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