Team TokuNet Contributor Sesker continues her review series of Kamen Rider Build with episode 22, analyzing the main flaws of its protagonist, Kiryu Sento.
In a franchise like Kamen Rider, where the heroes always derive their superpowered abilities from the same source as the villains, the distinction between the heroes and villains needs to be made clear through other means. To allow the audience to empathize with and cheer for the “heroes”, this happens by highlighting the difference between the motivating ideals of both sides. Heroes work for positive ideals which allow others to join with them as trusted allies and friends. On the other hand, villains betray and back-stab to gather power for themselves. Thus, when we reach the finale of a story arc, the isolated, lone villains find themselves losing against this power of teamwork gathered by the main protagonists of the story.
Kamen Rider Build is no different, but like last week, we see those positive ideals interrogated severely by unthinkable scenarios. In episode 21, Sento lost control and killed someone, refuting his naïve belief in a bloodless war. Destroying one of the major ideals which anchored his identity as a Kamen Rider is obviously a traumatic event. Here, Sento is forced to accept that guilt to find a way to move forward from his mistakes. Externally, the proxy battle he fights against Grease represents this development. But the audience might still have a pressing question on their minds from last week:
How can Sento possibly bear the guilt of being forced to take lives to protect them? Simply put, by realizing he doesn’t have to do so alone.
This idea is emphasized by contrasting the trust built up by the main protagonists with the villains of this story. First of all, I stated that villains in these stories generally gain power by isolating themselves above others, merely using others selfishly. We can see that as all the major powers affected by Pandora’s Box constantly engage in greedy schemes of warfare to fight for sole control over it.
Even though she agrees to the Touto Prime Minister’s idea of hosting a proxy-battle, the Hokuto PM plans to invade Touto if her chosen champion fails either way. At the same time, Blood Stalk has his own ploy in place. When Sento wins the fight, he double-crosses her, revealing his involvement with the third regional power, Seito. While she focuses her forces on invading Touto, they strike in a coup to gain control of the region as well.
If you haven’t been able to tell already, Blood Stalk is conniving to use all sides constantly for his own personal aims. Although what those are aside from “create stronger Riders” is anyone’s guess at this point. Nonetheless, he achieves his means by manipulating every single other character to distrust each other.
Even Sento himself has been affected by this distrust. Before Souichi was revealed to be Blood Stalk, he mentored Sento, teaching him how to fight for peace and justice as a Rider. Sento’s deeply held ideals, which now drive him to sacrifice himself for others, came from Souichi’s example first. Even after Sento discovered his true identity, Blood Stalk still advises him in this manner. This twisted fatherly advice is how Sento received the Hazard Trigger in the first place! Stalk assured him it was the only way to stop Ryuga from losing control of himself to the Sclash Driver’s power and that Sento was the only one who could save him.
Unfortunately, Sento picks up on that manipulative example all too well.
He refuses to let Banjo fight this proxy battle, for fear of him losing control of his Cross-Z Charge form. He doesn’t trust him to be able to control it on his own. He attempts to lie to Misora to convince her to use a kill switch he designed. With the catch that the kill switch destroys the Hazard Trigger and Sento himself. When she sees through the lie and refuses, he guilts her into it by saying they both were responsible for creating Build. He doesn’t trust her to be able to make that decision when necessary.
Sento finds a selfless heroic impulse in Misora and manipulates it to force her to take a horrifically unthinkable action. This is exactly how Stalk has operated through this whole series. There’s a great deal of irony in that scene when Sento claims he’ll think of a way to prevent him from losing control of the Hazard Trigger. However, by refusing to involve Misora or Ryuga in developing that plan, he’s automatically handicapping his ability to find a TRUE third option. Left alone, he really thinks this is the best option he can invent.
Just think – when was the last time Sento exclaimed “Now, let’s begin the experiment!” before a fight or had the same passion working on his new gadgets for his Best Match forms? He’s despairing in any possibility of finding a better way. Blood Stalk’s prodding and his own narcissistic guilt have painted him into a corner.
We learn through other flashbacks this episode that Sawatari Kazami (Kamen Rider Grease) did the same thing. He sought to protect his friends by becoming a Kamen Rider, isolating himself from them. He also lied about losing his memories to keep them away further still, but after losing Aoba last week and nearly getting his head punched clean off in this episode, Kazami rededicates himself to fighting together with them instead.
During the proxy battle, which serves as the focal point to this episode, Sento is forced to use the Hazard Trigger and loses control, but even if he can’t find the third way, his friends haven’t forgotten him. Sento may have rejected this trust, but Ryuga didn’t. He steps in front of Sento’s punch and fights him to a standstill. In the process, he overcomes his own limitations to gain control of Cross-Z Charge.
As someone pointed out to me earlier this week – Blood Stalk was correct. Sento was able to stop Ryuga from going completely berserk by using the Hazard Trigger himself, but was that the ONLY way or could another solution have been found if only the two of them decided to work together earlier?
Ryuga even says as much when Sento claims he alone stopped him from killing Grease. No, it was all of them together – Misora’s anguish at the decision forced on her, Sawa’s determination to convince him to fight, and Ryuga’s own courage to step up and overcome his own fears.
This whole arc has been characterized by an impulse of martyrdom for all the characters. If they can end this conflict only by sacrificing other lives, they choose to offer their own up instead. Last week impressed on the characters – and the audience – that death may be inevitable in this conflict. However, here we see that cost can be mitigated, or even avoided, by understanding others and choosing to trust in them, rather than taking all responsibility onto one’s self.
It’s only fitting that we see this theme of unity and cooperation emphasized in a series that’s literally titled Build.