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It’s funny. I started out reviewing Kamen Rider Build under the assumption that, at some point, it would be less necessary to discuss each episode of the series on an individual basis. Like with most entries into the Kamen Rider franchise (to say nothing of its counterparts in Super Sentai), I expected that we’d eventually reach a point where installments would feel less substantial and thus, waiting a while between reviews would make perfect sense. Nope! Kamen Rider Build has consistently flipped the script on our expectations, bringing new and exciting twists on its narrative week after week, leaving very little room for its fans to lose interest as we barrel through toward the finish line.

Before the show’s brief hiatus, we were left on a cliffhanger that spelled potential doom for the citizens of Touto, now set upon by the military forces of neighboring territory Hokuto, as all-out war has begun. No time for opening credits this week. We leap right back into the action as two armies clash, with more CG robots and earth-shattering explosions than you can shake a Full Bottle at!

And wow. When they called it a war, they really weren’t kidding. That word has been a bit overplayed in the tokusatsu subgenre. Wherever a transforming superhero resides, he’ll eventually get into a conflict with some other hero, or a rubber monster, or some combination of the two, and even if it lasts about twelve minutes, it’ll be dubbed a “war” and built up like it’s the biggest, craziest thing you’ve ever seen, even if you know it isn’t. In this, we actually witness military officers in literal trenches, taking cover from a storm of bullets spraying over them from opposing shooters. One group overtakes the other, blasting into the trench as debris flies everywhere and the cries of victims fill the air. This is not the sort of thing you’d expect to see in an American kids show, and scarcely have we seen it in recent Japanese shows of this type either. Build is playing for keeps.

As battles rage, the northern Hokuto Prime Minister declares to the press that hostilities will continue, pushing her soldiers further south into Touto to prevent their use of the coveted Pandora Box. I’d say this chick was nuts, but I know her enemy is Touto’s Prime Minister Himuro Gentoku, who practically told her to her face that he was gonna jack her shit up, and we know for a fact that he’s a lying, murderous manipulator who plotted to instigate this war from jump street. One could be forgiven for thinking this disaster was richly deserved if not for the fact that it has sent ordinary Touto citizens fleeing in terror as Smash monsters descend upon them. Innocent lives are at grave risk. And all the while, these so-called leaders barely blink at the casualties in pursuit of their own goals.

Back after being MIA for an episode or so, the great Sawa watches the carnage unfold on her tablet at Caffe Najcita, the team uncertain of what to do next. She says she never believed it would come to war. An interesting remark, considering she had actually heard directly from one of Faust’s main conspirators about their intention to start a war while she was acting as his spy. I guess she was just really optimistic then. Maybe less so after a troop of Touto soldiers show up pointing guns in their faces.

Sento’s none too thrilled about being summoned to the principal’s office, Gentoku explaining that he wants the genius amnesiac and his partner Ryuuga to serve as military operatives in the conflict with Hokuto. Sento refuses, but Gentoku sweetens the deal by offering to clear their names of any legal wrongdoing, including the murder charge Ryuuga currently faces from when he was set up by the villainous Blood Stalk.

And thus we witness the thing which may eventually cause a rift between the two recent friends, as Ryuuga’s reaction to the bribe is a bit different from Sento’s outright refusal. Ryuuga spends the whole episode quietly considering the possibility of compliance, despite his obvious hatred of the man who presumes to give them marching orders. And I can’t help but wonder if this division will grow wider as the episodes roll on and the ideologies of the two Rider Bros, who have gone through so much in such a short time, building a strong foundation of friendship, will slowly start to crumble from each other.

Somewhere in Hokuto, its minister continues to have meetings via holographic communication with the minister from Seito, about the future of their fragmented country. She implies that Hokuto and Seito should forge an alliance, combining resources (namely the twenty mysteriously-purified Full Bottle items they possess) so that they’ll be able to open the Pandora Box once their forces snatch it from Gentoku’s grubby mitts. When Seito’s minister peaces out, the armored Blood Stalk proves he’s not quite done talking to people in full costume as he questions whether or not Hokuto’s leader was serious about her alliance. She lets out another of her patented over-the-top laughs, suggesting that she simply invited him to the grown folks’ table to keep him from interfering with the war.

I can’t help but find this an interesting parallel, however unintentional it may be. Blood Stalk is essentially playing the same role Gentoku played in earlier episodes, when his father Himuro Taizan was serving as rightful prime minister. Quietly hanging off to the side, observing the conversation, dropping little comments to ensure things go the way they should. Of course, in the case of the Himuros, there was never any consensus, especially when it came to Gentoku’s crazypants warmongering plans, which Taizan would have devoutly avoided. Here, Hokuto’s leader is all too happy to be encouraged by the imp on her shoulder, feeding her ego and thirst for power (and wine; I’m telling you, her look is not complete until she’s sipping wine). Historically speaking, starting wars does seem a great deal easier than preventing them. Even without Martian devices scrambling your brain chemistry.

While Blood Stalk assures her that the mysterious asset she calls “Grease” is out looking for his targets, we catch back up with the Rider Bros, Sento thoroughly displeased to be rocking the new accessory Gentoku has placed on both their wrists. The devices track their every move and serve as communication. I would have thought they’d also make effective listening devices, but as of yet, no one seems to have thought of that. In any case, it takes about two seconds for Sento to remove his, despite being told that wasn’t possible. He offers to remove Ryuuga’s but again, dude’s not really on the same page as him. If they weren’t about to be interrupted, I don’t expect Ryuuga would have let him take it off right away.

As Sento insists they won’t be used as tools for war, the Hokuto trio from last episode appears. And I wish I could say I loved these new additions to the recurring cast, but I think I’m more just resigned to the fact that they’re here to lighten the mood, and not really blown away by their actual scenes. It is amusing, at least, that it’s a team of Smash monsters who each represent one of three primary colors, essentially making a small Sentai team. They’re at first annoyed that they still haven’t found their fourth member, who they call their boss, but that doesn’t matter much after Ryuuga calls them all idiots. It looks like they do indeed need Full Bottles to morph into Smash form, though unlike others of their kind, they retain their full personality and memories. They dub themselves Hard Smash, able to control their considerable power, using it to beat the crap out of Sento and Ryuuga even after they become Kamen Riders Build and Cross-Z. Unlucky for the color guard, despite their immense strength, Ryuuga was right about them being a little light between the ears, as they get into a pointless argument with each other over nothing, long enough for the two Riders to bounce, leaving the clueless trio right back where they started.

And now that the Smash Variety Hour is over, we return to more dramatic fare, as Ryuuga wonders why Sento is trying so hard to avoid participating in this war, even if he disagrees with it. Sento explains that he’s completed the new Sclash Driver transformation belt, which converts Full Bottle essence into gel form (for reasons), offering an increase in power, but he won’t sanction its use if it’s for the Touto/Hokuto conflict. Ryuuga makes a good point, asking if Sento is really saying this because he wants to avoid responsibility for what he’s done. After all, it was Sento, in his former life as mad genius Katsuragi Takumi, who kickstarted this Rider business with the Nebula Gas experiments, facilitating Faust’s reign of terror. It makes perfect sense to be against the war. Everyone should be. But is Sento maybe, kinda, sorta too self-involved to see that they’ve run out of options here? Ryuuga rightly suggests he suck it up here and face what he’s done while trying to fix things along the way.

Elsewhere, Misora’s on a difficult journey of her own, wandering the streets as more victims pile up, people huddled into shelters, struggling to survive. Sento finds her a mess, cursing the bracelet she wears and the unexplained power she wields to purify the Full Bottles that have lead to this horrifying result. In a stunning display of emotion, she pounds the ground in frustration over and over. And it’s truly a marvel that this show is able to achieve such intensity on such a regular basis without collapsing under its own weight. Sento meets her on the ground, unable to watch her blame herself when, if there’s anyone at fault, he feels it must be him. And it’s time he take responsibility for his past sins.

And speaking of the past, we get our first scene with Takeda Touhei, who fans may recognize as the father of the title hero in 2008’s Kamen Rider Kiva, Kurenai Otoya. The refreshing storytelling device of the Kiva story saw half the series take place in present day while the other half was set in the 1980s, where the charming slacker Otoya womanized (or something) his way into an organization of monster hunters, eventually suiting up as Kamen Rider IXA and more before finally signing off. When it was announced that Takeda would be back on my screen, I couldn’t stop the fluids from leaving my body, it was just a total evacuation of liquid. Not only is he returning to the franchise that loved him, but he’s taking his place as a full-time Kamen Rider, rather than suffering the game of musical belts, trading one measly henshin device between half a dozen different users in his last show (awesome as that was). Funnily enough, in a roundabout sort of way, he’s still doing that now, as the Sclash Driver he carries isn’t one-of-a-kind. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ryuuga meets this nameless figure, categorized so far only by a disapproving aura. He doesn’t look happy about watching children cry for their missing parents in the streets. When an invading Smash monster runs into their vicinity, he grasps a concealed Full Bottle and punches it away. A single hit from his bare fist is powerful enough to destroy the Smash in an explosion of green flame. One-Punch Man would be proud. Though our mystery man first exaggeratedly acts as though he’s broken his hand, he quickly realizes this is not the case and just casually walks off like nothing ever happened… Okay, then.

Gentoku calls Ryuuga on his new wrist device, insisting that the enemy Hard Smash can’t be beaten without the help of Sento’s newly-made Sclash Driver, even as Ryuuga tries to convince him it’s not ready. Poor Ryuuga’s stuck between a rock and a gelatinous place. He senses that Gentoku, slimy and untrustworthy as he is, may actually be right. But as Ryuuga makes a decision about the new Driver, Sento makes a declaration about his own Build Driver. Hearing Misora’s words as the Hokuto trio approaches to finish what they started, Sento decides that he can’t stand by simply talking up his ideals and not taking action.

Build can only do so much until Ryuuga shows up, having swiped the Sclash Driver on his way to help Sento take out the trash. Having vowed to carry on his late girlfriend Kasumi’s wishes, he inserts the Dragon Sclash Jelly into the belt and activates it. Apparently, I’m not the only one releasing copious fluids this season, as Ryuuga’s transformation bizarrely has him expelling a bunch of viscous liquid from his head, spraying all over himself before it soon hardens. The shell breaks to reveal the new visage of Kamen Rider Cross-Z Charge. Personally? I liked his original form better, but that’s standard procedure for Kamen Rider. The canonically strongest suit is rarely the prettiest. Point is, he’s tough enough to hold his own against the dunce brigade. Build nervously rushes after him to make sure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself with the near-overwhelming power he’s throwing around. In the end, Cross-Z Charge uses his new Twin Breaker weapon to slash, punch, and shoot the three monsters across the battlefield. A Double Rider Kick from him and Build knocks the trio out of Smash form and their fancy Full Bottles conveniently scatter to the ground where our heroes can easily pick them up.

But before the trio can completely drop the ball as easily as they dropped their Bottles, in comes Takeda Touhei’s mystery man, casually striding in with that bigass furry hood like Captain Cold on antidepressants. The trio’s finally found their boss, and he’s holding another Sclash Driver in his hand. The next episode promises to be an eventful one, as this sullen soldier is about to put a hurting on our former fugitive duo.

I can’t tell yet where this whole thing with the Hokuto squad is going outside of the obvious fact that more asses will be handed out in short order, so it’s hard to really know how hard on the trio I should be here. I did not really care for them this episode. They felt like a distraction from the more important business of the war and the characters who continue to grow and evolve in interesting ways. And I can recognize a desire to lighten the mood in the face of some fairly grim subject-matter. But I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for their particular brand of wacky, and I don’t sense I will be anytime soon. My biggest hope is that they’ll either be swept aside within a few weeks, or they too will evolve into characters with far more dimension than their introductory battles suggest. For other shows, that might be too big an expectation, but here? In Build I trust.

Bring on Episode 18, and the arrival of Grease.

 

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