Team TokuNet Contributor Sesker continues her review series of Kamen Rider Build with episode 25. Here, the show wrestles with free will and agency through its cast of characters.
One of the key questions of the original Pandora’s Box fable deals with free will and how it is used. It’s expected that Kamen Rider Build would also tackle the subject. We see it in the choices all the characters have made, whether freely or through obligation and fatal responsibility. This episode also highlights it in a few unique ways, while building further on the various mysteries of the show’s plot.
The previous episode left off on a cliffhanger. Just when it seemed Himuro Gentoku, the newly revealed Kamen Rider Rogue would defeat Sento and the other Riders, Misora arrived, under an unknown influence. Equally as unknown, what she intended to do at the scene.
It’s immediately resolved this week, but what happens raises further questions for the main characters in the show. She wills the Sky Wall partially open, telekinetically heaves Rogue and the two Engine Gear brothers over it, then gives one cryptic word “Evolt” before collapsing. A discussion with the closest thing this series has to a “main” antagonist so far, her father, goes nowhere, so Sento takes a more direct approach.
Back at his lab, he analyzes the bracelet directly. This reveals more about the force which controlled Misora but also hints at the origin and purpose of the items retrieved from Mars. In the data collected from the mysterious bracelet, they both see remnants of the destruction of an alien civilization. Misora says she has seen that image before, whenever she purifies the Full Bottles. It is her determination to prevent a similar fate on Earth which drives her ability to do exactly that.
This subplot in the episode highlights this theme of free will and agency in two specific ways. First, Although she is not a Rider herself, Misora is just as involved with the plot as the other heroes. She has had a deep impact on Sento’s own character development. Her almost-sibling bond with him has helped to drive him further to fight and protect others. At the same time, it gave Sento time to step back and care about his own value when he was grappling with the use of Hazard Trigger earlier in the show.
However, we see Misora desires not just to be protected, but also to protect. It is clear she is terrified of the unknown nature and cause of her powers stemming from Pandora’s Box. Nonetheless, seeing Sento and Ryuga use their own dangerous powers for the good of others encourages her to do the same. This episode gives the audience, as well as Sento, an understanding of just how hard she struggles to live up to the responsibility thrust upon her. Anyone would be upset if they were forced to see the extinction of all life on a planet repeatedly, in order to create the Full Bottles.
It’s commendable to see a supporting female cast member used in this manner, not just representing the same themes as the protagonists, but also taking an obvious role in directing the events of the plot. Her actions make a clear difference, not just in the development of Sento and Ryuga’s characters. It goes above that in making her a key piece of the show’s main plot since she’s connected to the powers driving the setting’s conflict. Rather than fading into the background, it should be expected for her to take an even more prominent role moving forward into the second half of the show.
The agency of the other Riders is obvious in this episode as well. Sento, Ryuga, and now Kazumi, are not just passive bystanders who react to encroaching plots by the villains but lay plots of their own. After they were tipped off to Seito’s use of spies loyal to Nanba Heavy Industries, they set a trap in order to lure out the Engine bros. In the process, they also locate the leak in Touto’s own government supplying the false information.
The spy and the Engine brothers tie into the larger theme of free will. We learn in this episode that Nanba Heavy Industries’ president personally oversees a program which effectively brainwashes children into serving his own proprietary interests. Even Utsumi, Gentoku’s former aide, is a part of the program. This brings a contrast between the heroes and antagonists into sharper focus. While the main Riders all have freely chosen their own actions, the enemies they face now do not have that same independent will.
Overall, the episode lightened the mood a bit from the last few weeks. We see real progress made by the heroes, not just against Seito’s intelligence, but also in understanding the larger stakes and purposes of their war. Here, the main Riders and Misora have all found a way to work together to use their resources and information to create specific advantages against the terrors they face. Sento even uses his old “I have the winning formula!” catchphrase this week, to represent that regained confidence.
At least, the episode was lighter until another reveal drops. Something our heroes should’ve been able to see coming, but didn’t. The Prime Minister’s aide wasn’t the only spy for Seito. Through this still-unknown mole, Seito’s forces find the real hiding place for Pandora’s Box and Rogue kills the final member of Kazumi’s team to then takes the box. Even in this tragedy, we see the agency of the heroes. Akaba, the Castle Smash who has fought alongside Kazumi this entire time, knows what he’s up against when Rogue walks into the building. And yet charges him anyways. Afterwards, Kazumi even praises his willingness to keep fighting for his friends, to protect those he cares about with his life.
There are several ways Kamen Rider Build has created interesting characters, paced its plot out engagingly, and kept audiences on the edge of their seats each week. The narrative methods used this week hurt even more because, by all rights, everything should have gone smoothly for the protagonists. They took advantage of their own skills and plans to fight back, and showed their determination to end this war against a crushing representation of military-industrial superiority. Yet, it still doesn’t seem to be enough.
Even Misora’s own determination initially seems to be mistakenly used here, putting her in danger during the middle of a fight where Sento is forced to use Hazard Trigger. What initially seems to be foolish bravado from her, may end up giving our heroes what they need to finally defeat Gentoku and Seito’s forces. Her own courage with the other Riders gives rise to something else which came from the Pandora’s Box of legend – hope. In this case, the hope to keep fighting to prevent the destruction we saw this week from Mars’ history.