It’s hard to believe things can get better.

Pessimism is, in a lot of ways, a coping mechanism. Adversity can multiply, where a tiny setback becomes a major obstacle becomes an insurmountable barrier. We look to the future not as a shining reward or a needed respite, but as the next shoe to drop. Believing that we lack the power or tools to better our situation means it’s not only safer to believe it’ll all get worse, it’s smarter. We’re better off not hoping for things to improve. We’re right to give into a bleak outlook, and just navigate the world with a cloud over our heads.

But that’s not set in stone.

It’s appealing to think of the future as an immutable thing. Fate and destiny are another set of coping mechanisms, a way of abdicating personal responsibility in favor of spiritual law, or cosmic truth. If the world is destined to be a certain way, our actions don’t really matter. If we hurt someone, that was just how it was always going to go. If we suffer, that suffering couldn’t have been avoided. We’re just cogs in a machine, characters in a story. The story can't be rewritten, and we can't change the outcome.

Except we can, as long as we believe that we can.

It’s tough to have optimism, but it’s crucial for both our emotional health and our survival as a species. We have to see ourselves as able to control our destinies, and we have to think that we can create a future that’s better than the present. It’s enormously difficult, never more so than when depression makes optimism seem like the cruelest of jokes. But the need to push towards a happier tomorrow creates at least the possibility of that outcome, while surrendering to pessimism practically ensures a tragic result.

We decide how our stories are written.

Kento’s story, inevitably, is one of feeling like he doesn’t have any outs. He only saw one path for him, based on his father’s actions. Trapped in the Realm of Shadows, he lived out an endless string of emotionally-eviscerating apocalypses, where no amount of optimism or teamwork could generate a safe resolution. Now he’s back in the world, but he still sees nothing to do but whatever the most isolating path might lead him towards.

It’s easier for him to suggest that his actions are dictated by fate, or by necessity. It means that he can think of himself as a martyr, and ignore how safe that role always made him feel. His pessimism is a choice, and it’s one he’s always made. Even when he was surrounded by friends, he chose to push them away in the name of a vengeance no else ever asked for. He’s the same Kento he’s always been, even if his level of self-destruction is now measured in megatons.

He’s, if anything, the most natural character to put in opposition to Touma.

Touma’s having to grapple with the idea that a cheerful smile and a heartfelt promise might prove unequal to a world where sorrow lasts for millennia and power corrupts all bonds. What do we do when we can’t reach the people we love the most? How do we protect ourselves from the toxicity of that pessimism? How do we find a way to save people for whom salvation feels like ignorance? It’s asking Touma to level up in a way other than collectibles and form changes, which is the most interesting thing a show like this can attempt.

Best episode of this show, and one of my all-time favorite Kamen Rider episodes.



HOLD ON HOPE



Mei readied herself to see Kento.

It was the strange fact of her life that a day trip to search for the resurrected somber swordsman was merely the most recent absurd and unpredictable thing to occur, and merely the connective tissue of her absurd and unpredictable life. She’d barely had time to recover from Touma’s increasingly traumatic transformations and the slim possibility of reconciliation with Rintaro, and now she was gathering supplies to assist in tracking down her melancholy teammate.

He was sadder than usual, which – Mei had to concede – was probably to be expected after months trapped in a dimension of shadows. (When Yuri had casually explained that Kento had merely been trapped in a dimension of shadows, from which he could return, and thus potentially could have been rescued from, Mei nearly tested the immortal swordsman’s resistance to death.) Kento could take a beautiful sunset and find it a depressing reminder of night’s inevitable arrival, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he’d return to his friends after months in purgatory as something less than a beacon of joy.

She was hopeful that Kento could be brought back into the fold, despite the… Calibur of it all. If there was ever a sign that a swordsman needed more than just a pep talk to get their heads on straight, it was cosplaying as a corrupted knight. It definitely meant a discussion that she’d probably spend several meters away from, to best avoid the pyrotechnic fallout of the difference of opinions.

But first, she and Touma needed to find him.

They’d both immediately zeroed-in on the first location a resurrected Kento was likely to return to: Brooding Roof. It would be their first stop, where – if they had just missed him – further clues were likely to be found. (Mei was, admittedly, not looking forward to seeing Nachi from Building Maintenance so soon after her last visit, but it was worth it for Kento’s sake.) The search would get under way, as soon as they were ready to leave.

But how would they convince Kento to come back to his friends?

They’d barely managed it with Rintaro, before he was abducted by Reika, and Rintaro was a sweet boy. Rintaro had to fight against the part of himself that loved his friends, so he was always reaching back to their outstretched hands. With Kento… it was always harder with Kento. He liked being lonely, if Mei was honest with herself. He liked thinking of himself as sacrificing his own happiness. What in the world would convince someone like that to give up on self-destructive vengeance?

In lieu of a better answer, Mei gathered up the bookshop’s loose candy into a jar, and hoped it might be worth some minor temptation for Kento. She wasn’t sure it would work, but she needed to stay optimistic.

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