One of the things I think this show does well is how it takes aspects of Shinji's personality that could be annoying or ineffective, but turns them into strengths. This episode was, for me, a showcase for everything that's irritating about Shinji and why I love those things.

Shinji's motivation in this one is muddled. Now that Asakura is utterly irredeemable, Shinji's decided to focus his rehabilitation energy on Kitaoka, Kamen Rider Scumbag. Shinji wants to break through to Kitaoka, to get him to reform and give up the Rider Battles. Barring that, he hopes to at least figure out why Kitaoka's fighting. The main problem is he basically has no plan of attack. Working from, I guess, the Yui school of Getting What You Want By Being Pathetic And Annoying, Shinji shows up at Kitaoka's house and just sort-of hopes for the best. It's a terrible plan, and Shinji's obviously desperate, so of course Kitaoka takes advantage and gets Shinji to clean his house, make his lunch, and generally be Goro For A Day.

(Speaking of, holy shit does Goro clean up nice!)

The idea of throwing Shinji and Kitaoka together isn't a new one, but it's still an incredibly smart one. They've got great comedic rhythm, with Kitaoka manipulating the trusting Shinji and Shinji barely able to get the vain and lazy Kitaoka to take things seriously. They're so goddamn funny together. There's a ton of little bits of business that cracked me up. Like, during their first drive, trailing the threatening dudes, Kitaoka keeps turning the rearview mirror to look at himself, and Shinji keeps turning it back to drive. It's a little bit of physical comedy, but it's so on-point that it was killing me. Or, Jesus, the fact that Kitaoka immediately tries to get the thugs to beat up Shinji instead of him. Like, immediately. He doesn't try and bluff or haggle or anything, he's just, like, Please Beat Up This Guy Instead Of Me. This whole episode was a laugh.

But, as with all of the really great Ryuki episodes, it's a thrilling and funny installment that also does outstanding character work. Shinji's weird insistence on throwing himself into situations he really doesn't understand and can't clearly articulate what his plan is, this is not a good thing about him. If things work out for him, it's dumb luck, and if things don't work out, they probably shouldn't have anyway. And yet, I never seem to be able to get mad at Shinji for not having a better plan in this episode. When he believes in something, he can't just wait until he's got a good idea. He'd rather do the wrong thing than do nothing, you know? He can't wait things out. And that's why he hangs out with Kitaoka, hoping something will happen that'll give him direction.

And it does! But not really how it seemed like it was going to. In trying to get through to Kitaoka, and largely just becoming his maid, Shinji gets that this cause, of trying to rehabilitate Kitaoka... it's someone else's motivation. He'd like Kitaoka to give up the Rider Battles, to fight for justice, but that's not why Shinji became a Kamen Rider. In a scene that feels for all the world like the writer grabbing the show and getting it back on track, Shinji realizes that he wants to save people from monsters. That's it. He'd rather other Riders not fight each other, but that's their decision, and they have to live with it. He can't fix Kitaoka any more than he could fix Asakura or even Ren. He can do what he thinks is right, follow his own moral compass, help other Riders as much as they let him, and feel content with that. Other people's choices are other people's choices.

Weirdly, in a way, that might be how Shinji best changes the fates of the other Riders. Not by some judgemental lecturing, or urgent pleading, but by being an example for them to aspire to. By being Kamen Rider Ryuki, a dopey, earnest, honest, confident hero.

I think one of the reasons why all those elements work is because of how the show plays Shinji off of the other Riders. This episode, obviously, it's the Kitaoka Show (my favorite show), but there's a few moments with Ren that makes Shinji's character better. Ren's needling, his little digs at Shinji's optimism and empathy, it's a big way the show let's you laugh at Shinji's poorly-considered perseverance, or his overly-trusting nature, or his goofiness (like, he really thinks cleaning windows is going to get Kitaoka to stop trying to kill other Riders?), while still letting those attributes have value. It's... it's that Ren cares enough to say This Is Stupid that makes it not stupid, if that makes any sense. That he pushes back on Shinji's goals and worldview, forcing Shinji to live his words more, or better consider what he wants. Ren sharpens Shinji. It's a great dynamic they have right now, where there's this friendship that has radically opposed philosophies as its foundation. If the phrase Agree To Disagree came to life, it'd look a lot like this friendship.

Speaking of friendships! Yui's back, and she's pretty great in this one? It's mostly just her and Ren, and it's not a ton of scenes, but I like what's here. Their first one, where Yui gets to set up her current outlook, it's nicely direct. Yui's been a... let's say problematic character for me, but in one scene they reposition her in a way where I get what the show's doing with her. She's got a bit more grit now, a bit of resolve, where her mission to get through to Shiro feels optimistic, rather than shapeless. Yui's a good mirror to Shinji in this one, with both of them tired of sitting around second-guessing their options, instead just pressing forward. I like this version of Yui, a version that isn't saying Why Me all the time. I much prefer this new one, who seems to be saying If Me, Then I Have Some Control. It's a good look on Yui!

Honestly, I'm not sure if this was a great episode, or just a really good episode that looks great in comparison to the previous episode. I don't know. This one was great, though. Terrifically funny, massively insightful, and with a thrilling fight sequence that I totally forgot to talk about so, uh, let's do that now ha ha WHOOPS. All of the card switching stuff between Ryuki and Zolda was awesome. Great gags, with Ryuki getting blasted while Kitaoka got stronger, but also a really good visualization for how much stronger they are by cooperating. Oh, and I dug how Kitaoka was like, Of Course My Cards Only Work For Me, like he got some sort of instruction manual that Shinji didn't. It's not the case, Shiro doesn't seem huge on documentation or a Rider Battle onboarding process ("Welcome to Rider Battles. Fight or Die. Any questions? Keep in mind, all of the answers are going to be Fight and/or Die."), but I'm okay with Shinji being perennially the least-informed Rider. It's fitting. That fight, though. Man! It was fantastic. No! It was excellent.

Just like this episode! That I can't believe I had this much to say about! Fish Sandwich's brand-new "Fish Sandwich rewatches Kamen Rider Kuuga" thread must be affecting me. I'd probably be better off posting these feelings in Deepsea's new "General Kamen Rider Thoughts" thread. #ad

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