Ex-Aid #34: How To Win Friends and Influence People

Previously on Ex-Aid:

Ex-Aid #33: Dichotomies and Dilemmas

With the full , terrifying power of Cronus revealed and under Masamune Dan’s control, the Riders and Bugsters alike are at a loss for how to respond to the threat. Masamune himself uses that threat to try and persuade them all to play by his rules in upholding Chronicle. However, both the Bugsters, and Emu, don’t much appreciate Masamune’s willingness to play Chicken with their lives using the master control system of Chronicle.

But one Rider that Masamune’s persuasion DOES work on is Hiiro. Promising him a chance to see Saki brought back from the dead by using her data in the proto-Dragon Knight Hunter Z Gashat, Hiiro scrubs a plan between Kuroto and Emu that would’ve defeated Cronus’ almighty Pause ability. Now newly-christened as Masamune’s “Right-Hand Man” in enforcing Chronicle’s continued existence, he stands opposed to the other Riders. How will our fractured team of heroes be able to stand up to a team rapidly forming itself around Masamune’s influence?

Episode 34

This episode is really dialogue heavy, and much of it simply intensifies character arcs that we’ve seen illustrated earlier in the show and I’ve already touched on. Because of that, this article is going to be shorter than normal. (I tried to force a lengthier commentary for last week and it wound up feeling pretty rambling as a result, I thought.)

But one thing I want to mention immediately at the start of this recap is that you should probably be watching this episode with a box of tissues in hand because everyone suffers.

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And I mean EVERYONE.

We start off again with the remaining Riders at the CR clinic headquarters, puzzling over the latest turn of events. This seems to happen a LOT with each episode nowadays. It’s a good way to recap events of the show I guess, but I think it feels unnecessary, especially compared to the pace of earlier episodes where the OP sequence itself was cut in favor of shoving in as much plot as possible.

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But it’s pretty neat to see a rare moment of calm from Kuroto, and another re-visitation of the “crystal” metaphor he used to describe Emu’s character earlier in the series. Does Emu see Hiiro as a fellow Rider still? A patient in need of saving? Or an enemy who needs to be defeated?

Before Emu himself can respond, Parad and Graphite teleport in, with Parad filling in his own thoughts.

Even though the two of them are connected, Parad is incapable of seeing the circumstances around him as anything other than a life or death competition, as we’ve seen in the past. Emu managed to believe in the best in even Kuroto, so I don’t think Parad speaks for him here. Emu giving up on Hiiro even at this moment seems a betrayal of everything he’s fought for up to this point.

I guess the Bugsters never bothered with teleporting directly into the CR clinic before because that goes against the spirit of the game, but now they have a specific purpose, trying to figure out how to counter Cronus. Turns out that as Bugsters, they have another advantage other than teleportation.

As you remember, Poppy entered the game world of Mighty Action X to retrieve Kuroto’s backup to revive him as SHIN DAN KUROTO. When Graphite and Parad find out from Kuroto that Gemdeus was specifically intended to be the opponent against Cronus, they track down that data within the game world of Chronicle itself in order to wield it as a weapon against their new enemy.

It’s nice to see Graphite have a specific purpose within the plot other than just baiting Taiga and scowling over Parad’s shoulder. It’s just too bad that this specific purpose violates more than one tenet on the classic Evil Overlord List of “Things you really shouldn’t do as the villain in a story”. Absorbing an energy source of indeterminate power? One that makes you immediately erupt into flames and scream in pain? That’s a big no-no. I’d place good money on betting this will wind up mutating him into the true final boss for the last arc of the show.

Nevertheless, when they confront Cronus later on, they use the data for…

They…uh

Well crap, I’m not going to be able to skip over the rest of the episode here, am I.

Fine then.

I said earlier that this episode is really heavy on dialogue scenes. Appropriately, those scenes themselves are really, REALLY heavy in terms of emotional weight. I have to give a lot of credit to all the actors involved, there’s a lot of emoting going on that sells their motivations, both spoken and unspoken. But I was hoping to not have to recap this part because just looking back over the screencaps I took for these scenes threatens to make me cry with them.

First, after the Bugster Bros. teleport away from the CR clinic (Graphite, with a slice of cake in tow), the Riders immediately get a new distress call. But this isn’t from someone who’s playing Chronicle, this is a more traditional victim of the week who became infected from exposure to the virus. Presumably intentionally by Hiiro himself, because when Emu shows up to try and defeat the Bugster, Gutton, Hiiro shows up to fight and defeat Emu. I assume that this was a set-up orchestrated by Masamune, and carried out by Hiiro to try and bait the CR Riders into a trap.

Obviously unwilling to go all-out in fighting against his friend and respected comrade, Emu is knocked out of his transformation, and Hiiro walks off with the Gamer Driver. He’s retrieving it on Masamune’s orders, another act to prove his loyalty before Masamune will accede his demands to bring back Saki.

This scene where Hiiro lays bare his heart in confessing his guilt over Saki’s death, and how it drives him to do something that compromises all of his principles as a doctor AND a Rider is, as we say, the good shit. Hiiro’s actor sells his grief really well, and Taiga just looks utterly flabbergasted that anyone could forgive him for screwing up his job on Zero Day as the first CR Rider.

As we see in a following scene, Taiga sees that hatred that Hiiro used to treat him with as a twisted sort of redemption, punishment for not being strong enough to destroy Graphite. Denied that, he now also has to come to terms with his own duties and ideals as a Rider.

Unlike Hiiro though, he doesn’t have to do so alone.

To twist the knife in even further, when Masamune does reward Hiiro following this encounter, he revives a hollowed-out, partial copy of Saki who only mindlessly repeats her last words to Hiiro. If he wants the real deal, he’ll have to continue working for Masamune, against the other Riders, and against everything else he valued before this point.

He’s obviously just going to keep baiting Hiiro further and further along by using Saki’s existence, but Hiiro is too far into despair at his own failings to give up. Like Taiga, this is a selfish sort of redemption for him, and he won’t be able to forgive himself for this either if he turns his back on the chance.

So that brings us to the closing fight, where Graphite and Parad, now wielding a small portion of Gemdeus’ data, and Emu, now face off against Cronus and Brave. Even despite all the emotional tragedy and betrayal of the last two episodes though, Emu’s focus is always, always on rescuing the patient first, and leaves Hiiro standing while he executes Gutton with a Level 99 finishing move. (Funnily enough, this echoes a very similar encounter with Taiga’s introduction waaaaaaay back in episode 3!)

Meanwhile, Graphite and Parad disable Cronus’ Pause ability by infecting him with that portion of the Gemdeus data.

Unfortunately for them, Masamune is a far better manipulator and strategist than Kuroto ever was, for reasons I’ll expand on here shortly. He brought along another trump card, a Level 0 ally that, like Kuroto’s own Genm Level 0 base, can eliminate effects of the virus. With that he steals yet another visual from Kamen Rider Kabuto and destroys everyone in the rain with Pause again.

The Level 0 suit?

A revived Lazer.

 


 

I stated earlier that Masamune has proven himself to be a more skilled manipulator than Kuroto was, which is impressive considering that EVERYTHING in the show’s plot was orchestrated by him up until about episode 23 where he died for the first time. And even then, he’s been shown to have multiple back-ups in place (the death game in Gorider was one, the Level 0 MAX gashat was the other, I would not doubt that he has more) as contingency plans in case of his death. However, the main difference is that while Kuroto is incredibly smart and plans around what the other characters are most likely to do, Masamune specifically manipulates others into doing what he wants with their full knowledge. Kuroto’s genius is ultimately isolating, Masamune instead gathers a team around himself – a business in other words.

This is a weird sort of twist on an extremely common theme in toku shows, where the heroes usually are able to save the day and achieve their goals to the best good because they are not alone and can work together with their friends and comrades. Masamune may have employees, but they don’t follow him out of respect or loyalty, or even shared goals. He commands fear and despair instead.

At the beginning of the episode, we see this touched on in a specific way. First, while trying to figure out why Hiiro would betray them, Emu recalls that Masamune stated that Hiiro was working towards a reward, and they ALSO note that Masamune scouted Hiiro alone by whisking him away during a use of Pause. It’s fairly obvious why he would do so, Hiiro is the most easily influenced because of his motivations.

Emu started off in this series as unsure of his own abilities and how to deal with his duties both as a Doctor and as a Rider. Through the challenges of the series, his desire to protect his patients and everyone else he deals with has only strengthened. We see that played out again in this episode where his focus in both fights is to destroy the Bugster that threatens the patient, rather than striking down Hiiro in anger or revenge.

Taiga’s motivations aren’t quite as selfless, but Masamune holds nothing that could tempt him to his side. Taiga, if anything, is looking for a Good Death.

Kuroto is too prideful to put himself subordinate to ANYONE, let alone a father who has proved himself to be a manipulative dick who upstages his own achievements at every turn.

So that just leaves Hiiro.

Poor Hiiro.

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It’s pretty clear he already knows what Emu tries to tell him in this final showdown of the episode, the fact that he’s going against the advice he’s given out through most of the series. But he sees no better alternative to the current situation. Like Taiga, he feels he deserves this punishment for not living up to Saki’s expectation while she was still alive. So he’ll keep following Masamune’s nightmare version of a carrot-on-a-stick, even though he knows he won’t fully deliver on his promises.

Kuroto’s schemes mostly involved giving his opponents just enough rope to hang themselves with, then gloating over them when everyone did exactly what he expected them to do. Masamune operates much more openly, and with direct influence over the other characters. This essentially is another extension of his primary characterization as the CEO of his company. He wants Chronicle to continue because he wants the influence of his company to reach the entire world, and when the entire world is under the influence of his game, it becomes property as data within the game, and thus his property to oversee as he sees fit.

By recruiting Hiiro to his side, he’s literally made him an employee, and then creates a “left-hand man” by resurrecting Kiriya’s data (authentically or not, we have yet to see). He basically sees no difference between the two of them, both are merely collections of information, motivations and memories that he can deal with as needed, to make them do as he wishes.

In many ways, this ties back into one of the stronger themes of the series, about how individuals can “fight fate” or the predetermined aspects of their backgrounds, programming, genetics, or whatever. Hiiro needs to break out of the role that he’s resigned himself to, and Taiga needs to re-learn his own value through seeing how others value him.

Emu’s doing just fine in terms of his resolution to keep fighting against fate, but as with any good Kamen Rider series, he’s going to suffer horrifically for it in the meantime.

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