Last week, in episode 15, Ultraman Decker launched its characters and the story into a new, dizzyingly intense focus, by showing how the fight against the Spheres in Kanata’s universe tied into a much larger, cosmic conflict that stretched across dimensions and timelines. And yet, much of the emotional impact of that sudden reveal was made possible because of small, personal connections that the characters shared with each other, and the audience.
That personal focus was maintained even to the last line of the episode, where the man from the future – revealed to be Kanata’s descendant – didn’t leave him with the charge to save the Earth or defeat the Spheres. Instead, the future Decker Asumi told him to “save” the very man who betrayed humanity, Professor Asakage, now better known as the alien Agams.
That’s a pretty heavy way to conclude an episode which was already one of the heaviest, and most dramatic turning points of the entire series. So, it makes sense that the audience gets a bit of a break this week, with a more light-hearted story about trying to apprehend a goofy-looking, harmless alien creature with increasingly slapstick methods.
In other shows, the sudden change in tone from week to week might be an issue. This show uses it as a deliberate contrast. The fact that the GUTS-Select team now has a bit more breathing room to deal with these smaller issues really lets the events of the last few episodes settle in.
After all, our main characters have already dealt with the end of the world at the hands of the Spheres, a giant monster trying to suck the energy out of the Earth, and a revenge-obsessed alien scientist from the future who sabotaged humanity’s greatest technological weapon in the middle of it all. Surely after overcoming all that, we can handle a cute koosh ball alien zooming around in between suburban streets, right?
Or maybe the cute alien turns out to be a miniature Pandon – another Kaiju dating back to Ultraseven responsible for an alien attack that series called “The Greatest Invasion In History”. And then Kanata has a major anxiety attack in the middle of the operation when he remembers Agams’ accusation about the actions of humanity being directly responsible for the destruction of other alien lives.
As a result, he can’t bring himself to pull the trigger against this one. And then Pandon finds a vein of the same mysterious mineral that made other monsters go berserk back in episode 10. To cap off this series of unfortunate events, that energy triggers its evolution into a truly terrifying threat against humanity that must be decisively stopped.
Let’s just say this episode baited us into thinking it was going to be a nice, relaxing bit of comedic relief, and then immediately went off the rails after the first commercial break. Honestly, I’m just impressed that after 16 episodes, this show still finds ways to keep its audience on their toes, guessing at only half the twists and remaining genuinely surprised by the ones we don’t see coming.
More than just shocking the audience, however, Decker still maintains a remarkable consistency with its characters and larger thematic focus. Episode 10 revealed some interesting bits of the setting literally under our characters’ feet but left the nature of this “ore” that somehow empowers monsters a mystery.
This episode does the same, but clearly is leading into some other threat that the team will have to deal with other than the Spheres. You know, as if GUTS-Select doesn’t have enough threats against the Earth to worry about now.
Speaking of GUTS-Select, the other supporting characters within the team had been mostly in the background for the past couple episodes, as the story shifted to focus on Kanata and the power of Ultraman itself. Episode 16 does a fantastic job of placing Kanata’s new character development in context within that team and lets him bounce off his teammates in important ways.
At first, I mean “bounce off of” literally through physical slapstick comedy – like bonking each other in the face with butterfly nets as they try to capture the delightfully nicknamed “Spinnie”. But later, the shift back into a darker tone also creates a more dramatic angle to establish their new dynamic sense of cooperation.
After Kanata freezes in the middle of the operation to capture (and later, destroy) the miniature Pandon, he’s initially criticized by Ryumon. This was expected, Ryumon has always been a hyper-critical perfectionist since the beginning. In fact, this interaction mirrors their first mission together, back in episode 2!
This clash of personalities threatened to break the trio apart before they even got started in that episode, but revisiting a similar conflict here shows how they’ve all developed since then. Now, Ryumon empathizes with Kanata’s hesitation and Ichika’s self-sacrificing concern, and the experience helps to strengthen their resolve to fight together.
In other words, after all the trio has endured together, they have developed bonds of teamwork and friendship that allow them to grow even further and achieve things they couldn’t at the start of the show!
To wrap things up this week, Ultraman Decker continually shows off how it can apply its characters and major themes to any story, scale or style imagined by the writers and producers of the show. Whether dealing with threats big or small, cute or terrifying, earth-bound or from the stars, the characters of GUTS-Select and Kanata himself are always a blast to get to know each week.
Speaking of which, next week it seems like the audience will get to know Captain Murahoshi quite a bit better, along with the goings-on behind the scenes of the TPU itself. I, for one, am always excited to tune in for each new episode, even if I’ve given up trying to predict what’s going to happen next.