Team TokuNet Contributor Sesker continues her review series of Kamen Rider Build with episode 23, explaining some ways the show continues to maintain audience investment.
There are many challenges in crafting an effective story, but one of the most difficult challenges comes from creating an emotional connection between the audience and the narrative. Showing events occurring in sequence isn’t telling a “story”, the creators also need to provide a reason for the viewers to invest their time and interest into following those events. Kamen Rider Build has done an excellent job of that so far. This episode illustrates several of the ways it accomplishes that task.
First of all, we see a clear connection and fulfillment of the major themes argued for in the last few episodes. In episodes 21 and 22, the show presented the idea that Sento and the other heroes were unintentionally handicapping their own efforts by isolating themselves from their friends and allies. In this episode, after Sento and Ryuga came to that realization last week, we see their characters distinctly change how they address conflicts.
For example, Sento allows others to fight in his place. Rather than insisting on struggling through every battle on his own, he hands over the Hokuto bottles to Sawatari (Kamen Rider Grease) in order for them to fight and rescue their own comrade. Later on, Sento trusts Ryuga to disengage him from Hazard Trigger when he loses control of it again.
With that extra level of support, Sento can now focus more on working to gain better control. We also can see it’s slowly starting to pay off, it took longer this week for that same destructive impulse to take over.
Unfortunately, the Hokuto fighters haven’t come to the same conclusion regarding the necessity of teamwork. Sawatari loses another one of his friends when Kiba flies off to fight alone. Like last week, there perhaps wasn’t a way to end this fight without someone dying, but Kiba and the others are still too willing to throw themselves at death for each others’ sakes rather than trusting in their own ability to protect each other.
Later on, seeing how Sento and Ryuga fight together against the Gears, Sawatari remarks “It’s no wonder we lost.” Both of them fight as equals, rather than self-sacrificing martyrs.
Souichi (Blood Stalk) seems to envision a scenario where constant distrust and conflict between individuals drives them to grow stronger. It fits his mode of operation to this point, but the audience can see that while the Riders may not always get along with each other, the bonds of trust they’ve forged allow them to gain more strength than they could otherwise. That same teamwork forges new bonds with the Hokuto Riders in this episode and now they fight together as allies to protect both Touto and Hokuto from the newly-revealed forces of Seito
Clear, consistent thematic and character development certainly helps to sell an audience’s investment in a narrative. It marks resolution and catharsis to reward viewers’ attention during these arcs. There’s a clear difference between where the show begins and where it has ended up at this point, but aside from the nitty-gritty of character development, there’s also a much simpler, more visceral way to sell a show. Sheer spectacle.
The reveal of Seito’s forces and the new Rider – Rogue – has this in spades.
Obviously, the clear character development before this point helps. The Gear brothers are a dark mirror of the teamwork we’ve seen expounded on by the heroes. They fight together, but it’s a model of efficiency rather than natural respect between the two of them. Fitting with the mechanical motif they use, but the mechanics of the fight choreography also contribute to it a good deal. Grease’s initial fight against them works because it doesn’t immediately make him look like trash. He keeps up at first against them, but it’s quickly made clear he can’t handle both at the same time.
The suit actors do a fantastic job here. Both of the brothers come off as complete jerks in how they deal with the Hokuto Riders. Callous, jeering and uncaring towards civilian casualties, the show makes it very easy to root for their demise. However, they’re not the real draw of this episode. That would be the new Rider who has been built up by previews before this point and saved for the very end of the episode. Kamen Rider Rogue.
Everything about him screams DANGER in the same way Hazard Trigger did. The unmoving suit-acting, the black color scheme, the cracking, breaking glass which accompanies his transformation sequences – right down to the blood-curdling SCREAM which punctuates the belt’s sound effects. He’s introduced in a dark tunnel, keeping the audience guessing “who’s that guy?” through the whole scene and the fight which follows.
The fight scene itself is a remarkable change of pace, from the more evenly-matched struggles we had seen before this point. This, again, is sold by the suit acting. Rogue doesn’t so much as budge when hit with Ryuga and Sento’s kicks and punches from their strongest forms. One would think the characters would have realized by this point, the secret to winning fights is to just spam finishers constantly, which is what Rogue does. He dismantles both of our heroes with very creatively-framed attacks which effectively combine practical explosions and flashy CGI lasers mimicking the snapping jaws of a crocodile.
It’s a fight which immediately grabs the audiences’ attention because of how quickly it’s ended and how singularly ineffective the heroes’ attacks were in the process. A viewer might be left just as dumbfounded as the characters themselves, wondering who this new challenger is.
Build doesn’t play its cards too close to its vest, but it always manages to find a way to up the ante in interesting ways when the hands are laid down regardless. We saw the same direction when Sento was revealed as an amnesiac Katsuragi. It was telegraphed hard in advance, but the show instead moves to focus on lingering questions. How does Sento reconcile his past with his current heroic drive? What other secrets in his research has he forgotten?
Similarly, Gentoku’s reveal raises some intriguing questions. Why did Gentoku seek out Blood Stalk after being humiliated by him previously? What happened to him in the weeks between to gain this power? What will happen when he confronts his father in the next episode? These new conflicts all help to keep momentum going through this show and lead to it being such a blast to watch each week. Combined with striking effects work, strong fight direction and consistently well-crafted character development. Build continues to keep interest high in a way I feel is pretty unique among other Kamen Rider seasons.