I don't know that I really liked this episode very much, but there's a thing I really respected about its construction: It's a Nago spotlight episode, and that extends to its storytelling. Nago's a dude who does not stand for obfuscation or dissembling or introspection, and so neither does this episode. It's blunt in a way that... yeah, I didn't really like the experience of watching it, but I sort of respected its bizarre principles. Like Nago!

It's an insane episode, though, for how the plot unfurls. Gotta commend it for that, too.

It starts off with Megumi getting arrested for a crime she didn't commit, eliciting a heartfelt and supportive You Probably Did It But I'll Make Certain from Nago. Then Shima gets nabbed for a crime he didn't commit, and Nago's like Ugh Fine There's Maybe A Chance This Is All A Setup But I'm Not Convinced. (I absolutely love how Shima doesn't consider the possibility of someone framing W.A.K.E.U.P. agents until he gets pinched. He is totally okay with Megumi getting sent to jail on bullshit charges!) From there, it's only a quick monster fight until Nago himself is made a target of the police.

The best part of this whole sequence, beyond Kengo's delight at officially becoming Nago's student, is how stock this story is - heroes framed for a crime by a villain! - until you make Nago the protagonist. He's so colossally unsuited to freeing wrongly accused friends, since a) he doesn't even believe in the term "wrongly accused”, and b) he doesn't even believe in the term "friends”. Megumi and Shima might as well be asking Rook to free them. Putting Nago in a position of altruistic heroism is so uncomfortable for him, and it's a really cool starting place for this story.

It's also the best section of this episode, because, uh.

The first thing to go wrong is Rising IXA, which... I mean, what the hell is even going on with Rising IXA. It's got a cellphone that appears out of thin air, like we're watching Faiz or something (it even unlocks with a variation on Kaixa's 9-1-3 code!), and then it's just a mess of a suit. The chest panel is now some red starburst furnace? The helmet is a samurai? There's a heart-shaped choker?! And the color palette, man. Red and blue and white and gold and silver? Crazy. Way too busy. I don't know why I was expecting more from the W.A.K.E.U.P. design team that gave us the Ixcavator, but I suppose I was. I guess some things just peaked in the 80s.

Well, maybe not everything was great in the 80s. After getting rescued from the cops by Tanahashi, a painter who IXA nearly killed back in '86, we finally get the details of this scheme. Tanahashi blames IXA and all of W.A.K.E.U.P. not just for his injuries, but for the mysterious disappearance of his muse: Maya! Since his recovery in the late 80s, Tanahashi has - and I swear to god that this is his explanation - trained to be a cop, spending decades rising through the ranks, all to have the kind of authority that would allow him to frame multiple people for crimes.

Like, what. WHAT.

Even for an Inoue plot, it's completely bonkers. This guy fought crime or pushed papers or whatever, for 22 years, so that one day he could ruin a bunch of lives. I'm not even going to get into the whole So Did You Never Care About Helping People part of him being, I'd assume, a fairly great cop. (He got promoted a ton, so he must've been effective.) He considers what he's doing is justice, I'd guess. I mean, it's just vengeance, nothing special, but it's clear he thinks he's doing the world a favor. It's just... dude was a 30-something painter in 1986. Is that the sort of recruit that's going to fly up the ranks in the police? And, shit, why look at an organization you despise and say The Only Way To Defeat Them Is To Dedicate My Life To Justice And Then Subvert It? Like, it's three people who do all their work out of a cafe! Just open up a competing cafe and you can end their whole group! You could be out of the Vengeance racket in way less time!

But anyway, Tanahashi just straight-up tells Nago all of this in maybe my favorite moment in the episode. It's a ridiculous, laughable scheme, but Tanahashi isn't looking to trick Nago with subterfuge or anything. He wants IXA to know that he's doing all of this so that IXA suffers the most. It's a total supervillain move, giving the game away specifically to taunt the hero. It's theatrical in all of the best ways. It's the exhilarating cherry on top of an idiotic sundae.

It gets worse/better, though. Oh, does it ever.

So, Nago's boxed in. Tanahashi's already taken out 2/3rds of W.A.K.E.U.P., and confiscated the IXA Knuckle to boot. If only IXA hadn't ruined Tanahashi's life 22 years ago, none of them would be in this mess now. If only Nago could go back in time and fix things!

Which, he can? Thanks to a not-trapped Jiro? And a Castle Doran that was underground? And Castle Doran's heretofore-unmentioned Time Door? That sends Nago back to 1986, to interact with Otoya and Yuri?

I'm pretty sure this is the point where I completely checked out of this episode. I admire the goddamn brass balls of Inoue to resolve a complicated problem with Time Door, but, come on. It's such a massive cop-out that I could not have been less interested in what happened next. The entire plot ceased having any appreciable stakes or consequences, because, like, what if there's a Nago Wins door, too. It's phenomenally lazy, even by Inoue standards. Just... Time Door. Man. Whatever.

The rest of the episode is the rest of the episode. Nago is judgmental about Otoya and Yuri moving in together, Maya has that face, and Wataru tells an absolutely out of nowhere story to Shizuka about a friend he had as a child that I find difficult to believe he never once told Shizuka about his literally only ever friend before her. The Taiga stuff would be ham-fisted in any other episode, but in this one it was just another baffling story element that floated along without feeling tied to any story or character logic. (Seriously, this never came up before with Shizuka, but it suddenly does now?)

Not a great episode! Started off pleasant enough, with the sort of head-down, business-first attitude we'd expected from a Nago-driven story. But then Time Door, and it's not really about much. (It's a Nago story! He's not deep enough to support a story about anything! And he prefers it that way!) It's one of those Things Happen tokusatsu stories, where it's not really doing anything fun with allegory or metaphor, but it's all-in on bizarre circumstances and poorly-explained developments. It's fine as a time-waster, but I honestly thought this series had progressed beyond that type of story by now.

Who'd've thought that a story focused on the most aggressively unlikeable Kiva character (2008 Division) would end up being a disappointment? Shocking development!