Ex-Aid #32: The Bad RNG Seed

Previously on Ex-Aid:

Ex-Aid #31: Ties That Bind

With Dan Kuroto revived, the Riders of the CR now have a fighting chance against Parad, but Kuroto himself remains the arrogant, sadistic villain he has always been, and creates conflict within the team as they try to figure out how to work with him. Unwilling to fight for others, and more focused on trolling Parad in revenge, this new partnership proves unworkable until Poppy steps in. Even though she has memories of Kuroto’s mother, as she was the Bugster who infected her, she feels like a daughter to him and returns that love as she believes that he can become a better person. When he sacrifices one of his lives to save her from Parad’s attack, Kuroto and Emu find enough common ground to be able to fight alongside each other, even if it doesn’t make up for the years of horrific abuses Kuroto has visited on others.

Meanwhile, Taiga and Nico have been hard at work clearing out the mid-level Bugsters from Chronicle in order to make progress towards reaching the final boss, and defeating the game for good. Unbeknownst to anyone else though, Hiiro has also been trying to find a way to beat the game in order to bring back his dead girlfriend, Saki.

Although everyone has different motivations, personalities, and experiences that have brought them all to this point, they are all united in their most urgent goal at the moment – beating the three remaining Bugsters, and then the final boss of Chronicle itself.

Will this truly be the final showdown? Of course not, we’ve still got 18 episodes to go, but now we’re into the range of episodes where the other shoe is dangling, soon to drop, to tip the scales towards the finale arc itself.

Episode 32:

After their group debriefing session last episode, the main CR Riders – excluding Shin Kuroto Dan – are raring to go and clear the last remaining Bugsters. Hiiro and Taiga no longer have to rely on sharing the Dual Gashat as they have been doing, thanks to Kuroto’s help, but they aren’t the only ones who have leveled up in the meantime. Graphite, sporting another palette swap in true Monster Hunter fashion, is now level 99 himself, and wipes the floor with Taiga. Similarly, the dating sim Bugster, Lovelica, is proving to be a tricky Puzzle Boss that Hiiro stubbornly cannot find a way to cut through.

Kuroto is also dying (ha!) to go out and challenge Parad again, but he’s still grounded, under Poppy’s control.

When the combined forces of the Bugsters prove to be too much for the heroes, something unexpected happens. The Rider Player they were working to try and rescue throws himself in front of Parad to protect the others. When he’s smacked away, we discover his identity – Dr. Kagami, Hiiro’s father!

Honestly, this was a pretty funny reveal, because we had just been complaining that Hiiro’s father hasn’t been in any episodes for weeks, and wondered if the show had just flat out forgotten about him. From what I hear, his actor had scheduling conflicts that prevented him from filming, but this is a pretty apt way of covering for those disappearances from the show.

It also leads to some great displays of character development from Hiiro, as instead of berating his father, he includes him in their work and even expresses his admiration for him to Emu and the others.

Regrouping at the CR clinic, everyone puts their heads together to try and figure out a plan to defeat the final Bugsters without getting humiliated again. This involves a lot of exposition, and we hear Kuroto talk of something new, the as-yet-unknown final boss of Chronicle, Gemdeus (Deus geddit? Well no one ever accused Kuroto of subtlety…). Not even Parad and the other Bugsters have seen him (Her? It?) so far, all we know from Kuroto’s self-aggrandizing speech is that it’s supposed to be literally unbeatable, and is meant to prolong the game into eternity.

Now, gee. That sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? Even if the Gorider miniseries isn’t explicitly canon to the main series, being written by a different person, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other elements of that death game show up here when Gemdeus makes its appearance.

Kuroto also reveals that the only thing that can be used to defeat Gemdeus is a backdoor he programmed, what’s essentially the Rider version of a Game Shark or Action Replay. When you can’t beat the game legitimately, you cheat. Cronus is stupidly powerful, we already know from magazine details that it’s supposedly able to control time within the game stage. The main problem is activating it.

While the other Gashats and the Gamer Drivers are usable by the Riders thanks to their compatibility surgery, using Cronus requires a special antibody that renders one immune to all strains of the virus.

I can only assume that Kuroto doesn’t have this antibody, else he already would’ve activated Cronus himself and would now be using it to beat down everyone. Buuutttt I do think it’s suspicious how Emu finds himself in that shot when he refers to the “miracle” that would create it.

In the normal course of Chronicle though, this provides a justification to the “Gashatrophies” that the Ride Players collect by defeating Bugsters. When they kill the current Bugster they face, it clears their infection, and they also gain immunity to that strain of the virus. When they defeat all the Bugsters, it gives them the “absolute” antibody that would be needed to activate Cronus.

Meanwhile, Daddy Dan Masamune is out of jail, after being cleared following Kuroto’s mad rampage earlier in the show. Now that it’s understood that Kuroto was the one behind Zero Day and the Bugster infection, he’s a free man, and goes straight back to Genm Corp.

Ren isn’t happy to see him back though, and warns him that he doesn’t have the power to unseat the Bugsters from control of the company, or of Chronicle. We also find out that the Bugvisor “Zwei” that we’ve seen (Poppy was the first one to use it when she got her Rider form) is only usable by Bugsters and will kill humans due to exposure from a massive viral load.

Well, that’s exactly what Kuroto said about the blank Dual Gashat earlier in the show, and Emu was able to use that to become Mighty Bros. XX, so Ren will most likely be forced to eat crow at some point.

As it turns out, sooner rather than later.

With all the exposition in place, we get a really cool sequence set to the main OP theme of the show as everyone makes their preparations to face the Bugsters, and decide the fate of Chronicle. Taiga gets MASSIVE death-flags as he promises Nico that he’ll come back alive, Hiiro finds out from his dad that someone has stolen the proto-Gashats that have the victims’ data stored on them, and Emu and Poppy go to the infamous Helipad-Of-Self-Reflection to steel their nerves.

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This big three-on-four fight that results between ALL the Riders and the Bugsters hits one of my nerves in that they bill it as the “final” fight yet again. However, this one really does feel appropriately climactic now that we’ve got four Riders united, and the stakes in clearing Chronicle are more urgent and explicit.

Not to mention, it’s a really creatively-choreographed fight, with all the Riders getting a chance to show off, and make effective use of their new-found teamwork.

Just when it seems like they’re about to win, though, the other shoe drops.

“Who is Cronus?” has been a raging, hotly-contested question in Ex-Aid discussions for weeks now. Almost as hotly-contested, is the controversy over how to spell “Cronus” in the first place. (I’m of the opinion that either “Cronus” or “Chronos” is acceptable, but I’m sticking with the former now for consistency with the subs, and because it makes for a neat parallel coming up.) Two of the most common theories were that it would either be an upgrade for Kuroto, or it would be used by his dad, Masamune Dan.

As we’ve seen in the show up to this point, Ex-Aid makes a habit of going with the most obvious or fitting reveals for certain plot twists, but adds an extra twist on top of them to raise the stakes even further. These extra levels are what make the show exciting, even if you can see the flags in advance.

For example, it was pretty apparent that Emu was infected earlier in the show, but the fact that he was Patient Zero and the original incubator for the virus itself was the extra level. Kuroto Dan getting killed by Parad was expected, the level of brutality involved in that event was not. Parad being Emu’s Bugster was called by a lot of people, but retaining the ability to possess and control Emu was not.

Similarly, a lot of people called Masamune Dan being the one to activate Cronus. But the extra layer comes with our new-found understanding of the special conditions required to use Cronus in the first place.

Emu wasn’t actually the first one infected by the virus, Masamune infected himself in order to develop the antibody needed to unlock this ultimate power later on. Chronicle was his idea, he merely allowed Kuroto and Parad to finish it. But whereas Kuroto and Parad have more emotional, personal stakes in allowing Chronicle to exist and continue, Masamune is probably the coldest character we’ve seen, and he sees this entirely as a business proposition.

In fact, he doesn’t even call any of the characters – much less his own son – by their actual names, only the games they represent. Hearing him refer to Kuroto merely as “Dangerous Zombie” is downright chilling. Masamune Dan wants to use Chronicle to bring the entire world under the influence of his game, and thus the company that oversees and directs that game, and finally sees the company as an extension of himself. The other characters are only representations of the company’s property, and thus his property to be used as he sees fit.

Although he’s less gleefully maniacal than his son, it’s a similar sort of god-complex displayed here, and just as brutal.

What’s also chillingly brutal is the sheer level of power Cronus displays, with its ability to stop time within the game stage, and deliver lethal amounts of damage before anyone can possibly react.

What’s more, this power can also kill Bugsters permanently, as they are stuck in a death state and thus cannot be revived even after time is un-paused. He proceeds to use this ability to destroy Lovelica/Ren with the most stylish Rider Kick I’ve ever seen outside of Kabuto. 

After destroying everyone faster than the blink of an eye, Masmune merely walks off, content that the game will continue.

So.

 

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Uh.

Where do I begin?

____________________________________________________________________

Viewers have suspected for a long time that Masamune was hiding something, and wasn’t so innocent as he was initially shown, but now that we’ve seen the extent of his manipulation, it puts some interesting details into light. First of all, let’s get in the Wayback Machine and revisit the dark, distant days of my first Ex-Aid recap article back in March. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Anyways, back in episode 21, Emu first meets Masamune in prison, and we have a couple of interesting moments in that scene.

First of all, Masamune recognizes Emu, but changes the subject when asked about that reaction. In subsequent episodes, when we learn that Kuroto infected Emu as a child, it was assumed that Masamune knew the name because of the fan letter that led to Kuroto sending him the infected game disk. This implies that Masamune was aware of Kuroto’s misdeeds, but we didn’t know why he didn’t say anything or try to prevent those actions. Now, we can see that Masamune is just as callous and manipulative, so for all we know, Kuroto may have done it with Dear Ol’ Dad’s blessing as an experiment.

In that same scene, Masamune claims that the Bugster virus first appeared as a manifestation of the Y2k bug. It sounded silly at the time, most likely because it was a lie meant to cover the virus’ origins and his role in using it. Or there might be some truth to it, but with the full details of its creation deliberately left unsaid and obfuscated.

The other line that stuck out at the time was his reaction to finding out the fact that Kuroto murdered Kiriya.

This line, again, was assumed to show disappointment in Kuroto for becoming such a monster, but in the light of this week’s reveal, it takes on another possibility. Most likely, he was hoping to use Kiriya to remove Kuroto from play so he could get out of jail and finish Chronicle himself. Just as Kuroto turned around and pinned all the blame on his dad to assume control of the company, it seems Masamune was trying to get back at him to do the same.

This leaves the mystery of just what in the name of Helheim fruits was going on behind the scenes at Genm? We know the regular rank-and-file devs are normal people who just want to make games, and have no knowledge of any of this craziness, but how much of this conspiracy to exploit the Bugsters was under Kuroto’s direction, and how much was pre-ordained by Masamune? Did they work together? When did this conflict over who would control the company, and Chronicle itself, begin? Kuroto seems genuinely scared when his dad shows up, is it fear at seeing his plans foiled, or does he actually care somewhat for his family like we saw with his concern for his mother in the past?

This reveal brings up a lot of other questions too, if Masamune infected himself 16 years ago in order to attain the “perfect” antibody needed to use Cronus, does that mean that he has a Bugster half running around too? What course did his infection take, and how similar was it to Emu’s since they’ve both been harboring the virus for the same amount of time?

Originally I was confused a bit by how “immunity” worked in relation to the Bugster virus in this show, and to explain why, I need to revisit some ideas from my original post on Virology that I typed up way back after episode 15. Basically, immunity to a virus is conferred in one of two ways: surviving an active infection, or receiving a vaccination for it. Both work similarly, in that exposure to the antigens, or specific proteins on the surface coat of the virus, will prime your immune system to recognize the virus quicker, and mount a more rapid, and stronger response the next time you’re exposed to it.

Vaccinations will use “attenuated” or “killed” versions of the virus, or even just smaller parts of the viral capsule rather than the entire, live pathogen, to reduce the risk of reaction or infection. It was understood that the “compatibility operation” the Riders underwent to be able to use the Gamer Drivers without being infected or worse, was the equivalent of a vaccination. But that didn’t make sense in light of evidence elsewhere in the show, where some individuals became infected by the virus multiple times with seemingly no change in severity.

Now we know that immunity is conferred only for the specific strain you were infected with (determined by Bugster), a lot of that is cleared up. First of all, it most likely eliminates the possibility of Riders swapping base forms; they wouldn’t have immunity to the other games that the others use to transform and load the game stages. That fact also lends a twisted sort of logic to Masamune’s habit of referring to the Riders by their selected game form, as they’re uniquely imprinted to it.

It also may explain why Masamune has this “perfect” immunity; he got infected by the first version of the virus, before it was incubated within Emu’s body. It seems that the virus differentiated into the different Bugsters following its release from him due to the Dr. Pac-Man incident (Thank you Toei, for letting me continue to use that phrase in complete seriousness), and developed the different antigens that produce different immune responses.

Putting all this together, it leads to the conclusion that Emu may be able to develop a similar type of immunity, since he got infected around the same time, by the same progenitor strain of the virus.

Does this mean he could potentially use Cronus? Well, maybe, but we’ve already gotten spoilers for his final form, Hyper Muteki, which is a different suit entirely. But who knows, Emu may be able to at least use the Bugvisor Zwei himself. After all, like I said, he’s already survived massive viral loads when using equipment designed for Bugsters.

I don’t have any sure answers for any of this. Just a whole lot of random speculation. Here’s what we do know at the moment:

  • Bugsters can now permanently die
  • Time Stop doesn’t give a damn about your power levels
  • Chronicle is unbeatable without said Time Stop powers

I could talk about the connections between Hiiro’s admiration of his father even though he’s weaker and oftentimes a goofy walking punchline, compared to Masamune’s professional control over every aspect of the game of Chronicle. I could even talk about the double meaning of “Cronus”  as the Greek Titan of the Harvest, and the father of Zeus who was deposed to make way for the Olympians. (And also confused by later scholars with “Chronos”, the Latin word for “time”, which combined the two together into a metaphysical representation of the concept, associated with reaping and sowing to mark that time.)

But I dunno, after the dire straits that our heroes are left in with this episode, all that seems sort of hollow. There’s still the expectation of two more final forms (Emu’s Hyper Muteki and Taddle Legacy for Hiiro) that will most likely be used to even the playing field once again, but man, seeing Kuroto legitimately scared of his dad honestly scared me too.

I have no idea what to expect from this show next week.

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