Hello and welcome, Ultraman Connection readers! We’re continuing our series breaking down each new episode of Ultraman Blazar every week. It’s a pretty easy job, all things considered, since each new episode also gives us so many cool things to talk about. Previously, we’ve taken a close look at the character of Gento Hiruma himself, and how he stands out compared to other protagonists within the Ultraman franchise. Now that SKaRD has formed up around him, and we’ve also been introduced to their massive mecha compatriot, the mighty Earth Garon, this week’s story steps outside of Gento and builds more of the world he lives in.
Don’t forget, this article will be dealing with open spoilers for episode 4, so make sure you’ve earned your security clearance for this classified information by watching the episode first. Synchronize your watches, check your retinal scanner, and without further ado, let’s get on with this week’s review!
Much of the story this week is framed by SKaRD’s special undercover operative, Emi Aobe. She’s been a major part of the show even before we knew her name, when she first helped to fight against the Kaiju Bazanga. But while she initially seemed like a cold, hardened professional from her demeanor in that first encounter, she’s quickly become one of my favorite characters in Blazar thanks to her easy charm and fun banter with her newly-appointed captain.
That doesn’t mean she’s not a professional, though. Her skills at infiltration helped her to uncover useful information to aid the team in the previous episodes, even if she wasn’t on the front lines fighting Kaiju in the Earth Garon itself. This episode notably focuses on her character -- and those infiltration skills -- in a much more dangerous situation. In fact, her role posing as the new secretary for an up-and-coming CEO is interrupted only a few minutes into the plot, when the Kaiju Leviera attacks! The Novaio company’s head and founder, Mr Sonozaki, is unflappable in the face of this disaster. We soon discover the reason why — the Kaiju’s rampage is brought to a quick end thanks to drones deploying their new, special proprietary chemical. Leviera instantly melts into a pile of ooze, with no further harm… or so it seems.
But there’s a problem looming over Novaio — Leviera seems to be developing a resistance to the chemical, and it requires more and more to be deployed to repel its attacks. What will eventually happen when it no longer works? This is where SKaRD’s expertise comes into the picture. They aren’t just there to fight monsters, but to respond to these threats in order to protect other lives. The most effective way to accomplish that goal would be to investigate this Kaiju, to better understand where it came from, and how to stop it for good.
The first problem they begin investigating, of course, is why this compound is the only thing which affects it. That detail seems to be just a little too convenient, right? Emi and Captain Gento both immediately suspect the company, and the shady dealings of its founder, leading us back around to Emi’s undercover mission.
A number of times in the Ultraseven Watch Club articles, we’ve mentioned that many of these Ultraman plots work so well when they take different angles than just focusing on fighting Kaiju, and this is an excellent example of that fact in the modern day. I love watching how this espionage plot plays out in the episode. Interestingly, the thrill of the mystery presented doesn’t really hinge around uncovering shady corporate dealings and the discovery that it’s part of a scam meant to bring the company — and especially Mr. Sonozaki — fame and adulation beyond all measure. Of course that’s obvious right from the very start of the episode. Rather, I was on the edge of my seat watching how Emi and her teammates work to uncover those dealings and corner the CEO himself. There’s a lot of fun twists and turns which I won’t go into detail about here, but lots of fist-pumping and excited gasps were had while I watched this week’s episode.
It was also fascinating to watch Gento and Emi’s conversations as they compared information and made their plans, analyzing this scandal from multiple angles. Much like the second episode when they first met face-to-face, both of them have a healthy skepticism about the upper “brass” of the GGF. They already seem to be well aware of how easy it can be for malicious individuals to take advantage of such a bureaucratic system.
During one of these conversations, Gento criticizes Emi’s “cynicism”, even though he holds a pretty similar opinion about the dirty politics and compromises which seem to be a necessary part of the GGF. That seemed like an interesting dilemma to me — how do you realistically deal with the shortcomings of the world around you, without becoming cynical, or jaded yourself?
“Cynical” or “jaded” are two words which, in fact, seem totally contrary to the ideals of Ultraman in the first place. From the very beginning, Ultraman stories have always appeared to encourage its audience to encounter the universe with wonder -- either from fearful awe or grateful joy. There doesn’t seem to be room for pessimistic views of that universe to take hold.
But even the original Ultraman series also had episodes such as “My Home Is Earth”, which presented an even more starkly horrifying condemnation of selfish political machinations around the defense team. In both of these episodes, from the original 1966 series and the most recent episode of Blazar, human pride and greed empowers the Kaiju threat our main characters are forced to fight against. However, in that famous 1966 episode, this same callous pride was directly connected to the torturous revenge and death of a specific individual human life.
It’s tough to watch episodes like that, and still believe that humanity is even worth fighting for, let alone dying for, as Ultraman himself did in the original series. The question, as I noted, is how to acknowledge those failings and still maintain the hopeful idealism which characterizes the best aspects of Ultraman. To illustrate one possible answer, I want to point out a different Ultraman series. It’s one that I think ironically gets overlooked because of its reputation as a darker, more cynical and ‘edgy’ entry into the franchise, when in reality it provides a unique insight into that dilemma.
In fewer words: if you haven’t watched Ultraseven X yet, you really need to pick it up if you liked this week’s episode of Blazar.
Ultraseven X starts out moody, brooding and purposely obtuse about its premise. This mirrors the perspective of our main character, Jin, who was thrown into these events with amnesia, and no context for the mysterious, shadowy war which seemed to entangle him. The show’s darker, more cyberpunk-influenced vision of the future seems like a huge shift in tone compared to the rest of the franchise at first. It’s a sort of “bad end” stagnation of the futuristic technology and scientific exploration which Ultraman shows often delight in imaginatively exploring. In addition to that, many of its plots aren’t just about aliens trying to take over the world. Rather, they take over the world quite easily by first taking advantage of the petty, envious, selfish and sometimes cruel temptations of humanity itself.
Good Ultraman stories are almost always about highlighting the best virtues of humanity which our heroes fight to protect, and presenting a hopeful vision of the future of where our scientific exploration could lead. Ultraseven X may seem counterproductively jaded about those virtues, but in reality that contrast between the way it sees the world as it is, against the way that it could be (and in fact, ought to be) highlights those virtues even more poignantly.
In the end, Jin, along with his friends and fellow comrades, must overcome the temptation of cynicism itself which might otherwise lead only to despair; to just give up and assume that nothing can be done to save the world. Even if the world around them sucks right now, they fight so hard to save it because they can still imagine that same hopeful future, and believe it is possible to achieve.
It might seem like an irreconcilable paradox, but I believe that same sort of yearning for a better future -- seeing the best in humanity even after encountering its worst traitors -- is an important aspect of both Gento and Emi’s characterizations as well.
This week’s episode also had plenty more to enjoy than just deep philosophical questions about the nature of the human heart, don’t get me wrong! Earth Garon’s first deployment ended rather unsuccessfully against Taganular, but the mecha makes a fantastic comeback here, with new weapons and a tightly honed fighting strategy from the rest of the SKaRD team. I really enjoy seeing everyone get a chance to contribute something important to the counterattack against Leviera, even if they weren’t the focus of the story. I’m even more excited to see how future episodes will lean into developing the other members of the team, especially if those episodes are as good as this week’s story focusing on Emi!
Until then, make sure you stay tuned right here to Ultraman Connection for more news and specials. I’ll be seeing you then, readers!