“This crop withstood the months of snow
The scavengers and blight
Tuned every ear towards a tiny lengthening of light
And found a way to rise.”

-John K. Samson, “Winter Wheat”

Kamen Rider Hibiki was always really two shows, happening simultaneously. It was a series about how to grow up, and a series about how best to raise a child. The second part is the element I found the most fascinating, and it’s that part this episode focuses on.

We had a dozen stories about mentors for Sougo or Geiz; Heisei Dads stopping by to impart a little wisdom and move on with their lives. The Hibiki thing was to show the work of that guidance and responsibility. If we’re used to our teenage leads being complex and works-in-progress, maybe it’s time to see their mentors in the same light.

Kiriya was a kid who lost his dad, and felt a hollowness because of that. He measured himself up against a heroic ghost, something in which he’d always feel diminished by comparison. Every academic or athletic success was a cry for approval he could never get. His abrasive personality – just, like, his whole personality – was a kid who wanted to be told he was good enough, and to feel like someone cared about him, but didn’t know how to be vulnerable enough to ask for those things.

He eventually trained under Hibiki, and that probably didn’t help him too much, psychologically. He just ended up replacing a dead hero of a dad with a living hero of a father-figure. Hibiki probably cared for him as a mentor, but couldn’t fill the emotional void that motivated Kiriya. Kiriya… he’s a collection of all of his traumas and triumphs, just like anyone.

Just like your parents, probably.

It’s a smart story to do in a kids' show, eventually. To demystify parenthood. Shows like this usually deify parenthood, show parents as unfailing beacons of positivity and support – that, or demonize them as cold-hearted villains for their lack of warmth and attention. They show parents like Kiriya saw them: idols to worship and fear.

But parents, like children, don’t arrive fully-formed. They’re like Kiriya, with his apprentice. They have kids by accident, or with hope for the future, or to fill a void in themselves, or to prove something to the world, or or or. They bring their own baggage to the table, and screw up without even noticing. They think of how their parents did things, and try to calibrate off of that. They struggle, constantly, to turn a child into an adult.

I loved this episode. I loved how it didn’t redeem Kiriya, so much as it tried to provide a larger context for why he’s still an insufferable prick after all these years, despite becoming a mentor and a hero. Because it’s… those things don’t negate each other, or act in conflict, you know? Being a parent is as complicated and terrifying as growing up, just from the opposite side. Kiriya never really figured his shit out, because Figuring Your Shit Out isn’t a prerequisite for being a parent. He screwed things up by trying to be Hibiki, when all Tsutomu ever wanted was Kiriya. He didn’t want Kiriya’s mentor, because he didn’t know that guy. He wanted his mentor to be proud of him, and that’s all that mattered.

Even the Woz/Sougo story is looped into the idea of how best to care for someone, as comedic as the plot was. The lesson there is the same lesson that Kiriya learns: just, show up. That’s Step 1 of being a parent, and probably the most important one. It doesn’t mean that everything’s going to work out, or that you’ll get an infinite number of chances to figure things out. But it raises the floor from the worst outcomes, creating space to recover from mistakes. Kiriya’s triumph in saving Tsutomu is all in the simple fact that he wouldn’t abandon Tsutomu, that he said Hey Man, I’m Here For You. That’s the most important thing we get from guidance, really. Being seen, listened to. It’s the most valuable skill a mentor can have.

If it took Kiriya a little bit too long to see the value in himself as a mentor, there’s some beauty in how his self-improvement came as the result of being a good father-figure to a troubled teenager. The symmetry of that, him accidentally growing into what he needed as a kid… God, what a tribute to what Kamen Rider Hibiki was like as a TV show.