“Gnothi seauton” – Know Thyself
Previously on Ex-Aid:
Despite Parad’s brainwashing of Poppy, Emu still keeps hope that she can rejoin their side if given the chance. When he restores her memories, Poppy realizes that she never wanted to hurt anyone, despite the grief she feels at causing someone’s death to become fully realized, and gives up her role as navigator and enforcer within Kamen Rider Chronicle.
Meanwhile, Parad, angered at her betrayal, and jealous of Emu’s concern for her and his unwillingness to fight against him in Chronicle, reveals his real nature. Why is Parad so closely connected to Emu, and for what purpose did he take over his body? How will Hiiro and Taiga save Emu from himself this week?
This episode is different from the past few in that it’s largely exposition that ties together elements of the show we’ve seen up to this point, especially following the big reveal of last week. However, with the clarification of those points, it also gives us clarification on the connections between Emu and his various foils. It also allows us more material to analyze their integral motivations and potential courses for development in the future. So this recap will be separated into two parts: first, just straight recap and initial reactions, and secondly, a more in-depth look at character ethics and morality in relation to those characters.
Of course we start this week with Hiiro grabbing Emu by the lapels of his coat. (Drink!) However, this time, Parad-controlling-Emu easily knocks him aside and escapes.
What follows is a looooooooong period of exposition, part of which I already called back during last week’s recap, in regard to Parad’s origins as the original “M”. However, what I didn’t call last week was the fact that Emu and M were more closely connected, even after the removal of the virus by Dr. Pac-Man, than I thought possible. While “M” regenerated with the increased viral load as he continuously used the Gashats and the Driver system, the echoes of Parad’s own personality remained behind, even to the point where Parad possessed him back during episode 20 when Emu’s original personality was almost completely destroyed by the stress of the infection.
Parad forces a transformation into Mighty Bros. XX (with him filling the role of “M” as originally conceived by Emu’s creation) in order to fight Emu himself, but Emu is reluctant to be forced into conflict, especially now that his more combative “M” persona is now subsumed entirely by Parad’s will. It isn’t until Parad taunts him about his helplessness and inability to change his own fate (echoing Kuroto Dan’s words) that Emu fights back.
However, in his desperation to be freed from Parad’s influence, he uses the “reprogramming” ability of Maximum Mighty to essentially give Parad his own body. As a result, while Parad is still mostly Bugster, he retains a permanent imprint of Emu’s own DNA. Enough that he can activate Kuroto’s old Driver to level up his own Rider form into Perfect Knockout – another lvl. 99 form.
Which he then uses to wipe the floor with everyone without even trying. Even Maximum Mighty loses a contested Rider Kick finisher! As a final insult to injury, Parad regains control of Emu’s body and simply saunters off at the end, without anyone able to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, Poppy, slowly regaining memories from her original host, realizes that she has a closer connection to Kuroto than anyone, including herself, originally realized.
Tracing these memories back to the old Genm Corp. building that Kuroto was using for a hideout, she finds a secret room where someone recently hid what might be the key to saving Emu – a lvl. 0 form of Mighty Action X that seems to have been intended to debug the game of the virus.
If this recap seems very short, it’s mainly because I called most of the exposition already with last week’s recap, so there isn’t as much new to comment on. And what points are surprising reveals only seem to raise more questions than answers at this point.
In short, here’s just a few things we’re left to wonder:
- What are the full effects of Parad’s “reprogramming” to achieve something closer to humanity? If he has his own separate body now, how is he still able to possess Emu’s?
- Is Emu left without his “M” persona now? He clearly still is affected by the virus with the stress of the events of this episode provoking it back into a symptomatic presentation. We also see also that he can still use the Driver belt and Gashats as before.
- What exactly is Lvl. 0 MAX? Why did Kuroto hide it away rather than use it before his death?
- When the hell are we going to get a soundtrack release so we can listen to the awesome insert songs this show uses without having them drowned out by a billion belt jingles?
Ordinarily I’d be mad at a show ending an episode on so many different precarious cliffhangers, but Ex-Aid’s main writer has done a fantastic job so far at tying together all these plot points in a consistent and enjoyable manner. So I have hope that the following episodes will provide more material to answer these questions, and maybe more. As for right now though, we’re deep in uncharted territory but I’m still glad to be along for the ride.
Nature and Nurture
In previous articles I’ve talked about multiple aspects of ethics, morality and human nature. One theme that Ex-Aid has consistently developed is the question how mutable that nature actually is. The Bugsters have their own programming that determines their personalities and goals, and the humans have their own characters and character flaws. We’ve seen multiple characters’ motivations and personalities change over time as their experiences shape them, and I wanted to use this episode as an avenue to explore how both experiences and example can affect the innate sense of right and wrong that a person has. In other words, their “heart” or “conscience”.
“Conscience” and “Conscious” are two words that are frequently conflated together, which is understandable considering they are spelled similarly, and pronounced almost exactly the same. Their meanings are similarly related, which further compounds the confusion between the two. One’s “conscious” self is the part of us that is aware of the world around us, that senses and perceives reality, and also can self-reflect in order to know ourselves. In short, it is knowledge, integrated and acted upon.
One’s “conscience” is also knowledge and awareness, but of a different kind. Whereas consciousness is awareness of the physical and mental realities, the facts that construct the world we interact with, the conscience is the heart. The moral center that directs the imperatives that we act on, not merely the declarative reality we see.
Similarly, just as our consciousness can be affected by how we percieve the world either through physical differences (blindness, deafness, other deviations in senses etc) or mental differences (different personalities, beliefs, learning styles, etc), our conscience can also be formed in different ways, so that we come to see certain things as right or wrong, different from others.
I’m not going to get into the whole argument about Natural Law and the inherent goodness/evil of certain actions. Suffice it to say that I’m sure everyone reading this article can at least agree that people can behave in a morally just or unjust way, and that we can apply standards of ethics to judge their actions apart from their own subjective view of themselves.
In other words – objective ethics is a thing and it is important. Now, let’s continue.
One’s conscience is formed from our earliest ages through example, reproach, and reward. A useful quote I’ve found to summarize this goes along these lines, “the mind, ethically developed, comes to a sense of satisfaction in right doing and of dissatisfaction in wrongdoing”. We are punished for doing things that are wrong, such as lying, fighting, stealing, or other transgressions. We are rewarded – whether materially or immaterially – for doing things that are right and praiseworthy, such as helping people, working hard, being kind and merciful to others. Though it starts as habit, over time it is instilled into character, and the usefulness of such training is to allow individuals the opportunity to see the positive effects of this virtue played out in practice, and in turn to make others around them better people.
We see this happen a lot in certain stories – I’ve said before that I love protagonists that make others around them better people, and it mostly occurs through providing a living example of this ethical behavior. When others see how the protagonist is rewarded – by having at least seen justice or mercy done, if not materially rewarded – it helps to better form a conscience that may have gone awry before. Similarly, there are other examples I could name where a character who starts out as an awful person slowly finds that character changed as they imitate a hero. Again, what starts as habit eventually develops into integral character along with those re-aligned ethics.
So ethics lecture aside, how does this tie into Ex-Aid?
One thing we see play out in this episode is the connection, or symmetry if you will, between Emu and Parad. Emu is mostly human, with some Bugster DNA still incorporated into his genome. Similarly, Parad is mostly Bugster at this point, but with human DNA as well. Both have just enough of each other to not only make use of the Driver systems, but also to have an empathic connection. Just like how the Bugsters in general retain memories of their hosts, Parad can feel Emu’s emotions, and we see it have an effect on him back in episode 18 with Emu’s anger over Burgermon’s death (HE WAS A GOOD BOY).
I mentioned last week that Parad is basically Emu’s original M persona, but run rampant without the mediating influence of Emu’s own empathy and compassion. In that sense, I’m pretty happy to see my general sketch of Parad’s origins and nature proven to be correct (speaks to the consistent writing of the show that I was able to connect those details). What I didn’t expect to see is that Parad still retained a deeper connection to Emu during the events of the show even when separated bodily. Emu’s anger at Burgermon’s unnecessary death probably was the major factor in Parad’s split from Kuroto afterwards, especially compounded with Kuroto’s attempts to erase Emu entirely.
It’s really the first time we see his actions directed towards a goal outside of himself, but instead of focused on a good end, that anger is filtered through his improperly formed conscience and becomes anger directed at the whole of humanity, focused on its extinction as a result.
Parad has a malformed conscience because of how his ethics have been skewed to derive pleasure and reward from immoral actions and negative results of such (violence and death). That persona, but under a properly-formed conscience, is Emu’s own love of games and competition, but properly ordained to the cause of helping others and seeing good done by fighting for them instead. Both of them, connected to each other, share the same love of games and competition, but we see it shaped to different ends based on their unique experiences and conscious identities once removed from each other.
We see the effects of a malformed conscience on another character in this show as well – Kuroto Dan himself. As Emu stated back before Kuroto’s death, there was a time where he wasn’t a crazy asshole hell-bent on murdering everyone. At first, his ethical character was merely focused on using his talents in game design and creation to bring happiness to other people. Something happened to ruin that ethical understanding though, and shift his conscience to derive pleasure from seeing the pain and death of other individuals.
We see elements of it in his reaction to Emu’s game designs as a child, where simple jealousy led him to infect Emu in revenge. But the results of that action seem to have snowballed further to break his conscience until he eventually became the one who orchestrated the Zero Day outbreak and sought to use the Bugster virus to become a living god. Emu wished to reform him, perhaps by reminding him of the happiness he once had just designing games that people enjoyed.
However, Kuroto (for the moment) is still dead and gone, and beyond reform. Parad, however still retains a connection to Emu through their shared human/viral natures imprinted on the other. It’s through this connection that reform could still potentially be possible, a conversion or change of heart (in Greek, “metanoia”) that could lead Parad eventually to become a friend again, rather than an antagonist.
Emu wants to believe that everyone has the possibility of reform, that they can find true happiness not in the pain and suffering of others, but in the properly-oriented desire of helping others. If he can redeem his greatest nemeses, and his own shadow, then his own view of the inherent value of those lives he fights for is also redeemed.