Previously on Ultraman Decker, we were all introduced to the Steel Phenomenon, the intergalactic superstar martial artist known as Grace. We – along with our main characters in GUTS-Select – cheered him on to help fight against the monstrous Red King after it was corrupted and controlled by the Spheres. It was such a heart-warming moment to watch all these lives unite to protect the Earth. Such courage to protect lives defines not just Ultraman heroes, but also other characters – human and aliens – who follow in Ultraman’s example.
I think it’s important to note that; not just to recap how great last week’s episode was, but how necessary it was to set up the much more subdued and ambiguous tone of Episode 10 this week. After all, with a name like “Man and Monster”, one would expect an ethical dilemma which cuts to the very heart of humanity. Even though there’s an obvious dualistic sense of opposition in this episode, there are more similarities than differences between our heroes and their antagonists this week. Here’s a summary and analysis:
This ambiguous tone wasn’t obvious at the start. If anything, this episode started similarly to other episodes earlier in the show’s run. We witness a string of giant monster attacks, and a mystery that needs to be solved to prevent further attacks. Vice-Captain Kaizaki and the rest of the GUTS-Select team immediately threw themselves into full investigation mode. They analyzed the pattern of attacks from this new monster, Neomegas, to determine where it came from and to where it mysteriously disappeared.
Even though this initial plot was familiar, I appreciated how the episode chose to frame it. There was some very interesting and engaging cinematography involved in this episode; for example, how the camera panned around in a single unbroken shot to portray something as simple as the team members comparing theories about the monster over a tablet’s screen. In comparison to the rest of the show’s flair for spectacle when it comes to full-scale monster fights, these scenes showing the characters simply talking with each other were much more subdued and thoughtful, yet stylish in both the dialogue and visual framing.
In fact, “thoughtful” is really the best way I can describe the overall feel of this week’s story. It’s fitting, since it mostly focuses on Kaizaki’s character, who repeatedly shows herself to be conscientious, thorough, and very considerate when dealing with a variety of challenge. It was about time for her to get a focus episode, after all! We’ve seen episodes focused on all three rookie members of the team by this point, and Captain Murahoshi himself played a central role in last week’s story with his steadfast trust in Grace’s pride as a fighter.
However, Vice-Captain Kaizaki mostly played a background role – albeit one which was crucial to the team’s success. Her extensive knowledge of Kaiju helped the team develop counterstrategies to defeat threats in other episodes, but her drive to understand them is the more valuable element of the team. Never satisfied to only accept the obvious, she has continually questioned what she observed. Those observations and the inferences she drew from those events often provide the path to victory when fighting other monsters. The same is true in this episode as well.
However, her conclusions led the team to something quite different this time.
Rather than simply pointing to a Kaiju’s lair, or an alien threat that was driving the monster attacks, Neomegas’ origin proved to be one that lay uncomfortably close to home for Vice-Captain Kaizaki. Information from Neomegas’ attacks lead the GUTS-Select team to confront Kaizaki’s former mentor, another scientist named Maki Shigenaga. According to the team’s captain, the former professor was arrested for trying to control monsters to turn them into weapons. According to Kaizaki’s memories of her, as the audience sees in the cold open for this episode, she was fascinated by the monsters.
I question whether Kaizaki was remembering her mentor with rose-colored glasses, or if the past ten years of arrest, academic exile, and ridicule made Professor Shigenaga even more crazy. When Kaizaki and Kanata both show up and confront her, the professor’s assurance that her actions were for the best of humanity seemed decidedly… unhinged compared to how we saw her in Kaizaki’s flashbacks. At the same time, I appreciate that this episode left that question ambiguous. Is Kaizaki trying to assume the best of her former mentor by only remembering her best qualities, or did she break in the long years since they last worked together?
Questions like that form the basis of this show’s ambiguous tone. The questions only intensify when Professor Shigenaga shows them the culmination of her research – Neomegas itself. The Professor hinted at vague “sponsors” who supported her work, to create monstrous weapons for use in war. Every single threat we’ve seen in the show so far has been from aliens or Kaiju, inhuman sources of destruction which rampage on the Earth. This is the first time we’ve seen how humanity itself drives this destruction through its own greed and thirst for power. And their thirst for control.
Professor Shigenaga cares little for warfare, but her research was driven by a simple, idealistic belief. She firmly states that the only way humanity can survive will be to control monsters by making them weapons. The actual pragmatic production of such biological terrors, then selling them to “sponsors”, only serves that end, making humanity dominant over all other forms of life.
“That’s wrong!” you would expect any self-respecting hero in a show like this to respond. “That’s cruel and heartless!” and indeed it is. Kaizaki and Kanata immediately know that to be a fact. But what alternative do they have? Professor Shigenaga spent five years preparing her answer, the proof that her way is the only way. How can Kaizaki argue against that?
Her answer – and Kanata’s – defines Ultraman as a franchise, and really is why this episode is so powerful.
When Professor Shigenaga summons Neomegas, the ultimate expression of her desire for power and control over the universe, Kanata immediately transforms into Ultraman Decker to protect the Vice-Captain. The resulting shot of Decker’s appearance is breathtaking, slowly panning around Kaizaki as she’s held in Decker’s open hand and facing against the Professor in a similar position held by Neomegas.
It’s such a simple scene, powerful and silent. It perfectly summarizes why the figure of Ultraman has been so important and enduring. This question of humanity’s survival against an uncaring universe has been with the franchise since the very beginning. It was an especially central theme within shows such as Ultraseven, and even Decker’s spiritual predecessor, Ultraman Dyna. And yet, with each monster attack that stretches the defense team to its limits, each alien invasion plot that seeks to turn humanity against itself, Ultraman has always been there to provide a better alternative.
More than defeating monsters and aliens, Ultraman’s example shows how humanity can find the same strength to protect lives without sacrificing the kindness and mercy which defines us as human beings.
Ironically, Professor Shigenaga’s plans would ensure humanity’s survival, but at the cost of the human soul itself. Would we be any better than monsters ourselves if we saw everything in the universe as either a tool to be used, or a threat to be destroyed?
At the same time, Kaizaki’s desperate monologue, shouted to the Professor’s back as she’s carried off to be arrested, came off just as desperately extreme as her former mentor’s actions. She wants to protect all lives on the planet, both humans and monsters who call the Earth home. But she has no way of guaranteeing that peace or survival at the moment.
All they can do – even Kanata – is hold to that desire for peace and trust in Ultraman to continue to fight when their own power falls short.
The episode leaves off on a starkly tense note. The unfailing idealism of the GUTS Select team is countered with an almost fearful anticipation of what trials might challenge their idealism in the future. This episode really felt like a tipping point, the precipice of something new that is about to arrive on the scene to upend all our assumptions and assurances.
I certainly have no clue what the future might hold for our heroes, and neither do they, but they still hold onto the same courage to keep fighting into the future. And regardless of what comes, I hope you join us in the future here at Ultraman Connection!