The battle to save Touto from the fires of war continue on Kamen Rider Build, as genius amnesiac Kiryuu Sento finds he’s not the only bug-eyed super-dude without memories running around these days.
Last time, Kamen Rider Kiva‘s Takeda Touhei debuted as the new mystery soldier from neighboring territory Hokuto, leading the charge (in his own lethargic, unmotivated way) into Touto to retrieve the Martian Pandora Box, and the Full Bottles needed to access its immense, unknowable power. Now, he and his three dopey subordinates are ready to butt heads with Sento and Ryuuga to prove their mettle. But first, another recap, as narrated by Sento, though this time we find our sarcastic hero in a surprisingly low-key mood. Recent events have taken the wind out of his sails, but a sudden intrusion from the voice of villainous Prime Minister Himuro Gentoku perks things up, suddenly taking over the recap as he hears Sento declare that he will fight to protect Touto, despite massive reservations about Gentoku’s less-than-wholesome motivations. Strange bedfrenemies these two are.
The new guy with the furry hoody wields another Sclash Driver device, to the surprise of Ryuuga, who had assumed the one he carried was the only one of its kind. The second Sclash wielder activates the henshin belt with his Robot SclashJelly and the same wacky transformation sequence we witnessed with Ryuuga is seen, just a little bit greasier. A golden shower of fluid sprays over him, hardens, then shatters to reveal the armor beneath. All of this happens to the distracting tune of Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger music, for some reason. Those who don’t watch the current Super Sentai series may not notice it, or it may breeze by so quickly that even some who do watch may still not have noticed, but I know at least one person jarred by the experience (das me). I like both shows just fine, guys, but Imma need you to keep your music to yourself. Or if you absolutely have to borrow other people’s jams, at least let it be Supernova.
Our newly-transformed mystery senshi names himself Kamen Rider Grease, matching his uniquely bronze costume, which definitely sets itself apart not just from other designs in this year’s series but most others as well. So too does this guy’s personality, as he barely seems to stay interested long enough to get out the words of that introductory sentence. It seems like almost everything he says and does is a huge effort for him. Like just getting out of bed that morning was something he had to force himself to do, let alone walk around looking for Hokuto’s prime targets and mustering up the most basic interest in fighting. Of course, once the fight is actually upon him, he’s a beast. Though even his fighting style seems to demonstrated with the totally apathetic personality he’s working with, as he tosses himself around with a weirdly uncaring sort of vibe, like none of it matters and he’s just waiting for something interesting to finally happen so he can pay more than the minimal amount of attention.
He talks about how his passion will be unleashed but when Ryuuga as Kamen Rider Cross-Z Charge attacks, he lazily defends and has the most casual counterattack imaginable while still being effective against the former pro fighter. Grease’s weird shoulder panels that have been bugging me since I first saw them show their practical application by becoming a pair of thrusters, shooting him forward for a Rider Kick. Misora rushes onto the battlefield when Cross-Z goes down, and she seems to catch his eye. Despite the apparent victory, which could have ended the whole conflict right there, Grease decides to bounce. Just leave in the middle of everything. What is it about Misora’s presence that has him spooked? It wouldn’t be shocking to hear most people’s first guess is that they’re related. Secret long lost siblings, perhaps?
Back at home base, Sento finds that his files on the Sclash Driver have been copied, undoubtedly when their former friend and Caffe Najcita owner Isurugi Soichi showed up while the boys were out heroing, leaving Misora to have a tearful goodbye to her increasingly treacherous father. That scene was only a few weeks ago, yet it already feels like it’s been ages. Since then, the entire makeup of the story has shifted, going from a reasonably isolated battle where a pair of fugitives seek to unravel their corrupt government to a potentially devastating war between two of three conflicting territories, the third of which is just waiting outside the ring for the inevitable tap in.
In any case, their Sclash Driver isn’t the only one anymore, but Sento decides his buddy Ryuuga won’t be using it anymore. When asked why, he puts on his douche hat and claims he can’t let Ryuuga overshadow the greatness of the star. In the moment, it seems like another example of Sento’s charmingly self-interested attitude. He wants the best toys for himself, so why not forbid his partner from using the most impressive of them all (I guess)? What amuses me is that, when Sento somewhat jokingly suggests Ryuuga go exercise or something instead of questioning his logic, Ryuuga is then seen actually complying with his suggestion, doing push-ups in the background as Sento steps out of the room to answer his phone.
When he doesn’t tell the others who’s on the other end of the phone call, they get curious and eavesdrop on his conversation. Which proves to be a fairly important one, as the caller is actually Soichi, who luckily isn’t in costume this week so we can see his troll face as he hangs around a Hokuto base like a rude kid with no home training, hanging all over the furniture like he owns it. When asked, he confirms that it was the colluding Nanba Heavy Industries that built the second Sclash Driver. And that he hasn’t told his new Hokutonian pals anything about Team Build’s whereabouts. Sento tries to get a straight answer from him about what his endgame is, but as usual, Soichi’s not gonna make it that easy. He’s stuck his fingers in every pie on the table and a few off to the side no one knew was there. The unpredictable Blood Stalk can’t be nailed down. You can only hope to contain his madness, but even that eventually feels like it was part of his plan anyway.
Sento insists he won’t allow Ryuuga to use the Slash again, revealing that it mimics the mind-altering power of the Pandora Box, causing the user to grow steadily more aggressive with each transformation. And so the true reason for Sento’s personality shift in the previous scene, pretending as though the only reason he didn’t want Ryuuga to use the belt is because he would hog too much of the glory, when the reality is that its effects are extremely dangerous. Once again, Build finds ways to continue to elaborate on the heroism of its lead character in ways that do not always directly involve punching in faces. Meanwhile, this revelation does make us question how much of Grease’s personality is truly his own and how much of it has been scrambled by continued use of the now seemingly cursed Sclash Driver messing with his mind.
My curiosity deepens as Gentoku’s meeting with Sento is interrupted by a live broadcast from Grease & Friends, who have forced their way into a television studio to send a message to the people of Touto. While Sento has formally agreed to join the fight to protect Touto, Grease himself has made a pledge to the people that all he wants are the box and the Full Bottles that each Rider uses as part of their arsenal. If everyone else minds their business they won’t get hurt. Gentoku is predictably annoyed and wants to hunt him down, but this presents another interesting wrinkle to the Grease conundrum, perhaps building off of the scene last week when he casually destroyed a Smash because he seemingly didn’t like the way it was indiscriminately attacking whatever random civilian happened to be around. This guy isn’t cool with collateral damage. He’s the scalpel solution, not the machete that practically everyone else from Hokuto seems to be, including his dimwitted brothers-in-arms.
Speaking of which, they make a claim after the broadcast completes which suggests that they’re not doing this simply because they’re Hokuto soldiers, but because they want to protect their families. Mister Grease insists that, despite their seeming attachment to him, he still doesn’t remember any of them and is just doing what he wants in the moment. So, not only is the belt slowly going to amp up his aggressive tendencies, he’s an amnesiac like Sento, who may well have been an entirely different sort of person in another life, also like Sento. What we’re seeing now could be the result of a long series of past developments resulting in a very confused, weirdly casual psuedo-villain who barely cares about his own situation, which certainly would alarm most other people more than it does him.
When asked, Sento confirms his intention to fight with the Sclash Driver, because if someone like Ryuuga can do so, it’ll be a breeze for ole Sento. Ryuuga is clearly troubled by Sento continuing the act like this is all just about keeping the spotlight, rather than the more serious element that Sento still thinks he’s keeping from the rest of the team.
As the Hokuto quartet exits the TV station, they’re met by a small army of Guardians ready to pump them full of lead, but Grease is unimpressed. They politely wait for him to pull out his henshin device, pose, and transform despite all their guns pointing directly at him from the moment he steps out the front door. The effects of his driver already seem evident as he beats the everloving crap out of the Guardians, trying to get the most out of the violent exchange. In this way, it seems the Hokuto crew are victims just like the Touto Smash monsters, but from a different angle. We don’t quite know whether they signed up for this or were forced into it (Hokuto’s Prime Minister definitely sounded like she could be holding their loved ones hostage or otherwise manipulating them by dangling their health off the edge of a cliff like it ain’t no thang), but either way, they’ve essentially been turned into drug abusers, constantly exposing themselves to the diminishing effect of the Bottles and Driver that both protect and destroy them at the same time.
And Sento is about to join them as he shows up just when Grease runs out of robots to blow up. He tries to use the Sclash Driver, but it merely causes a power surge that rejects him. Ryuuga reaches for the driver to pick up the slack, but Sento tries to stop him. Ryuuga convinces him to give it up when referencing Misora, who has practically lost her father already, and since Sento is the only family she has left, Ryuuga can’t let him throw his life away like that.
One thing I can appreciate about Build is its ability to tell stories with a unified theme, marrying disparate storylines together under the banner of an overarching statement. In this case, it’s family. Whether it be a family brought together by blood or by circumstance, nearly every family unit on the show is feeling the pressure this week. From Misora and Sento who continue to battle their confusing father-figure Soichi, to the Hokuto crew protecting their own families back home as their own chosen family here is stuck in this daunting war. Ryuuga doesn’t seem to think himself apart of any of it, suggesting that he’s the expendable one from Team Build, making him the perfect choice to bear the frightening burden of the Sclash Driver.
While Kamen Rider Cross-Z Charge suffers the strain of the Sclash Driver’s intense power set fighting Grease, Sento decides to try out some of his newly-acquired Full Bottles, transforming into the supposedly movie-exclusive PhoenixRobo. The beautiful costume shoots through the air like a flaming phoenix, easily knocking the yellow Hard Smash out of monster form. Then comes the SmartphoneWolf form, which I’d say looks even better than PhoenixRobo if not for the wacky oversized phone hanging off of his left arm and the text bubble symbol on his shoulder. Oh Bandai.
He pulls a trick straight out of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, causing a holographic menu selection wheel to circle the battlefield, from which an animated wolf leaps out, slashing the blue Hard Smash back to human form. Grease is having the time of his life, having finally found someone who can take more than a single punch from him without immediately exploding. Yet eventually, Cross-Z Charge does fall, leaving the unarmored Ryuuga vulnerable to a deadly Rider Kick. Intervening at the last second, Build jumps in front of the attack, the resulting damage canceling his transformation.
Being the sensitive hero we know Sento to be, he corrects Ryuuga’s previous statement. He’s become an essential part of the Build family, for whom no one is expendable. Sento refuses to let him die when he had the power to save him. And he extends that courtesy even to the enemy he faces. Wondering what this guy is smoking, talking about protecting both his friends and his enemies, Grease literally kicks Sento while he’s down. So hard, in fact, that his spiffy new Full Bottles get thrown to the ground (again) and the Hokuto boys quickly steal them back. The game of hot potato rolls on.
Grease is about to finish them when Sawa once again comes through in a clutch, sweeping through in her car with Misora. When Grease gets a look at her, he’s shaken for the second time, deepening the theory even further that he knows her. I mean, the episode is kind of about family, right? It wouldn’t exactly be out of the realm of possibility. Grease is distracted long enough for Misora to toss Sento some of their Full Bottles (and with an arm like that, she really ought to sign up for professional baseball, assuming there’s anyone left after the war to play with) and his RocketPanda form scoops up Ryuuga for an escape.
Watching Misora drive away, Grease looks like he’s about to make an important epiphany, possibly revealing his secret family connection… and then he pulls out his phone and reveals that he’s got a picture of Misora’s internet alter-ego Miitan. So not all of her fans are faceless otaku stuck behind computer screens all day and night salivating over their queen and her overly peppy personality. I should have known by now that Kamen Rider Build couldn’t help itself, undercutting a potentially serious moment with a joke, but also adding to our view of the world the characters live in at the same time.
And, though this skillfully tells the audience that it’s smart enough to know you would eventually wonder about whether or not Grease is related to Misora and then suggests that this is not the case, I can’t say I’m entirely convinced that it’s all really that simple yet. He may have a picture of Miitan on his phone, but it could be there for any number of reasons, which he of course won’t remember one way or another. Maybe the family he’s trying to protect, even if only subconsciously at this point, is actually Misora. This would make it even more understandable that he wants no part in harming innocent civilians. He could be unknowingly killing his own family. To take is a step further, if Soichi is also a blood-relative, it might explain some of his more elusive motives as well. We’ll save the more in-depth tin foil crackpotting for another day, as the rabbithole this leads to could be quite steep.
Speaking of killing your own, Gentoku is chilling in his office, waiting to begin his meeting with the head of Nanba Heavy Industries, to question his motives after apparently cooperating with Soichi to make the Sclash Driver. The person who walks through the door instead is Utsumi. Despite his dutiful aide supporting and carrying out every last crazy whim of his boss, Gentoku still shot him after framing him as the villainous Night Rogue, completely betraying his undying loyalty and destroying what seemed at the time to be the only halfway-decent friendship he may have had. While Gentoku’s relationship with his own father was adversarial at best, Utsumi, his family of circumstance, was always in lock step with him. At least until he sent him dropping off a bridge to his assumed death. Gentoku’s meeting may be headed in a very different direction than he first imagined.
I can’t say Utsumi’s reappearance is a shock. It had honestly occurred to me almost immediately after he was shot. That he had to come back in some dramatic fashion, forcing Gentoku to face what he had done, changing the game at a moment of extreme tension. What has me curious, more than anything, is what he will say to his old boss in this meeting. The man who tried to kill him, essentially to cover his own crimes and keep operating as the conniving nutjob he is, eventually bringing war to their doorsteps. Utsumi doesn’t exactly look angry or disturbed in his brief appearance here. He’s calm as a cucumber, ready to have a civilized chat.
I won’t remain half as calm waiting for the next episode to find out.
Next: Episode 19
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