Previously on Ex-Aid
Hiiro continued to act as Masamune Dan’s right hand man, controlled not just by his regret over his girlfriend, Saki’s untimely death to the Bugster virus, but also guilt over what he was forced to do while she was held hostage. When Taiga sacrifices himself to help him fight against the Bugsters, Hiiro is afforded an opportunity to make up for his mistakes by stepping into his role as a surgeon again. Unfortunately, Masamune threatens to erase Saki’s data for good if he succeeds in saving Taiga’s life.
Ultimately, Hiiro chooses to fulfill Saki’s dying wish for him to become the greatest doctor in the world, and successfully treats Taiga. Now with those regrets absolved, and a new resolve to fight back against the cancer that Masamune represents, he rejoins the other Riders at the Cyber Rescue division.
Masamune may have lost his employees, but what else does he have up his sleeve to ensure his continued control of Kamen Rider Chronicle?
Each week I say that the themes and character arcs I’ve been detailing in these recaps come to a climax in the episode’s plot, and then each week after that they just keep escalating.
Whereas other episodes have had a couple plot lines running, one to frame the main fight of the week, and maybe one or two alternate character development arcs running parallel to it, everything in this episode is focused on only one thing – Emu’s showdown with Parad. I complained a lot about their last face-off in episode 29 because I felt that the context of the episode didn’t live up to its claim of being the “final battle” to decide everything. This one, on the other hand, has that context in spades, along with an interesting visual style that helps raise the tension of several scenes. Couple that with Ex-Aid’s recurring strength in portraying characters, and this is an episode that had me on the edge of my seat through the whole thing.
Well, not the WHOLE thing, the introduction starts off innocuously enough, carrying over from Taiga’s recovery at the end of the last episode.
Emu and Nico are right, it’s EXTREMELY weird seeing Taiga and Hiiro act so pleasant to each other. Both of them have been able to move on from their guilt over Saki’s death on Zero Day thanks to the arc that just wrapped up last episode, so now they’re able to deal with each other as professionals.
Everyone got a good chuckle in? Excellent, laughter IS the best medicine, as they say, and everyone’s going to need it as the show immediately plunges into hardcore suffering.
Cronus goes after Parad again, but this time, before Emu can show up to face him, Graphite actually comes to his rescue! The Gemdeus virus that he’s been incubating for a few episodes now has increased his power to the point where he can actually shrug off PAUSE similar to how Muteki works.
“Kicking Cronus in the junk to de-activate Pause” is my favorite recurring element in these fights and I hope it continues.
Still predicting Graphite will turn out to be the final boss though, of course, just you wait.
Cronus is, unfortunately, too strong for him to deal with in a prolonged fight at the moment though. Graphite is also still suffering from other side effects of the viral infection, so he summarily gets kicked aside. With Parad at his mercy, Cronus begins his abuse.
I’m really not joking about “abuse”, just like watching Nico frantically distraught at the possibility of Hiiro killing Taiga in his operation last week, seeing Parad beaten in such a one-sided fight is actually hard to sit through. What sells this scene isn’t just the choreography’s direction or the actors themselves, but also the appearance of a recurring visual motif throughout this episode.
THE RIVER HUNGERS.
Parad has been characterized by his battle-lust throughout the show’s run. He prides himself in his fighting skill and loves nothing more than to show it off by beating the others in fights, particularly against Emu. Here, getting kicking around to within an inch of his Bugster life (literally, that’s how much was left of his life bar at the end), Parad finds an unfamiliar emotion – fear.
This scene provides a stark contrast between Emu and Parad’s characterizations, and we’ll see it echoed throughout the episode, along with that metaphor of drowning used to describe his fear of death. Parad is going through an existential crisis of sorts, as he can’t define his role as the “victor” any longer, now that he’s outclassed by Cronus. Emu on the other hand has already regained not just his passion for helping others, but his skills as Genius Gamer M – that is, the ability to do everything possible to overcome the odds to help his patients. As we see in this episode, Emu is now the confident one, and Parad is the one unsure of how to achieve his goals. This is a huge reversal from what we saw of their dynamic back between episodes 28 and 29, where Parad was revealed as Emu’s Bugster.
Now, Parad himself has been a pretty divisive figure in the Ex-Aid fandom, because he has a lot of fans, but also people who resent the fact that he’s made into a “cute fluffy cinnamon roll” at times, covering for or trying to ignore the numerous awful things he’s done as a villain. In some ways, Parad’s degree of culpability is lessened because of his malformed conscience as I noted previously, but we see his shortcomings highlighted strongly in this episode. In this first half, his narcissism becomes apparent in thinking himself the “main character” of the game, and ignoring the suffering and concerns of others.
Others including Graphite.
Parad is Emu’s Bugster. Emu is the only one who has ever been directly infected by him, as a result, Parad has no shared memories or connecting emotions other than what he gains from Emu’s own psyche (we’ll see that expanded on in their showdown later on). But Graphite HAS claimed victims. First Saki, but we’ve seen him infect others earlier in the show before he died the first time, and presumably at least some of them succumbed to it. Because of that fact, Graphite has memories from other human beings, which means that he acts, well, with a bit more humanity than Parad does. He cares about Parad, not just as someone who lets him have fun (which is how Parad honestly seems to see his “friends”), but as an individual worth protecting. He cares about Parad enough to put his own existence on the line and use the Gemdeus virus to gain the power they need to face Cronus.
But Parad defines his identity as being the sole strongest Rider in Chronicle, and either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t accept this camaraderie at this point.
The fear of death is the core concept of this episode. Parad’s flashes to this metaphor of feeling drowned illustrate his own paralyzing terror at the thought, but we see how it affects Nico in other scenes too. Whereas she was impatient and belligerent when she was infected the first time, now she expresses the same fear and even tries to make amends for her actions against the others.
It’s that same fear that Emu and the other doctors also empathize with.
Taiga had to face the possibility of his own death for five years as he suffered the consequences of his time as a Rider, not to mention getting his heart punched by Graphite two weeks ago, and has always fought so that others aren’t faced with the same fate. Hiiro had to watch someone he cared for die twice and now works as a doctor to save everyone from that fate as well. Poppy carries the memories of her own host’s death and has expressed her desire to value other lives and fight for them to prevent that from happening again.
Kiriya faced responsibility for his friend’s death, and then later his own consequently from finding himself trapped in this conspiracy. Honestly it took me a bit to categorize it, but Kiriya really fights for freedom as a Rider. He lacked it being bound by his own schemes before his death, but he’s free to live up to his – and Emu’s – ideals now that he’s been given a second chance.
Of course, Kuroto is still the odd one out, since he has no comprehension of the value of life beyond simple merit. As he’s still free to work on his beloved video games as a Bugster, he couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether someone lives as a human, or is reconstituted as data that can be easily manipulated and controlled by someone else.
As it turns out, Emu’s concern for others and the fear they face at their mortality has been deeply ingrained since even before he became a Rider.
This scene where he confronts Parad on the roof for their FINAL final battle is powerfully framed, with a uniquely wide camera angle. It focuses the viewers’ attentions on the face of the characters at the center of the shot to emphasize their dialogue here.
Parad’s fear of death is actually representative of his connection to Emu, as the “drowning” metaphor we’ve seen in his flashes of panic relate to Emu’s own crushing terror after he was hit by a car as a kid, shortly after he was infected with the virus – and thus, harboring Parad. Remember, Emu is the ONLY one that Parad has ever infected, his persona is a dark shadow of Emu’s. Now that Parad can’t differentiate his own identity as the one who wins at every fight, other emotions have begun to surface, including this fear.
What follows Emu’s expressed determination to finally destroy Parad is one of the most singularly brutal fights I’ve seen in a Rider show, even though it’s completely bloodless. The tension that the viewer experiences here is not a question of whether Emu will succeed in this fight, that’s been apparent ever since he gained Muteki, and also the ability to completely trash Cronus.
Instead, the fear the audience feels is, honestly, for Emu’s soul. To be able to use Muteki, he had to regain his skills as Genius Gamer M, which involved a sort of ruthlessness to see himself succeed regardless of the odds against him. Seeing it brought to full bear with his unyielding passion to protect someone’s happiness and wellness as a doctor, is absolutely terrifying.
A few people have compared it to an infamous episode of Kuuga, where Godai savagely beats a particularly evil Grongi who had been terrorizing high school students to the point of suicide. In that episode, as well as this one, what invests the audience in the outcome of the fight is not whether the hero can beat the bad guy to save the day, but what they’re sacrificing with each punch.
Emu’s all but lost his own smile at this point.
Victory may bring back Nico’s, but it can’t fix his own.
Okay, at the end here, I could make some cliffhanger remarks such as “Oh no, how can Emu stop Cronus now that he can’t transform anymore??” but, honestly, I don’t feel like pulling that crap. The biggest clue the audience should note here is the absence of a GAME CLEAR fanfare at the end of this match. But there’s also so much wackiness with how Emu’s viral infection has been tightly integrated into his DNA at this point, that there’s a million different ways they could either bring back Parad’s data, or explain how Emu can still fight.
Hell, next week’s preview doesn’t even hide the fact that he’ll be able to transform again and
WAIT WHAT? RESET??
Well, I guess destroying Chronicle has more consequences than just ending the game itself.
There’s not too much extra I want to follow up on for this recap, but last night I realized that Ex-Aid has done an interesting job contrasting how different characters deal with death. I’ve already detailed how we see the ways that the heroes and villains in this episode view the concept of death and its impact on others. But now we have several different data points that allow us to compare how the heroes and villains behave at the actual realization of their own imminent deaths.
First, the villains. (Ignoring Graphite who just went out as a generic Early-Bird Boss at the start of the show.) Kuroto Dan basically went whole-hog ham in proclaiming his immortal genius when faced with a Game Over from Parad’s backstabbing maneuver. Makes sense, as we’ve seen repeatedly since his revival that he’s only concerned about his own achievements, and works first and foremost to secure and extend his legacy. He’s only helping the Riders fight against his dad because he’s salty about Masamune hijacking Chronicle for his own use, and even his concern for Poppy earlier in the show came about because he sees her as one of his creations.
Parad, when faced with his death, is simply wrought with terror at the knowledge that he’s no longer the strongest fist Rider in this scenario, and faced twin existential terrors at the loss of his identity, and the oblivion of mortality.
In contrast, how do the heroes – or at least, good-aligned characters – face their own deaths? Saki died with her final words being a wish for Hiiro to go on and achieve great things with his talents. Despite the fact that he didn’t return her affection, she saw in him something worthy of love regardless and wanted him to share it with others. Kiriya died encouraging Emu to retain hope, and to carry on his work to save humanity from the threat of the virus. Even when we saw him “revived” in the Gorider special, he was okay with remaining dead, happy with the knowledge that the other Riders were still fighting in his place. Taiga fought (almost) to the death with Graphite to try and protect Hiiro’s future, and to get him to finally understand how to move on from his own guilt and grief over past mistakes. And in this episode, when Nico ACTUALLY thinks she’s dying, instead of her usual acerbic, combative nature, she seeks forgiveness from Emu for her long-held grudges.
In other words, the villains can’t accept their own mortality because their motivations are primarily selfish. The heroes are more willing to sacrifice themselves and their own well-being because they see the value in others and want to protect it, even at cost to their own lives.
Emu does the same in this episode, sacrificing his ability to fight as a Rider (Maybe. Definitely not permanently) in order to try and fight for Nico’s survival. As to what other consequences this outcome will bring, as well as what other extreme lengths Emu will go to in order to try and stop Chronicle, well we’ll just have to wait for next week.
It’s going to be a loooooooong wait.