1. I’m really enjoying what they’re doing with the Yuka storyline in this show. It’s definitely a new perspective on a monster plot for Kamen Rider. We’ve seen stories of monsters, and we’ve seen stories of people with the power to fight monsters. Usually, it’s about the need for a decent person to become a hero to save other decent people. Occasionally, it’s about less-than-decent people needing to find heroism within themselves to save decent people. But what Faiz is doing is new to me. It’s doing a story about beaten people being given powers, and then using those powers to punish wicked people. The folks that are getting killed by Yuuji and Yuka, they are the worst. Michiko gets saved by Yuka, and the second she sees her parents warming to Yuka, she lies and blames her for the accident. The girls at school target her early and often. None of these people deserve pity, which makes Yuka’s actions feel deserved, cathartic. It’s a way of muddying the water, of making it more difficult to condemn a killer. Yuka isn’t just having a tough time at school and a rough home life, she’s beaten and insulted and abandoned. It’s a not-uncommon horror story to tell, it’s basically just Carrie, but it’s a different look at the origin of monsters than I think Kamen Rider has done before. (It’s definitely not a part of Kuuga through Ryuki. EDIT: Unless you count 60% of Agito, which I forgot about. It's a gray area!) The individual moments of Yuka’s story still veer wildly between Relatable and Hilarious, that really hasn’t changed, but the overall feel of it is intriguing and compelling. For an isolated girl like Yuka to find someone like Yuuji at the end of this episode, another survivor of trauma who has the power to punish his abusers, that’s going to be an interesting friendship.

2. Which, hey, theme of this episode! Yuka needs a friend, but there’s also the developing heroic trio of Takumi, Mari, and Keitaro. Keitaro is clearly the missing piece of the core dynamic, the moral and upstanding straight man to Takumi’s grumpy reticence and Mari’s manipulative self-interest. The show pulls back a little on making fun of Keitaro in this one, portraying his desire to help people as maybe just a little misguided instead of being a fool’s errand. I think the defining moment in this episode for me, the kind of Only In Faiz moment that is increasingly precious to me, is when Keitaro realizes the usefulness of the Faiz gear in saving lives and protecting smiles. He pitches Takumi and Mari on heading to Tokyo, getting to the bottom of the mystery, and stopping the monsters. Takumi immediately Nopes out, expressing misgivings about travelling with the two of them for that long and generally not giving a shit about the monsters or any of it. Rebuffed, Keitaro declares that he and Mari will go by themselves to save the day. And Mari’s like, Also Nope? She wants to find out what the deal is with the belt and bike her dad sent her, but she’s not really about protecting innocents. That is such a great conversation for this show to have, to paint the classic Kamen Rider drive of selflessness and sacrifice as Someone Else’s Problem. Like, Takumi and Mari do not take for granted that they are the protagonists of a tokusatsu series! The second half of the episode is about slowly, incremental, purposefully getting them to care about things that do not directly impact them. It’s so grudging, the way that Takumi will finally tell Keitaro his name, will go with Mari for at least a little longer, will take responsibility (!) for the belt, won’t run away any more. It feels earned, these three weirdos deciding to cast their lot together. It’s not so much about changing them or sanding their edges down, it’s about adding a small amount of compassion to their current stew of bickering and insults. It’s a nice evolution of what’s already working great on this show.

3. Also there’s a goddamn transforming bike now?! Okay! It’s a very fun idea, and I like that for all of her desire to get Takumi to accept his role as Faiz, when he asks Mari for the bike she’s like Uh I’ll Think About It. Why would you rush to give up a transforming bike? It’s pretty well deployed in this episode, proving its worth not by detonating a monster but beating the shit of Faiz. I really like that choice. It’s a neat surprise in the first place, seeing Mari’s bike spring to life and transform into a not-super-convincing robot. (I’m maybe glad they went with a practical suit instead of CG for the FaizCyKill, but the suit is a little distracting in places.) It’s more of a surprise when its first use is beating the hero of the show so hard he drops out of his Henshin. And, sure, it’s a monster inside the Faiz suit, not Takumi, so maybe it’s at lower power. But it’s a stronger debut visually to have FaizCyKill able to not just defeat a monster, but to defeat the guy who defeats monsters. Gives a little boost, you know? I dig the idea of the FaizCyKill, and I’m hopeful that it’ll allow Mari and Keitaro to stay in the mix for fights.

4. And the fights are still good! There’s a whining sound to the Exceed Charge that is getting on my nerves, but otherwise I’m liking what’s there. That little snap of the wrist for Faiz is a catchy flourish, and Faiz himself is (not counting when he’s playing around with new equipment) a very focused and active fighter. He feels more like a boxer than past Riders, where he’s all about getting in close, working the body. It’s a physicality that speaks to Wanting To Get This Done With As Fast As Possible, which is very Takumi. Along those lines, not much to the fight in this episode. Once Takumi gets the belt back and Henshins, it’s only a couple moves before the monster is defeated. (In fairness, there’s the other half of the fight scene, where Faux Faiz kicks his own amount of monster ass, but I have a tough time filing that under Faiz Fight, you know?) Still, a fun enough fight and a solid finish to this episode’s Brawl For The Belt.

5. Overall, I found this to be a tighter episode than the last one, with a focus on just two plots instead of a half-dozen. (Yuuji only shows up at the end, Live Action Hatsune Miku calls in to direct the Orphnochs in tracking down the belt, and a police higher-up doesn’t care that much about the workers missing from last episode’s cave-in.) The ability to drill into one theme, friendship, and then view that through Yuka’s isolation and the developing Takumi/Mari/Keitaro team, it allows for a more approachable story. Unfortunately, it replaces the fever-dream brilliance of some of the last episode with competence, creating a solid episode that isn’t quite as much fun to watch. Still fun, though! Takumi not caring that Keitaro stole the Faiz belt and bike FOREVER.