Well, that was an hour spent writing a shitty version of this post.

It was an hour where, as I neared the end of it, I was like Wataru at the beginning of this episode. You get to this moment and you're like This Is Garbage, and then that's it. There's no salvaging it. There's no fixing it. You made a wrong turn so early in the process that you can only burn it up and start from scratch.

I really liked the start of this episode. I liked Wataru realizing that he'd built himself a prison of Almost Bloody Roses over the last eight episodes. It's a ballsy cold open, the hero of the show feeling so disappointed in his art that he needs to watch it be destroyed. It's sad, and awkward. Wataru throws a little fit. It's childish and slightly obnoxious. I get it, though. It definitely fit this episode, a story about how much we care about art and the ways we try to protect it.

Oomura is a pretty great Guest Dad for Wataru. I mean, Murakami from Faiz! Sure! You don't have to talk me into it! He's got a really great attitude in his scenes with Wataru, where he's kindly and gently trying to get Wataru to stop looking to other people for validation. The world doesn't need Wataru to make another Bloody Rose; Otoya already did that, and it's three feet away. What the world needs is the violin that only Wataru can make, if he'd actually let himself make it. Wataru's struggle isn't just to make his dad (or Guest Dads) proud, it's to find a way to communicate his art to the world. Oomura sees that, and tries to give Wataru the tools to express himself. It is incredibly lovely.

So, of course, Oomura is a murderous Fangire. He's in the 1986 scenes, bumping off people who would play a perfect violin badly. (That scene of Yuri playing the Black Star so badly that fish died!) It's his dedication to art and craftsmanship as a mania; as some futile attempt to create a space where only beauty can exist, no matter the cost. He is furious at a world he can't control, and a world that won't live to a higher standard.

So, of course, he has to fight Nago. The eventually-returning Nago officially takes up the mantle of IXA in this episode, the infuriatingly obvious choice made by the higher-ups at W.A.K.E.U.P. (I like the suit! He looks like Kamen Rider Catholicism, and that's exactly right for the secondary Rider of a vampire show.) There's a nice move made by this episode to at least have Megumi argue for her candidacy, even though this is a franchise that's always going to have some handwavey reason why the strong, capable woman can't be a Kamen Rider. (Kiriko can't be Drive why, exactly?) Here at least, the frustration caused by Nago's inevitable coronation is sort of the point, where him shouting Henshin feels like a huge mistake. His inflexibility matched against Oomura's inflexibility makes for a fun thematic concept, as well as an eventually tragic outcome.

Because, like... Oomura is maybe just misguided? There's a lot of time in this episode given over to adding nuance to the monsters of Kiva. Oomura is a decades-long murderer, but he's also someone who clearly cares for Wataru. He believes in the work they're doing, and treasures the music that work could create. He just cares about it to, like, a fanatical degree. He doesn't come off like someone who's thrilled to battle a Kamen Rider. He comes off like a craftsman who regrets his choices. He's not exactly innocent or evil, and that's a way more interesting story to tell.

The 1986 portion of the episode adds more of those details, as Zanki meets up with the other members of the Monster Squad to talk about why he's working with Yuri and the rest of W.A.K.E.U.P. It's a scene that's mostly about later payoffs, considering we know that the kid is a Gillagoon and we still don't know what the other monster is, but it does manage to fill in some more backstory. All the other monster races, the Clawolves and Gillagoons and Yummy Mummys (?), they were all nearly wiped out by the Fangires. The Monster Squad is all that's left, and Zanki's like Hey What If We Worked With Humans To Kill Fangires. It's a very Inoue take on teamwork, more about briefly-aligned goals than about deeply-held altruism. It makes Zanki a nicely pragmatic antihero, someone who can be counted on but not trusted. I dug that scene for how it added some new shades to the monsters, slotting in well with the tragically misguided Oomura.

I really enjoyed this episode, which is why I maybe wrote so badly about it before. (This one felt a little better, less laborious.) It's talking about art and validation in ways that are... difficult to untangle. It's talking about our need to find our own voice, and about how the very desire that leads us to create art can cause us to feel ownership over art, and about how gross that rigid definition of art can be. I hope I made any sense in trying to explain how smart I thought this episode was!