I like how willing this show is to make Daiji unheroic.

It’s not… y’know, it’s not the most upbeat or cathartic viewing experience, but I find it maybe more compelling than Ikki’s franchise-typical hot-headed empathy and unstoppable self-sacrifice. Those are the engines a show like this runs on, but Daiji’s self-sabotage and envy are the scenery that get my attention.

It’s an episode that’s mostly concerned with issues of scale, and how family affects that worldview both positively and negatively. Daiji’s weakness is that he wants to do too much, as his mother (BEST CHARACTER) tries to point out. He wants to be a world-saving superhero, and the weight of that causes him to freeze up and freak out. Meanwhile, Ikki just wants to keep his family safe, and it lets him tap into a reservoir of conviction that Daiji can’t access. A massive motivation like Saving The World… that doesn’t really mean anything, at least not in a way that one person can get their hands around. But even non-Riders can work to keep the people close to them safe, as Sakura’s actions attest. Heroism starts local and builds global, not the other way around. Daiji could be the hero the world needs, if he’d just stop thinking about what the world needs.

And yet, while the show makes that lesson clear, Daiji doesn’t learn anything. I really like that? I like that it’s going to be harder for Daiji to get out of his own way than just coming through in an Episode 3 clutch. His issues are bigger than that, and he’s in a situation where his family’s support and happiness just makes him feel more like a fraud and an outcast. He has a vision of what he wants to be to his family, but that’s not what they want from him. The tension of that, how what’s a treasure for Ikki is a curse for Daiji… boy, I’m really into that.

This episode’s Stamp Story nicely plays into that, with both a parallel for Daiji’s unhappiness and anxiety (Ayaka, trying to get her mother to see her the way she wants to be seen) and a darker version of Mom Igarishi’s moral from the kidnapper: the world is horrible, and we do what we have to with the tools and options provided to us in order to make it something that treats us better. It’s a lesson that’s not quite an inversion of Mom Igarishi’s suggestion of personal responsibility and incremental action, but it still manages to turn a lesson of self-acceptance into a justification for selfishness.

It makes for a tight episode, and one that kept me emotionally engaged, even as the action sort of left me cold. It’s fine for what it is, but the tactics are really nowhere in this superhero show. Revi and Vice win because Daiji ran and got a new power-up, which just so happens to beat the bad guys. (Well, Blue Mariachi just wanders off, which was considerate of him?) There’s no clear reason why a Den-O flavored beatdown is so much better than a W or Revice flavored one, other than it’s newer and we’ve got merch to move in Q1. I always like it better when these fights have at least a little bit of strategy or cleverness to them, and Revice’s… don’t? They’re flashy, and have some interesting camera choices, but it hasn’t really felt narratively integral to the episodes yet. It’s there, but it’s not much more than that yet.

Luckily, yeah, I like this weird, frustrating story the show’s willing to tell about the Igarishi family. Ikki’s fiery compassion and reluctant heroism; Daiji’s stern dedication and constant humiliation; Sakura’s quiet confidence and intolerance for creeps; and the wackiest, most charming parents a Kamen Rider show ever let exist for more than a flashback. It’s a fun little world, set in a monstrous bigger world, and I like how that friction is affecting our cast.