PREVIOUSLY ON KAMEN RIDER EX-AID:
The conflict with the Bugsters escalates as Chronicle becomes a nationwide sensation, drawing unwitting players into a game of life-and-death that many of them lose to. With Poppy brainwashed and now helping to market and manage this blood sport, and humanity ready to voluntarily self-destruct for the sake of entertainment, can the Riders save everyone before it’s too late?
Ex-Aid has largely eschewed the two-episode arc structure that a lot of other post-Decade Rider shows have utilized, but this story feels like an exception mostly because it has a victim of the week that takes two episodes to resolve fully. As a result there’s not as much for me to discuss as the larger themes of this individual arc have already been explored in great depth in last week’s article
The real pay-off in this episode is seeing teamwork and a wider sense of trust and confidence that hasn’t yet been shown in this show. There’s several terrific character moments, and some really cool fight scenes as a result. (As much as I hate to admit it, Maximum Mighty is growing on me, mainly just because it’s used in some pretty creative ways in these fights).
In particular, I wanted to use this space to gush about why Hiiro is so awesome.
I said earlier that Hiiro’s character is, in many ways, the most thoroughly developed out of the main cast. Emu’s the main character, so of course he has to go through development, but a lot of it has been seeing him repeatedly tested, which allows his original sense of idealism and empathy for others to shine through stronger as a result. He hasn’t changed as much as grown more confident in those ideals and has his heroic spirit as a Rider reaffirmed.
Hiiro on the other hand was not naturally inclined to the same sort of heroic spirit. In fact, he was almost complacent in how he dealt with being a Rider and a doctor, bragging about his skills, but not going out of his way to develop them or use them in ways that would be risky (like when he initially refused to operate on a patient’s cancer earlier in the show). In other words, the bragging is a bit of a show and he, in reality, doesn’t seem to value the impact of his role as a Rider or a Doctor as much as Emu does.
His experience with Emu has drastically changed that, in that Emu’s example has motivated him to stretch outside of his comfort zone, put himself into danger, and risk his own reputation in order to help his patients. We’ve seen that multiple times over the course of the show, but it’s the “reputation” part that gets developed this week. In order to prevent a panic from occurring at the knowledge that the Bugster Virus is lethal and able to be spread through commercial technology, the Ministry of Health orders both Hiiro and Emu to stand down as they attempt to recall the infected Chronicle gashats and provide Public Relations damage control.
Emu of course can’t stand for this, as people may potentially be dying without his intervention, and we’ve seen it’s always been his mission to try and save everyone he can regardless of who they are or how it puts himself at risk.
The threat of losing his license and ability to practice as a doctor throws Hiiro into an existential crisis of sorts, questioning what it really means to be a doctor. Did he work so hard to attain his position just for the accolades and recognition? Out of guilt for Saki?
No, he finds out, that like Emu, he too wants to save everyone he can.
The scenes where he’s eaten up by indecision are fantastically well acted and do a whole lot to sell the conflict that he’s experiencing. Seriously, look at the way he has to visibly compose himself after losing his cool in the above screenshots there. Hiiro is usually cold and professionally stand-offish, and his actor portrays that façade cracking in a believable and effective way.
I even jumped a little at his outburst at his father when questioning what his job as a doctor should be, which shows how unexpected it is for his character.
Even Taiga gets little hints at development here. When he shows up to fight against the Bugsters to help the individuals who have unwittingly played Chronicle, he states that “We” will defeat the Bugsters, a marked departure from his previous adamant demand that he should be the only one to fight. Looks like we’ll be getting more development next week as Nico is put into danger, and he learns Graphite is back in the fight too in this episode.
Taiga’s insistence that the others get out of his way and let him fight has always had an air of resignation in regard to his own safety and concern, but now that edge is sharpened as Graphite challenges him to reach his stage in Chronicle, and taunts him with the reality of his human mortality. I’ve long thought that Taiga has been hiding how severely his health has been impacted by his use of proto-Gashats during his time as the first CR Rider during Zero Day, and now I really do think that he’s slowly dying during the course of this series. I will be gobsmacked if he survives the finale. The line he says about being the only one to beat Chronicle definitely sounds like a suicide mission to me.
Oh yeah, Poppy’s Rider form debuts here too.
Not too much to say since it mostly revisits what I touched on last week relating to the question of how people can overcome their own nature, whether it’s the Bugsters’ programming or humanity’s innate desire for conflict and competition. Parad assumes that Poppy’s “base” programming as a Bugster – that is, her current peppy-but-antagonistic personality – is her “true” one. In his monologue in this episode, Parad expands on that view further. Just like what I pointed out, the Bugsters are extensions of humanity’s own desires for conflict, and he’s tired of them being unfairly exploited for that purpose with no chance of fighting on an even playing field.
Did I mention that it’s an incredibly odd coincidence that this episode dropped the same week as season 2 of Amazons, which basically takes this “kill or be killed” principle to its bloodiest, most brutal extreme?
Well I have now. Weird.
The other major theme that gets developed this episode deals with trust, specifically the trust the public puts in its heroes. The CR wants the Riders to stand down to prevent events from escalating further, but because of that, the players with the Chronicle gashats decide to fight on their own behalf rather than relying on the doctors to help them. The remaining ones band together to defeat the game stage on their own, raid boss style. Disillusioned with the CR and Ministry of Health’s plausible deniability, they charge into what would almost certainly be their deaths. However, it’s the fact that the Riders all throw aside their official orders that not only sways the Ride Players into trusting them, but also the Ministry’s secretary, Dr. Kyotaro.
Moved by their steadfast commitment to protecting others even at the cost of their reputation, he comes clean about the real extent of the danger posed by Chronicle and tells the press to put their trust in the doctors of the CR, the Kamen Riders. Even if people can’t trust this slightly-shady governmental organization ( I still think they’re hiding more than they’re letting on about the Bugsters’ origins and Zero Day), he knows, and the other players now know, that they can at least trust the intentions and skills of the Riders who fight on their behalf.
Last week we saw the only Player to survive Parad’s rampage did so because Emu treated him as a patient, not an obstacle or opponent to fight. Here we see that the Riders, unlike Parad’s assumption regarding the use of power by human beings, don’t fight just for the thrill of fighting, but to protect others. That compassion is what convinces the Ride Players to go against the call to battle that Parad sees as central to existence and go back to their regular lives.
If anything, this episode is what cements the synthesis of the two sides of the CR doctors’ mission, to fight and to help patients at the same time. This is further emphasized by the preview for next week’s episode, which seems to focus hard on Taiga’s character. Interestingly, in this preview he tells Nico that she’s his patient, which is a marked departure from how he’s tried to distance himself from his role as a doctor during this whole series so far.
Hiiro and Emu have come around to understand this lesson of how their roles and motivations as doctors are integral to their identities as Riders as well. Now it’s time for Taiga to have it hammered home as well.