TokuNet writer Malunis takes a look at 10 episodes of Kamen Rider Zero-One, covering the show’s final story arc, and a review of the show as a whole. Due to this being the final review, there are spoilers for the finale.
Episode 36: “I Am the Ark and a Kamen Rider”
The Humagears of Metsuboujinrai have awakened the true power of the Ark. Jin, teaming up with Yua, had been trying to get to this point so that they could bring the Ark out into the open and attack it, but things don’t pan out that way. The Ark possesses Horobi, transforming into Kamen Rider Ark-Zero, proving to be stronger than any previous threat, taking down Zero-One and Vulcan in a quick fight.
This episode can more or less be considered the first to be filmed in June, when Toei resumed filming. There’s several shots that have been cited as being clever ways to employ social distancing, and if you don’t have a keen eye for that stuff, it isn’t super obvious. Not like 35.5. But anyway.
Things immediately get dialed up as we see the unstoppable power of Ark-Zero! This is a rad Rider design, though I will say the transformation is… a bit weird? I almost get what it’s going for but the sound choices don’t really work for me.
I like that the episode kind of sprung on us what’s been going on with Jin, which was one of the subjects of my last two sets of predictions (more on those at the end) – it actually makes sense that Jin’s motives were always to turn on Metsuboujinrai, considering previous exchanges.
Something I didn’t touch upon in the summary, because it’s relatively unrelated to all of this, is Fuwa; He realizes now that if his parents didn’t die in the false memories implanted in his head, that means they’re still alive, and it makes sense he’d not know since A.I.M.S. apparently forbade family communication for valid reasons. We don’t get to see him interact with them directly but they seem nice, and you immediately see where Fuwa gets his sense of humor! It’s adorable.
Also adorable is Ai-chan, a new Humagear AI in the form of a marketable gadget. I suspect this was a big help when it comes to social distancing.
Episode 37: “That Which is Unstoppable”
As Aruto and Fuwa face off against the might of Ark-Zero, Jin tries to convince them to run. Ark-Zero stops possessing Horobi at that point, now taking over Jin. The fear brought on by a killer AI of this magnitude causes Aruto to start to lose faith in Humagears, until he’s encountered by Hiden vice-president Fukuzoe – due to Gai Amatsu’s dangerous plans for the Raidriser, he and Yamashita come to Aruto to find a Humagear who can help bring Gai down. When Shesta is brought back online, she manages to find 1,843 incidents within Hiden’s company records, more than enough to take him out of the leading role.
Meanwhile, Gai takes on Ark-Zero after being informed of its presence, only to be encountered by all four of the Metsuboujinrai crew as Riders. They manage to not only disarm his Battle Raiders, but also leave him severely injured. Zero-One attempts to fight Ark-Zero, but is once again overpowered – he would be cornered, if it weren’t for Ark-Zero mysteriously stepping away. When all is said and done, Gai returns to Hiden only to learn that there will be a meeting to review his wrongdoings and decide on his dismissal.
I don’t even think I’ve ever written out the name Fukuzoe, but he deserves it now. Back when the show started, his role as a foil to Aruto led me to think HE would be in the role that Gai is now, a replacement president who needs to be taken down a peg, but I’m pleasantly surprised he has heart. As Gai plans to make ZAIA Spec users go berserk to demonstrate the importance of the Raidriser, he shows some moral high ground.
A small side plot that I didn’t get to talk about, but is worth mentioning, is Yua’s current state where she feels like she has to apologize for all she’s done. I, and others who saw this episode, had a suspicion this was the first step towards a redemption arc that ends in death, buuut thankfully we don’t have to worry about that.
This episode also features the debut of Kamen Rider Naki, fittingly using a wolf motif – I like it. It’s our first agender Rider! Well, at least by intent. You could make arguments for other non-humans if you want.
Episode 38: “I am 1000% Your Friend”
Gai goes into hiding in the Hiden president’s lab, deleting his criminal record within the company, but he still can’t connect to ZEA in order to mass-produce the Raidriser. Aruto manages to show up, and gives him a quick beating, only to have to run and track down Ark-Zero. When Gai is alone with Ai-chan, she manages to bring forth a memory of why Gai became who he is: His father.
A beloved part of his childhood was Thouser, as a robotic dog AI created by Hiden, which his father took away from him so that he could put 1000% focus on studies. ZEA creates a new version of the Thouser dog, leading to a change of heart. As Zero-One tries his best to stop Ark-Zero from getting to ZEA, Thouser shows up, with his namesake dog. He declares his actual love for Hiden, and proclaims that he wants to work together with Zero-One to take down the Ark.
So begins the Gai redemption arc… Right off the bat, not buying it. Gai has been written to be the most unlikable guy, and has become increasingly irredeemable as he takes control of Hiden. Their attempt to ease us into the memories of a young Gai are too sudden and the time spent on the dog from his childhood feels too brief, though I get that it’s implied he had the dog for a while. Even so, the reasoning of “Maybe I just acted like I hated Hiden because I actually loved it!” just doesn’t make sense.
This episode had a couple other points of interest that aren’t in my episode summary, such as Yua coming to realize maybe A.I.M.S. is her calling since the squad prefers her in charge instead of all this ZAIA nonsense, and we also get a glimpse that Ikazuchi might be having some conflicts soon…
Oh, the dog is also product placement for Sony’s Aibo. Not really a bad thing, just an observation. Wonder if the Sony connection makes it complicated for them to make merchandise.
Episode 39: “That Conclusion Is Unpredictable”
Thouser helps rescue Jin from Ark-Zero’s grasp, but even with his apology to everyone, he has a lot to make up for. Due to his memories as Raiden, Ikazuchi manages to escape Daybreak and come to Aruto personally with a plan of attack. However, it turns out to be a trap planned out by Ark-Zero, who specifically allowed Ikazuchi to become Raiden so that he could act as an unwilling spy once more. With Gai acting as an unexpected factor, Ark-Zero’s plans have changed. Now it aims to take the Zero-One Driver from Aruto, gaining full control of ZEA…
Let’s do our check in on Gai’s redemption arc. It’s with this episode that I actually start to trust the show a bit, because the characters collectively have a well-reasoned response to Gai: He’s gonna have to gain their trust and forgiveness. I love that. I love that Aruto knows what’s up. I’m glad that Yua and Fuwa have the self-respect to specifically use this to make A.I.M.S. more independent. It’s the best thing to come out of this bad redemption arc.
The stuff with Ikazuchi/Raiden was also heartbreaking. I love Raiden, it was nice to get him back, I knew what they were doing, and worst of all… I didn’t realize he legit got his memories back and was just a sleeper agent again. Poor guy.
Episode 40: “Toward Our Dream”
While Aruto and Jin are recovering at Aruto’s company, Ark-Zero breaks in and destroys it, followed by a shot to the chest that kills Aruto. Izu is at a loss for words, and shows an unusual sign of tears as she wishes for Aruto’s return. As the city sees destruction at the hands of Ark-Zero, one by one the other Riders trying to stop him are killed off, until finally… Izu is brought back to Aruto’s company, where it seems like it was all a dream. However, as she watches the scene play out over and over, the truth becomes clear.
ZEA and Izu are linked, and this held the key to overcoming the Ark. She was put through several simulations, and it caused her to reach singularity, bringing back ZEA so that they could create a new form to stop Ark-Zero: Kamen Rider Zero-Two. Using this new form, Ark-Zero is given a thorough beating, knocking Ikazuchi’s body out of it. Before all is said and done, Horobi shows up to take Ikazuchi back, proclaiming that the Ark won’t be gone until ZEA is as well.
Finally, after having it be out there for so long, we see the debut of Zero-Two! A nice sleek final form, with a name choice that folks expected to see pretty early on. Having it be a mix of human and Humagear, with a bit of ZEA to counter the Ark-Zero design, is all pretty sweet. It’s a fitting final form. And it’s also the latest final form debut we’ve had since Kuuga, which had one in the final episode.
The one setback is that, in some ways, it is a bit too similar to Shining Hopper. Whereas Shining Hopper predicted attacks using combat data, I think the idea here is that Zero-Two is directly connected to ZEA for a similar effect, arguably better. Still, I like it.
We’re really gearing up for a finale huh?
Episode 41: “Take Thine Neighbor’s Hand!”
After the Ark lost a battle against Zero-Two, the Metsuboujinrai crew is curious why it hasn’t given them new orders. While everyone questions what they’d do without guidance, Horobi seems especially lost. Gai resigns from Hiden Intelligence in light of the destruction caused by the Ark’s hacking of the city, and gives the role of its president back to Aruto. Humagears are brought back to aid the city, and peace seems like it could be restored.
However, the Ark takes control of Horobi, attempting to kill Jin. Horobi manages to come to his senses to protect Jin, then teams up with Aruto when the Ark possesses Jin. In the end, the Ark is brought offline, but Horobi decides what he will do without the Ark’s guidance: Bring humanity to extinction so that something like the Ark never exists again.
This is where Metsuboujinrai’s cult-like mentality really gets tested, and I LOVE it. These are characters following orders that were supposed to bring them to some ideal place, but now they’re shaken when they seem to have halted. It’s interesting where the characters go as a result, with Naki observing Fuwa and the Humagears, and Ikazuchi reuniting with Subaru – this is the kind of stuff I would was too good to be true! Ikazuchi did a big thing to take down the Ark! Good for him.
Horobi is one I felt mixed on at the time. He seemed to be accepting that humans and Humagears could live together, but ultimately decides humans are the bad guys still? I mean, I get the reasoning, I just figured we were ending a conflict. We got a few more episodes so let’s see if that was the right choice…
Episode 42: “For as Long as There’s Malice”
Izu is given a simulation from the Ark’s Azu, suggesting that Horobi will become the vessel for the Ark’s new form, Ark-One, and will take Aruto’s life with his fearsome power. As such, she approaches Horobi and is Magia to try and stop the fighting. When her attempts to reason fail, Horobi takes her life to prove his point. Aruto mourns her death only to be visited by Azu. As Horobi and the Magia destroy the city, Ark-One shows itself and gives Horobi a quick beating, only to disengage his transformation and reveal himself to be Aruto, shaking with malice and using a very dangerous belt from Azu.
Ark-One… it was expected that Ark-Zero would get a power-up just from the moment you see the hinge design on the belt, but it’s truly fascinating how it turned out to be Aruto. It’s a very cool twist. But I have more to say on it towards the end here, because it relates to how the characters were written overall.
On a related note, let’s once again check in with Gai and his redemption arc. Due to his reputation, he’s been replaced at ZAIA! Mr. Yotagaki Williamson takes the helm, reducing Gai to be the one in charge of the Thouser Department. I find it welcoming, but unfortunately this is the last major development for the character, so his redemption arc kind of just comes to a halt. I do think it’s neat we finally get the connection of who Jin has been taking orders from, however.
Episode 43: “That is a Heart”
Despite killing Izu to prove a point, Horobi seems shaken by his own actions – proof of him having emotions. As the others figure out how to deal with Aruto turning into Ark-One, they’ve come to realize that he seems to specifically only target Horobi, and it’s entirely possible he isn’t being controlled by the Ark at all – it’s come down to how malice has overcome him to seek revenge. As he and Horobi fight, Jin sacrifices himself to save Horobi, causing him to feel remorse and despair. Azu then steps in, telling him what she told Aruto earlier; Humans and Humagears will fight, and he holds the key to the outcome…
So now Azu is giving out Progrise Keys to both sides, interesting! As for Horobi, it was nice to finally see more morality in him, though it seems like he still has a path into darkness before he can see the light. Let’s waste no time!
Episode 44: “There’s Only One Person Who Can Stop You”
With Aruto’s role as the host of the Ark becomes public, the Humagears are rioting in favor of Horobi. With the help of Naki’s Progrise Key, Fuwa attempts to fight Aruto to beat some sense into him, to no avail as Azu keeps a tight grip on his mental state. As both stand unwavering in their goal, it’s time for the two to finally face off: Aruto VS Horobi.
Things ramp up as the Humagears begin their riot, and there’s plenty of emotional moments sprinkled throughout, between Yua reasoning with A.I.M.S. to question what their form of justice is, and even Naki getting emotional as they talk of Aruto’s dream. It becomes somewhat frustrating to see these two continuously ignore the facts as their own allies try talking them down, but that’s part of the escalation.
The amount of extra forms also escalates as we’re introduced to Orthros Vulcan, which is just using the Japanese Wolf key from Naki. It’s a neat enough repaint of Vulcan’s Assault Wolf form, and I kind of like it as an antithesis to that form. The Assault Wolf design, pretty much by intent, has an evil Ark-like aura to it with the color choices, while this feels more heroic.
Then we also get Horobi with a new form, finally, using Ark Scorpion. It’s an interesting belt design, and the suit is using just enough creativity with the colors that it didn’t immediately look like Ichi-Gata from that one movie. Good suit reuse.
Anyway, onto the finale!
Episode 45: “The Future of Each One”
As ZAIA attempts to restore Jin in order to stop the fight, Horobi and Ark-One go at each other with everything they’ve got. When it seems like Aruto has begun losing, bringing an apparent winner to the forefront, it’s revealed that Aruto had a different plan in mind; He shook loose Azu’s grasp so that he could fight with clarity. As they continue, the pain the two have caused for each other is brought to the surface, Horobi understands what it means to have a heart, and it becomes a battle of pure emotions. Using a new Zero-One Driver, Aruto transforms into Zero-One to take on Horobi properly. In the end, Horobi allows himself to take a Rider Kick, and Aruto decides not to kill him – both of them know why that won’t be needed anymore.
Time passes. Aruto remains president of Hiden Intelligence, and the Humagears are back to being an accepted part of society. Ikazuchi is helping out with the new satellite; Gai embraces his current role in the Thouser Department with gusto; Naki joins A.I.M.S. as a technical advisor; Fuwa seemingly protects others as a lone Kamen Rider; And Horobi and Jin are the figureheads of a new Metsuboujinrai that fights against malice, rather than humanity as a whole. At Hiden Intelligence, Izu is rebuilt, albeit with no memories. Despite how heartbreaking it must be, Aruto is happy to teach her about all that happened between them. And that… is how you know it’s Aruto.
Meanwhile… as long as there is Malice, the Ark shall rise again. Azu presents a Progrise Key to a mysterious figure, transforming into Kamen Rider Eden. He wishes to end this world and rebuild it as a paradise… in Kamen Rider Zero-One The Movie, coming this December!
RIGHT, so… where do we begin?
The battle between Aruto and Horobi turned out to be a good one – I wondered if turning him into the final villain would be worth doing, but I think it provided some good emotional payoff in the end. It was a real battle against their own emotions – Horobi recognizes that he’s just as guilty of murder as Aruto, having killed Izu before. And when the final attack comes, he literally opens his arms as if to say he deserves it.
We also gotta talk about the neat choices for the whole Metsuboujinrai crew! Ikazuchi makes sense, Naki is neat, and it’s sorta cool to have the Metsuboujinrai name be turned into one that targets malice. In a way, they’ve managed to transition from being terrorists to vigilantes. I guess Fuwa is a vigilante too, weirdly enough?
And then there’s Izu… I’m kinda glad they went this route, if I’m being honest. There was talk of whether they would cheapen that death and bring her back, or keep her killed off for good like a certain other popular show, and in a way we got a mix of both. Now I just wonder if they’ll undo that in the movie, but for now, it’s acceptable.
When it comes to the overall tone of the ending, what stands out to me is the way the final battle panned out. It was a fight where both sides were kind of villains, and as the fight goes on, we start to see a hero VS an antihero. I think that’s a really cool way to handle it. It has this “Why are we fighting?” energy in some ways.
With his things turned out for the show, y’know, the unprecedented hiatus, I am really thankful the ending was sufficient and not a “To be continued” note. We don’t need a repeat of what Kamen Rider Decade did. With a few episodes cut out of their presumed runtime, they still managed to succeed at a satisfying ending – at least for me.
Right, let’s go back to the predictions. As of writing this I can’t even remember what they were… Let’s see…
Prediction 1. Jin’s Actual Origins: With my initial attempts to guess Jin’s situation failed, I made a more elaborate guess at why he’s this unusual factor in the Ark’s plans, essentially coming down to Gai wanting to put a wrench in the Ark to take its power for himself. Turns out, not the case, someone else from ZAIA brought him back to stop the Ark for the greater good. Fair.
Prediction 2. The Ark isn’t What We Think: My guess was that the Ark would turn out to be something that finds even its followers disposable, with Metsuboujinrai teaming up with the heroes to stop it. Not really, but there are hints of this when the crew mopes about not receiving orders. Still, much different end result there.
Prediction 3. Who Will Die?: I wasn’t completely sure who’d die last quarter. I figured all of Metsuboujinrai would be killed off, Gai could potentially die to Ark-Zero, and I felt that Fuwa and Yua both had that kind of “Sacrifice myself for the greater good” energy to them. Turns out, Izu was the death we got.
Prediction 4. This is How it Ends: Overall I expected the status quo to be what it was from the beginning, peaceful and all, maybe with the Metsuboujinrai crew as civilians – not completely far off, huh? It felt like it was in line with the show’s theme.
Okay, we’re getting towards the end here… how’d they do? Well, I wanna end on a positive note, so let me talk about the characters first since there’s a very big topic with one of them.
Aruto has been a lovely protagonist, not just because of his terrible jokes but also because of his heart. He’s a fish out of water trying to follow an optimistic dream in the business world, which they do play around with when introducing Gai, and I think that’s a cool thing to do when your premise involves a president of a company as the hero.
Izu has always been an adorable companion, though if I’m being honest, I think that she became more expressive a little late. I would have appreciated if she’d been able to show more emotion sooner. I think that if things turned out differently, and the Zero-Two design got more screentime, there would be more room to give her singularity a subplot.
A.I.M.S. had characters I was cautiously eyeing. At times, antagonistic secondary Riders can be repetitive and boring as a result, but Fuwa manages to go through quite the character arc as time goes on, all while managing to carry a certain consistent personality at every step. I was so certain there would be irony about him being a Humagear and they managed a clever twist with lots of great payoffs.
I’m not gonna be harsh on Yua, because this was a very good step for female Riders – debuting earlier than any female Rider in this franchise, and getting more than one form out of the deal, I was so certain she would be killed off at every major story beat. Even when she quit ZAIA, it felt like they were setting her up for a heroic sacrifice. But no, she stuck around, and had growth. If I’m being honest, I do think the Hiden VS ZAIA arc held her back due to how long it went on, but overall I like her a lot.
Metsuboujinrai was an interesting bunch. I don’t know that I can add more than I’ve talked about in this review; I like how they changed Ikazuchi and Naki around, making them question Horobi’s leadership in favor of society, and in the end got to be regular civilians. I kind of just want to see the movie to see how they all factor in…
The Ark is an interesting factor in all this. It’s so very clear from the beginning that this is gonna be our final villain, and once we finally got the debut of Zero-One’s final form… it’s gone, dead, and an unexpected new evil takes its place. It’s one of the more clever things I think Rider has done with its final villain. And I kinda appreciate that since the Ark is, well, not much for personality – Horobi really does fit so well in the end.
Let’s talk more about Ark-One. It really is clever to have that be the hero, isn’t it? It’s got Zero-One’s suit aesthetic! The helmet is like a twisted version of Zero-One’s! Aruto has been consumed with the Ark’s power before thanks to MetalCluster Hopper, so it tracks! Azu is there, acting as this antithesis to Izu! And in the end, the final battle is creative and unexpected, two villains overcome by the Ark!
It really is a satisfying writing choice, right? Feels like it was always part of the plan?
… So why is it that the design of Ark-One have ZAIA Spec detailing on its chest, and literally a microchip from the ZAIA Spec on the Progrise Key?
THAT is where I get to talk about Gai, our problematic character!
This is something I haven’t shut up about since Ark-One debuted. I believe that the Hiden VS ZAIA arc was meant to really sell us on the idea of Gai as a proper villain. The Ark would become a Rider and seemingly be the final villain, then Gai would swoop in and take the power for himself as Ark-One. He stands against everything Aruto believes in, and he even has backstory that ties into how he felt wronged by Aruto’s grandfather due to their clashing beliefs. There’s even images in the Televi-kun magazine that show Zero-Two fighting Ark-One, a matchup that never occurred.
While I can’t confirm this is the case here, it’s likely that Gai was a victim of… popularity? We have had at least one confirmed example where popularity turns a villainous character good, and that’s Woz from Kamen Rider Zi-O. It’d been confirmed that he was originally going to be the underling of the show’s final villain, which WASN’T going to be the villain we actually got. Since he was popular with fans, they decided it might be best to rewrite his role and make him one of the heroes.
Personally, I think that they managed to make it work well enough for Woz. He was ominous but his motivations could change over time due to character growth. The problem with Gai is that they were very unsubtle about how much they wanted you to hate him, so there was no easy way to make him into a good guy.
But you may be asking yourself, what about Azu? She is a big part of why Ark-One works as Aruto. Well, consider that she may have been created to facilitate the idea of Aruto in that role – while we do see a long-haired Izu in the opening, it isn’t QUITE the same as Azu, as she doesn’t appear to be expressive or have colored streaks in the hair. It seems like they made Azu based on that shot from the opening, and it all worked out nicely.
Anyway, that’s a theory I’ve been waiting to articulate at length here. What it comes down to is this: I don’t like Gai as a character as he stands now. I think because of what we got, he was made to be an unlikable character whose role effectively comes to a halt as he gets put through a rough redemption, then gets pushed to the side with no major contributions to the story. I find him fascinating from a writing standpoint because it’s very apparent, moreso than previous redemption arcs in the franchise, that something went wrong behind the scenes.
But let’s end on a positive note, shall we?
Regardless of faults, Kamen Rider Zero-One was a blast from start to finish. I don’t know if I mentioned it here specifically, but there was an original story I wanted to do one day that was a lot like this, robots part of society that are turned by a lurking darkness; Some would be frustrated to see a similar idea out there, but my story was heavily influenced by Kamen Rider so I wanted to see how it would handle this.
I think that one of the big things that kept the show interesting for me were the Humagears. Those folks at Toei are trying new ideas, fresh ideas, and I’m here for it. The Humagears offered plenty of neat new premises for episodes, all of which tie together nicely with this theme of dreams. The producer for this show also talked about how the theme of artificial intelligence is an interesting topic since we’re so connected to technology. It is a hopeful message about how the future is what you make of it.
Another thing this show does that I love is the design aesthetic on all the Riders and enemies! I don’t think there’s one I particularly dislike – it has this futuristic flare that’s cool and, at times, unique for Rider. What we’ve seen of the next series so far has me thinking that’s not a one-time thing.
The plot does come and go a bit… I’ve yet to hear anyone defend the Hiden VS ZAIA stuff, because it does drag with repetition, and it’s unfortunate due to the unprecedented hiatus. I’ve seen some go as far as to say that every character became unlikable after this point, but honestly, just Gai for me. Just Gai.
That about does it for this review. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’ll miss this world it created, and look forward to seeing who among this cast will be willing to make a return in future crossovers.
I’ll also be looking forward to Kamen Rider Saber which is debuting soon! It’s quite different from Zero-One in a lot of ways, and I love me some variety. Look forward to more reviews in this quarterly style! Til then!