Previously on Ex-Aid:
When Poppy starts retracing the memories from her host, she finds a backup of Kuroto Dan’s consciousness left inside an early alpha-stage prototype of Mighty Action X. Originally intended to protect players from the infectiousness of the Bugster virus code used to create the game, Poppy uses it to prevent Parad from directly controlling Emu’s body. In the process though, it also resurrects Kuroto in a brand-spanking-new Bugster body. Will this new weapon against Parad be enough to defeat him finally and end Chronicle for good?
Let me just say, sweet Space Fruit Jesus, I am extremely happy that Kuroto is back. I missed the hammy sunnuvagun even though I thought his death scene was incredibly well-done back in episode 23.
Not everyone is as happy at his return though, especially since, even with the leash Poppy keeps him on, Kuroto is causing problems with the same smarmy, arrogant attitude towards everyone at the CR. In addition, he only has one goal at this point and that’s to get Parad back for killing him originally, no matter what else stands in his way.
During his first encounter with Parad in this episode when the Riders respond to a Bugster appearance, we also get a new revelation about just how utterly broken Level 0 Mighty Action X is in a fight. Even though he’s using what’s essentially a level 2 base suit, Kuroto’s new form can drain levels from Bugsters just from physical contact, and to boot, he’s programmed himself with 99 lives in case he gets destroyed again. Which happens pretty quickly when Parad gets annoyed enough with his antics and just punches his smug face in.
The 99 lives detail will almost certainly be a plot point later on. Just wait, when the final boss of the series shows up, expect to see that counter get eaten up faster than Hiiro attacking a cream puff.
The main conflict of this episode deals with contrasting Emu and Kuroto’s views of humanity and their reasons for fighting. In addition, it’s also shown in context with Poppy’s faith in Kuroto’s own humanity and her belief that he can find a way to put aside his pride to fight with the heroes against a larger threat. But in the background, we also have some shockingly good emotional moments between Hiiro, Taiga and Nico.
Earlier in the season, Amagasaki Ren (aka “Lovelica”, the dating sim Bugster who was the interim CEO of Genm Corp. after Kuroto’s “death”), said that beating Chronicle would revive everyone who died to the game. In this episode, Kuroto informs us that that’s entirely possible. According to him, the victims’ data is stored on the proto-Gashat of the game associated with the Bugster that killed them.
At first this seemed like another ass-pull to me, but it actually explains how the Bugsters can access their hosts’ memories, it’s data that gets incorporated into their own programming within the game’s software!
But with this reveal, Hiiro instantly takes it upon himself to join the fight to finish Chronicle, since now he knows he can save Saki’s memory and revive her if the game is cleared. Being Hiiro, he almost seems ashamed of admitting this goal, especially to Taiga, but Taiga’s not the emotionless jerk we assumed he was at the beginning of the show either. His goal from the start of this story has always been to protect others from the fate of being forced to fight as Riders, whether it was trying to claim the others’ Gashats, or now with fighting against the Bugsters to clear their levels and end Chronicle for good.
The scene on the helipad here where this understated soul-baring takes place is one of my favorite moments of the show so far because, again, of how understated and taciturn it is. It also illustrates Nico’s role as Taiga’s conscience, who will speak up to defend and give context to Taiga, when his own stubbornness won’t let him do it himself.
This is probably the closest either of them have been to genuine friendship, now that they share the same end goal.
Speaking of sharing goals, let’s get back to the main A-plot, where Emu and Kuroto’s goals conflict. Although both of them want to fight and defeat Parad, both of them also have diametrically-opposed reasons for doing so. Emu wants to fight him to protect humanity from extinction. Kuroto just wants to avenge a personal grudge. What finally allows Kuroto to step outside of that selfish motivation, to recognize the importance of this fight to other individuals, is through the unlikely example of Poppy.
This episode reveals that Poppy’s original host was indeed Kuroto’s own mother. With her shared memories, she wants to believe in the best of Kuroto. Because of that, she initially draws the conclusion that all of his schemes, the original creation of the Gashats and Chronicle, were just to try and bring his mother back to life, or prevent anyone else from being lost in the same way.
But no, Kuroto really is just that much of a megalomaniacal prick, of course his schemes were put into place first and foremost to protect himself and his own self-proclaimed genius. He doesn’t see the value of individuals who don’t contribute to the legacy of history like the role he envisions for himself. This prevents Emu from working with him, as he’s steadfastly fought for everyone regardless of how awful a person they are. We saw this back in episode 22, where even though Emu couldn’t forgive and forget Kuroto’s sins, he still wanted him to be able to live and work to atone for them.
(I hope you aren’t playing the Ex-Aid drinking game with this episode, because this one’s a killer.)
We also see this in how Emu responds to the idea that Chronicle can be a way to eternally preserve people’s data, to be revived later. Some viewers have questioned what’s so bad about Kuroto’s goal to do so, but you need to keep in mind that Chronicle is also a game about fighting for your life. The only people who would get enjoyment out of an existence of eternally struggling to survive are either akin to Bugsters, with their innate desire for competition, or like Kuroto with his insatiable, petty sadism. In other words, it’s a structure that only benefits the most powerful and skilled. Nico’s doing just fine clearing out the Bugsters in the background, but 99% of the other Ride Players are not Nico. The briefly-touched-upon victim this week is just an ordinary housemother with no skills or knowledge of video games trying to revive her dead son.
Emu doesn’t like this version of immortality because he doesn’t want to see people like her forced to suffer for the enjoyment of others. Immortality can’t be the sole end to existence if it sacrifices the value of people’s lives in the process, reducing them to prey or cannon fodder for others.
This is the fundamental split between Emu and Kuroto’s characters. Emu cares for even the smallest and least-significant lives. Kuroto only cares about his own life because he sees himself as the most valuable through his own merits and skill. In order to start his redemption to fight alongside the heroes, Kuroto has to understand the value of others first.
In my recap for #29, I had stated that it would most likely be Emu’s own example that would allow Kuroto to see his own mistakes and start to reform. As it turns out, Kuroto does learn this lesson through example, but not Emu’s. It’s Poppy’s concern for him that creates that insight.
When Parad is about to eliminate Poppy for continuing to work with the humans, Kuroto actually throws himself in front of the attack, and loses one of his lives in the process. This is the first time we have ever seen him sacrifice something selflessly for another person.
Now, it seems there’s been a bit of confusion about how to deal with the relationship between Poppy and Kuroto among viewers, since she’s carrying the memories of Kuroto’s mother, but also states that she sees herself as his daughter since he was the one who programmed her and gave her an identity. However, I think people are overcomplicating things a bit. In fact, this isn’t about roles specifically within a family, as much as it is based in connections of a specific type of love. Love that was originally patterned and exemplified by the relationship between Kuroto and his mother, and now is returned from Poppy to Kuroto.
He may have forgotten what it was like to show selfless charity to another person, but Poppy knows because she has those memories imprinted into her being. Emu shows this selfless love whenever he puts himself on the line to fight for humanity, but being unwilling to compromise his ideals to work with Kuroto, falls short of the kind of sacrifice required to put a personal impression to that same love. Poppy is the one that follows through on it, and that’s what makes the difference. It’s what reminds Kuroto of his humanity, even though ironically, both of them are now Bugsters.
This actually serves as an interesting example of different kinds of “love” that we see between characters throughout this series. Although the English language only has one word, it can stand in for a lot of different emotional connections, not all of which are comparable or interchangeable. Earlier in the article, I mentioned a sort of friendship or camaraderie between Hiiro and Taiga that has developed, and to be honest, it’s a connection that we’ve seen develop between all the CR Riders in general. This is summarized by the Greek word Phileo, which is often translated as “brotherly love” or “friendship”. C.S. Lewis, in his work Four Loves, which describes different uses of the term, explains that this is a relationship that is characterized by a shared interest or passion. In this case, the CR Riders were united in their desire to defeat the Bugsters, now Hiiro and Taiga are more specifically tied together with their goal of destroying Chronicle.
The relationship between Poppy and Kuroto starts off as Storge, which I’ve seen described elsewhere as “familial” love, but it’s not related to family as much as familiarity. Lewis describes it as “affection”. Poppy’s memories of Kuroto in relation to a mother-son relationship enable that affection, but it moves beyond that in the latter part of this episode. More specifically, the love Poppy shows when she is ready to put her life on the line to protect him is Agape, or completely sacrificial, selfless love. It is the ability to see the value in something and care for it, when that something (or someone, usually) is otherwise completely un-lovable.
Poppy may have memories of Kuroto from a time before he was a homicidal villain, but what allows her to sacrifice her own self for him here in the present is that specific type of love, rather than simple affection. It is also that type of love that drives Emu to seek to protect humanity in general from being extinguished or exploited by this conflict, even at the cost of his own well-being. As we saw last week, he’s not motivated by his own self-preservation as much as a desire to help others around him, regardless of their flaws or lack of merits. An interesting contrast to Kuroto’s development here.
In the end, both Emu and Kuroto team up to curbstomp Parad in one of the most visually entertaining fights of the season, forcing him to retreat before he loses any more face to their combined co-op play.
I complained a bit about the fight scene in the last episode because I felt it was over-hyped and disappointing in its actual purpose within the episode’s plot. It was billed as the big, climactic, final showdown, but in reality the only reason it was there was to show that Emu – at his top level – still couldn’t beat Parad on his own. This fight, however not only is technically impressive, with stylish wire-work and clever teamwork in how Kuroto and Emu make use of the power-ups, but also is hyped from its natural placement in the context of the episode’s self-contained plot and development.
This is the culmination of Emu’s original hope that Kuroto could use his talents to help others rather than just working towards his own self-aggrandizement. Seeing true, organic co-op between the two new Mighty Brothers speaks for itself without having to constantly remind the audience of how excited they should be.
Back at the CR, the Riders gather together as a real team, and re-assess the situation. With only three Bugsters left to defeat in order to clear Chronicle, they resolve to combine their efforts to do so. Now with a team of four Riders (really, six, counting Poppy and Nico) working together, we’re starting to approach the beginning of the end with a much clearer direction than where the audience was left last week. There’s still a few speed-bumps along the way (still a bit disappointed at how vaguely developed the Bugsters and the mechanics of the virus are), but a good deal of hype that I had lost last week has been renewed.
Is it Saturday again yet?