Really happy with how this piece came out.
Kamen Rider Gaim – Episode 41 Review
Kamen Rider is often a story about protecting the status quo from villainous forces that would dare to disrupt it. A monster appears in a peaceful town, a Rider steps in to defeat the monster, and thusly restores the town to its previously peaceful state.
One of Gaim’s greatest successes is that there is hardly a status quo to restore; in episode 1 we are already in Yggdrasil’s planned municipality of Zawame, their plot to frame the Beat Riders as the source of the inevitable Inves invasion in full-swing. Can there even be a status quo to restore in what is essentially a city rooted in evil? If ejecting Yggdrasil and returning Zawame to its simpler ways was ever a possibility, it’s one that’s distant in the rearview mirror; Gaim is more concerned with the future that can be salvaged than a past which can never be restored.
I read recently someone lamenting that the dancing is rarely referenced anymore; personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want this. If anything, this is something the show should be praised for. Just like in the real world, people move on, things enter firmly into the realm of past experiences and often feel like they never happened at all. Despite Sid’s death a mere ten episodes ago, it’s hard to believe he ever even existed. It’s hard to believe that Ryouma, at one point, was the series’ prime protagonist. And yes, it’s often hard to believe that our heroes were once fighting over breakdancing (though there was, of course, more to it). This doesn’t diminish the value of their contributions to the show, in the same sense that experiences that have drifted into your past – and faded in your memories – still help to cultivate the person you are today.
All of this to say Gaim is, as always, pushing breathlessly forward. With a mere six episodes remaining, it still finds the chance to buck the status quo and take the story in an entirely new direction.
I’ve been calling it for a while now that there was that the Overlords would bite the dust well before the show’s finale; as I wrote in my review of episode 35, “the Overlords are the propellant of the human drama that burns at the heart of Gaim.” But even I was surprised by the expediency with which it was handled. I went into this episode fully expecting Roshuo would die; I did not expect it, however, to be the end of the linymf species.
For what it’s worth, I think this was handled about as perfectly as it could have been. Redue has always been a compellingly-terrifying but ultimately petty villain – much like her human counterpart, Mitsuzane – so to see her undone by her own greed felt fitting. It’s tragic for Roshuo and Kouta both, however; after acknowledging the honesty of Kouta’s resolve, he seemed ready to give up the fight and let Kouta walk away, despite utterly annihilating him in combat. Redue’s murder of Roshuo is terrifying to watch, even if the gore of Redue’s repeated stabs through Roshuo’s body are left to the imagination. A stunning performance of unhinged fury by Redue’s voice actor Kenjiro Tsuda seals the deal.
What happened to Roshuo’s fruit after Redue literally backstabbed him to obtain it? Sagara heavily implied in episode 31 that Roshuo was the bearer of two Fruits of Knowledge; one intended for his own species, presumably created when the world prior to Helheim was consumed, and the one intended for humanity, birthed once the forest had fully consumed Helheim. This means that much like Team Gaim and Yggdrasil ventured into Helheim to seek it out, so too did Roshuo embark into the world consumed before his own.
So I don’t think the one Redue grasped was a decoy; it was the fruit Roshuo claimed, rather than humanity’s unclaimed fruit, which was essentially being held hostage by Roshuo.
This raises a bunch of questions about the nature of the Fruit of Knowledge, and even more are posed when we learn that the fruit was bestowed upon Roshuo by his own Queen, who appears in spirit to speak with Sagara and lament the death of her love. While Sagara has oftentimes seemed villainous, this appears to be himself at his most earnest. He acts oblivious as to Kouta’s nature during Mai’s questioning, while obviously knowing for himself that Kouta isn’t stupid (well, anymore); he is simply self-sacrificial. However, this does make clear that Sagara was lying to Kouta when he said that there could be hope without sacrifice. What he really meant was that Kouta wouldn’t have to sacrifice anyone else.
We know that Alternate Mai’s role is to choose who shall come to bear humanity’s Fruit of Knowledge – as Sagara says to her in that same episode, “I can’t see the future, but I do know who you are, and what it means to be chosen by you.” For me, this presents two distinct possibilities:
- There’s some weird timeline loop happening – a common Gaim theory I’m not ready to discount – and Roshuo’s queen is actually Mai in the future, or
- Winning the Fruit of Knowledge is actually a two-step process, which begins by first selecting an arbiter of the fruit – a Queen. That arbiter gets to choose who ultimately wins the fruit – the King. Both Roshuo’s queen and Mai serve those roles, and consequently take on similar Overlord forms. As Roshuo says in episode 31, “the sole chosen king can remake the world in his image.”
It’s possible that ownership of the fruit cannot be transferred, or that the fruit cannot be used by someone who has not been chosen to wield it – both explanations which would explain why it withers in Redue’s hands.
Interestingly, there are even more thematic threads tying this episode with episode 23 (which seems fitting, given that both are incredible high-points of the series).
When Sagara forms Kouta’s Triumphant Lock Seed, it first takes the transitional shape of some kind of really cool techno-orange; we see it again in this episode, when Kouta uses his Forbidden Fruit-bestowed powers to rewrite the Lock Seed’s existence. While unable to create life like Roshuo, this shows that he is at least able to manifest the fruit’s powers in ways beyond merely controlling the forest. But it also hints that the its powers may not be all that unlike the powers Sagara himself possesses.
And shortly before he bestows the Triumphant Lock Seed unto Kouta, he speaks of how Kaito is stronger than Yggdrasil.
“He’s given up everything in his quest for power. There’s only two ways an idiot like him can finish, though: either he’ll fall in disgrace, or he’ll get his hands on some really dangerous power.”
In his fight against Mitsuzane, Kaito is able to evenly match him (while verbally putting him in his place in the process). However, against Roshuo, even Kouta’s demigod form can barely keep up; consequently, Kaito is utterly decimated by Roshuo’s power, and he definitely won’t be the strongest foe that they face. Kaito is desperately grasping for the Fruit of Knowledge; he is now stronger than he has ever been, but he lacks the power to exercise that strength.
With all of the development Kaito has been given over the past episodes, and his fate becoming increasingly bound to Mai, it seems unlikely that he’s going to fall by the wayside and let Kouta reap all of the glory. Kaito has a heavy burden to carry; just what kind of power will he inevitably obtain?
And when he does clench his fist around that power, who will he strike against with it? With the curtain call drawing ever nearer, it seems like the title of the season’s Big Bad is still up for grabs. Will it be Mitsuzane, sucked ever deeper into his loneliness, even without the excuse of the Overlords to hide behind? Will it be Sagara, whose true nature is yet to be revealed? Will it be Kaito, utterly corrupted by his search for power? Or will it be Kouta, corrupted by the power he has already attained?
Despite what this episode portends for the future, it is a stunning accomplishment in its own right. I confess to not having seen every Kamen Rider series, but in the half-decade I’ve been watching, I have never seen a fight that conveyed the overwhelming power and despair of its combatants; never seen actors so consumed in the roles of their characters; never seen writing that asks not just of its cast, but of its viewers.
A true masterpiece of the genre.
- If it wasn’t clear enough, this is not only my favourite episode of Gaim, but my favourite episode of Kamen Rider ever.
- Kaito works perfectly as a proxy for the audience in this episode. “You just want a doll to play with! You don’t love anyone!” Yeah, you tell him! “You two are alive?” Apparently. “You’ve found your resolve, haven’t you?” I sincerely hope so.
- Pierre and Jounouchi … I don’t even know what to say, at this point. As incredible as this episode is, and as funny as their brief appearance is, they just feel like wasted opportunities. A real shame.
- More observant eyes than mine have caught that the flower that blooms when Kouta solidifies his resolve is uncannily similar to the one that Alternate Mai wears in her hair. Is this a symbol of fate being solidified?
- Seriously, Kouta, that shit better be resolved for real this time.
- What the hell is Ryouma doing? I doubt he’ll be the Big Bad, but it seems like they’re gearing up for something with him.
- One other thing in common between this episode and episode 23: they both subvert expectations for grand monsters in Kamen Rider. In episode 23, Kouta asks, “[The Overlords are] the ones trying to take over our world?” “Nah. They don’t care about humanity,” Sagara replies. And in this episode, we see their race eliminated, cementing that they were never the real adversaries. As the ruins of Helheim firmly display, a civilization’s greatest threat is itself.
- Next week on Kamen Rider Gaim: I don’t know how they can top this.