Hello and welcome, Ultraman Connection readers! Did you enjoy last week’s break with the Special Episode recap? After five rounds of high-flying, high-octane Kaiju-wrestling action, Ultraman Blazar is back for more, and we’re hard at work once again breaking down the details of episode 6, “The Invading Aurora”.
Speaking of which, this week’s story focused on one of the hardest-working members of the SKaRD team, Yasunobu Bando.He actually has the distinction of being the first member of the team, even before Captain Gento! In the episode where the team was brought together, we discovered he had been secretly leading the program which designed and built Earth Garon, unbeknownst to anyone else apart from the higher-ups in the GGF. Even after Earth Garon was brought online, Yasunobu has contributed to much of SKaRD’s operation otherwise, including tricking out their other sweet ride – the “MOP”, or mobile command center – and even took the time to hand-write extensive manuals detailing how to use their cutting edge weaponry.
But as this episode shows, being too good at a job always carries a risk, because once you have a reputation for getting things done, everyone starts expecting you to do everything. Believe me, I know what that feels like! Even when he finally takes a day off from his job, Yasunobu accidentally trips straight into the first alien invasion plot we’ve seen in this show… so far. Something tells me this wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last time aliens have had plans for the Earth and humanity, but that’s speculation for another day.
As for this episode, even if Blazar as a whole is often described and marketed as a more “mature” show, it’s not necessarily because it carries a darker tone. This episode was probably the most comedic yet, but it’s the one I related to the most as well. That mature tone is built up by the characters we follow each week. All the members of SKaRD feel like real adults with adult responsibilities and worries, like trying to keep a healthy work-life balance without burning yourself out!
Another thing that’s very relatable to many viewers is the tendency to talk to our appliances – particularly when we think we’re otherwise alone. How many of you readers have given a nickname to a computer, a car, or even a microwave? I definitely have, especially for ones with notably eccentric or temperamental personalities. Science fiction stories often highlight and examine this sort of relationship between humanity and the machines they build.In this episode of Blazar, that characteristic oddity of human experience isn’t just treated as a punchline either. In fact, in many Ultraman stories there is a tendency for other beings to step in and try to take advantage of these oddities – whether they’re beneficial virtues or tragic vices – in order to turn them against us. Hence, our alien invasion story of the week.
Herbie, the Alien Cannan, had a pretty fun introduction, washing their signature striped shirt at the same laundromat where Yasunobu frequents. Interestingly, they also try to recruit Yasunobu to help with that invasion plan, and plan on having him pilot the Earth Garon once they unleash it in their attack! Herbie is not trying to recruit Yasunobu because he’s smart or good with machines, – and not even because he’s absolutely shredded under that SKaRD uniform. Instead, it’s the fact that he makes unique connections with the machines he works with, even something as seemingly inconsequential as a washing machine! Yasunobu clearly sees those machines as more than just tools, and ironically that connection also forces him to oppose Herbie’s plan here.
I found it funny that Herbie talks about turning the machines’ “negative emotions” back onto human beings as a form of retribution. It comes off as immensely hypocritical to me because Earth Garon is also far more than just a big, stompy weapons platform, it was designed to help protect people! Herbie is being just as tyrannical against it, treating these pieces of technology as tools to facilitate this invasion, rather than liberating their “true” feelings.
There are many angles from which you could look at this episode. I could go on about the immaterial versus material basis for consciousness, or how to possibly define a “soul” philosophically during this episode, all of which are important for understanding our own humanity. But I don’t want to take up that much space in this article because more than any of those questions, this episode is just really funny!
I think that contrast between the potential implications of machines with a sentient, sensitive consciousness, and the humor of scenes like Captain Gento groveling before a washing machine, is intentionally constructed. A writer – or an audience member – could easily overthink how this works, but none of the characters do at the moment of decision. Once they know that the people (or machines) they care about are in danger, they try to do whatever they can to help them. This is true for the human members of SKaRD, but even the gracious Lord Cururu pulls through for them in a pinch.
Even Cururu’s assistance seems like it may have come too late, though. By the time the rest of the team learns of the plot, the Alien Cannan have already assumed direct control of Earth Garon. The subsequent fight between it and Ultraman Blazar featured the usual spectacle that we love from this series, but it’s interesting to note how Blazar’s usual strategies fall short here. It almost seems like Blazar is used to fighting living creatures – Kaiju with organs that can be bruised and bones that can be broken. Many of Blazar’s moves have a lot in common with kickboxing techniques which focus on damaging joints. When facing a giant mechanical opponent, Blazar gets nothing out of his blows except for smarting knuckles.
Luckily for SKaRD – and the rest of the Earth – Lord Cururu was not the only machine Yasunobu made a special connection with. In order to save him from certain death, Earth Garon actually breaks the Cannan’s control! The episode may have started with Yasunobu overworking himself on this team, but it’s really heartwarming to see his efforts appreciated both by the human members of SKaRD, and Earth Garon itself. And even if Blazar himself had trouble going toe-to-toe with the Earth Garon, he doesn’t have nearly as much trouble finishing off the Cannan when they try to flee. It must be handy, being able to twist yourself around like a pretzel to get extra oomph into those finishing blows, but I imagine Gento is going to be feeling that in the morning…
At this point, I probably should note that the Alien Cannan are making a reappearance from all the way back during Ultraseven in episode 23, “Return to the North!” (We covered it in our Watch Club article, so check out that piece for more.) This week’s invasion plot has a few things in common from that debut, which also hinged on the Cannan seizing control of another massive metal creature who fought alongside the heroes – the Capsule Monster Windom! But although the Cannan first appeared in Ultraseven, the more lighthearted tone of this episode, and Herbie’s casual familiarity with such mundane things like laundromats, actually seemed to resemble alien invasion plots that were depicted in later series, such as Ultraman Taro or Ultraman Max.
In addition to that, our main character’s penchant for throwing himself into the direction of almost-certain death is another similarity to those shows. Let’s just say that Gento Hiruma isn’t the only Ultraman protagonist who wouldn’t think twice about jumping in front of a giant, stomping, missile-firing mecha to taunt it, and draw it away from the rest of his team. Although I suppose it’s for the best that we never discovered what would have happened if ZAT decided to make Kotaro Higashi a captain…
If it sounds like I’m getting off on multiple tangents, it’s only because there are so many fun details in this episode which made it an absolute joy to watch this week. I haven’t even talked about Teruaki’s tomatoes yet!
This could have very easily been an episode that goes to some dark, dark places while examining our relationships with technology in our everyday lives. The Ultraseven episode “Return to the North” hits hard on an emotional level because it contrasts the warmth of friendship, family and heartfelt human connections to the ice cold stakes which confront the Ultra Guard when that technology was taken out of our control.
Ironically – or perhaps, most fittingly – it’s the concern for human lives which drives the Ultra Guard and Dan Moroboshi himself to fight their hardest and overcome the alien invaders, even if that might involve sacrificing their own lives. The same connections between the members of the SKaRD team, and between Yasunobu and his mechanical buddies, drive them to do the same here. In each of the episodes of Ultraman Blazar, the members of SKaRD have distinguished themselves by their courage and their concern for the lives they protect in the course of their duty. Next week, it seems like we’ll be getting some insight into Gento’s duty, and what kind of history has shaped him into the captain we all know and love. Until then, stay tuned right here to Ultraman Connect for all the news in the meantime!