“I hate music - what is it worth?
Can't bring anyone back to this earth
Or fill in the space between all of the notes
But I got nothing else so I guess here we go”

-Superchunk, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”

So, about that screencap.

Could’ve gone with a Zanki one, or a Todoroki one. Could’ve gone with one of them both together, like them rocking out at the end. (Fun shot, for sure.) There’s a good bookend one, of Todoroki bowing to Zanki, and then him bowing to no-one because Zanki’s gone. I mean, the title of this episode is “Zanki’s Glorious Death” - what kind of idiot doesn’t lead with a Zanki-oriented image?

This idiot, and I’ll tell you why: the Asumu/Kiriya plot is everything this show does well, everything it’s trying to do well, and the Todoroki/Zanki one fundamentally doesn’t work.

Like, that Asumu moment is, without a doubt in my mind, the biggest moment he’s had in the show, and what could (and maybe should) have been the final moment for him in this show. He’s hanging out with Hitomi and Akira, as Hitomi’s practicing for her panel theater group. Asumu’s paying half-attention, wrapped up in guilt and suspicion over Kiriya’s possible role in the death (?) of a local teen. Eventually, he’s roused from his pondering by Hitomi, and then asked by the teacher of the group if he’d consider joining. Before he can answer, the teacher’s daughter asks him to join the group. He starts to beg off, likely citing his Oni training, school work, etc. He’s a busy kid, and this isn’t his passion. And then the kid asks again, promising it’ll be okay.

And Asumu agrees to join.

It is the most Kamen Rider thing in the world, and you can see it all on Asumu’s face. He doesn’t want to join this group. It’s not his passion, and he’s got no time. But this kid. She wants him to help. She’s asking for her mom’s sake. It would mean so much to her. So he says yes. At that instant, he’d do anything to help this kid. She needs help, and he’d move heaven and earth to help her.

What makes it so perfect for me is that it’s so small, so pointless. It isn’t saving some kid from the path of an out-of-control truck. It isn’t defeating a monster. It’s sacrificing some of his time to make a kid smile. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.

Better yet, it happens in a vacuum. I don’t think Asumu could even tell you why he said yes, but if you’ve watched 44 other episodes of Hibiki you know exactly why. It’s because he’s been raised well, and he’s become a good man. He’s seen so much kindness, helpfulness, sacrifice, empathy… he’s seen so much decency that he can’t be anything less than decent. It’s the culmination of everything he’s experienced over the course of this series, that one decision to help a little girl.

I loved it. And I loved how the rest of the episode for Asumu kept filling out that idea that the Oni are better off as role models than as participants. The actual plot makes about zero goddamn sense (Dogwheel is hunting teens like they owe him money, which the episode never seems keen to acknowledge), but the way it delves into the Asumu/Kiriya friendship, the way it’s just these two kids trying to navigate their hopes and fears… yes. I love that. I love Hibiki being a mentor that is shaping these kids in broader ways, creating an ideal to aspire to rather than a man to respond to. The two of them having this weird adventure where Kiriya gets to come to terms with his burgeoning conscience, where he gets to hone his competitive spirit into something useful? Dug it. Dug the hell out of it.

I did not dig the Zanki/Todoroki story, basically because it does the exact opposite.

The Asumu/Kiriya plot is all about them absorbing these lessons without Hibiki directly telling them to do something. The Todoroki plot is literally Hibiki and Ibuki saying Here Is What Lesson You Need To Learn To Let Your Dad Rest In Peace. It takes what should be a graceful, touching finale for Zanki, and makes it plodding, obvious. It removes any sense of growth or journey from Todoroki’s story, and that is criminal. The whole point of putting Todoroki through all of this was for this emotional climax, and it’s less Oh My God than God Finally.

It just… it fundamentally didn’t work for me, the Todoroki stuff in this. Setting aside some of the logistics (What in the hell happened to the dead Zanki body that Ibuki found on the shore?) (Also, isn’t Todoroki Hitomi’s cousin? Why hasn’t she been to see him in the hospital?) (Did the Oni keep Todoroki’s guitar in his hospital room? When he was crippled?) (Just… why are the Makamou seemingly targeting the Oni? This seems like a big deal and the show hasn’t mentioned it once!) (Jesus, the plotting in this one…), I just couldn’t connect with a lot of the emotional storytelling. There are no real surprises to it, no turns in the story. It does exactly what it says on the tin, you know? Zanki has a glorious death. Every step along the path is pretty much exactly what you’d think.

And then you’ve got the Asumu plot, which, boom, huge moment, no set-up, out of nowhere. Took my breath away. Unbelievably, in an area of the show that I’d almost given up on, it’s one of my favorite moments in the entire series. Top 3, easy.

Yeah, boy, this ain’t the one where Zanki dies. It’s the one where Asumu became a Kamen Rider.