PREVIOUSLY ON EX-AID
Emu finally gains the ability to use the hilariously over-powered Maximum Mighty form, Kuroto gets SUPER murdered by Pallad who takes over development of Kamen Rider Chronicle. One threat is removed (permanently or not, we don’t know yet), but another one comes to the forefront, as the threat of a world-wide death battle looms closer….
This is really the first episode of Ex-Aid that I found a little boring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, but it’s definitely a breather episode after the absolute insanity of the last few weeks. The audience needs a bit of that break in order to step back, evaluate where the characters are in their development, and also what threats will face them going forward into the back half of the season. But because of this more typical plot structure this article is going to be much shorter than previous ones.
At the start of this episode, we find out that this is Emu’s last day in his surgical rotation with Hiiro as his supervisor. I saw a few people complain that Hiiro’s characterization seems to get reset to zero with this episode, but that isn’t true. Hiiro at the start of his supervision of Emu’s rotation here was haughty and disdainful of his clumsiness and reluctance. He’s still coldly professional, but not only do we see that Emu is more confident and assured of himself, but Hiiro eventually acknowledges that skill and confidence as well.
Anyways, we’re introduced to our victim of the week (who doesn’t know she’s a victim of the week yet), the lead vocalist for an off-beat band trying to make it big. When they start bickering over the direction their group is going in, what starts out as a straightforward recovery from surgery turns into a Bugster virus outbreak. Emu, or rather, M, is about ready to fight all three of the upgraded Bugsters single-handedly, when the OTHER reason for this being a filler episode shows up.
Yes I am watching Kyuranger on the side, and it is a pretty fun show. However it’s pretty clear that Takahashi, the main writer for Ex-Aid, doesn’t care about this crossover at all, so Lucky/Shishi Red here literally shows up for two minutes. Just enough time for him and Emu to trade roll-call poses and then easily wipe the floor with one of the Bugsters as the other two run off.
The conversation that they have here does set up the main theme for this episode though – teamwork. Kyuranger is a Sentai series that features nine different members of the team (soon to be more, in comparison, most seasons have five or six), and they have leadership issues of their own, but the focus of a Sentai season is always on how they come together to fight for each other. Emu on the other hand would LOVE to have a team he can rely on, and thinks he’s found it with Hiiro and Taiga after they’ve survived the mad rampage of Kuroto Dan the now-Double Dead Zombie Man. Combined with Kiriya’s efforts before his untimely murder, he still sees them as a team of four Riders united in a single purpose.
Too bad Hiiro is still too concerned about professional appearances to admit that he needs anyone else’s help, and Taiga cares more about killing Bugsters than actually helping patients and civilians.
Even though the blustering sounds a lot like the early season, we see later on when they work together to take down the Bugster trio, that they really DO work effectively as a team when they’re playing to their own strengths rather than bickering with each other.
Oh and it turns out that the new CEO of Genm Corp is actually a Bugster plant and triggers Poppy’s Bugster programming to coerce her to join Pallad. Now with all the Bugsters he needs to finish programming Chronicle, the game is completed and ready for market.
I mentioned in a previous recap article that this series is playing a lot with the idea of how you can fight your own inherent fate – whether it’s learned, genetic, or in the case of the Bugsters here, their very programming. Poppy is a character from a rhythm game, but she’s more than just an air-headed performing pop idol, as Asuna she’s also an emotional anchor for Emu and shows just as much concern and passion for helping patients as he does.
Somehow the new President suppresses that though and baits her to leave the CR with a perfect fulfillment of her original purpose or programming (performing a song for a new game). Just as Emu/M found a way to be more than JUST a klutzy intern or a cocksure gaming prodigy, Poppy/Asuna will likely need to learn how to come to terms with both sides of her character before she can break the control of the evil Bugsters now.
So yeah, next week major plot is GOING DOWN. We’re into the second half of the show now, and the status quo has shifted in a big way, from just breaking Kuroto’s schemes, to saving humanity from explicit extinction by its own hand. Pallad has always been obsessed with playing games with people’s lives, and now that same competitive desire that drives people when playing ordinary video games will be weaponized without their knowledge of the real stakes of Chronicle.
In fact, it’s this conflict that reveals an important detail about the nature of the Bugsters themselves. Pallad himself states this earlier in the series when he first turns on Kuroto, they exist for conflict. To fight and strive and decide a winner and a loser. It’s Kuroto’s upheaval of this in order to stack the deck in his own favor that drove Pallad to turn against him, but now it drives him to hijack Chronicle for his own purposes.
Forcing civilians into this game of life and death doesn’t just put them in danger, it literally results in destroying their humanity.
First of all, we know from a synopsis for the next episode that playing Chronicle infects people with the virus. Secondly, we know that being stressed causes the virus to break out and threatens the infected patient’s life and identity, causing them potentially to be consumed by the resulting Bugster. Another way of describing a stress reaction is as a fight-or-flight response, remember! What could possibly be more stressful than a literal fight to the death? Pallad plans for humanity to go extinct and give rise to the Bugsters by exploiting that within the framework of Chronicle.
This is honestly one of the most integral core themes of Kamen Rider stories in general – how violence and fighting is harmful to one’s humanity. Riders are forced to literally and figuratively become like monsters in order to prevent others from having to endure the same. We see the same happen now in Ex-Aid, the Riders of the CR had to undergo a “compatibility operation” that involves being inoculated by the virus in order to enter into this fight themselves. In playing the game, they have to become like the Bugsters themselves, and worry not just about saving the patient, but winning or losing the fight at hand.
Emu has figured out how to combine both sides of that role with his dual personalities, but ordinary civilians don’t have that experience, or special condition of having lived for YEARS with the virus. I expect many of them will either lose and die outright, or win and turn fully into Bugsters themselves as they are drawn into the game.
Ex-Aid has already been fairly dark, but we haven’t seen civilians die in the crossfire yet outside of backstory (compare that to the explicit on-screen body count of Kuuga, or the apocalyptic endgame of Gaim). That, in all likelihood, is about to change with next week’s episode.