Takumi never really learned how to live.

If there’s a tragedy to his death, that’s it. He spent his first life certain of his death, so he fought like he’d never be around for the victory. But his second life he treated as too precious to risk; too tenuous to move forward. In an existence with two lives, there’s not much actual living in it. Too reckless or too cautious, with nothing in-between.

Because he knew what it meant to die. It’s not just the loss of a person, but the loss of what that person meant to others. He’d had to live with friends and enemies – sometimes the same person – dying, and had to find some way to keep going. The idea of more death, more sacrifice, more weight to carry… better to keep fighting for another outcome than give in to that finality.

But, it’s more nuanced than that. A death can be a gift, a way of treating a life as something to be shared with those whose stories keep going. Takumi’s second life was lived in paralysis, haunted by ghosts and guilted by survivors. His second death was a reclamation of his heroism, a chance to make his life more meaningful and valuable by his ability to hand it over for the future of others. In his death, he finally got to live his dream of a clear sky and a brighter future. It’s not a tragedy that he died; it’s a tragedy that it took him so long to truly live.

I can’t imagine what I got out of this movie when I first watched it. (“Movie”; D-Video Special, technically.) It’s a story that slowly reveals itself to be a Faiz epilogue, and I hadn’t seen Faiz back then. It completely hadn’t stuck in my memory at all, beyond the time loop stuff and Yongou. Watching the back half of this, the last episode and a half, was a brand-new experience.

Like, I forgot Kaido was in this?! I don’t know that I’d’ve picked him to be the one trying to keep Takumi from sacrificing himself, but it works. It works great. Kaido’s strength as a character was always how the actor played the self-deprecating aspects as a thin mask over endless oceans of bitterness and grief, so it’s the perfect way to incrementally refocus the story on Takumi’s death(s). Kaido gets to defuse the tension just enough to make the conclusion the spotlight, while still weaving in the appropriate melancholy of his and Takumi’s reunion scenes. It’s so great to see them together again, but you can feel how fleeting it is.

This is a story that gets who Takumi is, more than I thought the Taisen movie did. They’re both talking about his inability to embrace his new life, but this movie comes at it in a more generalized way, tying it less to Kusaka’s (KUSAKA’S) death and more to a Takumi that doesn’t know how to process his mortality.

It’s there in the use of the hill, and the screen, and what they represented in the finale. The hill was his new start; the screen was what was holding him back. Having the screen on the hill is the movie saying that Takumi’s new start is maybe what’s holding him back now, his possible future keeping him from dealing with his past. Staging his acceptance there, in that way, was such a love-letter to Faiz fans. It’s not just reused iconography and unearned nostalgia; it’s recontextualized history, the language of landmarks. The whole sequence was a beautiful return to the way Kamen Rider 555 would pose tricky questions about how best to live in a world that might not have place for you, and I couldn't be more grateful that they got it right.

Not a perfect series, though, this one. It’s too long, for sure. Could’ve been two episodes, or a single hour-long project. Once it’s clear we’re in a Faiz story, there’s not much use for anyone but Takumi and Kaido. (Yuuto, especially, is barely necessary for the emotional stakes of this story.) A lot of the beginning of the story is about Kiriko and Shinnosuke processing Go’s death, but they never really have to come to terms with it. There’s not really much interplay between Shinnosuke, Takumi, and Yuuto. (Like, how does that team work.) Having the Great Leader look like Takumi – making Takumi defeat his own desire to live – is a little on the nose. Not nearly enough Deneb.

But that’s all beside the point, really. It’s a story about Faiz. It’s hinted at in the title, a subtle reference to the 4th Heisei Rider. As a Drive project, it’s not the best. Too slow, which is antithetical to Drive’s storytelling. But as a Faiz project? It’s a bittersweet tribute to one of my favorite shows, and it's a worthy end to one of the best Heisei Riders.

Very glad I rewatched this today.