Hello and welcome, Ultraman Connection readers! Once again, it’s time for our look back on the thrills, chills and philosophical musings from this week’s episode of Ultraman Blazar. That’s right, we’re taking a deep dive into episode 2, “The Man Who Created SKaRD”.
Okay, maybe that was a bit overdramatic, but I have to work a joke about the abyssal Kaiju Gedos in there somewhere, right? Er, anyways, if that bad pun didn’t scare you away already, then this just might do the trick: this article will deal with open spoilers from this week’s episode! Now that you’ve been warned, let’s continue without further ado.
All through the premiere episode of Blazar, the intense fight against the Kaiju Bazanga immediately set a dramatic tone for the series. In comparison, this week’s episode delivers a much more light-hearted story. Part of that difference in tone, aside from the switch to scenes set in broad daylight, is brought about from the expanded scope of events. The first episode carried a lot of intensity just because it was so laser-pointed on two specific elements of the show: our main character, Gento Hiruma, and the figure of Ultraman Blazar.
Gento stood out to me as an interesting protagonist because he was already an established and well-respected figure within the “Global Guardian Force”, or GGF, the main defense organization for the protection of the Earth in this setting. Even when working with people outside of his immediate team, Gento’s reputation among them spoke volumes about his integrity and heroic courage. That trust in his leadership – and timely intervention from Blazar himself – helped the operation succeed, and also saved his team from terrible casualties. This week’s episode picks up almost immediately from where we left off after that operation, as Gento is being debriefed by his superior office, Chief of Staff, Retsu Haruno.
Haruno is immediately — and quite understandably — suspicious of the 50-meter tall giant who leaps onto buildings and rips apart kaiju with his bare hands. But Gento remains assured that Blazar, despite his rather wild fighting style and intimidating roars, is a force for good and clearly acted to protect them. While he’s recounting the events though, the audience sees a glimpse of something else, a vision Gento seems to recall from the time he transformed into Ultraman.
It’s interesting to note that, despite Blazar’s seeming inability to communicate with us through words, he still had some sort of contact with Gento himself. Was it a message of reassurance? A glimpse of the past? A warning for the future? Something else? Time perhaps will tell as we delve into the season. For now, we only have wild speculation and Gento’s gut instinct to go on.
Speaking of the captain, the rest of the episode moves on to its main focus: showing us how the rest of SKaRD (Special Kaiju Reaction Detachment) unites around him. The “defense team” is a crucial part of almost every single Ultraman series, and often forms the core of its supporting cast. Gento may be a great guy and a fantastic leader, but it would be a very boring show if we didn’t know anything about the people he’s supposed to be leading. We already saw one of those team members last week, a special undercover agent named Emi Aobe, who fired the final “special round” into Bazanga to help take down the monster.
The rest of the team falls into place as the episode continues. Complementing Emi’s skills, they also add the knowledgeable Operation Strategist, Teruaki Nagurai, and the eagerly self-proclaimed “gear head” Anri Minami. Much later on, and after much trouble, they finally track down the team’s mechanical wizard, Yasonobu Bando, who has been hard at work preparing the “sixth” member of the crew – the gigantic mecha called “Earth Garon”! But we’ll see more of that next week. For now, let’s focus on how SKaRD was introduced.
As I said, many Ultraman shows feature a core group of characters within the defense team, who fight alongside our protagonist and Ultraman himself. It’s common to introduce these characters by demonstrating how their quirks and talents contribute to the team’s success, but the best example I can use to discuss SKaRD comes from the Ultraman Mebius series.
The first two episodes of that show follow a similar pattern as Blazar. Both series have pilot episodes which focus almost totally on the introduction of their respective protagonists and their fights against new threats to the Earth. Then both also move outwards to show how the defense team forms around them in the next episode. When considering that pattern though, it also reveals some interesting new twists that Blazar has put on this classic formula.
Firstly, Mebius (or rather, Mirai Hibino in his human persona) had to struggle a bit to recruit the other members of GUYS Japan! Most of them weren’t soldiers, but ordinary civilians: a soccer player, a kindergarten teacher, a motorcycle racer, a student in medical school. The challenge was to convince them to look beyond their doubts and understand why each of their talents — and more importantly, their heroic hearts — were necessary to fulfill the mission of Crew GUYS.
In contrast, Gento doesn’t have a lot of leeway to hand-select his recruits, although he’s not exactly complaining about them either. They’re already the best of the best in their fields within the GGF. Similarly, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing to sign them up. Each member already recognizes their duty to protect the Earth, and they are all eager to do so under Gento’s leadership.
I think this difference stems from a deeper contrast between the two series. Mebius takes place canonically 25 years after the last kaiju attack against the Earth (which would have been the end of Ultraman 80, for those doing the math in their heads right now). It was difficult to convince the Crew GUYS leadership itself of the threat of kaiju at the time, let alone civilians who were minding their own business without the thought of giant monsters dropping out of the sky.
Here in Blazar, it’s clear that kaiju attacks are a regular occurrence, and the members recruited onto Gento’s team all have dossiers with a long list of operations describing the ones they have helped to dispatch. In other words, they already have the assurance of their experience, and understand their responsibility within the defense team. Unfortunately, that also means that this setting is a version of Earth which is under constant threat of attack from these monsters.
It isn’t all doom and gloom and dire stakes though. Crew GUYS in Mebius is one of my favorite defense teams because of the camaraderie and spirit shared between them and they’re just… really funny in a lot of the best episodes of the show! SKaRD also quickly develops a fun rapport within the team. Right from the beginning, that tone was set just from a scene with Gento and Emi arguing good-naturedly over who picks up the check.
In fact, I was surprised at the amount of humor all throughout this episode. Even the fight against Gedos had its moments amid the spectacular, acrobatic showdown. Watching my friends all react to the fishing pole at the same moment during the premiere was a highlight of my Friday night, for certain. (Who do I have to bribe to get Bandai-Namco to make an Ultraman Fishing sim game? I’m not even joking, I would pay real money for that.)
Physical comedy aside, there’s a lot of jokes which come from the interactions between Gento and the rest of SKaRD. Take for example, the easy sarcasm he shares with Emi while they compare notes and realize that their orders were mistaken in the first episode. Or when they joke about how the dossiers were probably old and out of date when they had trouble finding Bando’s whereabouts. Or, joking about the lack of budget provided for the team when they find their state-of-the-art mobile outpost is a plain white van. Or…
Gee, a lot of these jokes are all about the bureaucracy of the GGF, aren’t they? That’s actually very unique for an Ultraman series, believe it or not. Sure, there have been multiple shows where there is definite tension, or even outright conflict between the defense team immediately around our main characters, and the wider military organization which sometimes acts at cross-purposes to their mission. But the examples I could name mostly deal with fractional cells within these organizations; rogue elements or specific leaders pushing for a dangerous vision of power which is threatened by Ultraman. The first two episodes of Blazar are different; it’s rather more like the entire bureaucratic structure around them is an obstacle they have to overcome!
I can’t help but wonder… are Gento’s superior officers being honest about the mission behind SKaRD’s formation, or are they being set up for failure?
To be honest, the way this episode skewers workplace expectations and corporate management reminded me of nothing more than Shin Ultraman. If more of these scenes were filmed at severe, steep angles which shifted position every ten seconds, then it would feel exactly like something pulled from that movie.
All of these unique aspects around the formation of SKaRD, and Gento’s role within it, I think point towards an equally unique vision represented by Blazar as a whole. It’s clear that director Kiyotaka Taguchi and the writers working on this series are aiming for an older audience through these elements. Rather than being cynical as adults however, we should look to the example of Ultraman’s defense teams, and keep our steadfast trust in our friends despite an unknown future which we face together.
Only two episodes in, there’s still many mysteries to explore around the GGF, the rise of monsters from the deep, and of course Blazar himself. Regardless of what the unknown future brings to us, stay tuned to Ultraman Connection for more!