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Well, that settles it. Kamen Rider Build is easily one of the best in the franchise. With twenty episodes of this exciting series in the can and not a single rotten apple in the bunch, there seems to be no stopping Team Build and their exceptionally well-told adventures protecting their home of Touto from enemies without and within. In this installment, one character falls from grace, another rises to the occasion, and the simplest answer turns out to be the right one, in one of the smartest, most consistently thrilling shows in the decades-long Kamen Rider saga. It’s almost criminal how easy they make it look, and we’re counting our blessings that the confidence on display in the first third of this story translates to the rest. We should be so lucky.

Time flies when your eyes are glued to the screen. Our last episode raised the stakes for Kamen Rider Grease aka Kazumi and his supercharged buddies from enemy territory Hokuto as they continued their incursions into Touto. The three got an upgrade from the sly Soichi, whose motives still remain a mystery as he not only increases their power (at the cost of killing them should they be defeated in battle) but does the same for his old ward Sento. Thankfully, as we learn this week, the Hazard Trigger device Soichi tosses his way won’t kill him, but it will mess with his mind to the point where he could end up wishing he was dead anyway, when it’s all said and done. Yikes! When asked what in blue blazes Soichi’s planning, stacking the deck in favor of one person, then another, then another, his answer is predictably fortune-cookie-esque. He suggests the heroic Kamen Riders Build and Cross-Z should continue to push each other to get stronger, and then maybe he’ll eventually clue them in on the bigger plan.

God, I love this cryptic S.O.B.

Back at the Kiryuu Barber Shop, Kazumi slaps the taste out of Akaba’s mouth for what the three of them did to get their fancy new power boost. Despite insisting he still doesn’t remember his soldiers after the procedure that gave Kazumi his Rider powers jacked up his memory, he clearly still cares about their well being. Whether that’s because he’s not as evil as could be assumed from a stranger’s perspective or because he really does feel protective of his old crew, they know he’s got their back. We learn that they all gave up their given names in favor of color-based nicknames (Masaru became Akaba for the “aka”/red of his Smash monster form), and they wonder if he already knows them. It may not really matter, as he clearly does assume responsibility for their safety either way. Our Grease is just a big softy underneath that rigid, bronze exterior.

After Misora’s newly-discovered ability to heal people with her own energy is discussed, Ryuuga stops Sento from walking away before mentioning the fact that he lost control in the last fight as Cross-Z, the Sclash Driver sending his adrenaline through the roof. Poor Ryuuga hasn’t been filled in about the recent advantage Sento may have just gotten, and Sento doesn’t seem in a sharing mood. He returns to the hidden basement (seriously, how do you squeeze through that tiny fridge door with a plate of food in one hand and a drink in the other?) and consults his old files. Such an odd experience after recent revelations. Watching Sento, who is watching video of Katsuragi Takumi… who is also Sento, just in a different body. He’s essentially watching a recording that he personally decided to make and carried out, getting information on a device he himself invented. There’s an Inception joke in here somewhere.

Takumi tells himself that utilizing the Hazard Trigger for too long will cause the user to go nuts and attack anything indiscriminately. And, as if fate wants to set an example for us, Sento accidentally knocks over his mug and it shatters against the floor. Better the mug than your friend’s face, right? Be weary, Sento!

Prime Minister Himuro Gentoku tells Sento the archeology museum is under attack. Another of the locations housing Touto’s precious Full Bottle items has been easily discovered by the Hokuto crew, leading Gentoku (and me) to question how the enemy could possibly have guessed it was there. There must be a mole, but who? And since we’ve met almost nobody working for the Touto government or at the lab except the people who died in past episodes, along with Gentoku, Utsumi (no longer around), and Gentoku’s new assistant, the suspect list ain’t that long. It could easily be this new aide. For all we know, it’s Soichi himself, employing the ole Faceless Man trick, changing his appearance to suit the situation and keep tabs on everybody. With this power, anyone at any time could be someone other than who they seem to be… or it could just be that the aide is a plant, case closed. We’ll have to stay tuned to find out, though I don’t guess it’ll be more than a couple more episodes, as this show is seriously not playing around with the pacing.

The Goof Troop from Hokuto is full of glum faces after Kazumi’s slaphappy conversation in the barber shop, even after they’ve managed to nab two Full Bottles. The trio perks up a bit when he tells them all that they’d better do their best to keep themselves alive. It doesn’t take much to turn their frowns upside down. They lift him up and carry him outside in a rousing celebratory walk, until Sento and Ryuuga show up to crash their party.

Even after all this time, Build’s purple-and-yellow NinninComic form still impresses the hell out of me, splitting into multiple bodies to strike at the Hazard Smash and the transformed Grease. Like the good-natured hero Sento is, even as he duels with the trio, he tries to warn them that a defeat will mean certain death for them, but they won’t listen. They’ve sworn they will not let their boss down. And I can’t help but grow nervous that at least one of them will be breaking their vow and wake up dead in one of the coming battles. They’re too pure for this world, and I don’t quite trust that they’ll get unlimited continues like in another show some of us may be familiar with. It certainly doesn’t apply to some of the other Smash that have kicked the bucket in their cult-like service of the underground Faust organization.

It seems the universe is determined to convince Ryuuga to fight for his own ambitions rather than his stated goal of running into combat so that eventually no one else will have to. The Sclash Driver revs up his aggression while Grease gives him the “we’re not so different, you and I” speech, admitting how strongly he feels about fighting for his own gain. To get stronger and simply enjoy the rush. Cross-Z Charge fights this impulse while fighting Grease but the dealer always wins in this casino, so when Build shouts for him to cancel the transformation, the fight just keeps happening instead. The Sclash Driver keeps writing checks that he can’t cash, and soon, it’ll be time to pay up.

And it’s the payment that has Sento hesitating to use the Hazard Trigger, knowing how dire the consequences may be. Especially with the Hazard Smash surrounding them, who could easily be killed if A Wild Build Appears and Sento mentally checks out while the suit just obliterates everyone in its way. He could even end up hurting the person he most wanted to protect. Instead, the RocketPanda form makes another brief appearance as the preferred mode of escape lately.

Ryuuga’s in a bad way, having spazzed out from overexertion on the battle, but Misora tries her new trick again and quickly heals him. Interesting that she starts talking similarly to how we remember from early episodes, where she was still needed to purify Full Bottles. She would step out of her chamber, having done… whatever she does in there, and immediately want to take a coma. I’d like to think this isn’t just a coincidence or merely because “getting tired” is just her thing, but rather that whatever she does to the Bottles and what she does to injured people is a similar process. A transference of energy from herself to them, making them whole but temporarily depleting herself. In any case, Ryuuga quickly dodges Sento’s question concerning his spaz attack. And while there’s more to it than this, I can’t entirely blame him since Sento seemingly blew Ryuuga off earlier, and has still not told anyone about the new device he’s carrying. Kept secrets are the bane of all super-teams, guys. Settle this before the secrets settle you!

And it’s an excellent time to talk secrets, as Gentoku calls the duo to a new location which he states will be where the coveted Pandora Box is hidden from now on. His primary reason for dragging them there is to share the new intel about Faust, which they had all believed was disbanded shortly before Gentoku took over the prime minister job from his ailing father. Of course, Gentoku doesn’t tell them that it was Utsumi, whom Sento had witnessed Gentoku shoot in cold blood, who spilled the tea on this development. He wants the Double Riders to infiltrate Hokuto and stop whatever Faust plot may be brewing there to create more Hard Smash abominations that could ruin Touto. Sento categorically refuses but Ryuuga once again seems to hesitate. I only have so many nails to bite, show. Stop with the subtle tension-building!

Things get a little less subtle, but no less rapturous, as a well-shot conversation commences outside, Sento getting fed up with the constant insistence that he has to fight harder and do more damage to the enemy when it’s the last thing he wants. Ryuuga keeps suggesting that what they’re doing isn’t enough if they truly want to end things quickly and Sento takes that as a sign that Ryuuga’s continued power increases are more about personal ambition than the noble goals Build has been fighting for. Before Ryuuga can set the record straight, Gentoku is back on them like a bad rash. This time, it’s just Ryuuga he wants to chat with. Shiiiit.

While the dudes implode in slow-motion, the chicks are having a kiki of their own back at the cafe (which remains completely empty of any possible customers despite no sign on the door that they might be closed or shut down or whatever). Misora asks a question I truly didn’t expect her to ask. Yet another way this show has been underestimated, often causing characters to consider bits of logic that we honestly can’t expect most others in the tokusatsu subgenre to bother addressing. Which might be fine, in some cases, as these shows are often here to be fun and certain lapses in logic just get in the way of their wacky charm. But Build, more often than not, seems to be striving for something just slightly more sound than your typical explode-o-rama (though there’s plenty boom-booms to go around too). Misora’s query is simple: Why don’t they just use her healing power to fix Himuro Taizan, Gentoku’s father and rightful Touto Prime Minister? Good freaking question!

We won’t get an answer until after Sento has a mild tantrum all over the cafe bar, all pouty after the squabble with Ryuuga. It’s only after he hears from Misora about the conversation they had last episode that things become clearer. Dude’s had his back the whole time. He’s fighting for Sento’s sake. To pull him out of the sorry state he’s been in of late. It’s never been about the power (at least as far as he’s telling them anyway). It’s enough to shake Sento out of his two-second funk and send him rushing out the door to find his pal. These two crazy kids.

They’re about as crazy as Misora and Sawa who, after I complained about the less-than-amazing role they played in the first few scenes of episode 19, come roaring back to awesome status as they attempt to sneak into Taizan’s hospital room. A bit of a gamble since the last time Sawa was near him, she ended up dropkicking some fools and fleeing the scene. Why couldn’t it be the guy’s day off or sumthin? One of the guards quickly recognizes her. Fortunately, these ladies aren’t easily fazed, and they force their way into Taizan’s room anyway, barricading the door so Misora can do her thing.

Sento barges into the Touto office to find out where his partner is, but Gentoku, calm and casual as can be, informs Sento that the info given about the Pandora Box’s new location was fake news, deliberately spread around to confirm that there’s a mole and trap Team Grease under a hail of gas that may spell doom for all four of them. The perfect distraction for Gentoku’s bigger operation. Ryuuga is leading his forces toward the Sky Wall border, a massive army of Touto soldiers and Guardian robots ready to jack Hokuto up. Hardly the surgical strike against Faust that it first seemed it might be when Sento was part of the equation. This looks like the kind of thing that could end more lives than it ultimately saves in the short-term. Sento is understandably cheesed off, but even Gentoku’s own aide is flipping out on this one.

Gentoku fires back, going into full Screaming Bad Guy Mode. He declares that, despite what the law says about his authority, he’s the prime minister and if he wants them to invade the hell out of Hokuto, that’s what they’ll do. Too bad nobody told him dad’s back. Gentoku looks up, stunned to find Taizan stepping into the room with a team of armed men, along with the totally badass and not-arrested Sawa at his side.

Guys.

GUYS.

You don’t understand. This show is amazing. I absolutely love Gentoku as a villain. When a show can make me delight both in his successes, his weird, treasonous psychosis, and even his meltdown when the other shoe drops and he finally gets what’s coming to him, you know you’ve got something special on your hands. Watching him achieve his ambition, only to find it a bitter victory as all his assumed allies abandon him, and then to be unseated moments before he can take his lunacy to an even more damnable phase. That’s a real story. It’s the kind of arc that reaches higher than the typical villain who just wants to rule the world and spends twenty episodes sitting in a dark room somewhere laughing about their plan, making almost no real gains on it for ages. It’s only been twenty episodes and Gentoku has already completed an arc that would have lasted twice as long on another show. We’ve discussed similar growth for other characters, but it’s even more exceptional in this case, in some ways, because we’re talking about a villain. In the wrong hands, he could simply be another silhouette. A figure for the heroes to kick at every once in a while, and who cares what his canned master plan is? Nah, bro. Gentoku is a whole person with a life and a family and a goal that stretches beyond the standard archetype. There are plenty others who have these things, of course, though I can’t say I’m quite as intrigued by their journey in the same way. Soichi is still Employee of the Month at the Villains Depot, but Gentoku is a strong contender.

But even if you’re not like me and endlessly fascinated by Gentoku as a character unto himself, we can all appreciate how satisfying it is to see Touto’s rightful leader returned to health, to verbally dress down this usurper. Denouncing Gentoku as his son, Taizan assumes command of Touto once more and tells Gentoku not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out. Of course, Gentoku is too smooth for that. He casually inserts the Bat Full Bottle into his Transteam Gun, and the image of the soldiers uselessly firing into the vapor cloud as he transforms is truly amazing. I thought the ominous sight of Night Rogue’s shadowed form moments before the gas fades was cool enough during his usual henshin, but you add the flash of automatic weapons firing into that and it’s the perfect visual representation of his menace. The transformed Night Rogue turns around, completely undamaged by the attack and shoots away the men. This episode is full of great imagery, in fact, as Gentoku’s next move after revealing himself to be the true Night Rogue, thought dead after the ruse that ended in Utsumi’s shooting, is to snatch the box and leap right through the wall, leaving a giant hole to the sky above Touto. Sento follows the winged psycho with his HawkGatling powers.

Meanwhile, all seems lost for Team Grease until he whips out an uber-powerful attack that blasts them to safety, narrowly escaping Gentoku’s gas trap but at the cost of Kazumi’s remaining strength. He sends the others off to Hokuto, sensing that something more sinister is afoot. Ryuuga seems to have convinced himself that it’s not the slaughter that it could easily turn into, or that maybe such a thing might be worth it somehow, despite the terrible unpleasantness that could be about to unfold. Before it does, there’s a score that needs settling between Gentoku and Sento.

After all the lies and manipulation, after all the forced servitude, the annoying communicator he tried to lock around his wrist against his will, all the belligerent plans Gentoku tried to send him on, Sento finally has the chance to remove all those concerns. He’s not fighting a member of Faust who holds answers to millions of vital questions, nor is Sento facing the leader of the Touto government with near-unchallenged authority over him and every life he’s fought to safeguard. What stands before him is just a man now. A man with some outdated tech. And so, Sento switches to RabbitTank Sparkling form and proceeds to put a beatdown on the outclassed Night Rogue. He blocks Rogue’s finisher kick with ease, but Rogue can’t do the same when he returns the favor. As the Sparkling Rider Kick knocks Gentoku out of his armor, his downfall is utterly complete. For now.

A desperate Gentoku vanishes in a puff of steam (I really gotta get one of those guns) but there’s little time to celebrate Build’s recovery of the box. Akaba fires his crazy death-ray into the approaching crowd of Touto invaders and massive explosions sweep the road, seemingly destroying dozens, if not more. Somehow, Ryuuga escapes that nightmarish blast with only some dirt on him, rolling out of its destructive path to escape the main brunt of it. Amid the crackling flames, badass as can be, he transforms into Cross-Z Charge to battle the Hard Smash. (Does anyone else miss the original Cross-Z costume?)

When Sento shows up to intervene, Cross-Z isn’t in the mood to be lectured. Sento is overcome with memories of past battles, some of which only happened a couple months ago but feel like it’s been almost a year. Suddenly, it seems, he may see those experiences in a new light. Their bond has grown exponentially over these past twenty episodes, even greater than Sento might have realized. Which makes it that much more important that he try to stop Ryuuga before he goes too far… So, of course, Sento’s solution is to go too far himself. To use the device that may make things worse in attempts to make them better.

He inserts the Hazard Trigger into his Build Driver transformation belt, along with the Rabbit and Tank Full Bottles, changing for the first time to Black Hazard form. Let the explode-o-rama begin!

This episode represents some of the best of Kamen Rider Build. I cannot express enough how much I love the proactive role Misora and Sawa assumed, taking charge of their own plan to save Touto by restoring its rightful leader to power, and in the process, clearing Sawa’s name from further scrutiny after recent events. We’ll work on fixing that whole “framed for murder” business with Ryuuga soon enough, I suspect. And the friendship between Sento and Ryuuga has reached thoroughly bromantic levels, at this point. A shipper’s wet dream, I’m sure, but I’ll settle for an awesome bond between two epically-matched partners in their fight against the corrupt, frequently at odds but always on the same side where it counts. A friendship for the ages tested by a series of amazing trials from all sides, whether it be the twisted experiments of Faust, the vengeful wrath of Hokuto, or the manipulations of Touto’s traitorous wardens. This is a show that stands in a class all its own.

Will we ever see its kind again once it’s gone? I’m in no hurry to find out.

Next: Episode 21

 

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