Team TokuNet Contributor Sesker reviews Kamen Rider Build episode 21 and dives into the interesting storyline unfolding.
Kamen Rider Build, even only 21 episodes in, has provided an interesting fusion of old themes and styles, with an updated modern aesthetic. The setting itself is unique for Kamen Rider in general. It’s difficult to think of another series which focuses heavily on a wider, political conflict and the Riders’ impact on it.
This conflict has been upgraded recently to all-out war, with Hokuto’s forces invading Touto to demand control of Pandora’s Box – and the bottles needed to unlock its full potential. Surprisingly, even with the characters’ actions creating impacts on such an uncharacteristically broad scale, some familiar tropes within Kamen Rider stories are still apparent.
Kamen Rider stories typically have focused on smaller, more personal scales. The fight a Rider engages in is often secretive and conspiratorial, as the enemies they face are usually involved in secretive conspiracies. Here, the existence of the Riders is public knowledge, and their fight played out in an ostentatious, full-scale military conflict instead. The past few episodes have focused on the cost of that all-out war, illustrating Sento’s struggle to reconcile the necessity of violence with his own desire for peace and normalcy.
In this episode, however, the awful consequences of such a struggle are brought into stark relief. Here, the concerns and motivations of all the characters are crystallized around one specific concept. In the implicit behavior of the Riders and the explicit distinction of the cinematography itself, we see the idea of silence emphasized. The most obvious use of this theme comes from highlighting how scary Sento’s Hazard Trigger form is.
He doesn’t lose control of it immediately. He starts off by trying to talk sense into Banjo who is still single-handedly trying to defeat the Hokuto forces, but when the switch is flipped, everything goes silent. Not just Sento’s lines, but his doubts, hesitation and even the soundtrack itself.
The silence haunts this episode even after the awful consequences of Sento’s actions are revealed. Aoba – Aikawa Shuuya- doesn’t pass away to some sweeping orchestral backing, but only to the sound of rushing water from the background.
Sento is left in silence in the week following, unable to become Build again to fight, and unable to do much anything else either. He’s left in silence when the newly-reinstated Prime Minister of Touto tries to convince him to fight in a proxy battle. He’s speechless and paralyzed when trying to seek answers both from Grease (Sawatari Kazami) and from Blood Stalk (Souichi Isuguri) later in the episode.
This outward silence also reveals an internal paradox. Sento is paralyzed because he can’t silence his own doubts and fears to focus on his immediate actions. He is terrified of his actions after activating his Hazard Trigger form, when those doubts were silenced by the overwhelming impulse to destroy, as Katsuragi warned before. Sento’s primary flaw has always been his tendency to take all responsibility onto himself, and worry about trying to fix everything. In the process, he often misses what is very obvious, and plain before him. This is most apparent in his complementary relationship to Ryuga. In comparison, Ryuga is very good at seeing the obvious, but not necessarily in thinking through all the consequences of his actions.
When Sento uses Hazard Trigger, it focuses him on the immediate means to achieve his stated ends, i.e. beating his opponents. However, with the loss of his doubts, he also loses a sense of mercy and proportionality in his fights. This shows the primary conflict, not just of Build, but Kamen Rider in general.
Kamen Riders are, either explicitly or metaphorically, inhuman. Souichi states this when Sento confronts him, but we’ve known since the first episode that both Sento and Ryuga underwent treatment to become Smash monsters. Though, at the same time Riders are not just weapons. They still have human hearts. Weapons don’t fight to protect others. A rifle doesn’t choose to sacrifice itself for its rifleman as Aoba chose to follow Grease.
Sento’s own human heart causes him to shut down after using Hazard Trigger. He can’t reconcile how to hold the value of other lives while putting them at risk while fighting as a Rider. Nonetheless, at the same time, if he becomes like Blood Stalk and throws aside those emotional connections for power, then he’ll also destroy what he wants to protect.
How do you fight for justice when injustice against another is a prerequisite of that end?
Sento is paralyzed by this question for a full week, but we can start to see a path forward from how others around him behave. First, the Prime Minister seeks to minimize casualties by calling a sort of trial-by-combat between the Riders. If war is necessary, then it should be limited to those who have willingly chosen to participate in this violence, rather than involving innocent civilians.
Both Gentoku and his father wanted to protect the people of Touto. However, Gentoku saw that end as only being achieved through the means of disproportionate violence, and has forgotten the primary goal of protecting human lives. He silenced his conscience to do what he thought was right, then lost his understanding of what “right” looks like. His means of power became the end itself, in other words.
As awful as the weight of responsibility must be on his father, the Prime Minister still harbors that same concern for other lives. It’s the harder way but allows him to seek better outcomes rather than compromising in brutality.
The second example comes from Grease’s own reaction to Aoba’s death.
We had previously been led to believe he was completely emotionless, knowing nothing other than a lust for fighting. But the past couple weeks have slowly shown that he remembers more, and has more empathy for others than he lets on. In this episode, he admits to Sento that he still cares deeply for those around him, even though their fight puts them at risk. That understanding of their value even drives him to keep on fighting his hardest.
This episode portrays a paradox, where Sento is forced to do something he finds abhorrent, and commit actions he can’t be forgiven for. At the same time, if he accepts this as necessarily inevitable and he loses that hesitation and fear, then he truly becomes inhuman. We’ve seen the consequences of silencing his doubts, of disproportionate power without mercy. It might be the case that no one can afford mercy in this circumstance. At the same time though, to entirely disregard it as unimportant and to cease striving for it will lead to even worse circumstances.
Souichi wants him to cast aside those emotional connections in order to protect those he is connected to, but Sento is going to have to choose the harder path. He needs to retain the same conscience which terrifies him to the point of being violently ill and choose to fight anyways.
In conclusion, this episode is a remarkable synthesis of several arcs of story and character development, constructed over the course of the first half of the series. Build doesn’t pull any of its punches in selling the tragedy of Aoba’s death and Sento’s trauma over it. In addition, this episode features stellar fight choreography and visually interesting cinematography which reinforces the implicit thematic material. Combined with impressive performances from all the actors involved, it makes a narrative which is at once heart-shatteringly tragic, and yet impossible to tear oneself away from. All of these aspects together have led to one of the most memorably gripping mid-seasons of any Kamen Rider series.