yeah I get that Persona Dancing all Night is cute and all but where’s that SMT Protag/demon DLC
gimme stonefaced Demifiend or Flynn doing the highland fling
just imagine Matador or Jack Frost doing disco dancing
Kamen Rider Gaim – Episode 45 Review
In last week’s review, I ended by stating that how Gaim handles the mess its made for itself will be a defining aspect in its legacy, and how people remember the series. Does this episode make sense of the chaos?
Well, sort of.
It’s impossible to talk about this episode without digging into the unfortunate way that Gaim has handled its female characters. With Mai robbed of her agency until Kaito and Kouta duke it out, and Yoko shifting gears from pragmatic opportunist to doting housewife, it was up to this episode to at least right some of these wrongs. In that aspect, it’s something of a mixed bag.
Yoko’s case is perhaps the most grievous. Here we have an intelligent, strong woman who ends up being anti-climactically offed in service of the man she is – and it’s pretty much confirmed, in this episode – in love with. It’s a shame, too, since it not only does it wrap up a pretty bad arc for a character with a lot of potential (she did her own in-suit stunts, for God’s sake!), it ends up stealing the thunder from what should have, alone, served as the core of the episode’s first half: the confrontation between Zack and Kaito.
Zack has never had a huge amount of screen time, but it’s always been evident the extreme level of respect that Zack has for Kaito. Kaito, too, has shown care for Zack, leaving him in charge of Team Baron and supporting him during the All Riders show (wow, that feels like an eternity ago). It’s a seismic shift in Zack’s perception for him to decide to murder Kaito, and the show handles it with the appropriate gravitas. The bombing plot is a great way to bring some members of the tertiary cast together, and more importantly, it underlines the severe ways the relationship dynamics in Gaim have changed. As Zack astutely points out, Kaito has always used the power he’s obtained to defeat the forces that would seek to oppress him. Once all of those forces had been eliminated, who would he turn that power on next? When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
What makes the character conflicts in Gaim so fascinating is that most of the characters have not changed much since the first episode. Kouta is still the doe-eyed idealist; Mitsuzane has always been a conniving opportunist; and Kaito, a man who values the strength of the individual above all else. There are exceptions, of course – Pierre, Jonouchi, Zack, and Peko are all eventually humanized when they understand the dire circumstances they must face – but it’s no coincidence that these are not the primary characters.
But at their cores, Kouta, Kaito and Mitsuzane are largely the same people they’ve been for the duration of the entire story. They represent particular ideologies, and what changes is not them, but the context they exist within; depending on that context, ideologies become intensified, twisted, or crushed against one another.
Kaito’s transformation from anti-hero to villain feels sudden, due to the character’s sympathetic portrayal during the majority of the Overlord saga. There’s a collective sense – and I’m guilty of this, too – that these recent developments undo all of the hard work that Kaito underwent in order to change, in order to become a better person. Except he never did.
Kaito was always totally down with Helheim consuming the entire planet, leaving only the strong to survive. Kaito opposed the Overlords not because they endangered the world, but because they were an oppressive force that preyed on the powerless, and an overwhelming force that reminded him of his own weakness. The Overlords were manifestations of everything that Kaito resents about his own world, but with a far more immense destructive power. Kaito is fine with the world being destroyed if it leads to the evolution of humanity; however, he could not abide the senseless violence of Redue and Demushu.
This episode dots the i in Kaito’s ideology, as he lays out his reasons for destroying the world. Humanity exists with strength and compassion as opposing forces; as one becomes stronger, they lose their compassion, and compassion will prevent one from achieving true strength. As the strong have no compassion, they will seek to oppress the weak. Kaito will replace the broken system of humanity with a new life that will not seek to oppress, while simultaneously destroying humanity within the framework of the grotesque system of oppression that they devised. This reframes Kaito’s dialogue much earlier in the series about using power to subjugate the weak; he is, by his own understanding, simply playing by the same rules that the oppressive forces above him have always utilized for their own benefit.
All of this is born from Kaito’s own feelings of weakness – this is revenge on the grandest scale – but there is also a tacit self-awareness in his acknowledgement that the strong cannot be compassionate. Having finally gained the power necessary to truly exercise his strength, he has lost the slivers of compassion that remained. The same man who assured Kouta that Redue’s hostages were now safe is now willing to eradicate humanity in the same way that Mitsuzane would have been complicit in it. It’s important to note, though, that Kaito only ever chastised Mitsuzane for thinking he could make a place for himself under the Overlords, and not for being willing to destroy the world.
The strangest way that Kaito’s ideology is manifesting right now is in the way he treats Mai. I’m of the opinion that this isn’t a love story no matter how much it is framed as one; while Kaito may have come to respect Mai, he is – as always – driven by the pursuit of power, and his desire is for the fruit alone. While “I want you” may seem cut-and-dry, following it up with “Give me the golden fruit” is certainly less romantic. He sees Mai and the fruit as one, which is … well, true.
Meanwhile, Mai is still problematically in a state where she is unable to exercise any agency. To her credit, though, she at least chastises Kaito in this exchange:
Kaito: “I want you. Give me the golden fruit.”
Mai: “Me or the fruit? Which one do you want?”
Kaito: “I won’t choose. I don’t see a difference. I will claim the fruit, become the strongest, and take you as well.”
Mai: “You always think you can take whatever you want, right, Kaito?”
Kaito respected Mai for her strength, and thusly respected her as an individual. But he had no interest in her. Kaito now desires to claim her because of what she represents: the ultimate power that he has struggled and suffered to obtain.
It’s unfortunate that her character has been shoehorned into the damsel in distress trope, but there’s at least someone who’s interested in saving her because he loves her, and not because she can give him the ultimate power. While Sagara has explained the nature of the fruit to Mitsuzane and Kaito, all Kouta’s gotten is a very brief manifesto from Kaito that doesn’t do much to explain anything at all. Kouta is, as always, reacting to immediate circumstances rather than as part of some longer term plan.
As Kouta bites into a Helheim fruit and enjoys it with no ill-effects, the consequences of his short-term thinking appear to have been cemented. This scene is Kouta at his best; rather than the typical heroic self-sacrifice, Kouta admits that he wasn’t sure that this was the right thing to do. But despite whatever consequences he must bear, he has the power to do good, now.
The duel between Kouta and Kaito is a clash of ideologies. Kaito believes that the strongest thing he can do is erase the world and start anew; Kouta believes that strength is fixing the world that they have now. You cannot buy hope with such a grave sacrifice.
I don’t normally write much about the action sequences – either they’re good or they’re not, usually – but it’s worth giving props to the team this week for delivering something truly exhilarating. While the CGI is as bad as usual, the way the scene is structured almost like a ride at an amusement park makes it a blast to watch, and Gaim’s suit actor – the legendary Seiji Takaiwa – does a great job adjusting his fighting style to be more unhinged and ruthless than usual, perfectly encapsulating Kouta’s frustration.
And as the two face-off, the real wildcard in-play is Mitsuzane. Mitsuzane has an epiphany in this episode, realizing that Takatora’s ridiculing is a manifestation of this own pain and guilt. And when Takatora says that Mitsuzane simply clung to where he felt safe, it’s a confirmation of what I’ve suspected about Mitsuzane’s behavioural patterns before:
It’s hard to feel anything but pity for Mitsuzane. He’s a rotten fruit, to be sure, but he’s also a child that has been subjected to unspeakable horrors and faced impossible dilemmas. He is also utterly naïve, willing to do anything to find a place for himself. From Team Gaim, to Yggdrasil, to the Overlords, and now as Mai’s self-appointed guardian, Mitsuzane has fluidly moved through roles in the hopes of making a home for himself, never having a firm ideology to adhere to.
With the heavy focus on Mitsuzane’s inability to accomplish anything, it’s hard to believe that the show will end without him doing something. I believe he will play a pivotal role in resolving the final conflict. In what capacity he can do that, though, is anyones guess.
* * *
- Some of the video quality seems really off this week. In the scene in Druper’s, along with the close-up of Kaito’s face as Yoko is dying, it’s like they filmed the show with a webcam.
- Zack, you could have avoided a lot of trouble by sticking the bomb before you talked to Kaito.
- I don’t think Zack is dead; there’s no way they’d simply not give attention to Kaito murdering the guy. (Also, his actor didn’t get flowers, but Yoko’s did.)
- The sudden appearance of the SDF feels weirdly nationalistic. Perhaps a coincidence, or was someone involved uncomfortable with the portrayal of the SDF as having abandoned Japan’s most vulnerable populace?
- I wish they would stop showing that flashback of Kaito’s home being torn down. I need to believe that his desire to destroy the world comes from more than that.
- I can’t wait for Ranbu Escalation to come out.
- Next on Kamen Rider Gaim: “KAZURABA!!” “KAITO!!”