Okay, wow. Reviewing this show gets harder with each passing week. I keep thinking I’ll just have a few cool moments to touch on and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with how many interesting little details there are that just demand to be talked about. With the amount of action, intrigue, and character development this show packs into a twenty-minute timeframe, you wonder how other shows seem to have trouble doing it with four times as much space! Kamen Rider Build is not here to waste your time.
We begin in Flashback Mode, returning to the point where our genius Sento is being forced against his will to take part in the deranged experiments of Faust, the procedure that we assume has cost our poor rebel hero his memories. I don’t think it’s an accident, or throwaway joke, that we hear a voice in this dream sequence that sounds like Soichi speaking something to the effect of “This will hurt, but just hang in there!” right before the actual Soichi pinches Sento’s cheeks to wake him from the flashback. It may, in fact, be a clever foreshadowing of Soichi’s involvement in Sento’s traumatic past. We can laugh it off as a goofy way of starting us off, but I like that I feel as though I should be questioning everything the show throws at me. Four episodes in and I’m scoping for plot twists. Who knew that was possible?!
I enjoy when heroes are smart enough not to repeat the same mistakes multiple times without cause, so when Sento tells Ryuuga to be careful following the lead they were given last time about Nabeshima’s family, it shows that they’re not going to be fooled by the enemy. Which is a good thing, since it actually is kind of a setup.
I remarked previously that I was looking forward to exploring the Seito territory, fascinated by the idea of a country divided into three sectors with three leaders who seem to get along only in the most procedural sense of the word. I could say that I was disappointed not to really get a lot of exploration here, but what I got instead kind of makes up for that. And since we have a helluva lot more show to get through, and it’s doing such a good job building its universe on the go, I can relax in the confidence that we’ll get there in due time.
Meanwhile, we have Ryuuga hilariously barging into the doorway of the Nabeshima family home, immediately demanding to know if they are who he’s looking for. Fortunately, Sawa is there to convince this lady they haven’t come to axe-murder anyone, and they’re invited in. I cannot express enough how happy I am to experience civilian scenes that don’t bug the everloving crap out of me. These people are not random nobodies with boring problems in interchangeable scenarios. We’ve been talking about them in previous episodes and working our way toward this meeting for weeks, with the knowledge that it too will lead us somewhere else. It’s all actually worth it. And it’s just a delight to see Ryuuga slowly grow as a person as he watches Nabeshima’s daughter express adoration for her dad, humanizing the people he’d originally seen only as a means to his own ends.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is Kamen Rider. Maybe it’s not the only way the show can operate, but it’s the reason I became such a big fan. It’s not enough to throw larger-than-life heroes into explosive battles and peace out until next week. I can get that on a number of other shows. Bring me the feels as well as the improbable back-breaking roundhouse kicks. And, while you’re at it, keep me wondering about just WTF is going on with these bad guys.
As Sawa and Ryuuga attempt to smuggle the fam out of Seito, the inquisitive Sento continues putting the puzzle pieces together back in Touto. Namely the pieces that used to be part of the Pandora Box retrieved from Mars years earlier. In somewhat of a bold move, he outright questions a suspicious Gentoku about what he believes to have been outer panels to the box, which were stolen on the day of the Skywall’s emergence. After failing to throw him off the scent, Gentoku reluctantly confirms his discovery.
Sento even goes so far as to mention Faust, and Gentoku’s aid Utsumi almost shuts him up before Gentoku decides it’s better to let him in on the secret than make an enemy of one so clever. We could take this as meaning one or both of these two grey-cloaked government men are part of Faust, but I’d rather go with my hope (more of a curiosity, really) that Gentoku is maybe a little less evil than he might have originally been portrayed. He’s in a spot because of his official duties to the nation (no matter its oppressive state) and has to keep embarrassing information quiet so as not to cause panic.
Or I’m wrong and he’s actually one of the super-suited bad guys running around turning people into wacky homicidal monsters.
Speaking of which, I’m growing more enamored with these mysterious masked villains. I thought we might be done with Nabeshima himself but instead he wakes up only to find a fresh hell waiting for him, as Night Rogue forces him to transform into a new Smash, completely different from the previous type. The casual way he speaks about his guinea pig, even after shooting him from above (in a super-cool sequence accentuating his bat theme by sticking to the ceiling) and getting all up in his grill as he cries out on the floor of Faust’s lair. It’s this kind of nightmarish stuff that other shows would just skip past. But Build is a different animal. It’s going to make me root for Night Rogue’s defeat in a way that I couldn’t be bothered to with other villains. It’s putting in the work to make me care. And looking damn cool in the process.
Case in point: Ryuuga and Sawa holding it down in Seito as they attempt to get the family out without arousing suspicion. Ryuuga notes that the Guardians that sweep in out of nowhere to stop them are not the typical government-issue models. He assumes it’s Faust, driving a wedge even further into the belief that Team Gentoku and Faust are the same.
After Ryuuga takes a few down with help from the Ryuu Bottle enhancing his natural strength, Sawa comes through yet again, proving she’s more than just a pretty face by mowing down the robots with a van ready to drive them all to safety. I’ve said before that I hoped Build would continue presenting cool action moments that are outside the norm for Kamen Rider (and most tokusatsu shows in general) and I am taken aback to say that they’ve done that yet again.
Sawa’s crew thinks they’re home free when suddenly, the last surviving Guardian drops onto the roof of their van and begins a self-destruct countdown. The boat lady from last time is still here (and still a boss) and when the van shows up to the docks, they surprisingly drive the thing right off the edge. It’s over-the-top, to be sure, but I just don’t expect to see people leap from speeding vans onto moving boats which then barely escape the blast radius of exploding robots sent on suicide bombings. It’s a jaw-detaching moment, with not a belt or a bug-eye in sight.
Meanwhile, things are a bit quieter at the cafe that never serves anything, but that doesn’t make it much less exciting. Sento catches his mentor Soichi before he heads off for the day, inquiring about the past. It seems there’s a lot that’s been left up in the air. Like who the hell Soichi even is, and what exactly motivates him to help Sento with all this Smash business. I’d wonder why it’s taken him this long to ask seriously, but with his tendency to get distracted by shiny, sciencey things, and his general inclination to go with the flow as long as certain needs are met, I’ll allow it.
Randomly, I have to mention the surprise I felt when I finally figured out where I had seen Maekawa Yasuyuki before. (Look Ma, no Googling!) He played Shinra, the resolutely serious, katana-wielding royal guard of Kanon in Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga, a far cry from what we see here in this bombastic, silly cafe owner with no customers. Though, to be fair, things are starting to look more and more serious with Soichi as we go. As soon as he finishes joking his way past the uncomfortable questions, Sento reveals that the true reason he’s asking is because he’s just learned, apparently, that Soichi was one of the astronauts present at the Skywall incident.
Back to the awesome villains, the cobra-themed Blood Stark has got it all sewn up, knowingly sending out an online report that Build won’t resist, pretty much directly challenging him to come find Nabeshima. We get a brief taste of yet another sweet costume in Build’s RabbitGatling form, predominantly red but with the awesome Gatling attachments, and the Drill Crusher as his gun. Others may be distracted by the first use of this form being implemented in such a matter-of-fact way, but after sitting through entire two-part arcs that seem designed exclusively to show us some new toy with almost nothing else worth remembering, I find it refreshing. Those multi-episode introductions are the real distraction. This is just telling a story with cool hardware as a bonus. And, in this case, it’s not like we haven’t seen the Rabbit and the Gatling Bottles before. One is part of his default form, the other was just shown off last time and then is immediately used for the finisher this time.
So, after the new Smash is given a shot of growth gas from Blood Stark, HawkGatling delivers the finishing blow, at last freeing Nabeshima from his torment. And it’s clearly intentional that he doesn’t get whisked away again by a CG snake. Blood Stark reveals, after confirming that he and Night Rogue are definitely not the same person despite them being smokestack twinsies, that he was really just playing with our heroes anyway. It’s all a game, but I’m not sure anyone else knows they’re playing it.
How is there more? How is this not the end yet? Jeebus!
A tragic and awful sequence follows, in which Nabeshima simply can’t remember his young daughter, whose about to be crushed by the revelation until Sento proves himself to be wise as well as intelligent. He cleverly demonstrates some of the magic of science, to show the youngling that she and her mom can simply make brand new memories in place of those sacrificed to Faust. Clearing the path toward hope in the face of a grim reality. Another way in which Build continues to drive home a truly heroic spirit both on and off the battlefield. And not by making loud claims about protecting the world or whatever (anyone can do that, including him) but by getting into the nitty-gritty. It’s a relatable solution for a relatable problem, in the midst of all the goofy fun. The Best Match, you might say.
So, as Night Rogue reveals he’s got one of the Pandora panels, he places a Full Bottle into it, and I’m completely ignoring what it looks like. Especially if it may or may not look similar to the one Gentoku was holding in a previous episode. I SEE NOTHING SHUT UP I DON’T CARE!
At the same time, Nabeshima’s one useful bit of info comes when he recognizes the thingy Sento was using to find Best Matches in that convoluted explanation that was completely dismantled by Ryuuga a while back. Which potentially makes this another example of the show distracting us with the silly while quietly serving up the serious on the downlow. We had no way of knowing that ridiculous device would turn out to be one of the Pandora panels, until a determined Sento literally hammers it out of the wall it’s been stuck into and sees the damning truth for himself.
The Isurugis have some explaining to do. And judging by the look on their faces, both Misori and Soichi know enough to feel guilty about something. I wonder if Soichi has actually been involved with Faust. Surely they won’t immediately tell us the answer to that exact question with a preview as soon as the episode ends!
I don’t know what to say. It’s only been four episodes, and I’m the last person to make such a statement but each one is better than the last. The show is constantly finding ways to build (heh) upon itself, stacking the deck with one carefully set revelation after another. Each story point leads to another which leads to another, and I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I was this invested so quickly. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to redefine my standards for modern Kamen Rider.
There’s still plenty of time for things to go pear-shaped, but until we get there, it’s bliss.