Ex-Aid #37: Living Will

Previously on Ex-Aid:

Ex-Aid #36: Rainbow in the Dark

Kiriya reveals his true colors to betray Masamune and steals back the proto-gashats, Emu pulls shenanigans to use Parad’s help to unlock Hyper Muteki’s full power and we get the single most ridiculous-looking final form for a main Rider since Eiji turned into a purple dinosaur with bad CGI.

I kid, I kid. (PuToTyra was actually a pretty cool form, it’s unfair to compare it to Muteki.)

Ex-Aid #37

Hiiro couldn’t use the Lvl. 100 Gashat, Taddle Legacy, last week because he “lacked resolve”. He still doubts himself and his actions when he fights against the other Riders, even if he tries to assure himself it’s for the best. Now Masamune doubles down on his threats by demanding he kill Emu, but even with Saki’s existence on the line, he can’t bring himself to do that either.

Too bad Masamune is still way too good at manipulating Hiiro’s guilt and reframes it for his benefit. He won’t be killing Emu, just preventing him from transforming by killing Parad instead.

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This gives Hiiro enough certainty in his actions to be able to activate the Gashat – as Saki keeps reminding him, he’s the best doctor in the world, not an assassin, not a mercenary. He still sees it as fighting to save Saki, but by establishing the action in terms of treating a patient (Emu), he can throw himself wholly into his actions and fight as Taddle Legacy.

Too bad Hiiro still has zero self-awareness and doesn’t see the importance of this motivation yet.

Meanwhile the CR crew attempts a few plots of their own.

Also an effective visual summary to use and describe to someone what it’s like watching this show each week.

Kiriya and Poppy try something creative that I didn’t think of in an attempt to further undermine Masamune’s control of Chronicle. They use the proto-gashats Kiriya stole in order to enter the game worlds and see if they can retrieve the data of the victims stored on it. Unfortunately, as Kiriya notes, that data is too heavily encrypted and they can’t access it in the same way that Poppy found Kuroto’s backup. hidden within a pre-Alpha build of Mighty Action X earlier.

This makes sense – Kuroto wanted someone to able to find him in order to bring him back to life. Masamune sees the data from the victims as a proprietary asset to his company and would lock it away, sealed by a method that only he could access and control.

It may also explain why Masamune was more lax in handing over the proto-gashats to Kiriya to use – even without their physical copies he’d still have access to that information to hold as a bargaining chip. Taking that into consideration, his only real mistake last episode was underestimating the power of Muteki, a mistake he quickly tries to rectify during this episode as he sends Hiiro out to violently deal with that particular thorn in his side.

However, this also points up another recurring thorn in MY side when it comes to this show. On one hand, it mixes up the familiar formula of the episodes beginning with a recap of events from both sides – Masamune (or other villains before him) issuing new orders and concerns, contrasted with the CR Riders regrouping at the clinic. Here, we see Masamune and Hiiro first, but don’t get the debriefing with the CR faction until later in the episode, after the AfterthoughtVictim-of-the Week plot has been resolved in the first half.

But in the latter half of Ex-Aid, we also have a recurring pattern of characters coming up with a logical way to address a concern using mechanics established earlier on, only to stumble across a NEW mechanic that invalidates them. Like I pointed out in earlier recaps, this feels suspiciously like bluffing to keep the plot from resolving before a pre-set endpoint, but it’s not helped by the fact that the mechanics of how the games and the viruses work are not explained well at all.

One thing I DO appreciate about this part is that it provides another point of evidence to show just how much Emu has developed since the beginning of the series. Where Hiiro lacked resolve and direction, Emu has it in spades and it’s his grim determination (And I do mean grim) that motivates Kiriya and Poppy to team up with him to confront Masamune directly again.

 

It only makes sense, Emu believed in both of them, that they could be more than the fates that they resigned themselves to – Kiriya to a lonely mission that necessarily mistrusted and used other potential allies, and Poppy to a life spent fighting against her will. Now they return that confidence by backing him up against the Genm CEO.

Interestingly, Emu is also now working more closely with Bugsters rather than other doctors. Hiiro has been headhunted by Masamune, and Taiga is still independent. But Poppy, Kuroto, and now Kiriya, are all Bugsters. Coincidence, consequence of everyone being affected by the virus at this late stage in the show, or a parallel showing Emu’s own gradual shift into using the virus more heavily and possibly losing his own humanity? Who knows! I just thought it was a neat point.

Anyways Masamune laughs off their attack, not because it’s ineffective, per se, but because he tells them that Hiiro will soon defeat Parad, which will prevent Emu from fighting as a Rider. Makes sense, as Parad is still technically the manifestation of Emu’s viral infection, and killing him would cure his condition, but also prevent him from using the Gamer Driver.

There’s a lot of significant meaning behind this in relation to the general themes of Kamen Rider that I could go into detail about (and will later on in this article), but first there are a couple major questions this development brings up:

  1. How can Emu transform into Muteki without using Parad directly again like he had to do last episode?
  2. And why for the love of Shin Dan Kuroto can’t Masamune delete Parad directly since he has control over all the Bugsters that were used to create Chronicle?

Question #2 has one potential answer, in that Emu’s reprogramming of Parad to try and separate him from his own self has also removed him from Chronicle’s control directly. If you’ll remember, Parad now is juuuuuuust human enough that he can use the Gamer Driver, even though he retains all his Bugster abilities, like possessing Emu’s body and being able to teleport anywhere he pleases. Similarly, Emu is human, but has enough of the Bugster virus incorporated into his own DNA to be able to use the Driver without the compatibility operation that both Taiga and Hiiro had to undergo. (But this isn’t explicitly stated, nor does Masamune even try to delete him in this manner in the first place.)

That brings us to providing something of an attempt to answer Question #1. The theories I’ve heard generally fall along the line of “Emu fusing with Parad gave him back his Genius Gamer M side for good”. But again, the show never explicitly states this, it’s just assumed since he can now use Muteki freely.

The best way I can explain why this may have worked ties back into what I mentioned last week, in that Emu’s plot to trick Parad into helping him was reminiscent of how he manipulated the other Riders into using the Dragon Knight Hunter Z Gashat to defeat Graphite. One thing I didn’t note about that previous event was that in the course of pulling off this scheme to get them to work together, we see his personality shift into “Genius Gamer M” without transforming into Ex-Aid for the first time.

In other words, last week we see Emu – as he is, without influence from Parad – show enough resolve to stop Kamen Rider Chronicle and save lives that he was willing to push himself to beat a new challenge, to work creatively and take advantage of every resource possible to see his goals met.

In other less purple prose-y terms, by playing dirty to get Parad to fight with him, he approached the problem in the same way he would have with his Genius Gamer M persona.

That resolve to make a vaccine out of a virus, to work with Parad the same way he was willing to work with Kuroto (notably without compromising his driving ideals in the first place) is what allows him to regain the same drive that pushed him to fight passionately as Genius Gamer M, and use Muteki this time around too. Unlike before, where that drive was a separate personality, he’s fully incorporated and reclaimed it for himself, and what’s more, uses that drive to work towards his original goal of saving people as a doctor.

Before, Emu was conflicted between his love of games and his desire to help others. In the last few episodes, we’ve seen a true synthesis of those two expressions of his character. He fights with his skills as a Rider, but with the heart of a Doctor.

Echoing my main criticism of the series again, I would love for Ex-Aid to be able to connect the actual mechanics of the virus with this overarching theme more explicitly, but the fact remains that it’s deliciously satisfying to see Emu and his posse professionally waltz up to Masamune and kick the PAUSE out of him with that collective resolve.

The real Muteki is the friends we made along the way.

Stepping aside from Emu’s character for a bit, it is a bit odd that all the other characters have no faith in Parad to defend himself against Lvl. 100 Brave though, considering that Parad has been wrecking them consistently in every encounter since he gained a Rider form. Does one level over him make that much of a difference? I guess Hiiro’s found his own resolve in regaining a modicum of his original vocation as a Doctor, combined with desperation to assuage his own guilt over Saki’s death

SPEAKING OF GUILT…

Like before, Taiga can’t bring himself to interfere in Hiiro’s fight because he feels responsible, not just for Saki’s death, but also for Hiiro’s continued suffering in the wake of her loss. To ratchet up the suffering even more, the overlooked Victim Chronicle-Player-Of-The-Week is Saki’s dad. He’s only here to reinforce the tragedy of her lost life, as Emu wipes the floor with the Bugster that infected him in the first ten minutes of the episode.

Side note, it’s really refreshing to see a main Rider have to learn how to use the mechanics of their final form for once.

 

This gives a little bit of insight into Emu’s use of Muteki too, since he seemed to have a more instinctual grasp of how to use its invincibility when he was fused with Parad last week. Now that he’s on his own, he can use Muteki with his own will, but needs to build up that skill on his own again.

Tangent over, Saki’s father felt obligated to try and revive her by committing himself to fighting through Chronicle, even if it killed him. Taiga similarly sees his death as the only way he can redeem himself for failing to protect both Saki and Hiiro’s smiles. So when the Bugsters saunter out of hiding to try and defeat the threat of Hiiro’s new upgraded form, Taiga throws himself at Graphite.

And throws himself at Graphite again, even when he gets knocked out of his transformation.

And pays for it in the expected way.

Ex-Aid has had some fairly brutal scenes in its run so far. Within the main series we’ve had both Kiriya’s and Kuroto’s deaths, which, although painful-sounding, were bloodless. There’s also the side projects and movies, which seem to be envisioned with the concept of “how much more can we make these characters suffer that we can’t get away with during the Super Hero Time block?”

The answer is – a lot, between Emu getting beat to hell in the Heisei Generations movie and violated with a proto-Gashat by the main villain responsible for unleashing the virus in its current virulent form, and also being beaten with a steel pipe and broken glass by Asakura in the Brave Beast special. Then there’s Taiga’s own suffering in the Snipe Episode Zero that was released with the first Blu-Ray set of the series. Oh, and Kamen Sentai Gorider. All three parts.

In short, this series is no stranger to shock and pain, but this scene with Taiga laying in a pool of his own blood and gasping for air after being punched literally twenty yards across the pavement by Graphite is really hard to watch. It’s uncomfortably graphic for what’s essentially a Saturday Morning Cartoon for Japanese kids, or at least more so than I expected them to get away with for this time slot.

 

He literally sounds like he’s dying right there, combine that with the other characters trying to deal with him as doctors responding with emergency triage, and Nico crying over him, and you have what’s probably the darkest moment of the main series so far.


I mentioned last week that all the characters have specific goals that they wish to see met, but how dear those goals are to their characters is more defined by how much they’re willing to sacrifice to reach them. This week, we see a different angle, one that focuses more on the burdens they carry for various reasons, whether intrinsic or extrinsic. Emu, Kiriya and Poppy have all banded together because they recognize the value of other lives and have dedicated themselves to protecting them – as a doctor, a medical examiner and a nurse, but also as Riders (and Bugsters). Kiriya’s grief for his friend’s death still drives him to fight against Chronicle, but he’s moved past his own guilt enough to work openly with the others to do so. Poppy feels responsible for the death of Kuroto’s mother, which led to her creation, but that makes her own resolve even stronger. Both of them fight so that others don’t have to suffer in the same way.

As outlined before, Emu’s motivation is similar, he values others’ lives enough to consistently put himself on he line to protect them. Emu would never willingly walk away from this fight because too much rides on his own unique talents, and his own unique passion for this work. But we have an opportunity here for Emu to be prevented from fighting as a Rider entirely, with Masamune’s plan to kill off Parad.

One of the most common recurring themes for Kamen Rider is the fact that violence is inherently dehumanizing, and that Riders must become inhuman themselves to some degree (or resort to using the same power as the villains) to allow them to enter into that violence. This is done with the purpose of preventing others from being forced to do the same.

In other words, they protect humanity by sacrificing their own, whether metaphorically, literally, or both. We see this theme echoed with Poppy, Kiriya and Taiga throughout the past few episodes, and now it’s starting to come to the forefront more heavily for Emu’s character arc.

By curing Emu’s infection with Parad’s elimination, Hiiro and Masamune may remove that inhuman aspect to Emu’s character, and prevent him from entering the fight, but Emu’s drive that allowed him to continue growing in strength as a Rider throughout the show’s events is now a part of him independent of the virus in his system. In fact, I suspect that killing Parad would have some unexpected consequences – either by not removing his immunity gained against the virus entirely, or having an even more severe impact on his self – because the virus has been incorporated so tightly into his genome at this point. Again, speaking both literally and metaphorically, as the passion for succeeding against all odds is now also fully a part of his own character.

I still strongly suspect that Ex-Aid is gunning for a BENCH 2.0 ending to cap off Emu’s development, but who knows. The show has been good about appropriately framing dramatically dark events in its run, but not as good at making the consequences of them stick, since both Kiriya and Kuroto have been brought back from the dead. Right up against the finale though, all bets are off.

Oh, yeah, speaking of dying – predictions for Taiga!

Honestly, I could see them going either direction for both him and Hiiro’s development into the next episode. There’s a TON of death flags for Taiga, ever since his debut back in episode 3, and the suspicious lack of a final upgrade form compared to Hiiro doesn’t help assuage our worries either. But I think it’d be more effective for both Taiga and Hiiro’s arcs for him to survive for another day, and gain a new appreciation for how many people rely on him and care about his life.

I really do think that next week is going to be the point when Hiiro finally comes around to what everyone’s been telling him the past few weeks. He steps back into his role as doctor again to operate on Taiga, and will hopefully recognize that his primary goal has always been to save lives, not just Saki’s life specifically, and that his own life has value because of that ability.

Visually, the biggest clue for that change in perspective is that we see he finally swaps out the business suit for his lab coat again.

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To wrap up this belated recap before I start rambling too much again, Ex-Aid is a show that knows exactly where is wants to go, but has taken increasingly convoluted routes to get there. With rumors already flying around about its successor series, now’s the time for the show to put its money where its metaphorical mouth is and start paying out on these various development arcs. If it can resolve all of these characters and plot points in a satisfying way, it’ll wind up being one of the best modern Rider series. If not, well, we’ll just see how kind the fandom is to it in retrospect.

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