Team TokuNet Contributor Sesker returns to her review series of Kamen Rider Build with episode 37. After new, shocking revelations and heartbreaking losses against the now-revealed final boss, she analyzes what drives the heroes on to continue fighting.
It can be tough for any show to keep interest high over a 50-episode run. Kamen Rider Build has more or less managed that through methods outlined in previous articles. However, the show also has a unique challenge to address thanks to its focus from one single threat over almost its entire season. Blood Stalk was first assumed to only be a minor flunky to the organization of Faust at the start of the series, but as the show’s stakes have escalated, so has his standing to become the main villain and mastermind as Evolt.
When a story has to stretch for an entire year, it can be difficult to vary up the plot enough to keep the audience’s interest, and still maintain focus on a single villain. It’s too easy to accidentally make the bad guy seem incompetent as the heroes foil all their plans. On the other hand, if the heroes have no victories of their own, it simply becomes a grind to watch every week. How can a writer sell a single villain as a consistently threatening antagonist without making them too brutally overpowering? The last major arc of Build made a smart move to help find that balance. While Evolt continues to be the main villain, it instead shifted the focus of the characters opposing him.
Previously, Blood Stalk/Evolt was presented as the opposite to Sento, but then it was revealed Ryuga has an even closer connection to Evolt’s own power. From the first episode, Ryuga was a sort of everyman-perspective character. Sento was selfless to a fault, but Ryuga only fought at first to claim his ordinary life stolen from him and in memory of another life stolen in the process as well. With the reveal that Ryuga was first possessed by a part of Evolt before he was even born and carries extraterrestrial DNA, he was forced to reexamine what his previously “ordinary” life actually serves. With the purpose of that life, he also re-examined why he chooses to continue fighting as a Rider.
This scenario provided novel questions to press Ryuga, but fans of the Kamen Rider franchise should recognize this as a common dilemma among other Riders. The process of becoming a Rider is almost always isolating and dehumanizing, either metaphorically or literally. Why then, do Riders choose to fight as Riders, rather than becoming monsters themselves?
Even from the first episode, Ryuga has sought to find a reason outside of himself to fight. That reason eventually became a desire to live up to the ideals Sento had exemplified, first when saving him in the pilot episode, and many times again. That desire to answer Sento’s own selfless efforts led him to achieve new power with his Magma upgrade and face down Evolt to save his partner’s life in episode 35. Unfortunately, that attempt failed, since Evolt counted on this newfound strength to raise Ryuga’s Hazard Level to the point where he could be repossessed. With Ryuga’s body, he unlocked even more of his repressed power, coming closer to the form he once used to destroy Mars.
Sento then used his science to create a way to exceed his own Hazard Level in an attempt to kill Evolt and free Ryuga, which also backfires.
It’s easy to get frustrated with the show before this point since most episodes consist of every new achievement from the Riders being confounded and turned against them. With this episode, however, we start to see the continued stubborn efforts of the heroes begin to pay off.
This episode’s primary focus consists of Ryuga attempting to regain his ability to transform with the Build system, but a similar internal conflict is shared by all three of the Riders. With Evolt on the edge of full restoration and their best hope of developing a countermeasure claimed by the alien conqueror, what emotional drive can motivate them to keep up the fight?
Just like with Ryuga’s motivation in earlier episodes, Sento’s example unites them all again. Sento’s sacrifices don’t only buy them time before destruction. We also see more concretely how his insistence on fighting for selfless morals of “love and peace” have made lasting impacts on the other Riders. First Ryuga, then Kazumi, and now Gentoku find a way to keep fighting past despair, to follow his example. Evolt even notes the fitting circumstance, with the Riders who formerly represented the Hokuto and Seito regions joining together in an attempt to stop him and save Sento.
Up to this point, Evolt has orchestrated the growth in Hazard levels between all of the other Riders. Those manipulations were intended to force the characters to become stronger bodies for him to use as stepping stones towards his true form. In this episode’s showdown though, even bereft of Evolt’s genetic material – now known to be key to unlocking Hazard levels to empower the Riders – Ryuga still manages to reclaim his power from the Evol Dragon bottle. It’s a great way of tying together explicitly-developed mechanics of the series with singular, emotionally cathartic moments. Ryuga proves this power is his own to use, not Evolt’s, and takes back his Cross-Z Dragon form to help contribute to the fight once again.
Evolt is utterly confounded by the ability of the characters to achieve greater power through nothing else besides their belief in protecting “love and peace”. The Riders haven’t scored significant victories in a long time before this episode. However, since Evolt was revealed, their constant harrying of his plans have bought enough time to at least piss him off. With all three of the Riders working together and newly-strengthened by their shared ideals, we see Evolt out of ideas for the first time. All he has left is to try and stave off defeat in the face of a triple Rider Kick finisher by using the unfinished Black Hole trigger to attempt to block it
Unfortunately, desperately fighting against impossible odds doesn’t just empower our heroes. It appears to work the same way for Evolt. While still using Sento’s body, that last push gives him enough strength to finally unlock his true form.
To make the ending of the episode even more ironic, Sento’s identity is lost after separating from Evolt. The other Riders fought so hard in memory of his ideals, yet Katsuragi is the one who answers Ryuga when he wakes up. Is Sento’s personality gone for good after being consumed by Evolt, the same way Ryuga’s Hazard level was burnt away? Can the ideals our heroes fight to protect sway the Devil’s Scientist to help them?
With only 13 episodes remaining in the series, and now Evolt in possession of his final form, there’s not much time left to find out. Nonetheless, just as the heroes’ motivations and identities were explored in novel situations before, it’ll be interesting to see a new angle to Katsuragi’s own persona developed in the endgame.