Kamen Rider Gaim – Episode 43 Review
We typically do not use justice as a means of rehabilitating a criminal, in order to promise a better world both for them and for the society in which they reside. We use it to inflict punishment, judged as proportional to the crime, and to ineffectually discourage others from following in their stead.
We apply justice not pragmatically, but emotionally and irrationally. We often apply “an eye for an eye,” because hey, it only seems fair. Justice is barbaric, because we are barbarians.
I don’t want justice for Mitsuzane. I’m over it. And frankly, seeing calls for his death from fans is starting to make me seriously uncomfortable, particularly since we’ve seen just how mentally unwell he is in the past few episodes.
Mitsuzane has done innumerable horrible things, including being willing to assist in the eradication of the entire human species – but without Redue, there’s no threat of him facilitating that any longer. When he enters battle with Kouta, armed with a kamikaze weapon and the knowledge of Mai’s dire circumstances, he is truly there as a protector, albeit a broken one. The facade of righteousness has faded away, along with the desire for power and control.
Kouta, who unlike us, has only seen glimpses of Mitsuzane’s descent, can plainly see the desperation in his death wish. And he does what he’s been attempting to do this entire time: save Mitsuzane.
It doesn’t matter what Mitsuzane has done in the past, only what he will do on the long road ahead. Mitsuzane has become so detached from reality that he even tries to deny that he and Kouta were ever friends; let alone the immense respect that he had for Kouta.
Can Mitsuzane step out of the shadow of the man who turned them against each other in the first place? As he leaves Kouta’s lifeless body, he prescribes his own conditions for accepting Kouta-san’s – and crucially, not Kazuraba Kouta’s – forgiveness: saving Mai.
Those hopes are dashed almost immediately, as in his absence, Ryouma ripped out Mai’s still-beating heart, which had fused with the Golden Fruit, and left her corpse for Mitsuzane to find on his return. (To be fair, he wasn’t expecting Mitsuzane to return at all – he could never predict Kouta’s selfless act.) And as we see Ryouma strangling the life from Mitsuzane, the juxtaposition could not be laid more bare: an adult, who coolly murdered an innocent girl just hours before, relishing in the pain of others; and a child, who has repeatedly made the wrong choices, who has stared into the abyss of the apocalypse and has been used by a pawn by almost everyone in his life.
Ryouma’s true villainous nature finally surfaces in this episode. Tsunenori plays the mad scientist with the rhythm and energy we’ve come to expect from him, but the more sinister lines are delivered with a ferocity we had not seen surface in the character. I think Ryouma will be remembered as one of the most frustrating aspects of Gaim; his character was built up a lot, only to vanish during one of the show’s most climactic moments, then return later and seem to be plotting something that never goes anywhere, and finally to hand Mitsuzane a new power that he loses in roughly ten minutes. The scenes we get with him are always a fun ride, but they are few and far between, and often lacking in impact. To see him earn his evil stripes by murdering Mai and pummelling Mitsuzane feels like it was a long time coming.
But Mai is “dead” only in the most technical sense, as she has already broken free from her mortal coil, becoming the Golden Fruit incarnate. Sagara tells her that Kaito, Mitsuzane, and Kouta are all fighting to claim her and the Golden Fruit, which is only kind of true; neither Kaito or Kouta know that she has it, and Kouta isn’t so much interested in the fruit as he is in the future of humanity. Mitsuzane doesn’t care about the fruit at all; he only wants to protect Mai from what he perceives as a threat. As always, Sagara is speaking in half-truths.
Being assured that accepting the power of the Golden Fruit will give her the power to do anything, Mai accepts it – not that she really had a choice, since her soul had already become one with it – and immediately attempts to alter time in the hopes of changing this outcome. This is one of the craziest scenes in the series, and is as bewildering as time paradoxes typically are. Of course, it’s an ultimately futile effort; the point that we are already at in the show has taken Mai’s meddling into account. She’s unable to communicate clearly, offering vague-at-best warnings to her friends. Ultimately, she ends up helping Sagara, as we finally see the conclusion of their conversation in episode 23: Mai’s intervention tells Sagara exactly where to look. As spoken in that episode,
Mai: “Why did you drive Kouta Kazuraba back into battle?”
Sagara: “Because you’re so obsessed with the boy, Woman of the Beginning.”
And as Kaito arrives to face Ryouma and serve justice for Mai’s murder, yet another line from episode 23 becomes relevant again. As Sagara said,
“[Kaito]’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.”
As it turns out, this was less of an either-or proposition and more of a prediction of a sequence of events. After having been utterly disgraced in his battle against Roshuo, Kaito finds his thirst for power renewed.
It seems clear now more than ever that, in addition to loneliness, Kaito’s obsession with strength is rooted in self-loathing – he even says that his life “isn’t worth much.” Despite believing strength is the only virtue that matters, he has never actually been that powerful. Kaito has consistently lost almost every major fight he’s been in, and much like Mitsuzane, has achieved little of note. After confessing that he’s known the pain of being weak ever since he was a child, we can conclude that he believes strength, of all things, will make him whole.
But he can think this only because he has never actually experienced strength as he defines it. This is also what allows him to bluster about only the strong deserving to survive, particularly in the previous episode, and earlier in the series when he agreed to join Yggdrasil. He is desperate to prove that he himself deserves to live in this world.
But what Kaito lacks has never been strength, but the power to exercise that strength – the strength of will. With the Genesis Driver he’d been using to stave off Helheim’s infection now destroyed, he is likely mere moments from death. The two people he respected most in this world, including his most powerful rival, are dead. Unable to grasp the Golden Fruit, he bites into another forbidden fruit – that of Helheim itself – and at last gains the power to exercise his strength. The power of Kouta’s he envied so much. The power of an Overlord.
With this power, justice is served to Ryouma, who could not tolerate the existence of a being that defied his knowledge. But justice cannot undo the crimes already committed. Mitsuzane is still under Mai’s now lifeless body; likewise, delivering “justice” to Mitsuzane would not bring back Takatora nor Kouta. At the end of all of this, I am left wondering about Mitsuzane more than everyone.
It’s a testament to just how superlative Mitsuzane’s character arc has been that despite everything that happens to everyone else in this episode, I can’t stop thinking about his fate. Having lost everything worth protecting, and having no one left to take revenge on for Mai’s death – other than himself – it’s entirely unpredictable what Mitsuzane will do next. And against the godlike powers of Kaito and Kouta, with both his Hell Fruit Lock Seed and Genesis Driver destroyed, it’s impossible to imagine what he can do.
* * *
- I know I wrote in this review that Kouta is dead, but come on, let’s be real. He’s coming back. From the dead. Having absolved the sinner of his sins. Hm.
- I’m not crazy about Lord Baron’s design, particularly the face, which is reminiscent of a gorilla.
- One thing I actually guessed correctly: Mai’s close-up scene with Kouta in 38 was a death flag, as it signals the last time they ever saw each other, her new form notwithstanding. Not that it was a big surprise.
- Very convenient that Mitsuzane and Kouta had their showdown in an abandoned duvet factory. Some more questionable direction choices this week.
- I’ve been interchangeably using Fruit of Knowledge, Golden Fruit and Forbidden Fruit because the show won’t settle on a damn term.
- Very sad that we’ve only seen a handful of short fights from Duke, usually with him completely overwhelming his opponents. His fighting style was really cool, and I feel like he never got his moment to shine as a combatant.
- Some serious anime logic this week, with Mai not being able to speak clearly and Kaito having built a resistance to Helheim’s toxin, allowing him to become an Overlord. Of course, the token efforts at explanation are appreciated.
- No phantom Takatora this week, which is almost definitely for the best; it would’ve lessened the feeling of isolation surrounding Mitsuzane. I had a feeling last week that when he told Takatora to shut up, it was him finally abandoning his self-effacing alter-ego; we’ll see if that holds out.
- Another interesting thing: phantom Takatora’s prediction that Mai would end up becoming an obstacle that needed to be eliminated never really came true. Consequently, we can read that scene not as foreshadowing, but as Mitsuzane beginning to realize – however subconsciously – how far off the deep end he has gone, and how large his capacity for violence and betrayal is.
- There are like three episodes worth of climaxes in this episode. Considering Kamen Rider has a bad habit of completely bungling the home stretch of each series, I’m thoroughly impressed with how well-paced and how comprehensible this is shaping up to be.
- Next week on Kamen Rider Gaim: Take a shot every time someone says the word “resolve.”