Previously on Ex-Aid:
Dan Masamune’s plans to use Kamen Rider Chronicle to extend his control to the entire world have been thwarted. Not only has the CR crew developed a save system to prevent Masamune’s Reset abilities from undoing their progress against him, but they also re-created the Hyper Muteki Gashat in record time, giving our heroes a fighting chance against his power. However, the advent of Gamedeus, the final boss of Kamen Rider Chronicle, brought a fresh wave of viral infection, as a rapidly expanding epidemic threatened to kill hundreds of innocent lives. When Gamedeus was also shown to be able to resist the combined power of Parad and Emu’s strongest abilities, Kiriya and Kuroto got to work and put their lives on the line in order to try and develop an antibody to negate its power.
After successfully creating this counter, in the form of the Mighty Doctors XX Gashat (pre-order yours today!), Emu and Parad easily defeated Gamedeus and stopped the infection. But at the last second Masamune stepped in, unwilling to let the last vestige of Chronicle disappear with the defeat of its final boss, and absorbed the virus itself into his body.
Now with the true Final Boss revealed, can our heroes’ combined powers be enough to stop him once and for all?
The past few weeks, I’ve claimed repeatedly that even if the plot of Ex-Aid has fallen apart in the finale, it’s still being saved based on the strength of the ongoing character interaction and development.
And while that mostly describes this week as well, the main character development forming the focus of the episode feels like such an obvious retread of previous episodes that it’s difficult to get hyped about. In addition, the plot itself has thrown so many new and odd additions to this final boss to try and raise the stakes further, it has moved from “mildly irritating” to “what the hell were they smoking over there?”.
As usual, let’s get the character stuff out of way first.
Last week, when the Gamedeus virus broke out, Taiga stepped into his role as a doctor more easily and willingly than he wished to admit. We see that point followed up here when Cronus corners Nico and forces her to fight for her life within the game stage of Chronicle itself. Supposedly she’s the only one who can face him, being the only Ride Player who has gathered all the Gashatrophies, but Taiga follows hot on her heels.
Since he’s fought side-by-side with her, and has endured the effects of the virus for the five years following Zero Day, he’s also able to use the Chronicle Gashat to enter the game and fight as Cronus against Masamune in her place. Unfortunately, even though he can withstand the effects of the virus, he can’t use Cronus’ power effectively enough to stand against Masamune’s new power fused with Gamedeus.
Taiga is more than willing to literally die on this metaphorical hill to protect Nico, similar to how he continued to fight Graphite even after being knocked out of his Rider form back in episode 37. After everything, he still sees his death as the only way to make up for his failures on Zero Day.
Good thing Hiiro and Emu swoop in for the rescue before he can do so.
All three of them combined trash Masamune’s new upgraded Rider form. Although they’ve fought together against Bugsters and other threats before this point, this marks the first time all three have done so as doctors, performing a joint operation. Even though there’s a lot of issues with this episode (which I will get into here in a minute), it’s a great cap to their developments to see them all wearing white lab coats again.
About those issues…
WHY WAS NICO ATTACKED BY THE VIRUS WHEN ACTIVATING THE CHRONICLE GASHAT TO TRANSFORM INTO CRONUS? If she gathered all the Gashatrophies, then she should’ve been exposed to all the strains of the Bugster virus and developed that immunity against them already! You could maybe excuse one or two versions of it, since she didn’t directly defeat Lovelica/Ren or Parad, but that is not how Masamune describes the process in this episode.
I could also maybe excuse Taiga’s ability to enter the game and use Cronus by the fact he’s fought alongside with her in the game, but again, it’s not explicitly stated in that way. They instead try to explain it away as “he’s been suffering from exposure to the virus for so long”, but Masamune was only able to use Cronus himself because he was infected with the original strain of the virus before differentiated thanks to Emu.
This is just yet another example of how the show uses the virus itself as a get-out-of-jail-free card for every new form or new development.
Speaking of get-out-of-jail-free cards, I thought last week provided a neat way to wrap up Kuroto’s role in the plot, finally setting him up to face punishment for his actions by imprisoning him within a game. Whoops, only it turns out we need his genius again to program a literal cheat code to get Hiiro and Emu into the game stage, in exchange for letting him out again anyways.
Well, if all it took was five minutes of coding to hack into the Final Boss stage to save Nico then why even bother having Taiga go in by himself and fight as Cronus in the first place? It was a completely unnecessary gesture. Granted that’s mostly the point of resolving Taiga’s characterization in this episode, he was taking unnecessarily risky steps to fight while ignoring his duties as a doctor, but this point just highlights the purpose of the showdown in isolation even more obviously. Nico was put in danger, and he was allowed to go on ahead to fight on his own just to get that necessary scene out of the way. Its happy resolution was only made possible by a mechanic that would’ve circumvented the entire confrontation in the first place!
Moving on, why did Masamune’s absorption of the Gamedeus virus restart the same infection we saw spread last week? It makes all of Kiriya’s efforts to try to develop an antibody with Kuroto seem like a complete waste as literally every patient gets sick immediately again.
Masamune-Gamedeus states that his presence is “causing the game to evolve” which sounds like yet another instance of the show’s writing pulling a Deus Ex Machina to try and keep him relevant in a way other than just providing a big baddie for the heroes to beat on. But the most confusing point here is KUROTO DOESN’T GET SICK. He’s the one who adapted to form the antibody they used to shut down Gamedeus’ virulence last week, so if that antibody was suddenly rendered ineffective by Masamune’s mutation, why is he still walking around completely fine at the end of the episode?
Oh, and I haven’t even gotten started talking about Masamune-as-Gamedeus itself. (Himself? Who even knows anymore.) He’s just as insufferable in this episode as his original “I want to turn everyone into Bugsters to rule the world through my video games!” motivation has been overlaid with vague references to RPG game mechanics from his perspective as Gamedeus now.
You know, those awful RPG bosses that take half an hour to grind through, then it turns out you were only fighting their first form, and you get to watch a second HP bar fill up as the music changes? They’re no less frustrating in a TV show, as it turns out.
This second form comes with something even more confusing than a boss design straight out of a Bayonetta game though. It also uses the Gamedeus virus that has reactivated to turn everyone who’s been infected into actual Bugsters, who then spread the virus further through contact.
And something about this mess supposedly bringing about the further evolution of humanity? I guess? I’m just giving up explaining this because it seems the producers and writers don’t care anymore either.
To be perfectly honest, this is a twist I was expecting to see earlier in the show. It’s a natural way to increase the stakes of the virus’ spread and highlight its infectiousness as a pandemic. But again, they don’t explain the how or the why of this event, it just is what it is. Now there’s only one real episode of plot left to resolve it, so any tension that might have been created by this massive change in the status quo is drained out faster than Kiriya’s patience with Kuroto’s narcissism.
I remarked in earlier episode recaps times where I was unexpectedly not able to invest my interest in the main conflict of the show, for various reasons. But this is the first episode I’ve outright disliked. There’s just too much going on in the plot, a lot of it explicitly contradicts previous mechanics of the game or the virus, and unlike previous episodes, the character work isn’t strong enough to make up for it. It’s too much of a retread of the previous episode that highlighted Taiga’s role as a doctor in relation to his protection of Nico.
But more than that, the past few weeks have shown just how the main themes and character development of Ex-Aid have become so disconnected from the actual mechanics of the game they participate in. This is the final consequence of Ex-Aid not being able to clearly define consistent rules or a consistent scope with the virus and its video games. Ideally, all the elements of the plot and the characters of any story should be able to reinforce its major, overarching themes. By leaving one side of the equation frustratingly vague and inconsistent, it leaves too many “what-ifs” and unanswered questions, which saps the effectiveness of other parts of that story.
Probably the best example of a Rider show that ties established mechanics and character development together into a cathartic finale is Kamen Rider Blade.
In this series, the final solution to prevent the Joker endgame of the Battle Royale (which would result in the complete destruction of all life on Earth) came from the main Rider, Kenzaki turning himself into an immortal Undead. This put the game scenario into a permanent stalemate, preserving the status quo into eternity. It’s a move that’s not only perfectly in line with his character development, but also is something the audience can figure out before it happens, as it relies on pre-exposited mechanics of the Battle Royale and the Rouzer system the Riders have used to transform throughout the whole series.
I know when I watched Blade for the first time, I figured out what Kenzaki had planned right around the same time the rest of the supporting cast noted he was forcing himself to continue to fight in King Form. It was already explained since the Rouzer system was based on the Joker Undead’s own ability to use sealed Undead cards to gain their powers, Kenzaki’s overuse of it might result in him permanently mutating into an Undead himself. It was just a few lines of exposition, but they were laid down intentionally for the audience to remember and come back to later in this finale.
What makes Blade’s finale uniquely emotional is a combination of this consistent development that pays off in a meaningful way, and a memorable set-up for the final “boss fight” itself. Ultimately the main villain of Blade is not any one monster the heroes have faced, but the concept of the Battle Royale itself. In sacrificing himself, Kenzaki didn’t “win” the game according to its rules, but negated it entirely. As we saw in Goriders, he’s still around even, to prevent it from ever starting again due to individuals unknowingly releasing its power.
Ex-Aid, in comparison, is so determined to just pile on higher stakes for each confrontation, many of these new developments come with no prior build-up, or outright contradict understood mechanics that were laid down earlier. It’s very frustrating in this finale to see such amazingly memorable characters unable to participate in the plot in ways that effectively connect to the development we’ve seen over the past 40-some episodes. There are many simpler, more consistent ways this show might have produced a final boss fight to provide emotional catharsis in the same way Blade, or other Rider finales delivered on.
But instead we get a zombie apocalypse out of nowhere and another big slug-fest against a golden CGI monstrosity.
Two episodes left until Build, and frankly, it can’t come soon enough right now.