Previously on Ex-Aid:
Faced with the risk of losing their titles as doctors if they act against the Ministry’s initial reluctance to go public with the real stakes of Kamen Rider Chronicle, the Riders instead to choose to continue fighting. In the process of winning over the public’s trust they also win the confidence of Dr. Kyotaro. As the real stakes of Kamen Rider Chronicle become too high to ignore, the Ministry moves to recall the game, and make known that the game can result in actual death. Now with Parad in charge of directing the Bugsters to orchestrate humanity’s extinction in the ultimate blood game, and the trump card of Amagasaki Ren, the Genm Corp CEO still up his sleeve, can the Riders and the CR counter their next move before more civilians die in the crossfire?
Last week I spent a lot of words discussing how much I had been enjoying Hiiro’s character development arc. With both him and Emu more or less on the same page now, at least in terms of motivation and mission, they take a background role in this episode. The emphasis instead shifts to focus on Taiga and Nico’s characters in relation to each other.
I’ll be frank, I expected the worst when I first saw Nico was going to become a recurring character in this show, I expected her to just become an annoying rival, or kid sidekick who would just yell catchphrases and interrupt meaningful scenes. It was to my surprise that she became a pretty consistently fun part of the team, mainly because the writers made the prescient decision to have her play off of Taiga’s grumpiness. It’s a common shtick in character interactions, to have an exuberant, young, maybe slightly-naïve character to play a sidekick to a brooding, older loner. But sometimes common or expected story elements become common because they work so well. In this show, Nico’s rudely competitive spirit actually meshes nicely with Taiga’s antagonism.
As this episode illustrates, both characters are lent more dimension, more than they would’ve shown alone otherwise, because of their juxtaposition together. Hiiro and Emu both grew as characters because they were so diametrically opposed in their character motivations, and how they approached their dual duties as both doctors and Riders. Hiiro was swayed by Emu’s unfailing passion for helping others, and Emu finds a strong anchor in Hiiro’s professionalism when he would otherwise be unmoored in emotion or distress. On the other hand, Taiga and Nico, despite their immediately apparent differences, both grow in this episode by coming to realize that they’re both more alike than they’d initially care to admit.
This episode starts off – surprise, surprise – with Emu and Hiiro chilling out in the CR clinic. I should go back through and count how many episodes start with this scene, because I bet it’d be close to half. Anyways, as a response to the Ministry’s recall of Chronicle, and the now-public knowledge that people actually die from playing it, Ren, the current CEO of Genm Corp. moves ahead with the next stage of the Bugsters’ plan.
He broadcasts a notice that beating the game will actually bring back everyone who has died playing it. The Riders of course are all in denial that this is possible – the audience isn’t given any indication as to its truth on way or another (My bet’s on “technically true, but Monkey’s Paw”). Interestingly, Emu isn’t immediately skeptical of the claim either, which is, frankly, very ironic considering he should’ve learned a lesson about the pitfalls of trying to revive the dead from the Gorider miniseries.
But the bait nevertheless works, as they’re soon summoned to respond to a case of a woman who illicitly joined the game in order to try and save a boyfriend lost to a Game Over. Just when Hiiro and Emu are about to transform to fight Revol, the Bang Bang Shooting Bugster, Nico shows up, Chronicle Gashat in hand.
The following fight is really fun to watch, and makes use of the colorful mania that Ex-Aid’s best fight choreography shows off. Sometimes the fights turn into just explosion-filled CGI exhibitions as the characters all spam their finishing moves, but this one utilizes the special effects, and Nico’s own uniquely flamboyant fighting style, to give her one hell of a first impression for her debut appearance as a Rider.
Nico is talented enough at exploiting the game mechanisms to actually defeat Revol and his mook Bugsters single-handedly, but the side effects of using Chronicle (the debilitating infection) kick in soon after. When she’s moved to the CR clinic for treatment, she protests to no end, especially when Taiga shows up to berate her futher.
In many ways this is a retread of her first focus episode, where she stole Taiga’s Gamer Driver and gashats to try and fight as a Rider. Even though she backed down from that after learning to appreciate the stakes that the Riders were up against, now that she’s offered another way to join in the fight, she can’t stand just sitting on the sidelines any longer. She thinks she has the skills to justify the risk and is angry that the others don’t acknowledge that.
It’s really interesting how the dynamic between the three Riders here is so different from the first dozen or so episodes of the show. In fact, Hiiro is the only one of the bunch to actually admit that Nico is really good at games and would be a useful ally in their fight. (And she repays that acknowledgement by stealing his cake. It’s another testament to how much Hiiro has grown as a character that he doesn’t bite her head off for that.)
Taiga’s anger at her risk-taking is another angle of his “I need to be the only Rider” shtick we’ve seen play out multiple times, but it’s gained an extra edge because now someone he cares about has been drawn into the fight. Although he won’t admit that he cares about Nico yet, to himself, or to anyone else. Hiiro again steps in to explain to him why that’s a problem, a lesson he learned too late himself when he lost Saki.
A large part of Hiiro’s antagonism with Taiga before this was due to him still blaming Taiga for his girlfriend’s death, but this scene is interesting because Hiiro seems more concerned about teaching Taiga to learn from his own past mistake.
These scenes show effectively why both Taiga and Nico are more similar than different, and also why that creates so much conflict between them and the other characters. Both are extreme risk takers, and put themselves in danger without acknowledging the feelings of those closest to them. Even though both of them feel like they can handle everything by themselves, sometimes those who are close to them ALSO wish to fight alongside them, or don’t want to see them hurt or killed as a result. The main moral of this episode is that they both needed to be honest with each other about their feelings and motivations in order to work effectively as a team.
Now, that moral, coupled with them fighting in conflict with Ren’s Bugster form (from a dating sim visual novel, no less!) has led a LOT of people to jump on the OTP train for Taiga and Nico. Both of them admitting their feelings of responsibility to protect each other in the context of giant heart effects that explode, and swooning maids, certainly helps promote that view. I’ll admit, I can definitely see where the shipping fuel comes from, but I think I still mostly see them platonically, as more like brother and sister. I think that’s largely due to the age difference, but the sort of exasperated competitiveness I see between them reminds me more of my relationship with my own brothers, rather than a romantic attraction.
Overall this episode is a good illustration of Ex-Aid’s unique strengths, in how it combines completely ridiculous circumstances and aesthetics, not to mention well-placed physical humor and visual gags, with genuinely poignant character development. There’s a lot of elements that work together to make this show so much fun to watch from week to week, and I’m happy that it’s been keeping up that quality even into the second half of the show.
This episode also dropped right alongside the first Blu-Ray/DVD release of Ex-Aid’s run, and sometimes Toei includes a short 4-part miniseries within these releases for Rider series. For Drive’s, they included a little side mystery that develops a few plot elements from one arc within the main series, and also wound up playing into Mach’s direct-to-video sequel story. Not necessary to understand or enjoy the main series, but still a nice bonus. In the same way, this time they’ve included a four-part miniseries that shows Taiga’s experiences as the first CR Rider five years earlier, during the initial Bugster outbreak.
It’s pretty good.
It’s also incredibly weird to not only see Taiga as a cheerful, respected doctor, but Kuroto Dan back to his guise as a well-meaning ally of the Ministry and the CR. When Taiga and a pathologist friend of his, named Maki, accidentally discover the Bugster infection while treating a cancer patient, they get called in by the CR to work for them as Riders.
As a note, I think the writers confused Radiology (using medical imaging to diagnose diseases) with Radiation Therapy. Otherwise, this line makes almost less sense than Hiiro claiming that his knowledge of CPR lets him do well at rhythm games.
I highly recommend watching this side story before episode 27 because it adds further dimension to Taiga’s interactions with the other characters, and why he’s so insistent that no one else should fight as a Rider besides him. When Taiga hesitates, and turns down the CR’s offer to become a Rider, Maki decides to try and use the Gamer Driver system to save a struggling patient, without undergoing the initial training or compatibility operation first.
As a result, well…
Makes Taiga’s insistent concern for Nico putting herself into this battle a lot more understandable in context now.