Previously on Ex-Aid:
Last week, Masamune offers an ultimatum to Hiiro, as he remains the only Rider that he can control to do the dirty work of enforcing his vision as Genm Corp. CEO. Hiiro must kill Parad to prevent Emu from transforming, or else Masamune will delete the data of Hiiro’s lost girlfriend, Saki, one of the first victims to succumb to the game disease during the events of Zero Day.
With this charge, Hiiro gains enough resolve to activate the Level 100 Taddle Legacy Gashat and fight. In this encounter, he’s joined by Taiga, who sees Hiiro’s continued suffering as his own fault, and seeks to make up for his own failures by trying to take down Graphite once and for all.
Only to fail again.
Now, even with all their combined power as Riders, Emu and his team are powerless to try and save Taiga. Their only hope lies with Hiiro realizing that he’s been a selfish idiot for the past five episodes. Will he be successful? Let’s find out.
It only hit me this morning when I sat down to watch the RTA release for this episode that I’ve been practically over-dosing on tokusatsu shows this past week. Between finishing my article series on Nexus, starting to watch Kamen Rider Black, tuning in for the debut of Ultraman Geed and now running my regularly-scheduled Ex-Aid recap, that’s a lot of writing and commentary on Japanese superheroes. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it, but after several months of this pattern, it’s too easy to start treating this as a job or chore rather than retaining the passion I had to write all I could at the start of this project.
So it’s very refreshing to get an episode like this, that reminds me a lot of why I do enjoy these shows to begin with, and why I’ve made watching and writing about these superheroes my main hobby.
As Ex-Aid gets closer to the actual finale, I’ve spent some time in previous recap articles discussing some noticeable flaws with its writing. I’ve revisited those multiple times both on this site and elsewhere so I don’t’ really care to repeat them again in explicit detail, but this episode provides an interesting contrast between those weaknesses and its complementary strengths.
Where Ex-Aid’s pacing may suffer, and a lot of plot developments feel like Deus Ex Machina events in regards to the mechanics of the virus, this week shows why I still thoroughly enjoy watching it. And that reason primarily rests on the strength of its actors and its character writing.
This article is going to be a bit more scattershot than others because there’s a lot of neat details going on within the various plotlines of this episode, and I want to touch on as many as I can in turn. But just know that there is a point to this recap because most of it ties together into an incredibly gut-wrenching resolution at the end.
You ain’t kidding there, show.
This episode picks up at a hospital with the CR crew, but this time instead of gathering around to ponder events from last week in the clinic, they’re together to rush Taiga into intensive care after he got a hole almost literally punched through him by Graphite. It’s nice to see Ex-Aid remember that it’s supposed to involve doctors, and the detours into “medical J-drama” this week make for some very strong scenes.
Nico is, of course, distraught at not being able to do anything. She was angry and frustrated at her own helplessness when infected by the virus back when she first became a Rider with Kamen Rider Chronicle, but now it stems from being unable to help Taiga, rather than being unable to fight with the other Riders.
The doctors determine that the only thing that can save Taiga from his traumatic injuries is emergency surgery, but it’s too risky to attempt without the godly talents of Kino Kao- er, sorry wrong show. I mean Dr. Hiiro Kagami, of course. There’s some doubt as to whether he’ll show up or not, but somehow, Masamune allows him to attend and head the surgery. I’m sure you all know where this is going, based on the previews from last week and just general knowledge of the characters involved.
It’s a nice touch here, taking the time to realistically explain Taiga’s condition. For people who aren’t familiar with medical jargon “tamponade” means that fluid is building up in the mediastinum – the membrane and tissue that surrounds the heart and the main branches of blood vessels that lead in and out of it. Getting trashed out-of-suit by Graphite last week apparently lacerated the heart tissue and aorta, and now the blood leaking out is putting pressure on his heart and restricting it from beating properly. In addition to losing a lot of volume to internal bleeding, as the heart fails at moving blood through the lungs, more fluid seeps out from the congestion and into the surrounding space, further compounding the pressure. This in reality is a condition that would require surgery to treat, in order to repair the damaged tissue and siphon out the excess fluid from his chest. Appropriately for Hiiro’s skills, it would also be an incredibly dangerous and difficult operation as well.
Meanwhile in our B-plot, Masamune continues to try and eliminate Parad to prevent Emu from transforming and using Muteki against him. This time though he’s forced to track them down and fight personally, as Hiiro is currently indisposed and Kiriya pulled his double-cross long ago. That in and of itself is something a victory, whittling down Masamune’s resources to this point.
Those resources get cut down further when Graphite remembers something that I actually complained about a couple weeks back – without the safeguard of having a Level 0 suit around, Masamune once again is weak against the Gemdeus virus, which can prevent him from using Pause. So they use it to re-infect his Bugvisor to disable that function, meaning that now it’s down to just a knock-down drag-out straight-up fight to take him down.
Of course it’s not enough that Masamune stole Kougami’s penthouse office, he took the OOO medal container too!
This is a big deal, since free use of energy items was Parad’s main trump over the other Riders. He may still be Level 99, but with Masamune now the sole controller of those items, he has a huge advantage, even without Pause. The main bonus this gives to Parad and Graphite at least is that now Masamune can’t perma-dead the Bugsters within the Pause state like he did with Lovelica back during his introductory fight.
This new development at least makes some sense, since Masamune is the sole controller of Kamen Rider Chronicle. But too many fights in this late-game stage of Ex-Aid turn into a successive series of one-upping attempts to try and continually raise the stakes in each encounter. Now that everyone’s hitting up against the level cap, this is how the script chooses to try and add urgency and challenge to the fights, rather than just simply have it be a contest of skills that are more apparent in the choreography.
Thankfully, something more interesting than comparing power levels shows up in this fight.
I’ve said it before, but for much as much as their revivals seemed like hasty re-writes, it’s a LOT of fun having Kiriya and Kuroto around to snipe at each other and bring some of that interesting fight choreography back into the scene.
It’s in this fight that Kiriya learns that Cronus told Hiiro to kill Taiga on the operating table and make it look like the surgery failed, in order to save Saki’s data. Teleporting to the hospital to inform the others, Kiriya leaves behind Kuroto to deal with his dear old dad personally.
This fight brings a bit of humor to the episode, as both Kiriya and Kuroto have hilariously flamboyant styles when just interacting with each other, but also in how they fight. Aside from that, it also sets up some good moments of development for each of them.
Before his death, upon learning this information, Kiriya might have gone to try and stop the surgery himself without informing the others, and make himself seem shadier in the process. Now, he goes to tell everyone directly immediately. Kuroto also isn’t helping to protect Parad from Masamune out of loyalty or kindness, he wants Emu to be able to show off Muteki’s awesome power to promote his own work. (Being able to get revenge against his father probably helps too). He gets another neat character point coming up here in addition to that too.
Side note, the weirdest thing about Ex-Aid this late in the series is the fact that half the CR crew are now Bugsters and can just teleport everywhere as they need to. Kiriya obviously needs a bit more practice on his landings.
Okay, so that’s a lot of recap of the set-up in the first half, where it really becomes one of the strongest episodes of this series is in how it delivers on all these different plot threads. First of all, we have the scene back at the hospital, after Kiriya tells everyone what he heard from Masamune. Everyone else can’t believe that Hiiro would be capable of directly killing a patient, but Nico’s distress over the possibility of losing Taiga is almost too much to watch.
Hiiro neither confirms or denies it. But Emu responds in a way that’s become very characteristic for him. First, he tries to comfort Nico and assure her that everything’s going to be okay. But more than that, he then leaves the surgery to go make sure of that himself – by running to confront Masamune directly.
Hiiro’s the only one who can save Taiga in surgery. But Emu’s the only one who can defeat Cronus at this point.
Finding where Masamune and Kuroto have been throwing down – I’m just gonna assume that he found out from Kiriya where the location was and biked in off-screen, which seriously why does no one in this show use a motorcycle, what’s the point of calling it “Kamen Rider” if y- er sorry, that’s a rant for another day.
ANYWAYS, on arriving at the scene, Emu finds that Kuroto’s fight has burned through 23 of his lives off screen. (I told you guys he was going to go through them quick.) But whether it’s protecting his own legacy of genius, trying to take down his dad, or if he really does care about what happens to the others despite his protests, Kuroto has found something that he’s willing to stake his lives on.
As I stated the past couple weeks, the characters at this stage in the storyline have begun to be defined by what they’re willing to sacrifice to protect something else, and what they feel responsibility towards. It’s this theme that leads to the emotional climax of the series, after Emu tags in to try and fight Masamune.
Unfortunately, Masamune still has Saki’s data to use as a hostage. This is the main dilemma of the show from the past few weeks – they need Masamune’s Gashat to save the victims of the virus (Saki included), but in the meantime, they can’t just sit back and wait for that opportunity to arise when Masamune currently holds enough cards in play to keep winning fights. And he’s already shown himself more than willing to sacrifice other lives to get what he wants, so they can’t count on his threats against Saki being a bluff. So what can our heroes do when they can’t save everyone?
You know what, that’s a damn good question too, Emu.
What kind of future can Hiiro build with Saki if her life will only ever be a bargaining chip held by Masamune?
Remember, Hiiro last week found his resolve to use Taddle Legacy, not in a way to destroy the other Riders, but to treat a patient by curing Emu’s game sickness. Here, he regains his resolve to fulfill Saki’s dying wish by stepping into his role as the best doctor in the world.
This reveal is one of the strongest moments of the series so far. Hiiro’s actor hits it out of the park in selling his emotional state as equal parts grief and solace, in accepting the consequences for his actions.
Could the script have been written in a way that Emu and Hiiro and the others found a way to save Saki’s data before Masamune could destroy it? Maybe, but that would require a lot of hasty hole-patching, which would in turn compound the issues I’ve complained about regarding how slip-shod and vaguely established the mechanics of the virus and gashat technology are. In other words, it’s not the most parsimonious way of resolving this storyline.
Ex-Aid finds the shortest distance between two points when it comes to developing characters and connecting plot points, and in this case, that happens with Hiiro finally being able to fulfill Saki’s dying wish, and moving on from his guilt over her loss.
In the process we get something that’s been long overdue in this series – a Double Rider Kick.
Would you believe this is the first time we’ve seen one in this series so far? Hiiro has obviously softened his opinion of the intern throughout the series before this point, but asking for forgiveness, and for Emu to help him fight against Masamune is one hell of a cap to that development.
I’m reminded of another similar scene from earlier in the show, immediately after Kuroto was murdered by Parad, where Hiiro tells Emu that how he deals with the loss of a patient will define him as a doctor. Hiiro wanted him to show professionalism in the face of tragedy, but Emu goes to the roof of the hospital and has a big, ugly cry on the Helipad-of-Self-Reflection. Here, alone in the rain, Hiiro breaks down into tears in the same way.
Again, this climax, along with the scene following where everyone reunites together to celebrate Taiga’s survival, wouldn’t be half as effective or interesting if the actors involved weren’t so good at selling these emotional bits. Despite all my problems with the show’s writing and pacing at times, this is the main reason why I’m still invested in where it’s going, and continue to watch and write these articles each week. Really, I could’ve screencapped most of this episode’s dialogue scenes and posted them because they’re all strikingly effective exhibitions for the motivations, characterizations and personalities of the Riders and supporting cast members. There’s so much detail in how they interact with each other, fight with each other, comfort and support each other, and struggle to achieve their various goals, that it’s engrossing enough to watch over again.
Over the course of these past months with me writing these recaps, I’ve grown very attached to everyone in this show, so of course next week Ex-Aid is going to rip out my heart and stomp on it by making me cry over a genocidal bratty child.
This show, I swear.