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Lucky Number Thirteen has arrived for the outstanding Kamen Rider Build, and there may be no better number than to drop this episode’s huge revelation concerning one of the show’s biggest, baddest villains so far. Okay, so it’s not the most shocking plot twist of all time. We’ve been speculating for months about the identity of the venomous Blood Stalk and his unknown motivations as he sarcastically taunts our heroes into a frenzy week after week. What excites us the most about this story is not that one person or another was finally unmasked as the culprit, but how the show chooses to make light of it, and the way its characters react.

After the apparent death of straight-laced lackey Utsumi at the hands of his own boss, Gentoku, we begin this episode in the middle of the phone conversation that will turn genius hero Kiryuu Sento’s world upside down. Nabeshima, who we know as the man that had helped frame Sento’s partner Ryuuga for murder, has finally regained his memory after a bout with forced amnesia, and is able to recall the name of the one who hired him. And rather than just tell us outright who it is, Kamen Rider Build opts to keep those facts close to the vest. Whatever the news, despite Sento’s subdued outer reaction, it has to have shaken him pretty badly. He’s not quite himself for the entire rest of the episode, though he does his best to fight against the depressing thoughts that must be swimming through his noggin. I mean, I know I’d be feeling some type of way over sumthin like that.

After Sento makes a quick exit, locking everybody out of the underground lab base they’ve been calling home, we get our first opening credits intrusion inclusion of the latest Kamen Rider movie footage. Inserted into the regular credits sequence are clips from the upcoming movie, as an in-show advertisement for the theatrical film. As per usual, we can expect this to continue for the next few weeks, at least, so I guess I’ll have to get used to averting my eyes, as I don’t want every single millisecond of the movie to be old news by the time I actually see it. Even if, by the time I see it, the whole thing will be old news anyway. Sometimes it’s the little things that count. But let’s move on.

Acting Prime Minister Gentoku gets a rude awakening when meeting with the head of Nanba Heavy Industries, assuming that they’re both on the same page about conspiring to take over the Touto government and screw over everyone who’s not down with the program. Looks like Gentoku himself may need to grease up, as Nanba has a few surprises of his own to deploy. He’s decided that it’s not a good idea to let Touto have the militarized Rider System, as previously discussed. Nanba’s got a new partner, and they’re reconsidering their original agreement. More and more, it seems the murder of Utsumi may have been an almost pointless act, as Gentoku now is stuck in a holding pattern.

Cafe owner Soichi coaxes Sento out of his hidey-hole with the smell of his favorite food, forcing the tortured hero to cough up some answers to the rest of Team Build. He reluctantly admits that Nabeshima was hired to frame Ryuuga by Blood Stalk, though the way he says it makes it easy to imagine that he’s holding back a few more details. The idea was planted a while back that Stalk was actually Katsuragi Takumi in disguise, the supposedly evil scientist that Ryuuga was arrested for killing to begin with. But if that’s the guy who hired Nabeshima, that would mean that Stalk wanted to frame Ryuuga for his own murder. Something’s fishy here, and it’s not just the fried mackerel on Soichi’s grill!

An increasingly cheesed-off Gentoku meets Stalk in the forest, demanding to know where the stolen Pandora Box was hidden, but Stalk just goads him, joking that he would need to swear loyalty to him in order to get the answer. Nice callback, bruh. From there, a truly fantastic fight sequence commences, through which we learn that the Transteam System both Blood Stalk and Night Rogue utilize wasn’t designed to evolve like the alternative Rider System, so their battle won’t be decided by anything but the experience and will of the fighters, regardless of whatever performance-enhancing gadgets are in play. Nice.

They pull out all the stops in this episode with the action. Here, we see more animal-themed abilities employed, with Rogue fighting upside down and sticking to surfaces like a bat, while Stalk slithers out of harm’s way like the cold-blooded snake he is. After shooting the everloving crap out of Rogue and neutralizing his transformation, Stalk decides to school his old Faust co-founder and let him know that Nanba has chosen Stalk as their new partner. Meaning, if Gentoku wants the prized Pandora Box, possessed of potentially unlimited powers and scientific discoveries waiting to be unlocked, he’s going to have to steal it from Nanba Heavy Industries. Transitioning from a snake to a snake charmer, Stalk plays Gentoku like a fiddle in this scene, craftily getting the disgruntled politician to rashly resort to using his enemy as a means of getting the box back, and Gentoku doesn’t seem aware of it.

These villains are everything right now, let me tell you. I love bad guys who are able to effectively hide plots within plans, double-bagged with machinations, with trap-doors leading to more schemes, constantly working people to wheel and deal for what they want. We still don’t entirely know what Blood Stalk truly desires, only that he hopes to keep the box away from Gentoku while also claiming to seek the same things he does, in the longrun. He may, in truth, be more heroic than he is villainous, but with methods that would send most stand-up good guys running for the hills in fright. Regardless, I love how, as the show takes us down the long corridor leading us to answers about who these villains are and what truly drives them, we keep getting shown more doors along the way. What’s behind Door Number Two-Hundred-and-Fifteen? Turn the knob.

Soichi catches Sento in reflective mode and the two fondly reminisce. We see Sento’s first battle after being presented with the Build Driver by Soichi, who asked him to help fight against the Smash creatures that have plagued Touto. Though the reasons are not yet made clear, the scene has a quiet feeling of devastation. As though this only makes it harder for Sento to do whatever it is he’s planning, as he struggles with the implication of recent events.

After getting backed into a corner, Gentoku must ask Sento for help, but in a way that doesn’t betray their detached roles as mere government leader and smart employee. Despite the fact that Sento remembers watching Gentoku shoot another one of his employees off the side of a bridge not long ago, Sento has to act like he wasn’t the man behind the Rider mask witnessing the whole act, and Gentoku likewise keeps up the lie that he has no idea that Sento is that Rider. Raise your hand if you need a diagram to keep straight exactly who knows what about whom.

Though Team Build suspects this sudden infodump about the box’s whereabouts is a trap, Sento suggests going in anyway as he wants to confront Stalk and finally unmask the slinky S.O.B. Soon, we’re treated to the first side-by-side double henshin, with Sento and Ryuuga both transforming together and storming the Nanba Heavy Industries building to get to the Pandora Box within. Briefly throwing in a bit of levity with the Riders struggling to punch in Sawa’s procured security code, the Riders are surprised that the door eventually just opens on its own. Guess Stalk was tired of listening to them fumble about in the hallway.

He waits in the chamber, sitting casually with the Pandora Box, having clearly orchestrated this entire chain of events. It’s possible he’d just let the duo walk right out with the box but that’s not on the menu. Build cycles through several form changes before their fight is done, each one deflected by an enemy who knows his abilities all too well. I particularly like the use of NinninComic’s duplication power combined with the flaming sword technique, but even that is defeated with little effort. Until Sento uses a power that was only recently bestowed upon him in secret.

I love most of the suit designs of Kamen Rider Build, so when I say that the OctupusLight suit is a hideous costume, trust that it darkens a special corner in my mental design dungeon. It’s fitting then that the ugliest of all Build’s forms is the one to beat back the treacherous Blood Stalk. Cutting through the darkness of his deception with the light of truth, while Kamen Rider Cross-Z comes in with the big slashy finisher. Stalk gets the hell outta dodge before he can be knocked out of his armor. Though, even this “defeat” fits into his larger goals, as he first implies that he’s pleased all twenty of Build’s Full Bottle devices have been purified, effectively completing this stage of his evolution.

When Sento returns, it’s uncertain if he’s wondering whether or not Misora knows what’s been bothering him, or if she fears that they’ve just discovered something they shouldn’t have. They both look troubled as Misora greets him, waiting, seemingly with a hint of desperation in her tone, for a pleasant response. Sento forces one out, and Soichi later finds the team enjoying a post-victory feast, paid for with his money. And, as night falls, we at last come to the moment.

As the others drift off to dreamland, someone sneaks toward the cafe exit with the box and all the purified Full Bottles. He’s stopped by a very awake Sento, who has known (perhaps dreaded) since the first scene that Soichi was actually Blood Stalk, but Sento wanted to confirm it for himself. And herein lies the brilliance of this show.

When we touched on the manipulative ways of the villains, we weren’t just talking about the larger-than-life armored warriors, but also the silly cafe owner with no customers who had taken in a stray amnesiac and put a Build Driver in his hand. This entire time, Sento has been working for the man he also fought against, was enraged by to the point of almost losing himself entirely and forsaking threatened victims because the taunting, agonizing Stalk refused to provide the wealth of answers he kept on the tip of his forked tongue, just barely out of reach. We spent this entire episode watching Sento process the horrible, damning truth of this, and the inevitable confrontation that waited like a rope slowly being tied into a noose. The question is, whose neck was the noose for?

Before anything more can be addressed, Soichi is out the door, disappearing into the night. And we can guess that the next episode will follow Sento right through the door to chase after him. If that was what Door Number Two-Hundred-and-Fifteen was hiding, I’m putting on my running shoes to get to the next one.

 

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