PREVIOUSLY ON EX-AID
Unfortunately, Emu turns out to not be the only character in Ex-Aid who can use the Bugster virus to pull absurd new upgrades out of thin air when faced with otherwise-certain defeat. The Bugvisor Zwei combined with the “ultimate antibody” Masamune has cultivated through 16 years of infection, allowed him to reset the game of Chronicle to a point where Muteki doesn’t exist. With no other recourse to challenge his power as Cronus, Graphite – still infected with the Gamedeus virus – became the only hope to break Masamune’s control of Kamen Rider Chronicle.
However, while Parad was eventually convinced to join Emu’s side from their powerful emotional connection and understanding of the terror of death, Graphite had no such fear. After facing Taiga, Hiiro and Nico in a marathon of a final showdown, he accepted a warrior’s death, even holding off Cronus long enough to receiving the killing blow from Nico.
Meanwhile, Kiriya, Kuroto and Emu were hard at work, not just to restore the Hyper Muteki Gashat, but also to engineer a way to prevent Masamune from using Reset against them. With a newly-patched-in save system, and Emu’s final upgrade form back in play, Masamune was unable to prevent everyone from using the gathered Gashatrophies to summon the final boss of Chronicle – Gamedeus.
Will our heroes be able to defeat him and clear the game once and for all? It’s time to begin the final stage of Chronicle…
Just like last week, this episode was a frustrating mix of positives and negatives. On one hand, we get amazingly compelling character work, on the other, we also get amazingly arbitrary plot contrivances in a desperate bid to try and keep Masamune relevant as the game spirals out of his control. So just like last week, I’ll run down the aspects I appreciated with the character scenes first, before getting into my specific complaints.
In this episode we see three distinct angles on events developed, let’s talk about each of them in turn.
First, we have the doctors – Hiiro, joined by Taiga and Nico, trying to deal with the viral outbreak. Unexpectedly, Gamedeus’ arrival also brought with it a fresh wave of virulence. The epidemic overwhelms the hospital’s capacity with victims all suffering from the same debilitating infection that Nico had earlier. Even though these three heroes can’t fight at the same level to oppose Cronus or Gamedeus at this point, they’re all still trying to do everything they can to help right now.
You could start with giving Hiiro a hug, maybe. Poor guy has needed one for almost half the show at this point.
Taiga, Nico and Hiiro have had their development arcs finished, for all intents and purposes, but their interactions here are great summations of that development, and show how far they’ve come. Nico uses her skills as a gamer to help cheer up a sick kid, Hiiro is genuinely thankful for the help of the others and puts his faith in Emu’s ability to fight Gamedeus directly, and Taiga gets to step back into his role as a physician, rather than a fighter.
Next, we have the protagonists – Emu and Parad, fighting against Gamedeus. Unfortunately, Gamedeus is also a “barrier change boss” who swaps between different sets of moves, weaknesses and strengths at will to prevent them from working effectively against him.
How dare you sully Graphite’s honor by stealing his moves, good sir!
Again, like the other doctors, we get to see their development in how they fight effectively with each other, Emu driven by his concern for others, and Parad trying tirelessly to live up to that example with him. It’s really touching to see them concerned about the other in the process of fighting for their lives (and the lives of everyone else) in this match-up.
And finally, most notably for this episode, is what I’ve termed the R&D department – Kiriya and Kuroto. (With Poppy back in her Asuna role, running PR as the Ministry investigates this new development.) Both of them have researched and manipulated the virus enough that they know the best of anyone (save probably Masamune) how it works. That’s in addition to the obvious connection of both of them being humans revived as Bugsters through different means.
While the other characters are busy in their various roles, Kiriya takes a different tack.
He goads Kuroto on to fight, and in the process, exposes him to the Gamedeus virus itself. As both of them note, Kuroto is way beyond redemption, and never had any intention of atoning for his actions anyways. So why is Kiriya bent on causing both of them so much suffering as they fight through the virus’ crippling effects?
When watching this episode, I was a bit disappointed because I thought Kiriya had moved past pulling these sorts of shady manipulations, putting himself at risk without informing anyone else about his true goals. But, despite his very obvious anger directed at Kuroto, his real plan quickly becomes apparent.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a science post, so let’s talk about how vaccines actually work in real life.
I discussed the subject a bit in the first article I wrote for Ex-Aid, detailing how the show dealt with virology in the first 15 episodes or so. That is, before the plot really went off the rails. But for as inconsistent and slipshod as the game mechanics are this late in the game, there is some merit to how Kiriya goes about creating a vaccine to counteract Gamedeus here. In addition, it also provides an interesting angle to his characterization that I hadn’t noticed before this point.
In real life, there are several different types of vaccines that can be used to confer immunity to an individual, but all of them have the same aim in mind – to train a healthy person’s immune system to recognize and attack a specific virus without also giving them a full-blown infection in the process. Then, when the same person gets infected by the ACTUAL virus, the immune response is strong enough to prevent it from making the patient sick. Sometimes vaccines use a “killed” or “attenuated” version of the virus that won’t infect cells, but is still recognized by the body’s immune response. Sometimes they just use parts of the viral particle that are useless alone, but again, trigger the same immune response.
The development of the first vaccines is one piece of scientific history I like to use frequently as a science teacher, because it’s a neat example of how the Scientific Method works in practice. That is, the process of observation, experimentation and application of evidence to draw conclusions about how natural processes work in the world around us. It’s a pattern that’s just as crucial to the field of medicine as any other scientific study, possibly more so considering the lives on the line if you screw up your testing.
No pressure though.
Observationally, people in different parts of the world, such as Turkey, India and China had known for a long time that people who were infected with smallpox and survived never got the disease again. So, these places practiced an early form of inoculation where they would transfer pus or other material from a smallpox blister to a healthy person…. And then cross their fingers and pray that the patient on the receiving end didn’t die. Not a very safe or efficient method, but smallpox sucks to put it mildly, and people were willing to try just about anything to prevent its uncontrolled spread.
Edward Jenner, an English physician in the 18th century, added a new observation to this one, that people who were infected with the much less deadly cowpox never fell victim to smallpox either. Nowadays we know that the cowpox virus is just closely related enough to smallpox that an immune system exposed to the former will also recognize the latter.
Jenner then took those observations and made a prediction – that exposure to cowpox somehow prevented smallpox from spreading – and used the same method of inoculation to test his hypothesis. Successfully, obviously, or we wouldn’t be talking about him today. Even though Germ Theory hadn’t been conceived of in a systematic way yet, this method of empirical study led to predictable enough results to lead to the adoption of effective vaccination programs. In fact, our word for this treatment – vaccine – comes from the Latin word for “cow”, relating to this original use.
So what the hell does this have to do with Ex-Aid?
Well, this makes Kiriya functionally a scientist in his role as a medical examiner and pathologist. While the other Riders were focused on fighting enemies and helping patients, he instead sought the truth of the virus and its origins. It was his work that created the Reprogramming system that Maximum Mighty X used to defeat Kuroto earlier in the show, and we see the same scientific thought process here in his plans to create a vaccine to counter Gamedeus’ spread.
He takes his own observations and knowledge about the virus, applies it, and creates new ways to counter its power in the process. While all the main Riders are trained as doctors, Kiriya’s perspective is distinctly different from the others. He’s focused on medicine, but in a more analytical and experimental way.
Keep in mind, Kuroto is also a scientist (or engineer, I guess) in how he creates his game programs and attempted to use the virus to give himself immortality in the first half of the series. He exploits the same process of study to create new technology, but of course it’s focused in a selfish manner to elevate himself and make others suffer in the process.
Mad Science, in other words. Fitting for a guy who uses Dangerous Zombie as his main form now.
This fight between Kiriya and Kuroto is – no lie – probably my favorite fight of the entire season. It perfectly highlights not just their individual characterizations, but also the two opposite sides of the conflict that have played out in various ways the entire show. I’ve detailed this dichotomy between selfless vs. selfish motivations and valuing other lives multiple times throughout these recap article. But here we see Kiriya articulate how his own motivations relate to that overarching theme in a unique way.
This part of the episode is also fascinating because it puts the main “protagonists”, Emu and Parad, to the background as they attempt to fight off Gamedeus, and hangs its emotional impact on this fight sequence instead. Emu and Parad earlier in the show were foils to each other, with Parad representing the shadow of Emu’s own character and motivations. Similarly, in this fight we see that Kuroto has become a foil and shadow to Kiriya, illustrating how the same drive to learn about, and make us of the virus can be pursued to alternatively help or harm others.
Amidst all my complaints about how Ex-Aid is otherwise handling its endgame, it’s scenes like this that still make the show worth watching each week.
Plus this fight also brings us THE BIKECEPTION.
Seriously, this episode brought us more bike action than has been present in the last thirty episodes of the show.
In the end, Kiriya’s experiment is successful, although Kuroto wins out by creating the antibody first. Good thing he’s so prideful in his “immortality” that he shows off by healing Kiriya first before he succumbs to the same infection.
Kiriya then takes the newly-created Gashat with the vaccine information immediately to Emu. Before he leaves the CR though, he also hands over Kuroto (now trapped again in the Bugvisor) to the Ministry of Health to finally see justice done for his crimes. Guess he figures that this is the last thing they need his programming genius for, as once Gamedeus goes down to the new vaccine (Mighty Doctors XX), the show’s over.
Ugh, for the love of-
The Reset at the end of episode 40 marked where I think the main writer threw his hands up and said the Japanese equivalent of “Eff this, let’s just get it over with.”
Masamune does pretty much the same thing here. With Gamedeus defeated by the combination of Emu and Parad’s powers as Riders, and the new Gashat hampering the virulence of its viral strain, Masamune finishes the job then turns around and infects himself with its viral particles. (All the cool kids are doing it!)
One thing that sells this though, taking refuge in the total audacity of this turn of events, is how badly Masamune’s inoculation of the Gamedeus virus glitches out the GAME CLEAR sequence. It’s a good visual indicator for the audience and the other characters to understand just how screwed everything is now, even with the virus’ spread halted otherwise.
So, that brings us to what will be the final episode of Ex-Aid’s main plot next week. (Or at least penultimate, depending on how much they’re Build-ing on the next Rider’s cameo at the end of the series.) Masamune and Gamedeus have fused, and everyone left who can fight will team up against him for their various reasons. All the character arcs have been resolved well, all the other Bugsters are now afterthoughts, subsumed into the framework of Chronicle, and all that’s left is to defeat the “true” Last Boss of the game.
If it sounds like I’m frustrated with the writing of the show, it’s mainly because I think Masamune is horribly mismanaged as an endgame villain. There were multiple alternative ways of getting to this point that wouldn’t have involved so many fake-outs and Deus Ex Machina events just to keep him alive and relevant.
For example, Masamune could’ve been legitimately defeated by Muteki and Parad’s co-op in episode 40, with no Reset. You can still use Gamedeus as the final boss in that case, and there’s plenty of ways to write him as a significant threat without the human face that he gets this episode. Spin it as a sort of “monster exceeds the scope of his creators” fable, tie it into a dead-man’s switch of a back-up plan that Masamune programmed out of spite, I’m just brainstorming here.
But it seems like SOMEONE in the executive production of this show was dead-set on keeping Daddy Dan around for the finale, regardless of whether it effectively fit with the thematic arcs of the other characters’ stories within the last few episodes. It makes him an impressively hateable villain as a result, but for all the worst reasons. With Kuroto we wanted to stick around to see just how delicious his inevitable comeuppance would be. For Masamune, it just makes the audience groan “NOT YOU AGAIN!” whenever he appears to interrupt a fight.
All that complaining aside, I genuinely think, Ex-Aid will be remembered fairly well in the future. I don’t want to pass judgement on the series as a whole until all the episodes air though. I wondered how it would handle its endgame, since as I commented, that’s the point where a lot of other Rider series tend to flounder. Unfortunately, Ex-Aid was no exception to that issue. But what saves it from being completely written off is the aspect I’ve consistently praised for the last few weeks – its character work. The entire cast throughout the series has been interesting and consistently-developed enough that it makes the events of the show engaging to watch, even if the circumstances of the plot become increasingly contrived.
I can only hope that those same characters are provided resolutions in the finale that are equally interesting and consistent.