Ex-Aid #35 – A Pound of Cure

Previously on Ex-Aid:

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

Emu and his allies at the CR clinic are in disbelief at Hiiro’s betrayal, to become the right-hand man of Masamune Dan in the tenuous hope of reviving his lost love, Saki. Haunted by guilt over how he ignored her while alive, he vows to make things right by bringing her back. However, to keep him loyal, Masamune instead revives a partial, hollow copy that only serves to remind Hiiro of his failings even more strongly.

Meanwhile, Graphite and Parad attempt to circumvent Cronus’ pause ability by harvesting a sample of data from Gemdeus – the final boss of Chronicle – and implanting it into Graphite to use. While this viral data lets them prevent Masamune from using Pause in battle at first, they’re shocked to discover he had a back-up plan of his own, in the form of a revived Level 0 Lazer, now dubbed “Lazer Turbo”. Like Kuroto’s own resurrected form, this Level 0 lets Masamune ignore effects of the Gemdeus virus. However, is this resurrected Lazer’s identity actually Kiriya Kujo? Or is this another one of Masamune’s manipulations?….

Ex-Aid #35

If last week’s episode was the tipping point for a lot of the character arcs – Hiiro and Taiga’s guilt, along with Emu’s continued suffering in order to uphold his ideals – then this episode is a synthesis of a lot of different thematic concepts that have been laid down throughout the season. Many of those themes I’ve touched on already, but we see them revisited in a unique way since this episode also affords us a clearer view of Masamune’s motivations for keeping Chronicle running.

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When I first started this episode, I was scared that Masamune had also murdered the OP again, but nope, they just threw in a cold-open recap to catch viewers up to speed. Why this episode and not others? I don’t know, but there it is.

Something more familiar that this opening does provide though is the increasingly-common format of introducing both factions being debriefed with the events of the last episode, in each of their main “bases”. First, we see Masamune and Hiiro reviewing the plan for assuring Chronicle’s continued spread in Masamune’s office at Genm Corp., then it switches to the CR clinic while the others debate Lazer’s identity. When the CR Riders get a call that another Ride Player has been found attempting to clear the game, they all rush over, only, of course to be intercepted by Lazer Turbo.

Again, this has essentially become the standard set-up for each of the episodes of Ex-Aid following Chronicle’s introduction. Ironic for a series that has shied away from typical victim-of-the-week plots earlier in its run, it doesn’t seem to be able to set up individual scenarios to present the events of each week’s plot without this scaffolding any more. Out of all the complaints I made about the season back during my Episode 30 recap, this is really the one that still irritates me the most.

Formulaic plot structure aside, all of these scenes do serve an effective purpose otherwise – to address one of the show’s main themes of individual agency.

In the opening scene with Hiiro, Masamune claims that he wants to put the entire world under his control to make “clinical medicine” obsolete. That is, if he can preserve and maintain the data of individual human beings, then nobody should ever have to worry about illness or death, as their physical forms can be restored easily through the programming of the game’s data itself.

 

Of course, his immediate next line shows the unspoken caveat of that deal –

Fail to live up to his expectations, or work contrary to his wishes, and he’ll hurt you.

 

Masamune doesn’t just wield all the power as Cronus in this game, he also has all the bargaining chips outside of the fights, due to the fact that he holds the proto-Gashats with the data of the victims’ lives on them. The Ministry can’t risk open conflict against him when Masamune has already been shown to be so callous towards lives, and willing to sacrifice them to get what he wants. Just like how he uses Saki to control Hiiro, he’s holding the rest of the victims as hostages too.

Meanwhile, back at the CR clinic, Emu can’t believe that the revived Lazer Turbo is actually Kiriya, because based on their interactions, he can’t believe that Kiriya would side with that callousness out of his own personal agency. On its face, that may be a fair conclusion, let’s include Kiriya’s motivations in the comparison we made between the other Riders last week to see how he stacks up:

  • Emu cares about individual lives and happiness and can’t abide anyone who uses their power to oppress others and ignore their worth. Intractable, and contrary to Masamune’s goals.
  • Taiga only wants to redeem himself for his failings during Zero Day, and to prevent others from being forced to fight as Riders and endure what he has been through. Masamune has nothing to offer him because what he wants ultimately is a “good” death.
  • Hiiro just wants to live up to Saki’s memory, but felt that he was unable to as a Rider or a Doctor because he still felt responsible for her death. Masamune was able to sway him by giving him the chance to bring her back and resolve that guilt.

So where does that leave Kiriya?

Kiriya was also driven by his guilt, after revealing to a friend that he was infected by the virus, his friend was implied to have killed himself rather than face a bizarre, incurable and lethal unknown disease. Because of that Kiriya manipulates the truth and constantly withholds information from others out of a misguided sense of protection, thinking that they’re better off not knowing the whole truth. Despite this willingness to manipulate the truth, his stated goals when he faced off with Kuroto, shortly before his death, were that he wanted to find the truth behind Zero Day and prevent the virus from harming anyone ever again.

So Emu’s assessment of his character seems to be correct, as Masamune’s plan inevitably involves the threat of death from the virus, with no resolution or justice seen for the people who died in that outbreak.

But then during their encounter over the Bugster fight (nice to see Gekitotsu Robots busted out again, great form, sadly underused due to subsequent power creep), Lazer Turbo is revealed to not just be a fake clone, but Kiriya himself! His monologue here reflects on a lot of what Masamune has said elsewhere in the episode. He claims circumstances have changed with Chronicle’s debut, and now to save lives he’s continuing to uphold the game under Masamune’s direction.

 

There’s a few ways to square this circle. First of all, either Kiriya is telling the truth and-ahahahahaa no.

Even though Kiriya grew to believe in Emu’s strength to entrust his mission to him, with his last words before dying by Game Over back in episode 12 he still withheld information from the other Riders. Instead of telling Emu that he was Patient Zero and that Kuroto infected him originally, Kiriya just gave him a reminder to believe in himself, as he believed that Emu would be able to overcome challenges and keep his hope throughout the darkest times of the show.

(Which Emu has done quite admirably, to be honest. )

So with basically a 0% probability that Kiriya is being honest with his motivations here, we’re left with two options – either Kiriya is acting as a double agent, or Masamune has reprogrammed him in order to be loyal to his cause. Emu and the others come to the second conclusion.

Just like when Emu used Maximum Mighty’s powers to undo Parad’s brainwashing on Poppy, he plans on using it against Kiriya to break Masamune’s control. Before they can follow through with that plan though, Parad shows up to again try and cajole Emu to work with him.

 

Interestingly, it’s not Emu that tells him to go f-ffff er, I mean, go fly a kite, it’s Asuna! They have a really neat scene here that echoes back to their other encounter on a rooftop, back when Parad was trying to convince her to fight against the humans as the enforcer of Chronicle’s rules.

 

She stands up for her convictions here in a clear way that we haven’t seen before. It’s really wonderful to see, and Parad actually seems angry (hurt?) when she brings up Lovelica’s death. The threat of losing more friends is probably pressing even more heavily on him now that we also know that Graphite’s starting to suffer by playing host to Gemdeus’ data.

 

Like I said last week, I’d put down actual money to bet that Graphite winds up becoming the final boss of the show as a result of this. I still stand by my prediction.

But Graphite’s words here also point up the main theme for this episode, agency, or as the show likes to phrase it “changing the fate of the patient”.  Asuna/Poppy has come into her own agency in deciding to fight to protect humanity with the Riders. The other characters have also all had to make decisions for their own lives, what values they hold most important, and how those values affect the people around them

In comparison, even though Parad only valued human lives as toys to be played with and broken, and Kuroto manipulated others by simply counting on them to do what they would’ve done anyways, Masamune is seeking to control the world directly, through fear of death or pain. There’s no freedom under Chronicle for people to live ordinary lives with their own concerns and own decisions. Their will must be aligned with Masamune’s own vision for the direction of the game – and thus, the world under it – or they’ll be eliminated, just like how Ren/Lovelica was. In order to sway Parad to their side, Asuna and Emu first have to convince him that those ordinary lives are worthwhile in the first place. Lovelica’s loss and Graphite’s sacrifice may be pushing him gradually to that conclusion as well.

All this leads us to the main climactic fight of this episode, where Emu attempts his reprogramming.

 

His monologue to Kiriya here is eerily similar to what he said facing Hiiro last week. In both cases, he’s using the lessons he’s learned from the other doctors to allow him to stand up for what he sees as the doctor’s most important duties. Even if the other characters abandon those principles, he’ll still fight to see them through.

In a slick finisher, Emu manages not just to destroy Alhambra, the Bugster threatening the unnamed Patient of the Week, but also deliver a solid reprogramming hit on Kiriya.

 

Or DID HE? (insert dramatic musical sting here)

 

 

Again, if Kiriya really was acting like himself before this fight, he wouldn’t be telling the truth in the first place, he’d be pulling his own schemes – albeit schemes with selfless motivations to try and protect others. It’s the same here, he may claim that he’s disappointed in Emu for his failure to stop Chronicle and defeat the Bugsters on his own, but look at that poor face there. It clearly hurts him to do this.

But we do have another hint that Kiriya is playing a double agent here on the beach as the two of them fight. He whispers something to Emu, most likely a reassurance to continue playing along to prevent Masamune from suspecting what’s going on.

Even though Kiriya has issues with sharing the information he gathers with his “allies”, he’s grown to believe in Emu’s own strength enough that he likely feels that he can bring him in on the Ruse Cruise here. Or at the very least, can’t stand to see his heart broken into a million tiny pieces again with another betrayal. Seriously, forget Kuroto’s crystal metaphor, it’s like kicking a fluffy little puppy at this point.

….So keeping all that in mind, it’s odd that Emu turns right around and treats his friends and allies on the CR in the exact same way as Kiriya did – keeping that information to himself and not trusting them enough to include them in on the plan. Either way, I don’t think his despair itself is an act on behalf of Kiriya’s plans.

 

He may be trying to make the others smile again, but without trusting in his team, who’s going to be able to make him smile?

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I mentioned that Masamune is very firmly to the far end of villainy because of his absolutely chilling disregard for human life and his desire to bring the entire world and everyone in it under his control. But Kiriya and Emu – if they are actually in on a plan here – are also engaging in manipulation of their own. By not trusting the others with whatever information Kiriya gave him, he’s limiting their own personal agency. Kiriya may have good motivations for manipulating the truth, but not telling the others what was going on when necessary is exactly what got his dumb ass killed in the first place.

The idea of allowing others agency to make their own decisions and live their lives in peace also connects back to something I brought up back when Chronicle first hit – as doctors, the Riders were all trying to save their patients, but the patients were willingly putting their lives at risk from those personal decisions. Emu couldn’t get them to back down until he and the other CR Riders could show that they really do want the best for their patients and were willing to put everything on the line to protect them. In other words – to build a bond of trust.

Masamune wants people to trust that he’ll be a perfect god-king to rule the world, in order to protect others’ lives to the highest good, but that runs contrary to literally everything else we’ve seen of his character. He doesn’t treat lives with any value, apart from what he can wring from them as property of the company. There can’t be any trust there, he only commands people through fear of punishment or manipulating rewards. The other Genm executives he talks to during a board meeting agree wholeheartedly with his stated goal of “saving lives” but likely have no clue of his actions as Cronus and against the other Riders.

What saddens me is the fact that Emu is starting to fall into the same trap of assuming that his claim to want the best for everyone gives him license to manipulate and potentially hurt those who rely on him for that goal. Those actions destroy trust between him and his friends, trust that is necessary for everyone to fight together to their best ability. I hope he gets past that next episode, or that I’m misreading this situation wrong, because there’s no hope of him winning back Hiiro, or swaying Parad to understand his own passion for his patients, if he’s not willing to demonstrate that example first.

Considering next episode is also when he gains his final form power-up, Muteki, it’s a fair bet that someone knocks some sense into him eventually.

Too bad we’re going to have to wait two weeks for the next episode, because Ex-Aid’s time-slot next Sunday morning gets pre-empted by a sinister Golgom conspiracy a golf tournament broadcast.

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Never fear though, I already have the next edition of my series on Ultraman Nexus ready for next Sunday, and the Ex-Aid recaps will resume their normal schedule on the 25th. Until then….

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