Great episode for exploring the larger themes of the series! Maybe not super great for giving a shit about Kagerou as a character or villain!

One of the big thesis statements of this show is that, by ignoring the parts of ourselves we dislike, we’re actually empowering them. The solution to inner turmoil and negative thinking is to draw that stuff out into the open, confront it, and find some way to make peace with it. Ikki and Vice are the hopeful outcome that prove the thesis, what with their Kamen Ridering for justice and family and busybodying and so forth, but Daiji and Kagerou are the cautionary tale that do the same. Daiji thought he could refuse to acknowledge his envy and resentment towards his older brother, but all that did was create a vengeful jealousy monster with naturally-occurring makeup and no particular strategy. Rather than accept his own emotional shortcomings – along with, uh, his psychological and physical ones; Daiji’s… not bringing a lot to the table yet – Daiji clamped down on his darker impulses until it was too late to address them. In lieu of self-examination and counseling, now he’s got a death sentence from Fenix and a brother who may end up Rider Kicking him out of a possession and into the afterlife.

And yet… god, Kagerou’s not much to talk about in the moment to moment of this show? He’s just a walking Stamp Story: causing chaos, getting beat, wandering off, repeat. Beyond emotionally torturing Ikki – which is, admittedly, his entire stated goal – he’s not really elevating the narrative structurally. Thematically, yes, absolutely, see above. But the shape of this episode isn’t especially appealing, even compared to some of the lackluster prior installments. It’s honestly, I think, down to how unimpressive the actor’s performance is for Kagerou. It’s just one-note, and that note is He Smiles Too Much. There’s no charisma or menace to Kagerou, no sense of anything lurking under the surface. When he breaks everything down for Ikki at the end – that Ikki’s positive qualities created a raging envy in Daiji – it’s the most animated and expressive the character has been to date… but it’s all under the Evil mask. This should’ve been the scene where Kagerou’s motivation blossomed into something complicated and tragic, but it’s all delivered as a jab at Revi from Evil, not an emotional bombshell from one brother to another. Kagerou never quite feels as threatening as an unhinged, resentful Daiji should be, and the Evil plots match that uninspired performance.

But it still works, because of how much the episode centers on the Igarashis’ response to Evil’s (repetitive, generic) activities. The whole point of the episode is about how a family solves problems internally, and how we need to see every part of the people we love in order to best care for each other. Ikki’s unable to stop Kagerou because he can’t see past his brother’s face, but even when he does, he can’t forget that Kagerou comes from something deep inside Daiji; Daiji isn’t possessed by some outside force, Kagerou literally came from inside him. The terror of Kagerou for the Igarashi family isn’t that Daiji’s trapped, it’s that Kagerou is the part of Daiji he never wanted anyone to see. When Ikki’s tasked with bringing Daiji home, it’s not because of Revi or Vice or stamps or Drivers, it’s because Ikki’s always been the one who most understood Daiji, even when no one else did. The problem in this one… it’s not a Kamen Rider problem, and that’s why the cliffhanger is Ikki trying to solve it as one: a cliffhanger only works if it’s making things worse. The solution isn’t to defeat Kagerou, it’s to save Daiji. Those are two different things.

We’ll see if Ikki figures that out next time!

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