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Wow. I’m fresh out of new adjectives to describe this spectacular series with. Kamen Rider Build is playing for keeps, holding us all firmly in the palm of its hand and refusing to let go. There’s never been a Kamen Rider series so ruthlessly determined to tell a story with depth and character at the forefront while still maintaining such an exciting overall feel that keeps you coming back week after week. How much more in awe can one reviewer be? Let’s find out as we dive into the supreme episode 22.

Previously, Kiryuu Sento said hello to the bottom of his emotional barrel, having caused the death of an enemy combatant with the berserker powers of the Hazard Trigger, a devastating turn of events for one as righteous as he, taking on the guilt of every perceived misstep and folly. Over the course of a week, he prepared for a proxy battle to save his home of Touto from the ongoing war with neighboring Hokuto. Those who thought that week flew by a little too quickly can rest easy, as we spend a good portion of this episode jumping back to earlier points in the history of these characters all caught in the whirlwind of this fight.

We pick up moments before the events of the last episode, as opposing fighter Sawatari Kazumi looks at two sets of dog tags. One for himself, the other for his fallen comrade. This battle, though not necessarily to the death, is personal. As the two transform, Kiryuu’s friends Sawa and Misora watch on the sidelines, though Ryuuga’s feeling a bit grumpy at the moment, preferring instead to brood at home and watch on TV like everyone else huddled into shelters, waiting to see their fates decided by a single superpowered battle. An eerie wind blows in the otherwise silent background and you could cut the tension with a helicopter propeller. Finally, the two transformed Kamen Riders, Build and Grease, are set at each other and the first punches are thrown.

At first, it seemed easy to pick who should come out of this victorious, but after having lived with Kazumi for this long, seeing his own struggles, the unending devotion of his friends he keeps at arm’s length though it’s clear he cherishes them, along with all they’re fighting for? Things are not so black and white anymore. The consequences of losing for Touto may be catastrophic, the community having already suffered greatly and potentially destined for much more if Hokuto succeeds. Indeed, whoever wins, somebody has to lose, and that won’t be pretty.

Our first flashback begins just as the Riders get their opening hits in. Shortly before the day of the battle, Ryuuga is flipping out on Sento for choosing to fight instead of him. I’d expect nothing less at this point, these two constantly in a tug of war to see who can out-self-sacrifice the other. They’re neck-and-neck at this point, Ryuuga fighting to protect Sento, then Sento doing the same for him, each hoping to prevent more pieces of them (whether it be their body or their soul) from being chipped away by continuous battles of rising insanity. Can you feel the love in this room, people?! Ryuuga storms out, claiming that Sento doesn’t understand anything, but Sento assures Misora, caught between the two broodmeisters, that he does. And that’s why he has to be the one to represent Touto in the coming challenge. But he needs Misora’s help to do something important. At first, I think the device he hands her is some kind of new power-up that she might give to Ryuuga if the fight goes south, for some reason. Little did I know.

Back in the present, Misora looks worriedly at the object, which looks vaguely like a Full Bottle dipped in a silver coating. But speaking of new Full Bottles, Sento busts out the recently-acquired Rose and Helicopter Bottles to summon up his RoseCopter form. He soon switches to the previously-unseen TigerUFO form. A weird combination, to be sure, but not altogether terrible, I have to say. He swipes past Grease onboard a pink flying saucer. And considering the OMG-faces of everyone in attendance, suddenly realizing that he’s using Full Bottles recovered from both Hokuto and Seito, we know he’s not supposed to have that. Grease turns to one of the cameras documenting this historic event, intuiting that it must be the work of the enigmatic antivillain Blood Stalk. Hokuto’s Prime Minister looks to him with surprise as they watch the match together. Clearly, no one told her what a shifty little snake in the grass our dear Stalk really is. She’s put a great deal of confidence in this masked madman, who’s used his cunning to stack the decks in her favor, nurturing her sense of security. You thought!

Meanwhile, Build is putting a hurting on Grease, jumping from one new form to another, spamming him with new and inventive ways to kick his face in. The beautiful KujiraJet blasts him with water streams and before he can recover, he’s already being assaulted by KirinCyclone’s gigantic giraffe neck energy attack thing. As I struggle to wonder how they come up with these power combinations, we jump back much further in time to a moment during the process of making Kazumi into the man he is today.

In the Hokuto lab, Kazumi sits near the box that may as well be a torture chamber, which will alter his biochemistry enough to make him a suitable Sclash Driver user. He states his intention to fight for his people. Blood Stalk, being the manipulative cobra that he is, assures Kazumi that his three buds will be well taken care of. He doesn’t point out the fine print that tells him exactly how “taken care of” they’ll really be. Shortly after becoming Grease and training with Stalk, the three find him with the biggest, most strangely innocent faces you’ll ever see, happy to tell him the “good news” that they’ve all signed up to fight for Hokuto as well, but as Smash monsters. It’s strange seeing Aikawa Shuuya, recently killed by Build’s Black Hazard form, so full of life, standing with the others and joking about how Kazumi could never do this without him. Coldly, Grease tells them to get lost, pretending that he doesn’t remember them at all, which seems to amuse Stalk as he witnesses how much harder Grease fights when he perceives his friend’s lives to be at stake. A fact that serves him well in more recent events.

We’ve assumed as much for weeks now, but having it laid out for us that Kazumi has been faking his memory loss this whole time still tugs the heartstrings a bit. He wants to push them away as much as possible but these clingy little lemmings won’t take “no” for an answer, so he has little choice but to watch out for them like always. It’d be touching if it wasn’t so terrifying.

Though this does put a wrinkle in the theory that he may know Misora in ways other than the obvious swerve that he’s just a fan of her Miitan internet pop star character. I’m not quite ready to give that up though. Especially since the show chooses this same flashback sequence to remind us via Blood Stalk that Soichi has the power to erase memories at will. If, for some reason, this cryptic imp needed Grease to focus on the mission at hand without such distractions, he could easily have selectively messed with Kazumi’s mind in order to ensure it. We see how motivated Kazumi is to achieve victory for Hokuto when his friend’s are put in harm’s way. It may complicate things if he’s concerned for Misora’s well-being too. Or I’m just crazy and his connection to her really is that simple. I sort of hope not though, as it feels like that could be an interesting subplot to follow in the coming months, sure to bring more drastic changes to the status quo, which Build has had no issue doing so far.

Grease finally gets his second wind, and with the adrenaline-pumping fury of the Sclash Driver at his command (or is it the other way around?) he somehow musters up the strength to fight back against Build’s massively swelling powerset. And as the battle rages, we learn that Sento and Friends may have more problems to deal with than just this fight. No shocker here, but Hokuto’s Prime Minister is prepping for an all-out assault on Touto. The Rider battle, of course, was just an excuse to distract her enemy long enough to send all her remaining forces in for an invasion. Even if Build wins the match, there’s no stopping what’s coming. The agreement, which Touto Prime Minister Himuro Taizan made in good faith with her, is about to be broken. And on the subject of Taizan, notice that the young aide we’ve been noticing the past few weeks in the Touto offices is nowhere to be found this episode? You’d think, with so much at stake today, his place would be right at the minister’s side. But, if he is indeed just Soichi in disguise, as speculated, he couldn’t be in Touto right now. He’s hanging out in Hokuto, confirming that nearly all their soldiers have shipped off. Oh boy…

Grease sounds positively nuts as he shrugs off a Whale tail blast from Build’s RabbitTank Sparkling form, trading Rider Kicks like it’s nothing special, seemingly going all out to keep up with Sento’s ungodly number of power combinations. And as an aside, it’s amazing that his shuffling through so many different forms feels as seamless as it does. It’s a lot of hardware for one hero to have, but it rarely feels like it’s too much or that the story has to stop just to show off the “cool new powers”. Some series just get so carried away with that stuff, doing everything but turning to the camera and shouting “Buy our products now, at a store near you!”, having written entire story arcs with the sole express purpose of worshiping the new toys. Occasionally, those can turn out brilliantly, but I much prefer this style, where the new powers are presented in an incidental, matter-of-fact sort of way. Makes it harder to see some of them in that hyper-glorified way we’ve now been conditioned to expect, but it keeps my headspace where I want it to be: in the actual story. As long as that gear still looks sufficiently badass (or whatever they’re going for) I’m into it.

As Build considers using the lethal Hazard Trigger, and Misora considers using the device she clutches on the sidelines, Sawa asks what exactly that is. We jump back to the night before, where Sento asks her to please use it if he resorts to the Hazard Trigger powers and he loses control again. He first tries to convince her that the device will merely cancel the transformation, but Misora’s got her smart hat on today and she’s not falling for Sento’s tomfoolery. Takada Kahou pulls out another stellar performance as Misora, making the painful realization that what she holds in her hand is a killswitch designed to terminate Sento if he goes too far. An impossible decision for someone who surely loves him, though I suspect it would be bad enough even if she didn’t. Sento startles by reminding us of the part they both played in bringing Kamen Rider Build into existence. He fights with the Full Bottles that she purified with her own unique power. In that sense, they both have blood on their hands and bear a responsibility for whatever happens as an ensuing result. Another set of dots the show never needed to connect but I’m so glad they did. This is why Build towers above so many other shows of its kind. Because it’s not just willing to go there, it’s pitching tents, setting up camp and telling ghost stories there.

Misora’s not about to let Sento get away with flippantly claiming it’s not that serious since he’s just a tool of war. He’s more than that to her, and to the lives he’s touched in his selfless quest for some semblance of justice in this upside-down community. And yet, if the Hazard Trigger takes over, whatever remains of his humanity could be lost. Her outstanding display of emotions means only so much when the stakes are this high. So she stands there at the match, waiting for the time when she’ll be called upon to make the terrible choice that will end her friend’s life thereby saving many others, whom he may never be able to forgive himself for taking. Sawa stands beside her, helpless but to watch alongside her as Sento activates the Hazard Trigger, and quite possibly the coolest transformation sequence of the Build series commences, circling around the arena as the Black Hazard armor seals itself over his frame and a nearby helicopter swings past.

Black Hazard has his way with Grease, his rapid punches suspending the bronze punching bag in the air for several seconds before finally dropping him. Ryuuga watches his monitor worriedly as the battle rages, and I guess Sawa has super-speed because she somehow left the site of the battle and ran back to the cafe just to get him. Did she not pay her phone bill this month? Are cell towers not working on account of the war? Who knows! The point is, Sawa left the fight in a hurry just to convince Ryuuga that he’s needed, so he’d better get his rear in gear if there’s any hope for Sento now. Ryuuga’s determined to stay in Brood Mode until Sawa gets up in his grill, stressing to him that this is a life-or-death situation, with Misora’s finger on the doomsday button.

As the battle continues and day passes into night, it strikes me how expensive this episode must have been to pull off, considering the location and the whole situation. They’re fighting on a platform high above the city, a helicopter flying around in the background, the two Riders flipping and soaring all over the place. The number of computer-generated backgrounds and set extensions has to be higher than in any previous episode, to say nothing of all the effects utilized with Build’s various new tricks, which just keep coming as the fight escalates.

At first, Grease looks happy to meet an even greater challenge as Black Hazard pushes Sento out of the driver’s seat and goes buckwild. But as it continues, it will soon become apparent that even the determined Grease is outmatched. Hazard changes form, if only slightly this time, by using the Hawk and Gatling Full Bottles, switching out his RabbitTank helmet with a darkened rendition of the HawkGatling one. And it’s probably just a coincidence, but I noticed that the first time the original HawkGatling powers were used, it was a nighttime scene with the glow of the Sky Wall lighting up the darkened sky, and here it’s a very similar situation, only kicked up a few notches. With wings to evade attacks and a gun to blast the hell out of him, Kazumi soon finds himself totally outmatched, and he drops to the ground, swiftly losing his Grease armor in the process. The battle is over. You thought!

As citizens and officials across Touto begin to cheer, in celebration for their apparent rescue by Kamen Rider Build, Misora fears it’s not going to be that easy. She’s the voice of the audience in this moment, as she quietly prays for him to stop. The fight is finished. Leave it alone… Nah. Black Hazard’s not tired of swinging his fist yet. So he lifts the defeated Kazumi off the floor, looking like he’s ready to put his whole arm through the dude’s head. And for a split-second, I find myself wondering how exactly this is going to end.

Oh yeah! With Ryuuga getting one last point on the self-sacrifice scale this week. At the last instant, Kamen Rider Cross-Z Charge catches Hazard’s fist. As Kazumi realizes what just happened, he immediately shifts his mindset to warning Ryuuga that he can’t stop Hazard. Even after nearly getting merc’d, and all the conflicts they’ve had in the past, Kazumi doesn’t want to see anyone else killed. Though it would make sense to assume he’s returning the favor after being saved moments earlier, I’ll take this as yet another indication (though, at this point, we shouldn’t need them) that Kazumi isn’t the bad guy. Despite the warning, Ryuuga’s determined, so he fights back against Hazard, screaming for Sento to resist its consuming power.

Cross-Z Charge is seemingly on the brink of losing control himself, completely overtaken by the insane power surge. But his willingness to save his friend from himself at any cost spurs him on, and with the force-filled beating of his chest, he seems to overcome it. At least for now. Whether this means he’s evolved past the point of the Sclash Driver being a nuisance to him, or this is merely a temporary condition for the remainder of this fight, we’ll leave for another episode. For now, we’ll just enjoy the sweet image of the two Rider Bros throwing simultaneous punches at each other with just enough strength to cancel both transformations, freeing Sento from Hazard’s grip with Ryuuga’s last ounce of power.

Sawa offers a shoulder for Misora to cry on, as a huge weight is lifted from the poor girl’s shoulders. But I’m now wondering whether her suddenly dropping the killswitch is just a nice visual moment or if it means she literally just left it there for someone else to eventually find and use. In the wrong hands, a device like this could sway the tides of war for the three territories and end the life of one of the game’s most vital players with the push of a button. Yikes. When Sento wakes in a semi-confused state, he asks if Ryuuga was the one who stopped him. Ryuuga rightly corrects him by stating that it was him, Misora, and Sawa who did so together. Awww!

Hokuto’s sore loser of a prime minister is about to make the call to invade Touto when Stalk suddenly grabs her phone and a troop of the best-looking Guardian robots yet walks in, pointing guns at her. They’re Seito Guardians, clad in a deep red. Stalk takes his seat, playfully lounging in the minister’s chair. What, you thought he was really on her side this whole time? Pfff! Too easy! It seems the real reason he had suggested her to send Hokuto’s army away was so Seito’s forces could move in virtually undeterred. A pretty brilliant strategy, given the circumstances. She thought she’d use the fight between Build and Grease as a distraction, while everyone in Touto watched with baited breath to see who would win, totally unaware that her soldiers were about to wreck their shit. But in fact, Seito proves to be just as opportunistic, using the same event as a means to move their own forces in. In that sense, our prediction last week proves correct, in about as grand a manner as I could have ever expected. In one fell swoop, Seito’s Prime Minister has control not only of his own territory but hers as well. Sweet revenge for someone whom she had already written off as a non-factor this whole time, a so-called ally that she had always been planning to betray. Instead, the player gets played herself and Stalk’s wheel of manipulation keeps on rolling.

And with such a major power shift, as Hokuto’s now-former leader is about to be hauled off somewhere potentially dark and scary, Blood Stalk’s ultimate goal may have become a bit more clear. What if Soichi’s plan all along was to reunite the three territories and make the country whole again? It seems he’s already made two of those regions one, despite the fact that they’re on opposite ends of the map, with Touto stuck in the middle (not the safest place to be, I’m guessing). Now, all he would have to do is find a way to fold Touto into the seemingly new, emerging nation. If we track back through everything he’s done, it’s obviously filled with terrible moves, sacrificing many lives and endangering a lot more. But it may be that, in his own way, he’s wanted to see the country united again. Although I’d still fear for what happens after that, it’s an interesting idea. He’s still totally crazy, and extremely dangerous. But has he been doing this all because of a twisted, modern rendition of Nobunaga’s Ambition? The ancient warlord sought to conquer then bring together the country under a single banner. It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that this is close to where Soichi is headed.

In any case, there’s one more moment left to go on this amazing episode. And that is the criminally badass entrance of what Stalk announces casually as the Kamen Rider of Seito. Walking in slowly, dragging the defeated body of a Hokuto Guardian by its broken face, is an extremely dope new Rider. He looks so friendly!

The common assumption has been that the new incoming Kamen Rider would of course be Himuro Gentoku, who recently vowed revenge on Sento after Sawa and the crew exposed him and his treachery to a packed audience of loyal Touto officials, including his father Taizan. After his existing Night Rogue powers proved largely ineffective against the evolving powers of Build, it’s only natural that he’d seek an upgrade. Though I think it might be fun to pull another rabbit(tank) out of a hat and let the new Rider be Gentoku’s former aide and object of abuse, Utsumi. He’s due for some more karmic release, isn’t he? Making him a Kamen Rider with a similar look and feel to his old boss would be the perfect “screw you” to Gentoku’s shenanigans.

Whether it’s Gentoku, or Utsumi, or someone else behind that mask, I’m sure Build has plenty surprises left in store for us as we continue on this journey, which rarely fails to pay rapid dividends.

Episode 23 WHERE?!

 

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