those times when you stretch and end up cracking a joint so loud its just
Kamen Rider Gaim – Episode 44 Review
This is a really weird episode. Throughout its entirety, there’s a subtle feeling that something is off. And I don’t just mean that the world of Gaim is disintegrating into chaos once again – it is – but that the episode itself seems to come from a parallel universe, with things being just slightly distorted from the reality that, over the past 44 episodes, we’ve been taught to expect.
Perhaps this episode dropped into our hands from a Crack that connects to the world of possibilities, which Mai now finds herself trapped in. After having spent a bit too much time meandering about the flow of time, she finds herself in the world that we are given a glimpse of in the first episode; a potential outcome that did not come to pass.
I cannot fathom why, at this point, they felt the need to give such a convoluted explanation to that; I think most viewers had decided to write it off as a metaphor for the road that the series would take. So while I appreciate the effort to make everything come together, I would have to say that it’s fundamentally misguided, and serves to cheapen the episode.
But more problematic than any of this is that Mai cannot return to her own world until the “future is a bit clearer,” which, in this case, means that a winner for the fruit be decided. This decision ultimately robs Mai of the one bit of agency she had remaining – the ability to choose who will receive the golden fruit – and hands it to the men of the story, to settle it based on their strength alone, rather than their merits. The gymnastics required to explain this twist of fate make it clear that the entire plot event serves to keep Mai out of things while the men settle the score.
Meanwhile, Mitsuzane – decidedly out of the running for the quest for the golden fruit – laments Mai’s fate, saying that if she’s no longer human, she may as well be dead. There’s something really unsettling about Mitsuzane essentially saying if he cannot have Mai in the flesh, as a person, then he no longer cares about her existence. Just as the kid makes you start caring about him, you kind of wish he was dead again.
Sadly, Mai is not the only female character getting the short end of the stick. Yoko’s interest in Kaito has reached new, barely comprehensible levels of obsession. She reiterates that she wants to raise the King to the throne, but what could she possibly have to offer Kaito that would help him achieve his ends? But just before that, she simply says, “I want the King.” This is probably more telling; it’s impossible to not read sexual tension into this scene, and it’s unfortunate that we’ve lost yet another female character to the annals of Supporting the Men. There’s still some hope that Yoko is being more pragmatic than doting, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Credit where credit is due, though: Kaito, at least, appears to be suspicious of Yoko’s desires. I waffle back and forth on how I feel about Kaito’s turn to villainy; on one hand, it’s completely in line with the character, but it also flies in the face of the undeniably sympathetic way he’s been portrayed over the past ten episodes. But what is surprising is the way he talks about Mai; how he will “claim her”, and that “the world can burn if it brings me Mai,” are creepily similar to the language that Mitsuzane uses to speak of her. Whatever happened to Kaito chastising Mitsuzane for trying to “protect” her?
“She’s strong! She doesn’t need you to save her!” is what Kaito said to Mitsuzane in episode 41. It’s likely that rescuing Mai just happens to align with his goal of claiming the fruit and building a new world where he can belong, but it’s still an uncomfortable contradiction of his previous stance. Kaito was always one of the few characters who recognized Mai’s agency even when he was being an asshole to her; it’s unfortunate to see this attitude arise now.
This isn’t the only case where he’s seemingly shifted his stance. He begrudged the Overlords for their brutality, but is now on the path of doing exactly what they were willing to do. It’s totally possible that Kaito’s about-face is a red-herring, and this will all be resolved in the next episode, but I don’t think it makes the dissonance any less alarming.
This episode, while being ultimately enjoyable and thrilling, shines a light on some of Gaim’s most problematic elements. Despite having a female Rider, its treatment of its female characters has fallen below even the standard set by the misogynistic tokusatsu genre. In its quest for ambiguity, Gaim’s characters often act in ways that are incredibly difficult to understand.
And it doesn’t know what to do with its huge cast. Pierre’s immediate assessment of Kaito’s treachery is one of the high points of the episode, a callback to a rich history that we know the character has, but is rarely utilized in the narrative. Of course, he’s quickly removed from the action, his belt destroyed. Zack’s secret agent routine is at least interesting, but would have felt more organic had he maintained a steady role in the plot up until now. (Jounouchi is still completely irrelevant.)
If there’s any credit to be given, it’s to Gaku Sano, who does a pitch-perfect job at portraying Kouta’s drowning in a veritable tidal wave of betrayal. It’s worth noting that he’s not yet recovered from being impaled by his former best friend’s hellspear and is now facing the fact that someone he thought was his ally is trying to destroy the world. Meanwhile, Mai has transcended to another plane of existence and is trapped in spacetime’s equivalent of a dumpster. All he has left are his sister and a band of relatively useless acquaintances.
While Kouta and Kaito’s showdown at the tail-end of the episode is ultimately satisfying, the episode as a whole falls short. After a string of incredible episodes, this is immensely disappointing. How Gaim handles the mess it’s set up for itself in the next episode will be a defining moment in its legacy.
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- Sorry for the late review. I’ve been ill for the past week.
- Chucky’s actress is really, really terrible. I guess she’s supposed to be wincing, but she looks positively overjoyed to find Kouta’s lifeless body.
- Lord Baron’s theme music is awesome, and Kaito getting up from the smoking ground as it plays is definitely the coolest moment of the episode.
- I love that in the clip they reuse from Episode 1, Kouta and Kaito each have huge armies with them, and then in the new footage it’s just them fighting in a barren wasteland.
- I realized how acclimated I’ve become to the motif of Gaim when I didn’t even bat an eyelash at giant bananas bursting forth from the earth.
- The fight between Kouta and Kaito is really good, though I think they overused the motion-blur effect that they seemingly discovered in Episode 37.
- "Sorry. He got away." HE’S INJURED AND HE RAN LIKE TWENTY FEET AWAY COME ON
- Kaito’s new hair is stupid. Kouta’s hair is lovely.
- Next on Kamen Rider Gaim: Oh, it’s already out.
Instead of caramel apples this Halloween, melt jolly ranchers in a 250 degree oven for around 5 minutes, then pour over your apples. Add edible glitter for the sparkling space effect!
this is kind of genius