Hey, it's a Yuka spotlight episode! It's a bit of a mixed bag!

Yuka's a character I'm intrigued by, played by an actor who seems slightly outclassed by the material. Of the three Oprhnochs, she's maybe the least-talented actor, in so much as Yuuji's serenity and Kaido's raw charisma helped them pop even before we knew their whole deal. With Yuka, it's been fifteen episodes, and while I sort-of get her deal, I'm having trouble investing in her emotionally.

Some of it's the performance (she's not really finding the core of her character, emotionally; it feels like it lacks an honesty to the portrayal), but some of it is how confusing Yuka's actions are. And, right up front, I love that they're confusing. I love that she's a difficult character to pin down, because it makes her journey so much more fascinating. But it can also keep a viewer at a distance.

I'll admit, I was not expecting this episode to really be about Yuka. Yuuji or Takumi, absolutely. Kusaka or Kaido, probably. But Yuka? Surprising choice, especially in the story they decided to tell.

Yuka's core problem is that she has no real sense of self. She's never felt comfortable owning her feelings, making demands of the world around her. She's buffeted by fate, grasping for dear life at any shred of connection. While other characters are deciding how best to navigate a dangerous new world, she's following everyone else's lead.

Except for when she kills people. Then, and maybe only then, she feels like herself. And it's killing her. She doesn't want that life for herself. She judges that life, and tries to change herself back into someone who'd never do those things, couldn't be that person. Even if it means being miserable.

There's a Closeted feeling to Yuka's story, as she desperately denies what she needs in order to be what other people expect, or to lose her desires in making someone else happy. It's, I think, the reason why she throws herself at Kaido. I don't think she has any real interest in him. Honestly, I don't think she has any real interest in Keitaro, online or IRL. But those relationships are a safe harbour from thinking about herself, from having to come to terms with who she is and what she needs to feel like herself.

The Takumi scenes are the same thing, her caring for him because of what Yuuji would think of her, or how sublimating her needs into being a caregiver (she's literally faceless for one shot, she's a role instead of a person) absolves her of any self-interrogation or reflection. She's always throwing herself into someone else's arms, because she doesn't trust what she wants to do with her hands.

Huh. Maybe I'm not having any trouble at all investing in Yuka? Maybe her spotlight wasn't a mixed bag? Maybe this episode was a goddamn home run?


Because I thought the rest of the story was pretty much aces. Kusaka has ramped up from last episode's Maybe Not The Best Guy to this episode's 67% More Weaselly. There's a cruelty to him that I think differentiates the kind of asshole he is, a qualifier maybe only necessary on this Kamen Rider series. Takumi can be horrible, but usually in a blunt, insensitive way. Kusaka treats the rescued Yuuji like a hostage, someone he's happy to watch suffer. Whatever version of him was The Good Guy has all but vanished, leaving a bully in its place. It's not something that ends up getting a ton of play in this episode, but it's fascinating to watch develop.


I mean, I guess you see it a little at the end, him being a bully, once Takumi picks sides in the Faiz Fight at the end.

Yeah, really thought this was going to be a Takumi story, and it's not really one. His point in the story is to observe Yuka's struggle and try to make sense of it. His perspective is limited, so he's maybe viewing her as more of a conflicted soul than she really is. Or, I guess, viewing her conflict as a metaphor, rather than her individual problems. (Well, everyone's always projecting onto Yuka, so why not our hero?) She saved him back at the river, and he can't figure out why. She's an Orphnoch, and they're monsters, and Faiz kills them. Suddenly, it's more complicated.

The whole episode makes it complicated, with Kamen Rider Kaixa being a grotesque sadist, while the deadliest Orphnoch nurses Takumi back to health. It makes this story less about sides, and more about people, and that's so rewarding to watch. That choice Takumi makes to defend Yuka, to see a humanity that may actually be killing her and try to protect it, it's something that I think the show almost entirely earns. I might quibble a bit about it giving Takumi a more empathetic outlook than we've seen from him before, but a) dude had a near-death experience and that gives him a pass for at least a day as far as making uncharacteristic choices, and b) it means he'd have to fight Kaixa and I don't think that's a tough choice for Takumi to make.

Much like previous heroic moments from Takumi, there's a little bit in the performance where he doesn't even seem to know why he's risking this fight for Yuka. It's a rash, almost selfish decision, to fight Kaixa. He's got a gut feeling that this is all wrong somehow, that someone who'd save his life doesn't deserve to be beaten the way Kaixa is beating her, no matter what species she is. (The show does a great/horrifying job of making the Kaixa/Yuka fight entirely one-sided, keeping Kaixa firmly in the role of sadist once again.) He's saving Yuka, but it's more that he's saving the idea of complexity, of a world that isn't binary. He's fighting for a world where monsters can save people and Kamen Riders can be assholes.


He's also FIGHTING. That Faiz Fight at the end! Man!

It's a barnburner for sure, with Faiz holding his own against Kaixa in a swordfight (maybe if Takumi could've punched a few times during that fencing duel he'd've gotten a point or two) before everything escalates to Ride Machines and missiles. I'm not crazy about Kaixa's ED-209 motorcycle (which came from... where?), at least in its CG mode. The bike itself is cool, though. Love that sidecar! Definitely love the Gundam amount of missiles, too!


So weird. Thought this one wasn't that great, but now I feel like I really loved it? There's not really much I could point to as a mark against it. Yuka's actor has a tough time in a scene or two, but the character is pretty fully-developed in my brain now. Whatever deficiencies she might have, I guess I don't really care that much? The story they told with the character was strong enough to paper over those flaws, at least in retrospect.

Most times, I feel less good about a middling episode after writing about it. Here, it's like I found way more to love about it. Finding beauty in something you thought you didn't like? How Faiz!