This has to be some kind of record.
Looking back, I can’t recall a single Kamen Rider series that opened so strongly, with such consistent quality across the board, for a period as long as eight straight weeks. There may be some shows that started amazing but petered off a bit, others that steadily arc up from a slower opening, and more still that just kinda ride a wave of generally okay episodes back-to-back-to-back. None in memory can boast what Build can, not once suffering a major dip in quality in such a timeframe. It’s still early in the show’s run, but that’s worth celebrating. Kamen Rider Build is not messing around.
Last we saw, the gruesome twosome Ryuuga and Sento were hot on the trail of a lead that could potentially solve the murder of the man their lives have been inextricably linked with. Did Sento really kill Katsuragi Takumi, the young man given the ominous title of the Devil’s Scientist, or is there still a piece to this story we’re missing?
Beginning shortly after the events of last week, Katsuragi’s mother speaks with Hokuto’s authorities, who’ve shown up in response to the Kamen Rider sighting on their side of the Sky Wall. Moments after sending them away, she gets the duo from their hiding spot, asking fearfully if Blood Stalk’s sudden revelation was true. Was her son really responsible for creating Faust?
I like the juxtaposition of scenes here, jumping from the armed Hokuto guys at Mama Katsuragi’s place to Hokuto Prime Minister Tajimi Yoshiko lobbying complaints at Touto Prime Minister Himuro Taizan about Build and Smash monsters having battles in her territory. As time goes on, it seems as though everyone in this room, including Seito Prime Minister Midou Masakuni and Taizan’s own son Gentoku, has violent intentions for someone else in the room. All except for Taizan himself. Unless he’s just lying or attempting to appear gracious as a leader, his demeanor seems less aggressive than the others.
Which makes it that much more interesting when Gentoku steps forward and hangs up on Ms. Yoshiko mid-sentence after telling her to her holographic face that he won’t allow her to use this incident to start a conflict. He reiterates to dear ole dad that they’ve been changed by the light of the Pandora Box, to which Taizan fires back that Gentoku himself has changed. Which… makes perfect sense, considering he was also there, and had already admitted previously that everyone in attendance had their persona rewired somehow. Since Taizan apparently had somewhere else to be that day, he may be the only politician left playing with a full deck. He makes pleas for caution, advising to focus attention on concerns other than military pursuits, but Gentoku (like the others, surely) is driven by conspiratorial paranoia and a need for more power. Methinks daddy may not be long for this world if he doesn’t get with the program, fast.
I’m amused by how Blood Stalk just hangs around the Faust base in his armor. Not really doing anything. Maybe he just likes the feel of it on his skin? Of course, the likeliest reason is that his identity is still meant to be a secret, so he has ever-so-slightly awkward dialogue exchanges with humans, who just have to stare at his expressionless helmet as they talk back and forth. In this case, it’s Gentoku asking him what his problem is. Stalk responds as if he’s taken a puff or two of the Nebula Gas himself, essentially telling him “don’t worry, be happy”. That everything will resolve itself shortly, and the Rider System Gentoku’s desperate to keep advancing will soon get its much-needed upgrades.
Meanwhile, Mama Katsuragi feeds her strange guests with an omelette dish she used to make for her son. Ryuuga, being the lovably thoughtless guy he is, just flat-out tells her it’s not very tasty, but Sento’s reaction is quite different. I sort of knew he was going to end up loving it. Whatever their connection is, it’s clear that Sento and Takumi are very much alike, and it’s more than just a superficial thing. Sento actually gets misty-eyed eating the super-sweet eggs. As if there’s sentimental value there. Like the flavor triggered a latent memory. Oh Sento. You didn’t kill Takumi, you are Takumi!
Speaking of killing oneself, Mama Katsuragi drops the bombshell that her husband did exactly that after the Sky Wall incident that began this whole saga. Yet again, Build shows it’s unafraid to go for the jugular when it comes to modern kids tokusatsu and pushing boundaries often left unmolested in recent years. As one of the scientific minds involved in the Mars expedition that brought back the mysterious Pandora Box that activated the Sky Wall, he was racked with guilt, and a whirlwind of criticism drove him to take his own life, leaving Takumi fatherless and perhaps a little unbalanced.
The two versions of Takumi created for us by his mother and Gentoku couldn’t be more at odds, could they? Aside from him acting a little weird in both of their recollections, one portrays him as a promising lad with an inspiring drive, while the other paints him as a psychotic deviant who didn’t care who he hurt in pursuit of his frightening goals. Though Gentoku is hardly a reliable source, the truth may be somewhere in the middle. He really did get involved in some terrible stuff, but it’s possible that Faust didn’t get into the “let’s crush everyone who isn’t us” business until after Takumi was pushed aside. He may have been killed in a cover-up specifically so the likes of more ambitious, evil people could bypass whatever reservations he could have had about the direction they were headed.
Guys, I love this show. They’ve created a world that keeps delivering stuff that I couldn’t expect from most other Kamen Rider series. How often do you see two of your lead heroes stuffed into the trunk of a car because they’re fugitives who can’t be seen crossing the border between two divided territories? The mere idea that the Kamen Rider has to operate with such secrecy is a rare thing nowadays. That it’s taken to such a stark, realistic conclusion is blowing my mind in slow-motion.
So, Sento and Ryuuga make it across, but Gentoku & Friends immediately attack the car, dragging Katsuragi away before the others can save her. We do get another chance to see Ryuuga using Rider equipment without a Rider suit though, and that’s always a good time. Even if that blaster looks dreadfully silly in anyone’s hands, let alone a cranky man in clown shoes.
And the amazing drama just keeps unfolding, as Katsuragi awakens to the sight of Gentoku hovering over her, just as creepy as ever. He very calmly asks her to deliver unto them Takumi’s hidden research which she was visiting Touto to retrieve for the boys. Playing dirty, he tells her she can have the letter Takumi wrote to her before he died, but when she turns over the safety deposit box key she’d been keeping, the supposed letter is blank. Cold and unaffected, he tauntingly reminds her that her son rarely ever showed gratitude to his parents. Mama Katsuragi is about to slap the shit out of Gentoku, but the dutiful Utsumi is right there to catch her hand. I’m still waiting to find out who Utsumi is, aside from the most perfectly submissive manservant ever born, but considering how well the show has dealt with nearly everyone else so far, I’m sure he has some epic backstory just waiting to get blown up in a future episode.
In the meantime, Gentoku casually walks away after ordering that Katsuragi be exposed to the Nebula Gas, turning her into a Smash and effectively Men-in-Blacking her memories of the scene, slap and all. And finally, we see a return of one of the early monster suits used in the series.
I had wondered when we were going to get around to that, since the last time Kamen Rider had consistently introduced a brand new monster with almost every episode for the whole series was in the 80s. Throughout most of the 21st Century shows, we’d get the same monster for two-episode appearances and then that would be the end of them. More recently, we’d get a few of those, but then eventually those same costumes would appear again later, undoubtedly freeing up the show’s budget to focus on something else. The fact that this Smash gets a repainted body rather than just simply reusing the exact suit again is the bigger surprise. At least someone’s trying to differentiate, despite the old designs getting repurposed. And since some of those Smash were beaten very quickly the first time (sometimes two in one episode) I’ll expect this is just the beginning.
Feeding Ryuuga’s habit for funny cosplay, Soichi hands him his latest disguise, which actually seems like it belongs in the environment he’s running into this time. At a worksite, the hard hat saves Ryuuga from flying debris when the Smash attacks. Sento also gets to try out some new duds, changing into FireHedgehog form. And he didn’t even need Ryuuga to randomly show him a Best Match this time!
FireHedgehog is cool, but it’s not one of my favorites. I’m always curious about the inclination to pair a fire rescue theme with actual flamethrower weaponry. We’ve experienced this at least once before with Kamen Rider Fourze‘s Fire States. The water hose I get, since it’s a fire truck motif we’re going for, but then the Rider shoots actual fire. M’kay. I do like that I’ve found another finishing attack that I enjoy, with FireHedgehog filling up the Smash with water, swelling its body and then destroying it with a dropping punch. Given the choice between this and Build’s awkward Rider Kick, I’ll take the hedgehog.
After curing Katsuragi of the Smash essence, she reveals that the key was a false lead designed by Takumi to throw people off his scent if they ever came sniffing around. Upon retrieval of the real data, Sento and Ryuuga are attacked by Blood Stalk and Night Rogue.
This episode is full of interesting parallels. As the two duos battle it out for possession of the last remnants of Takumi’s work, we can see that they are like mirrors of each other. Like Sento and Ryuuga, Stalk and Rogue are on the same side, but constantly seem to get into each other’s way, even coming to blows over disagreements. While one councils restraint, the other wants to go in head-first with guns blazing. As one prefers a direct approach, another may decide to snake around the side entrance for a little trickery. They’re both at odds while seemingly working for the same essential purposes. And all four need to know what’s in that data drive.
I can’t decide which of the two villains I like more. Gentoku has an advantage in that he’s an actual person and you could follow his logic, at once understanding his desire to defend Touto against potential threats but also despising him for his calculated, manipulative treatment of those he sees as useful to his goals. He also just has a swagger that I can’t help but enjoy in the few instances so far we see him transform or use fantastical weaponry. Stalk remains a mystery, but his tendency to laugh off the most serious things, showing little remorse for the people he’s victimized, while also acting strangely encouraging to the heroes makes for a very interesting adversary. I want to know more.
Stalk surprises Rogue again by forcing an early end to the battle, allowing the good guys to escape with Takumi’s research, with the excuse that Sento is still probably the one best suited to accelerate the expansion of their Rider System plans anyway. The question is: Does he say this merely because Sento’s a genius, or because he knows Sento and Takumi are connected, and Sento is basically just looking over his own research, which he’s forgotten he had worked on?
It would also further drive home why it’s so easy for Sento to decipher Takumi’s hidden messages, the last of which is apparently meant for his mother, thanking her for his life. For someone with such a reserved personality, his parting words are about as emotional as she could have expected. She leaves the data drive in Sento’s capable hands and says goodbye, leaving me to wonder if, in a roundabout sort of way, this whole adventure was secretly about Sento reconnecting with his mom whom he (Takumi) could never quite talk to before his death. How many episodes into this are we again?
Despite the potential for bad news, we end with Sento choosing to open the drive and get some answers, but what he finds only leads to more questions. And, if this were a typical toku show, I might assume that we have weeks, possibly months before making any serious progress on these points, but this is Build. We’ll get there in minutes.
This was probably the least wacky episode of the series thus far. And while I can appreciate some of the over-the-top silliness Build sometimes goes for, it’s never what I’m really excited about, so this worked for me just fine. This was more about the increasing cruelty and darkness surrounding Faust, its members, and those affected by its monstrous reach. The strange connection felt between Sento and Takumi, and the widowed mother and teacher who has to fight for her son’s last legacy. We can save the banana peels for another day.
And with episodes like that, I’m counting those days until we can dive back into this world to see what happens next.
Next: Episode 9