Well, that was fast. After the high drama of our last episode in this amazing series, I incorrectly assumed it would take us a moment to regroup before leaping straight back into the business with Acting Prime Minister Himuro Gentoku and his twisted bid for power, after being exposed for the treasonous conspirator that he is. I should have known by now: Kamen Rider Build laughs in the face of such flimsy expectations. Your timeline is too slow for them. They know what they want to do and there’s no time like the present to execute.

Episode 16 begins exactly where episode 15 ended, with Gentoku being hauled off for his considerable crimes against his own Touto government, until our genius amnesiac hero Kiryuu Sento stops him to ask why the former minister was taunting him in their prior battle about being on the same side. We skip the usual opening credits sequence once more as Gentoku gleefully reveals the apparent truth: That Sento is, in fact, Katsuragi Takumi in disguise. The infamous Devil’s Scientist, responsible for the creation of Faust and the human experiments resulting in the Smash monsters. This whole time, the turmoil visited upon this nameless scientist and his friends only came about because of what he himself had started.

Curiously, nobody among the Touto military staff is trying to drag Gentoku away, as he dramatically walks around the devastated duo of Sento and Ryuuga, casually laying it out for them with the help of some pretty gnarly flashbacks. Including a recent scene in which Gentoku’s old Faust partner-in-crime Isurugi Soichi demonstrates to him his eerie ability to change a person’s appearance right before his eyes. Several interesting developments surface here, as Soichi’s previous use of this power had made it look as though this could merely be a feature of his Blood Stalk armor. A special gas emitted from the glove, similar to the Nebula Gas that mutates humans into Smash. Taking Gentoku at his word, that assumption now proves false, as Soichi is shown expelling the gas from his bare palm, morphing the face of some undoubtedly poor, innocent schmuck just to prove he could do it.

Not only that, but Soichi also gained the ability to erase memories. Not temporarily dampening them, like the Nebula Gas side-effects often induce in its victims, but almost completely removing them for the long-term. Powers apparently obtained on Soichi’s trip to Mars on the exploratory mission where the ominous Pandora Box was first discovered. In which case, we can surmise that Soichi’s abilities and the Nebula Gas, naturally flowing from the Sky Wall that was seemingly erected via the box’s power, are somehow connected. Not the same power, exactly, but perhaps a more concentrated form of it? It seems clear that almost none of this would be happening if Soichi hadn’t found that accursed box. This further explains the peculiar demonstrations of supernatural ability Soichi exhibited in the past. Changing his tablet into a backscratcher just as easily as molding playdough or jumping straight up into the air without the use of strength-enhancing armor. With or without the Blood Stalk moniker, Isurugi Soichi is one of the most dangerous men in Touto.

What really blows my brainhole is the revelations about Katsuragi Takumi, who had told Blood Stalk about his intentions to leave Faust behind, and Stalk’s disapproval of this plan. Though Takumi had clearly already tidied some things away for safekeeping (including the data that we witnessed being retrieved months ago by Sento), Stalk still wasn’t going to let him leave and potentially ruin all their plans. When rocker kid Satou Taro showed up to Takumi’s place to earn some extra monies with a few medical tests, Stalk took the opportunity to kill the clueless lad (another random innocent to add to Soichi’s ever-growing list of victims) and then promptly switched Taro’s face for Takumi’s. Effectively, Takumi was dead to the world, though he was actually in the body of what would eventually be known as Sento.

There’s something very striking about one particular shot in this long montage of flashbacks, where Sento sits unconscious beside Soichi in a car, and Soichi suddenly turns to look out the window with a quizzical half-smile. It’s uncertain quite what he might be thinking there, but he almost appears to be looking right at us. Almost. It may be entirely unintentional, but the darkly mischievous spirit this moment evokes just accentuates everything I love about this character as a villain. I do not know what the hell this dude is really after, yet he is so damn watchable. His look here just screams “See what I did there?”

Gentoku arrogantly declares that his arrest won’t be the end for him, and when the time comes, he expects Sento to work alongside him. It sounds a bit like an empty threat. The kind bad guys often shout before they’re dragged away to rot in some cell or resign to some other miserable fate. One might expect that he’ll be back, perhaps after breaking out of jail or some terrible turn of events a month or two after things cool down. Yeah… no. The very next scene shows Gentoku’s father, Himuro Taizan, preparing to reassert control of the government, only to be struck by a sudden pain causing him to collapse. A venom injection from the hidden Blood Stalk, whose words suggest that this too was part of an elaborate plot. And there will be a few more of those before the episode is done.

I will say though that this particular one puts a wrinkle in any theory I could have posited about Soichi’s motives. He had seemed to dislike Gentoku and actually want to keep the box out of his hands, but maybe the game of musical chairs we’ve been playing these past few weeks with the Martian artifact was even more complicated than it had already seemed. One move inspires another move, which in turn inspires even more countermoves, with Soichi brilliantly strategizing what to do next, but only to a point. It may look like Soichi is in Gentoku’s corner now, but then you turn the corner and find him consorting with someone else. Like Taizan. Or Sento. Or a number of others. Does Soichi have any actual friends, or is every one of them just pawns in a game no one but him can see more than two out of three dimensions of at a given time?

Back at the crib, Sento quietly works on his latest project while hothead Ryuuga seethes. Misora fails to calm him as he shouts at Sento, enraged over everything this odd collection of friends has been put through, all of it seemingly laid at Sento’s feet. Where Ryuuga’s voice could break glass, Sento is almost inaudible by comparison, hit hard by the recent revelations. The trauma suffered by so many was all due to his own selfish ambitions as Katsuragi Takumi. He doesn’t know what to do, except to accept the absurd challenge Ryuuga issues him, though the former fighter admits that it may not solve anything.

This may be a good time to note that Ryuuga’s way of activating the Full Bottles in their arsenal is now different from Sento’s. Normally, these devices need to be shaken, perhaps to generate some kind of “chemical” reaction. Many an easy joke has been made about Sento’s method of shaking his hands in a way that would suggest he’s doing something you might not see on a children’s program. Ryuuga takes a different approach. Instead of giving the Bottle a bunch of small shakes, he just gives it one good, hard jerk, and he’s ready to blast off!

I remember when the idea of Riders fighting each other was still novel. In the Heisei Era of the 2000s, you had Kamen RIder Agito fighting G3 while pursuing Gills. Then came the Rider War of Kamen Rider Ryuki, where 13 characters all fought to the finish in a battle royale. And after that was Kamen Rider Blade, which truly blew the doors off the concept. It didn’t take much to tick those dudes off. Where it was once a complex series of machinations and misunderstandings that brought about their conflict, soon Riders were knocking each other’s teeth in for sneezing in the wrong direction. It was awesome, until it wasn’t. The visual was always cool, but stuff like that has a way of cheapening when you pull it out too much in a given timespan. So when the first official fight between two fully-empowered Riders happens in this series, I am gladdened to see that it has everything to do with character and seemingly very little to do with simply jumping onto a flaming bandwagon headed for the edge of a cliff. This is two people at wits end, grasping for some kind of answer after suffering such grief, simply not knowing what to do with themselves.

Ryuuga transforms into Cross-Z, and Sento takes this opportunity to bust out another fresh Bottle combo, the KaizokuGatling form. Because, even when you’re depressed and almost ready to die, that’s no reason to stop testing out what your toys can do. This is yet another power-merger that looks better to my eyes than the Best Match which one of the Bottles is normally attached to. Truly, the Gatling Full Bottle is the new black. It goes with everything.

Their emotional battle rages on as Sento experiences flashes of past events, including those times where Sento interacted with Takumi’s mother. And we can now confirm that this is his own mother, cementing the theory that his tearful reaction to her cooking is because he had partially remembered it from his former life as Takumi. Soichi wasn’t kidding when he told Sento that he was just playing a part. His heroic intentions were real, but not necessarily because they had always been part of him. If he thought his life was a sham before, there’s no telling what he might think now, as Cross-Z delivers one of the most dope-ass Rider Punch attacks in years, a cloud of what looks like real flame nearly engulfing the two combatants as Build is thrown back.

Still, Sento’s RabbitTank Sparkling form defeats Cross-Z with little effort, leaving neither Rider much better off than when they started. Misora finds Sento feeling sorry for himself. He apologizes for keeping secrets, which she of course forgives. She admits that a lot of what she’s been hearing recently was a surprise, but despite his current pain over Takumi’s dark past, she knows he’s way too full of himself to let this defeat him. After all, we did meet Sento as a sarcastic hero who smiled at the prospect of a new experiment even as enemies closed in around him. Though it bugged the shit out of Ryuuga, his confidence defined him.

And confidence is really the hot item on the menu this week, as Gentoku addresses the Prime Ministers of Hokuto and Seito as the continuing representative of Touto. I guess the failing health of Taizan means Gentoku won’t be hauled off to Arkham Asylum, as planned. The only way I can guess this works logically is if we also assume Faust took care of every witness to his dirty dealings in the last episode. Which, considering what these people get up to on a regular basis, isn’t out of the realm of believability. In any case, Gentoku gets straight to the point, all but claiming that he wants to rule the country instead of it being split into three territories by three different ministers. Hokuto’s leader can’t laugh off such a direct threat, as she has done many times in these meetings, playing off her potentially dark intentions as more misunderstandings of paranoid neighbors. Instead, she cuts off her holographic transmission along with her fellow minister from Seito, who reacts to Gentoku’s challenge with a silent smile. Might he be imagining what fun it’ll be to watch these two go at it, leaving Seito the last territory standing?

It’s interesting to note that Gentoku once again brings up that he’s aware how the Pandora Box has changed him. The three ministers were present when Soichi first activated the device, sending a wave of energy that altered their personalities, amping up their personal ambitions and likely creating the tense aggression that pervades every meeting they hold. He knows this and yet has no intention of trying to fix it, nor do either of the others. Taizan, the one leader among them who wasn’t present that day, whom I had incorrectly believed was a much harsher man than he ultimately turned out to be, is like a teddy bear compared to these guys. He’s also the only one with no power, condemned to waste away in hospital beds indefinitely while the animals run wild through the zoo.

Meanwhile, Ryuuga proves himself more endearing by the second as he explains his confusing feelings about the Sento debacle. The apparent fact that Sento-as-Takumi brought about his girlfriend Kasumi’s death and started the Smash experiments is bad enough, but the truth is, what Ryuuga’s really angry about is that all of this upsets Sento. They can’t wholly condemn Sento for something he doesn’t remember and clearly doesn’t like at all. In the short time they’ve been hanging around each other, Sento’s unique brand of heroism (however new that concept may be to the amnesiac) has rubbed off on Ryuuga. Their bond has been a key point in why this show works as well as it does. The characters all have developed so much in the last dozen episodes, and we’ve reached this point where, despite Ryuuga’s rage over what Sento has done, his most prevailing thought after a few hours is that he feels bad for him? That this comes off as so believable is a miraculous win. I could name quite a few shows that wouldn’t have unpacked such tangled, crazy character dynamics with half as much grace.

What is perhaps less graceful is Hokuto’s assault on Touto, including a team of Guardians with their insignia and a couple of Smash to boot. It’s begun.

Sento swoops in as Build, doing his best to rescue the screaming civilians caught under fire from the attacking robots. But doubts creep in, threatening to end him, until Cross-Z shows up. And there’s never been a more perfect time for the opening theme song to start playing, as Ryuuga snaps him out of it. Telling his irritating partner that, despite his creation of these terrible things as Takumi, he also fought to protect people from them as Sento. Something neither the Devil’s Scientist nor a musician with big hair could have achieved. And so, Sento gets his mojo back, offering a playful ribbing to his “dumb jock” partner before gleefully smiling and shaking those Bottles for all their worth, ready for the next experiment.

Build and Cross-Z fight together, combining their efforts to finish off the Smash. But when they relieve the two humans of the Smash essence that infected them, Sento and Ryuuga wonder who they might be. Gentoku arrives just in time to answer the question. And while his surprising appearance would certainly freak me out if I were Sento, the Hokuto Prime Minister watches through the pixelated gaze of a robot’s eye, transmitting everything it sees straight to her monitor as she sits victorious. Give this woman a glass of wine to sip, for pity’s sake – conquering the world one nation at a time is thirsty business, and she’ll need something to wash down all that scenery she’s been chewing! She’s formally declared war on Touto. And leaning against her wall is none other than the treacherous snake known as Blood Stalk. As the title says, it’s chess, not checkers. Gentoku who?

With that, the second act of Kamen Rider Build appears to have just begun.

But before we sign off, we’re treated to a shocking event. Or at least it could have been shocking if many of us hadn’t already been made aware of it from a dozen different media announcements well in advance of what was coming. Such is life. A group of men wearing Hokuto uniforms watch Team Build’s latest victory on a tablet, remarking over the ineffectiveness of the Smash, who are practically mindless zombies. And, judging by the Smash beasty among these new guys, who consciously reverts to human shape after blasting the crap out of a vast cityscape, it might be fair to assume all three of them could be a type of monster unseen in the series so far. Smash that are fully aware of their status and able to transform at will without the use of any special gadget or substance. They call out to their apparent leader, a lethal-looking dude in Kamen Rider armor, who has just lain waste to a group of Guardians near the Sky Wall border.

Things are about to get greasy in the coming weeks on Kamen Rider Build.

Next: Episode 17


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