Readers, have you ever had one of those days when everything just seems to go wrong? Regardless of how bad of a day you might have had, I would bet that Captain Gento Hiruma, and the rest of the GGF, are probably having one that’s even worse.
After all, I’m pretty sure no good day ever starts with an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth. But this is no ordinary meteor, this week introduced us to the terrifying Space Kaiju Gebalga. The SKaRD team and the GGF itself didn’t seem to realize that it was alive in the first place, although I think the way in which it deliberately maneuvered itself into a landing site gave us all a clue. It’s apparent that Kaiju wanted to land on Earth, and wanted to land at a very specific site – and not even the SKaRD team and the Earth Garon could stop its arrival.
Immediately, that arrival brings a new sense of dread, because its origin and goals are a complete mystery to both us and the characters of the show. Is it a weapon sent by another invading force? Is it a natural, living creature following its instincts? Or does it possess a sinister intelligence of its own? Readers, I have no idea what the answer is, and neither does anyone else in SKaRD. So even though this week’s plot is straightforward enough on paper, the tense atmosphere and heightened sense of mystery still makes it one of the most dramatic and memorable episodes so far.
Gebalga’s attack is not the only mystery confronted in this episode, however. Far from it.
Before Ultraman Blazar debuted, it was often discussed as a show that would involve more serious mysteries, with themes about encountering the unknown universe. This was a major part of the first episode, which dropped us into the middle of a frantic battle against another Space Kaiju, Bazanga, also of unknown origin. But regardless of the questions around its arrival, the audience and our main characters could take some comfort and reassurance from the arrival of Ultraman Blazar.
And so, most of the episodes since then also returned to familiar, classic tropes, themes and plots from the franchise’s history. Sure, the universe may be big and scary and full of monsters, but with confidence that Blazar will fight for humanity, on our behalf to protect us, the main characters can also find their own courage. We’ve seen this so often in every other Ultraman series before. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s why I love Ultraman shows so much!)
But Blazar also brings its own unique stories, thanks to its unique cast of characters in SKaRD and the circumstances they are thrown into. And readers, I can confidently say that I’ve never seen a dynamic like this in any other show from this franchise, between humanity and the titular Ultraman hero they encounter.
Funnily enough, in that paragraph, I was about to write “the titular Ultraman hero who fights alongside them”, and realized that’s not correct in this case. Last week, Blazar fought against the desires of humanity – and his own host, Gento! Even the other SKaRD members note that Blazar seemed to be at war with himself, literally of two minds about the dilemma over Demaaga. (Try saying that three times fast.) One would think that the longer Blazar spent with Gento, and the longer he stayed on Earth learning about humanity, that they would fight more effectively together, but the opposite seems to have happened instead.
In the second episode of the show, Gento firmly trusted in Blazar’s power when it aligned with his own ideals, to fight his hardest to protect those around him. It fit naturally with his penchant to literally throw himself into danger so that others would be spared. At the time, that seemed like a great strength of his character – and in many ways, it is – but the past several weeks have also revealed equally great flaws in those ideals.
I already noted that Gento’s view of his responsibility as a Captain with the GGF also carries that organization’s flaws, thinking that securing peace must necessarily involve destroying other lives. Episode 10 “Parent and Child” also revealed that Gento has been lying to his family about those responsibilities as well. Is it because he is ashamed of that role, or that he doesn’t want his family to worry about his safety every day on duty? Regardless, it represents the same sort of acceptance of compromises in the name of protecting a higher ideal – a contradiction of ends and means that will inevitably reach a crisis point.
That crisis point seems to have hit in this episode. Gento’s control of the situation around him has rapidly disappeared, and he’s understandably frustrated about it. Gento’s trust in Blazar’s power only lasted for as long as it was predictable and aligned with his own goals. Now that he’s starting to understand the implications of sharing his body with Blazar, a power that once seemed benevolent and welcome now almost seems like a burden to him. When Earth Garon was taken out by Gebalga’s attack in this episode, rather than being grateful for the appearance of Blazar’s stone, Gento instead seems resigned, disheartened to have to rely on Ultraman at this moment.
So what changed between then and now? If anything, Blazar has become more powerful since the first episode. Even if the Kaiju they face have also become stronger, Blazar certainly seems to have a bottomless bag of tricks to pull from, and no shortage of new, insane powers and abilities to help in a fight. So why does Gento seem to be unable to cooperate with him, to use that power to its full potential?
Well, this isn’t the first time an Ultraman and their host have had disagreements that hold them back from fighting together. Probably the most direct comparison I can make is with 2020’s Ultraman Z. In fact, episode 11 of that series featured a difficult situation which was very similar to last week’s struggle against Demaaga. In Ultraman Z, Haruki Natsukawa was unable to continue fighting with Z himself, after realizing he had killed a Kaiju only because it was fighting to protect its child.
It took several episodes for the two of them to move past that division, and come to honestly understand the other’s feelings. Their bond was strengthened through this trial, however, because both of them were new to fighting as Ultraman, and were eager to learn from each other and their experiences together.
Plus, y’know, it certainly helps when you can actually talk directly to the Ultraman you’re bonded with.
Blazar has no way of communicating with human beings, or even with his own host, other than directly influencing Gento himself. In this episode, Blazar clearly recognizes the danger posed by Gebalga’s EMP attacks, but can only mentally urge Gento to give the order for Anri to retreat in the Earth Garon. Then after transforming, he literally has to pull himself away from the fight to avoid what likely would have been a lethal confrontation.
The language barrier isn’t the only obstacle preventing the two of them from communicating and understanding the other. Gento faces a more serious problem: a stubborn unwillingness to ask for help, to step back from seeing himself as the one in charge of this bond. It’s not like Gento is mean, or selfish – I think his problem is the opposite of that, actually! Rather, he’s so concerned about protecting others that he isn’t willing to be honest about his struggles with his own family, let alone his teammates, or even Blazar himself! Because of that, when everything goes wrong and matters reach their most dire stakes, he can only struggle alone.
From the very beginning of Tsuburaya’s history, its focus on storytelling has always been to explore how humanity encounters the unknown. It always asks the question, how do we choose to respond in the face of crises that seem too big to understand or fight against? Ultraman stories, in turn, demonstrate that the only way we can exist in a universe of such vast strangeness, paradoxically, is to find compassion and empathy, and hold fast to those seemingly small weaknesses which connect us to each other.
It’s clear to the audience (hopefully) that Blazar desires to protect lives just as strongly as Gento does. But it’s equally clear that they will never find the strength to fight together for that goal until they make a connection through that same empathy. It’s not a one-way deal, both parts of this bond need to cooperate freely and participate in being Ultraman in a new way. For Gento, that means taking a leap of faith, of sorts, to put his trust in this strange alien being as a partner and equal. For Blazar, it will mean finding a way to communicate with Gento and humanity that can be understood.
Judging from the episode preview where they seem to unlock a new power through this struggle against Gebalga, I’m pretty confident that they’ll succeed. (It’d be a very short season otherwise!) Until then, readers, stay tuned right here to Ultraman Connection for more!