Previously on Ex-Aid:
With Masamune Dan claiming more of the CR’s resources and allies for his own use – first the proto-gashats and now the assistance of Hiiro and Kiriya – our heroes are in dire straits trying to oppose his domination. Assuming that Kiriya was reprogrammed by Masamune, Emu attempts to reverse the process while fighting to save a patient. However, with seemingly no effect on him, Kiriya then states that nothing has changed, and he’s firmly on Daddy Dan’s side to use Kamen Rider Chronicle to bring all of humanity under his control as viral data within the game.
With events beginning to look hopeless, Kuroto creates his newest stroke of genius, a new Gashat that he claims can defeat Masamune’s overwhelming strength as Cronus. Combined with a mysterious message Kiriya gave to Emu weighing on his mind, could things turn around for our heroes?
Man it’s great to have this show back, and this episode really delivered on another strong storyline that develops the characters in interesting ways.
We open with Masamune continuing to try and expand the player base – that is, people who die to Chronicle and have their data added to the game files under his control – by setting up a limited-time event where he serves as a raid boss to attract unsuspecting players to meet their doom. At this point, how ANY of them are “unsuspecting” with the Ministry having come clean about the real dangers of the game like ten episodes ago and it being completely banned in the meantime, I don’t know. But now Emu, Taiga, Nico and Poppy have to come up with a way to stop Cronus before he GAME OVERs a lot of people.
Luckily Kuroto has finished the project we’ve seen him busily working on the last several weeks – the Hyper Muteki gashat. He claims it was made for Emu to use to overcome Cronus, but surprisingly, Emu is unable to use it in their fight.
So Kuroto takes it himself, and uses it for a brief 10-second power-up. Too bad he wastes the entire time bragging about the gashat before Masamune engages PAUSE again and just walks off with it.
After exploding everyone again while they’re trapped in stopped time. Of course.
Turns out that Kuroto designed it to be used by Genius Gamer M. As we saw in episode 29 where Parad forces Emu to fight him, Emu can’t play up to his level anymore, since it was only with the two of them combined that he had his real skill as a gamer. Since Emu has been without Parad ever since their split a half-dozen episodes ago, he can’t play as effectively, and now can’t use the power of the Muteki gashat to its full potential either.
So that brings us to two major schemes that come together in this episode, planned out by our heroes to give them an advantage. First of all, of course Kiriya wasn’t telling the truth to Masamune or the other Riders, everything was a ploy to try and snag the proto-gashats from under Masamune’s nose. Like before his death though, he trusts Emu enough to let him in on his scheme now at least, whispering to him to play along in their fight last episode. With that knowledge, Emu sets up his own plan to figure out how to use Muteki.
In this scenario, it actually echoes a bit of Emu’s plan way back in the earliest parts of the show to get all the Riders to team up in order to defeat Graphite. There, Emu also trusted that they could overcome that challenge if they had a common goal and a common enemy. Once everyone came together in the same place, they found they made a pretty effective team, strong enough to use the Dragon Knight Hunter Z gashat and defeat Graphite in a spectacular explosion. Here, he also uses the promise of defeating a common enemy to get Parad to play along with his plan.
Emu tells Parad that they’re going to use the same trick that Kuroto tried earlier in the show – taking advantage of his state as a Bugster to infect Masamune’s Bugvisor, which would allow him to freely operate during PAUSE. But then when they actually face down Masamune later, Emu turns the Bugvisor holding Parad around and infects himself, allowing him to use the Muteki Gashat.
(Author’s note – if you didn’t watch the episode, “Invincible” is one of the ways to translate the word “Muteki” in this flashback conversation)
Okay. So. Let’s talk about Muteki itself.
Oh god, I was on the fence about this suit when I first saw its design in magazine scans, but it looks so utterly goofy in motion that I just couldn’t help but laugh. I mean, the concept is neat, an invincibility power-up that’s used like a Game Shark in the driver belt, the gold color scheme could be very cool, but all the spikes and that hair ruins the impression of it in motion. It’s less bulky than some other forms, but just as busy and – try as I might – I just can’t take it seriously.
That being said, it has some impressive effects for its fighting style, and I loved how it pulled a finishing move on Masamune – first appearing to just be a hotly-contested series of Rider Kicks, before turning out to actually make use of some lagging time powers of its own in order to beat Cronus down hard. With enough force, in fact, to actually make him retreat from the fight entirely.
So with the Rider Players protected for the moment, Parad separates himself from Emu again.
In one of my earlier articles I noted that Parad’s being driven to further extremes because of his isolation from Emu. He lacks the human perspective and Emu’s drive to help others now, and that’s turned him into the amoral, genocidal psychopath that wanted to use Chronicle to drive humanity to extinction. When the two of them are reunited, instead of just being mad that Emu tricked him into helping him use the Muteki gashat, Parad looks downright overjoyed that both of them could fight together again.
Who knows how this relationship is going to develop in the future. I’d bet actual money that Emu and Parad will probably have to fuse together permanently for the endgame of the show – which is rapidly approaching now, we’ve only got about ten episodes left.
Though I was more than a little mad at them reviving Kiriya in this second half of the show, after an astonishingly effective emotional death scene that continued to have a huge amount of impact on the characters a dozen episodes later, I’m actually really glad to have him back now.
He never got a chance to interact significantly with the CR crew as a whole, and seeing him introduce himself to Nico, wince at Poppy’s overenthusiastic exposition, and spar verbally with Kuroto’s ego, is all really fun to watch.
One other new thing we see at the end of this episode is Masamune legitimately angry after the tables have been so thoroughly overturned on him. Now without his main bargaining chip (the proto-gashats) and his defense against other viral attacks (Kiriya’s Level 0 form), he only has one major tool at hand to leverage against the CR Riders.
What pushes you to achieve more? To try and improve yourself? To face challenges and overcome them? All of the characters in Ex-Aid have different answers for that, and different things they are willing to sacrifice to see those goals met. In the last few episodes, we’ve seen how they meet their struggles and either rise above them or fail. This episode is no different, and like the previous one, it highlights a few important themes in this series connecting the main Riders.
Kuroto’s motivations are the simplest to understand – he wants recognition for his talents and takes every opportunity possible to gloat over them. Even if it means wasting the only opening they had to beat Masamune this week, while using Muteki himself. He’s willing to sacrifice a lot to see his achievements recognized, but has slowly also come around to realize that there are people he wants to protect with those talents as well.
Taiga wants to find redemption for his own failures – most likely ending only in his own death. It’s really only Nico’s concern for him that keeps him from going completely suicidal in this fight. At this point, that is, next week’s preview looks…. Much more dicey. His sacrifice has always been a personal one to prevent others from having to endure the same suffering he’s faced.
Kiriya’s motivation also comes down pretty much how I called it from the last episode – he wants to protect others from falling victim to the virus, and stop the people responsible for causing its outbreak. That meant working as a double agent to get close to Masamune. While he was involved in a lot of shady plots even before his death as well, his goal has always been to protect others, and now he seems to have dropped the under-handedness to work openly with the CR Riders to fight for that cause more effectively.
Masamune himself is a little odder in motivation, but as I’ve noted before, he’s primarily a businessman, albeit a businessman with his sights set on complete global saturation of market share.
He thought he could control everyone either by promise of reward or threat of punishment. His main mistake was taking Kiriya at his word and trusting that his actual goal was simply to follow Masamune’s lead, and be rewarded with increased access to the gashats under his control.
So that just leaves our first two riders from the start of the show – Emu and Hiiro.
The main idea here seems to be a question of how far one is willing to go to push their boundaries, as I said above, to achieve more with their life. For much of Emu’s life, that drive came from the Bugster virus, which would later become Parad. That competitive nature, to play games and come out on top by defeating opponents, led him to become a star professional gamer. But when he lost that side of his persona, his other main desire asserted itself, his desire to become a doctor and help others. It’s that passion that has created such a huge shift in his character from the initial arcs, where he was awkward, klutzy and unsure of himself, to the determined hero we’ve seen in the past few episodes. It’s what keeps him moving forward and focused on his patients even when the other Riders get caught up in their own conflicting motivations.
In my last recap I mentioned it was a little disappointing to see Emu fall into the same problems as Kiriya with manipulating and withholding information to pull his scheme to use Muteki, and in not telling the other characters about Kiriya’s own plot, but that brings up the connection with Hiiro in this episode. As Asuna notes, and Masamune echoes later in the episode with different analogies, they sometimes must make use of things that seem underhanded or dirty in order to achieve their goals.
Emu, and Kiriya to a much greater degree, needed to lie in order to pull off their plan, but it was with the sole end of protecting innocent lives. They were willing to take that risk so that they could save others, and trusted the rest of the team could handle things independently, even without knowing the full plan.
It’s also what allows Emu to take the drastic step of manipulating Parad into fusing with him again to create Genius Gamer M. In this case, both his motivation of stopping Cronus to avoid more casualties, and Parad’s motivation of stopping Cronus to end his control of the Bugsters and the game of Chronicle itself, aligned with each other to unlock the full, unstoppable force of the Muteki gashat.
If you remember from Emu’s previous upgrades, they’ve all been created as a result of the Bugster virus being more tightly integrated into his own genome. With Mighty Brothers XX, he was exposed to the massive viral load from the double gashat that “regenerated” M enough to create the second half of MBXX – even without Parad. With Maximum Mighty, we also see a similar visual, where the knowledge of how high the stakes where encourages Emu to live up to everyone’s expectations, and use his ability to make new gashats consciously.
Emu wants to protect others’ lives from the virus as a doctor, but he’s increasingly had to rely on power from the virus itself to gain the strength in order to do so. This is a common theme in Kamen Rider series, but it’s also why a sizable number of main Riders wind up getting a Bad Ending themselves by the end of the show – whether it means dying or losing one’s humanity as a result of the fight they must win.
Now let’s compare that to Hiiro. Like Emu, who has teamed up with Kuroto and now Parad to try and fight back against Chronicle, Hiiro feels like he must compromise his own ideals in order to save Saki’s existence. The irony here is that what Hiiro REALLY needs to do is constantly re-iterated by Saki’s digital ghost. He needs to become the best doctor in the world!
In other words, both Emu and Hiiro see themselves as having to sacrifice something in order to gain enough power to overcome challenges. But where Emu is sacrificing himself by using the virus more heavily, Hiiro is sacrificing others by ignoring his duty as a doctor. Out of all of the other “heroic” Riders, his motivations are still uniquely self-centered, but at the same time the consequences of his actions injure others, whether its the Riders he fights, or the continued threat of more victims who die to Chronicle.
Hiiro feels that he can’t live up to that wish to be the best doctor if he can’t save Saki, but his biggest ordeal will be learning how to move past that grief and guilt before he can truly achieve that goal. Masamune states that Hiiro must have clear resolve to make use both the powers of “a hero and a demon”, using the metaphor of the Taddle Legacy game itself. But as Emu shows with his success in unlocking Muteki, that resolve comes from an outward focus to protect others. Hiiro’s fixation on his own failures is ultimately a selfish one, and he’ll have to learn that lesson to truly find his own strength before the finale.