That picture, man. That's the entire series of Kabuto for me, for better or worse. Two people I really care about, basking in a victory that's worth so much less than the celebration. That big smile on Kagami's face, his happiness overshadowing a lackluster superhero plot. And that's the show, really. Some excellent character development, some incredible performances, and a series plot that nearly always found a way to rob them of their hard work.

I mean, I crab about how forgettable/poorly-sketched the villains can be in the Phase 1 shows, but this has got to be a new low. The Worms are introduced as mysterious invaders, and basically just stay that way for the rest of the show? There's never any sense of an overall goal, or a grand design. We'll meet a random monster, they'll do some random murders (or have a random target), and then they get detonated. When we finally get a recurring villain in Worm Widow and Worm Widower, they aren't really an escalation of the plot or arc or anything. They're just, like, recurring. They take a few more episodes to get detonated than the average Worm, but they don't mean more to the plot. They're just there a bit more. The Worms are a constant presence, a consistent threat... but they're also background noise, well-designed wallpaper. They aren't really a story?

And the main villain, the real threat... I mean, Negishi doesn't even get introduced until episode 45 of a 49-episode series. That is over ninety percent of the show before he shows up, and we don't even find out he's a villain until episode 47. His plot isn't even explained until the penultimate episode! That leaves this series stringing together the occasional clever plot with a raft of forgettable one-offs, with no real story progression to speak of. It's just a rotating cast of antagonists and adversaries without anything feeling like we're going anywhere. ZECT is a threat, until they're a joke, until they're nothing, until they're a threat. Goro is a second-in-command until he's randomly the final monster. Dark Kabuto is in, like, two stories. The Natives aren't in opposition to Kabuto until the last half-hour. Worm Widow and Worm Widower have a deeper crew of monsters, but their activities are just them being more or less public as the plot demands.

It's a show that is massively confused about what the villains are up to, and any attempt to encapsulate the threats the heroes face would sound like you hated the show. (See above!) Nearly any part of the series that tried to foreground the series arc was boring at best, actively confusing at worst. If my mind ever strays to the plotting of the season, I just get angry about it.

But, man, the characters in those plots are so goddamn good.

Tendou is a character that, on paper, 100% should not work. He starts the show as an arrogant know-it-all, and ends the series as a slightly less arrogant know-it-all that you love regardless. His arc is one of the saving graces of the show, as he never really smooths out his rough edges, while still making you feel like he's worth caring for. Tendou's all about one of the main themes of the show, that individual success is a societal good. He's a hero who is more interested in protecting people's potential than in protecting people; encouraging them to become their own heroes, asking them to succeed so the whole world could be that much better. He's like the sun, shining down on the world. The sun isn't creating millions of individual beams of light, personal and unique. It's bathing the world in light, and trusting you to go bask in it or not.

Kagami was the opposite, able to see the worth in everyone. He'd risk it all for a single person, anyone. While Tendou hid his heart behind a god-level view of the world, Kagami and his Very Big Feelings were us, were the people who could never be Tendou. Kagami was achievable, recognizable. Kagami embraced the world, and tried to make sure everyone in it was happy. Tendou was someone who wanted to let people achieve; Kagami was someone who understood what it felt like to not achieve. Kagami was the other main theme of the series, that humility is the key to pursuing success. We got to see Kagami struggle to live up to the success of others. We got to see him feel like he'd never make anyone proud. But then we got to see him succeed on his own terms, by not trying to be Tendou or Yaguruma or his dad or anyone else. Once he owned his limitations, stop judging himself for his shortcomings, stopped measuring himself against others, he could finally succeed. He's the beating heart of this show.

Or, y'know, maybe Hiyori is? The most relatable character of the show (YMMV), Hiyori was the most fascinating character to follow in the early going. Someone who was like a raw nerve, exposed to the world, expecting everyone in her life to let her down. She was rude, closed-off, and endlessly watchable. Getting to see her grow into a friendship with Tendou, to see her faith restored by Kagami, those were some series highlights. It's unfortunate that we never really got to see what the show would've done with her. I honestly never liked the reveal that she was Tendou's sister, but maybe that plot would've won me over in time. (It was super easy to forget about in later episodes, which I really appreciated.) As it is, her absence from the show leaves her diminished in my memory, all of those beautifully acted scenes as present in my mind as episodes of Hibiki, or Blade. Her return to the series is like an afterthought, a story that becomes more about Tendou than her. Her journey feels like it stopped at the midway point, and that's a real shame.

The rest of the cast was fantastic, up and down the credits. Tsurugi, the adorable comedy relief who got the loveliest send-off, living happily in France. Yaguruma, always keeping the core of his identity, no matter the shell he was in. Kageyama, a ridiculous man who died a ridiculous death. Misaki, the only one at times who seemed like they were saying things I believed in. Tadokoro, stuck between a shadow war with monstrous invaders on one side, and two insubordinate underlings who needed to tell him everything ZECT is doing wrong on the other side. Juka, who is incredibly well-fed. And Daisuke and Gon, who were on this show just often enough to remind me that they're great, while always feeling like the show had to stop to accommodate them. (Worth it!)

love these people. I loved getting to spend a couple months with them. I cried actual tears when I realized that my time with them was coming to an end. I loved their arcs, the themes of achievement and humility that they embodied.

I disliked the world they were in. Rarely did any of plots live up to the characters' or actors' potential. (The Inoue stories did, mostly. The Dark Chef one was maybe the best two-parter this show ever had.) The plots were occasionally fun, but never really added up to much. The series arc was a huge drag, actively working against what this series had going for it.

But, again, look at that picture up there of Kagami, beaten but joyous. It doesn't matter what stupid story he just had to go through, or the flimsy motivation of the monster he just had to defeat. He won, him and Tendou both. They did it.

I can't be too mad at a series that can make me this happy.