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Can we talk about the new Kamen Rider Build? I have to talk about this. I need to be reassured that I’m seeing what I’m seeing and that it’s not going to be taken away from me when they finally realize what they’ve done and decide it’s all a really expensive mistake. This is too much of what I wanted all at once. Who’s about to get fired for this magnificence?!

The brilliance begins at minute one, with the greatest recap ever committed to film. The braggadocious smarty-pants Kiryuu Sento and his new fugitive pal Banjou Ryuuga have dueling summaries, bantering even as they tell us what happened in last week’s premiere episode. I already love these idiots and it’s only been like twenty minutes. Please tell me I can keep them, mommy!

After the recap, we get our first look at the opening credits, since the first episode took the artful (and time-efficient) option and skipped it. Honestly? I like the song! It doesn’t beat Kamen Rider Ex-Aid‘s intro, but that’s only because you can’t top sheer, undiluted perfection. PANDORA and Beverly’s passionate “Be The One” gets added to the growing list of Kamen Rider openers with female vocals, joining such faves as the stylish Kamen Rider Double OP, the pulse-pounding Kamen Rider Ryuki OP, and the wild, genre-blending Kamen Rider OOO OP, to name a few. I also like a lot of the visuals found in the sequence. A particular favorite is the pair of shots in which Build is driving down the road, with allies Ryuuga and Misori watching him pass on one side, with enemies Gentoku and the Guardians on the other. My only issue here would be that sometimes the editing of all these beauty shots seems kinda off. Like it wasn’t all really made to fit the song, but just for a generic mix of sound and action. It’s most jarring at the end when we see multiple poses of Build then abruptly hit the final wide shot. All of it looks nice, I’m just not sure it really wants to be there. A bit like Ryuuga as he tries to get his head around all the weirdos at Cafe Najcita.

Soichi makes the good point that everyone experimented on by the shadowy baddies of the series have turned into Smash monsters, except Sento and Ryuuga. I guess Soichi hasn’t watched this show before, otherwise he’d suspect right away that he’s talking to not one, but two Kamen Riders and it’s quite likely that one or both of them actually are Smash and/or are slowly dying before his eyes. Kids shows and their fun plot twists!

Ryuuga is asked to tell them his whole story, so he adorably decides to begin the tale at his birth, prompting more insults to his intelligence by Sento. Seriously, I couldn’t love this relationship more if I tried. The characters bounce off of each other with zero effort and it’s just crackling every damn time. The contrast of personalities is just what I’d hoped it was after the last episode. And holy crap, the lead’s not bland- it’s a Christmas Miracle!

Their argument is cut off when Misori suddenly comes out of the closet. Or… whatever that silver thing is. She says some vague stuff about how it’s actually her power that allows Sento to keep making these funky Bottles that help him in battle. Obviously, we’ll learn more about that in the coming episodes, but I like her “no fux given” attitude about basically everything. She’s over Ryuuga in the first thirty seconds, and remains so throughout the episode. Then, in walks intrepid freelance reporter Sawa, proving she’s no dunce by following the trail left by Sento from their previous encounter, all the way to their “secret” base in the cafe. Our super-genius heroes, ladies and gentlemen! We should hook these guys up with the folks over at STAR Labs.

Sawa’s got all the blackmail material she could ever need in this place, but instead she decides to use her investigative powers for good and will become a delightful addition to the team. See, this is how you do it, gang. Smart chicks with attitude, personality, and an immediate use that doesn’t pander. Not yet anyway. Just let me have this.

So, our resident Rider shows up in the city, drawn out by a reported Smash sighting, only to get shot up by the Guardians apparently lying in wait. Nice. So the villains have smartly chosen to use their considerable media reach to lure the hero into a trap? Meanwhile, Ryuuga too finds himself trapped, chained to a pole in Misori’s bondage fantasy, made to beg for release while she plays with her phone. Until Ryuuga hears of her ability to “purify” the Smash essence held within Sento’s Bottles, and he plays to her vanity, challenging her to prove that she can really do this. Who’s the idiot now, eh?

While she’s distracted, he makes his escape. But not before a startling phone call in which he learns that the mystery villain in a bat suit has taken his ladyfriend Kasumi to his shop of horrors. Somebody’s gettin’ Smashed tonight!

I’m not sure why I’m so fixated on the tactics of the bad guys here, but I just find them fascinating. Continuing the parallels (intentional or accidental) between Ryuuga and Sento, they both are drawn out by the enemy this week, each manipulated with whatever details the enemy has on them. Of course, it’s a lot more serious with Ryuuga, who I’d expect has his whole life spread out for Bat Guy to read like a book. Maybe this stuff is only noticeable because the last couple shows didn’t really operate like this. Villain activities were often so broad that you could sort of apply them to almost any show, at first. They just went out and “did the thing” and then a hero would come and stop them. Yes, Build covers that part too, but I feel the impact of the villainy from this show right away and they’re making a strong impression- something I’ve been crying out for lately.

So, no one told me the Guardians were robots. That’s a thing. After they combine into a giant, CGI tank-ish situation, Build and Ryuuga almost eat lead before Sento switches to GorillaMond form and one good fisting destroys the whole thing. I didn’t really mention Build’s transformation sequence last week, and that might be telling. The one thing I can say I like is when we zoom into the belt itself to see all the inner workings as it’s activated, starting the henshin process. This is also the second time in a row where the most exciting action sequence is not the traditional monster-busting scene, but something a little different. And, once again, it involves people actually riding and using bikes in an interesting way. It’s still early and I know better than to expect this to keep happening, but it’s fun to go into these shows and not know stuff, even when it comes to things like this.

It’s around here that I finally notice that the shirt Ryuuga’s wearing says, in English, “you look better on social media”. Quite possibly the only time I’ve seen western language on a piece of clothing in Japanese tokusatsu and laughed because of what it says instead of what it doesn’t say. Both are amazing.

So, Ryuuga relays to Sento part of his story with Kasumi. Seems Ryuuga was kicked out of pro fighting because he took money to throw a match in order to pay for the surgery Kasumi desperately needed. She unwittingly helps frame him for murder, directing him to the scene of the crime, where the authorities quickly sweep in to arrest him, starting this whole chain of events. And, for a brief moment, when Kasumi’s apartment building started exploding, I thought that she had just been blown up with it. Admittedly a silly thought, since we already knew, at this point, that she’d been kidnapped, but I guess this show is just that effective. Or I’m the dunce this week, I dunno.

Turns out the real situation’s actually not much better, as the new Smash turns out to be Kasumi herself. To make matters worse, she was already so weak that the transformation is now the only thing keeping her alive. Now, a show with less of a backbone would suggest that there’s “always a way” and have the heroes loudly scream and somehow the universe just magically responds by letting them beat the enemy and save their friend with no discernible downside. Luckily, so far, Build is not taking that route. Not that a show is garbage if it goes there, but one does get tired of seeing the same thing over and over. Let’s revisit this point later in the season, and count how many dead people have inexplicably been revived.

Taunting our heroes with the grave decision laid at their feet is the mystery baddie, who finally introduces himself as Night Rogue, the dark Rider-esque figure who really knows how to blow off some steam. As cool as it would be for his identity to be revealed as the douchey bureaucrat Gentoku or one of his cronies in disguise, I’d love if they did something truly different and let it be Soichi or even Sawa, playing some kind of bizarre manipulation game. Either way, I think I like his costume a lot more in the light of day than I did when the show first introduced him. There’s no getting behind the unicorn smokestack though. That’s gotta go.

As Sento whinges about being turned into a lab rat, Night Rogue summons his cool-ass weapon and totally outclasses the amnesiac hero. Better luck next time. Stick to saving afflicted young ladies from a life of slave soldiering.

Guys, this is drama. The show wastes no time delivering on the backstory, providing strong emotional connections while simultaneously setting us up for future plot. With her dying breaths, the fading Kasumi provides the name of the one who gave her the damning information that got Ryuuga locked up. Her glimmering image fades as diamonds shower around them, don’t ask why, it’s toku. After a tearful interaction where Sento demands he pick himself up, fight back against the bogus charges against him, clear his name, and stop these people that victimized them, the riders hop on their bikes and drive off. Two wanted criminals…

THIS. IS. KAMEN RIDER.

I’ve touched on this before and it’s worth restating. Kamen Rider, like any long-running franchise, should not be held to one particular style forever. An enterprise this big that refuses to change with time could easily crash and burn. But this is the thing that I recognized Kamen Rider for when I became a fan of it, and it’s what I hope the show will always return to. It’s a drama series, earnestly touching on serious themes while also kicking ass and looking hella cool. No, it’s not always hyper-complex and “adult”, but it reaches for something maybe a little weightier than most other shows in its league. Here and there. When it suits it. And while I grew to love Ex-Aid, and have lots of positive things to say about other entries in the Rider saga that leaned more toward the zany, this is the sweet spot for me as a fan. It could totally change its tune by next week, but until then, I’m living!

There’s a brief bit where Soichi reads about Build’s fugitive status online, and then seems to spontaneously mold his tablet into a makeshift back-scratcher, perhaps insinuating that he too has powers. Did we know that? I didn’t know that.

Also, Ryuuga’s now wearing a jacket that reads “When I die, I’ll go to heaven because I’ve spent my time in hell – Vietnam.” Doesn’t quite generate the same laughs as his t-shirt, but I now sort of hope this becomes a regular thing. Every episode, he walks in with a different article of clothing, each one with a random message more surprising than the last. Make it happen, show.

So, after Sento sleeps through Ryuuga’s heartfelt expression of gratitude over saving Kasumi’s soul, the new Bottle emerges from the closet machine. Sento finds it appropriate that it’s a “Ryuu” (Dragon) Bottle, to go with Ryuuga, since this one is made from the absorbed essence of Kasumi. And now I’m thinking it’s probably not a coincidence that Sento’s family name is Kiryuu. If I were a shipper, I might name this duo Kiryuuga. The Double Dragon. The Flaming Phenoms! Send help. Point is, fate brought them together and it’s going to be awesome.

Coming through in the clutch, the resourceful Sawa enters with photos of Nabeshima Masahiro, the prison guard who knocked out Ryuuga for Night Rogue’s people. And we’re off running for the next chapter.

This episode was a wonder to me. It may just be the new car smell, but I kept being surprised toward the end that there were more scenes still happening. It felt like it was almost ten minutes longer than normal, but that might just be because I’m not used to the story being taken in so many directions at a time without tripping over itself a bit. Some complained, feeling that the premiere episode was too bloated, but I was happy to have a show that wasn’t going to act like it had all the time in the world to show me what it’s about and send me dragging my heels down the road after the next installment. At least what was shown all worked for me. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was satisfied. That said, episode two is probably a smoother ride, focusing much more on the heroes, the lead antagonists just briefly checking in this time.

Thus concludes the two opening salvos of Kamen Rider Build. An all-around promising start for what may just be a great show ahead.