Previously on Ex-Aid:
With Emu using the Hyper Muteki Gashat, Kiriya now working openly with the CR Riders again, and Hiiro having finally decided to put his role as the Greatest Doctor in the World over his own selfish guilt, Masamune was out of options to defend his complete control of Chronicle.
Well, not quite.
Using the Master Control Gashat for Kamen Rider Chronicle, he infected Nico with the virus strain from the final boss of the game, Gemdeus. The only way presented for our heroes to cure Nico was to defeat the remaining Bugsters and fight Gemdeus personally, but to do so Emu would be forced to kill Parad, curing himself in the process and becoming unable to transform.
Emu, being unable to ignore a patient suffering under his care, confronts Parad and his newly discovered fear of death, and destroys him. Now, left without use of their strongest trump card against Cronus, how will the remaining Riders be able to face him, and destroy the Chronicle Gashat before Nico succumbs to the virus?
Can’t believe we’re at the big Four – Zero already, it feels like just yesterday I started this series by recapping episode 21. With some new announcements regarding Toei’s scheduling out, it now appears that Ex-Aid only has four episodes left to wrap up its plot. The last one planned seems to be episode 45, which itself will likely be more of an epilogue crossover with the successor Rider series, Build. That just leaves the summer movie, which has already confirmed to be canonically in line with the events of the show itself.
All I can say is that if Toei actually leaves significant events regarding the resolution of this plot as REAL LIFE paid DLC through the movie tie-in, then I’m going to fly to Japan myself to yell at them.
Well, not really, that’d be expensive. But I will be very angry, mostly because we won’t get subs for that movie for another eight months while waiting for the home release.
But this news does bring up some interesting implications about the show’s pacing. With most Rider shows, I find that I enjoy the run of episodes in the 30’s to early 40’s a lot (Drive, Gaim, and Agito are notable examples), but then often shows that I love fumble their footing a bit when they set up for the finale after about episode 41 or 42. This is most significantly where Gaim frustrates me, and I’ve already reviewed my issues with the finale for Agito in a separate article. So the idea of stripping out that section of set-up entirely and jumping straight to the finale is interesting. It may not have much of a perceived effect, it may make everything feel too rushed, who knows at this point how it will affect the pacing in retrospect.
That’s enough mechanical speculation, let’s talk about the real meat of this episode.
Redemption. Atonement. Or, the word I used for my title this week, Satisfaction.
Emu’s character falls into a specific archetype shared by other main Riders and various protagonists in toku shows, in that he is presented as the main character because it’s his example that has the most influence on the characters around him. His passion for his patients helped to bring Hiiro back around from his terminal despair, and gave Kiriya the hope that they could succeed while operating as heroes, rather than being forced to compromise principles. Even Kuroto was impressed with Emu’s strength enough to fight with him, if only because he wants Emu to show off the power of his creations against his rivals.
But if he’s willing to fight so hard to protect everyone else’s smile, why did he so cruelly destroy Parad’s in the last episode?
Well it’s no surprise to find out this week that he had planned those events to only appear to permanently kill Parad (he learned from the best, after all, thanks Kiriya). Emu’s had the virus so tightly integrated into his own system that he was able to absorb, and bring back Parad’s data using the Mighty Bros. XX Gashat. He knew that fight wouldn’t kill him purposely, but instead he wanted to teach Parad a lesson.
And this time, it sticks.
Redemption stories can be done very well or very poorly in any narrative, but I really appreciate how Parad’s was handled here. It builds on pretty much all the interactions and events that preceded it, and is consistent with how both their characterizations were handled in those events. There’s a clear sense of continuity between where both characters were starting at the beginning of the show, and where they are now. To top it off, Parad’s actor continues his strong performance selling these scenes. The point where Parad goes from happy and smiling as usual to recognizing his own abject grief and terror is shockingly gripping.
Then you also have Emu, who looks like he’s seriously weighing whether or not to finish the job and just do away with Parad up there on the Helipad-Of-Self-Reflection. But even more surprisingly, his anger is mostly directed inwards, because he knows that Parad is just a reflection of his own desires. He merely lacks the same concern for others’ humanity that has directed Emu’s own passion for games this entire time.
Reprising the water imagery of the last episode is a neat detail too.
That same water imagery also brings up an explicit connection to the idea of baptism. That is, symbolically “dying” then being reborn to reflect that sort of “metanoia” or change of heart or spirit. Although it took the actual experience of dying, by recognizing the emotional connection of that fear and how it is shared by others, Parad finally has a way to step out of himself and recognize the value in protecting other lives. Ironically, it’s by acknowledging his connection with Emu that he’s able to also honestly acknowledge his own feelings, and he could only do that because of Emu’s example first.
In other words, while they may be in separate bodies now, both are united again in other ways. Emu had to regain his passion for winning as Genius Gamer M, and Parad had to find his human side by recognizing his connection to humanity through those emotions.
Honestly, like with last week, I really just want to clip whole scenes of this episode to show you, the readers, because they’re so well done. Shot at interesting angles, with effectively strong performances from everyone involved, even the long sequences of dialogue were intense to watch. Other than this main A-plot, we also have Poppy and Graphite debating the merits of humanity (Graphite still wants to conquer the world, Poppy just wants to coexist with the players), and Taiga genuinely breaking down into tears over his inability to protect Nico from the ravages of her new infection.
Ex-Aid is downright exhausting emotionally in this run of episodes. Ever since Hiiro went over to the Dark Side in episode 33, the writers and directors haven’t given us much of a break. It’s a hell of a ride though.
To tie this all together, Parad puts his newfound belief in the value of individual lives to work, teaming up with Emu to face Cronus.
Even when just facing Emu with Hyper Muteki in previous episodes, Cronus didn’t stand a chance, only surviving earlier showdowns by running away before Emu could land a finishing blow. Masamune’s schemes since Muteki’s debut in episode 36 have been devoted to just preventing Emu from using it against him. But now with Emu and Parad blowing through the fight together in Super Co-Op? He gets trashed.
One cool thing to note, using the Mighty Bros. XX Gashat allows Parad to separate into his Knock-Out Fight and Perfect Puzzle forms, what he used to fight back at level 50. With Perfect Puzzle, now he can trump Masamune’s absolute control of the energy item power-ups.
Muteki still no-sells Pause, and both of their efforts combined are more than enough power to overwhelm his attack and defense stats. The past few episodes have steadily eroded away the resources available to Masamune to retain control of the game, and now they’re completely negated.
Emu has, to put it mildly, pulled most of his power-ups out of thin air, due to the virus tightly bonded to his self. It allowed him to not just survive using the Double Gashat Kuroto created, but also turned it into the MBXX form that gave him a significant advantage until the level creep caught up with everyone. It gave him the Maximum Mighty Gashat which allowed him to exert magical Plot Powers and negate enemy abilities that had given them problems before. And then it also allowed him to use Muteki to its full power, where others could only wield its invincibility for ten seconds at a time.
But Emu is also not the only one who has incubated the original strain of the virus for 16 years.
Even with the master Chronicle Gashat destroyed, Masamune’s own will exerted on the virus pulls one last Deus Ex Machina to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In many ways, this development is very frustrating, and in slightly different circumstances this might have been enough to ruin the episode for me. However, what makes the biggest difference in context is the fact that Masamune himself clearly has no clue how the reset happened, or how it precisely erased Muteki’s existence. It’s a set-back out of nowhere for heroes that have struggled and fought to get to this point, sure, but it also sets up a mystery that might lead to some interesting reveals about the nature of the virus itself for the finale. It’s that element of intrigue that has me excited about next week’s continuation, rather than wanting to write off the show entirely.
I know that may not be the general consensus, there are people out there who are a lot more irritated than I at Ex-Aid’s penchant for undoing important character deaths and not explaining the mechanics of the virus. If you’re one of those reading this article, I feel for you guys. But I’m still firmly on board to see how the game will resolve in the upcoming weeks.
It’s tough to expand more on the themes of this episode, in part because I already broke down everyone else’s motivations last week fairly thoroughly, but also because this episode lays out the other themes of conscience and selflessness so explicitly already. I feel like I’d just be repeating myself regarding the split between the motivations of the heroes and villains of Ex-Aid. So, I want to expand a bit more on the idea of mortality that’s presented in the show to this point.
With new medical breakthroughs and increased understanding of genetic mechanisms in living things, there are more and more real-life debates over transhumanist topics, such as whether it would be a good thing to abolish death, or fundamentally transform the idea of what we consider to be “human”, or a “human life”. I have some pretty strong feelings on the topic myself, but I want to discuss this question more narrowly in the context of Kamen Rider itself.
It may seem a bit hypocritical for Emu to talk about the value of a “life without continues” considering that he’s working with characters who have been given a continue because of the virus already. Kiriya and Kuroto both were brought back as Bugsters, and operate pretty much exactly as they had before their deaths, so what’s so bad about allowing others the same shot at immortality?
Well, let’s look at Kamen Rider Black, which points up the fundamental caveat of such an arrangement in more obvious terms. In that series, as well as most Showa-era Rider series, an evil organization promises power and immortality to anyone who wishes it. If they swear their allegiance and then work to terrorize and murder innocents under the banner of Golgom, or Shocker, or Neo-Shocker, or Black Satan, or what-have-you, of course.
Strip away the monstrous shock troops, Nazi imagery and maniacal cackling from those evil organizations, and things may look more palatable, but Kamen Rider Chronicle is just as horrifyingly dehumanizing as the evil world-domination plots of days past. As Bugsters, individuals may be able to cheat death and teleport wherever they want, but they also live under the control of whoever wields the Gashat that stores their data. It’s why Kiriya was forced to trick Emu and the others again until he could get out from under Masamune’s thumb. It’s why Kuroto put multiple levels of redundancy into his back-up plans and went to such lengths to hide the Level 0 Gashat away in the event of his own death.
When Emu talks about “living a life without continues”, he acknowledges not just the value of living normally as a flesh-and-blood human, but that the “continues” the virus has granted come at significant cost. Both Masamune and Kuroto continue to only see others’ lives as valuable for merit, merit that can be provided to benefit themselves selfishly. It’s not too hard to imagine others falling into the same temptation if all of humanity was to be converted into Bugster data in the same way.
Once again, it’s not that Emu and the other CR Riders fight for “justice” or “peace”, but for the freedom for others to live without being oppressed by those who simply have more power than them.
Or, as Takeshi Hongo so eloquently puts it:
Taiga, Hiiro and Kiriya have already been forced to sacrifice a great deal to see that mission through. What Emu has left to give himself, though, has yet to be seen. But it’s become increasingly obvious that no one is getting out of this battle unscathed.