One of the strongest characteristics that marks Ultraman Decker out from its predecessors is its relatively low-key stakes – in the first half of the show, at least. The audience came to understand and rally behind Kanata Asumi and his comrades on the GUTS-Select team through these smaller encounters with monsters, aliens, and other threats on a more localized level. The mid-season then catapulted our main characters and the true scope of their fight against the Spheres into a much more expansive context. With a revised understanding of those raised stakes came a powerful expression of Kanata’s determination to rise and meet new challenges, Decker’s new Dynamic form.
But even though the stakes of the last couple of episodes have come back down to Earth, falling from that height is sure to leave quite an impressive impact crater. Last week, a seemingly silly chase to capture a cute Pandon alien instead resulted in a dramatic exploration of Kanata’s new fears and anxieties grappling with their operations within GUTS-Select. Even more dramatic was the bombshell dropped at the end of episode 16 – that Captain Murahoshi was under investigation by his own supervisors within the TPU!
Again, heavy challenges for our heroes to deal with. However, the main reason why I think these two episodes feel heavy have less to do with the stakes at play, and more with how well the show has built these plotlines through the characters we’ve followed for 17 episodes now. Last episode, Pandon proved to be a major threat against GUTS-Select and the city which unfortunately lay in its path, but Pandon at the end of the day was still just a single monster. It wasn’t a weapon specifically sent by the Spheres; it (probably) wasn’t the result of some evil external machination from another threat (we think).
Look, after the mid-season went down, I must hedge my bets with any predictions or analysis I leap into now. Just call it a healthy sense of pragmatism – and Murphy’s Law. That weird purple energy from the mysterious minerals is giving me the heebie-jeebies though…Anyways, back to my point, it was the character drama this week that sucked in my interest. The story itself was straightforward, and had very little action compared to the previous episodes. In fact, that was the major source of conflict in this episode! Since Captain Murahoshi was under suspicion from Internal Affairs at the TPU, he couldn’t command his team to effectively fight against a rampaging Gomess. The race wasn’t just to stop the monster, but to clear the good Captain’s name and restore trust in his leadership.
Interestingly, trust seemed to be the major theme of both this week’s episode and the previous one. Last week, Kanata was paralyzed because of the pressure he put on himself to work through all the doubts and problems he faced alone. The breakthrough of the episode happened when he realized he could trust in his teammates to stand by him, rather than having to keep those doubts buried inside his own mind.
Trust has also played a role in Captain Murahoshi’s characterization, something that can clearly be seen through previous episodes. He trusted in the teamwork shown by Kanata, Ichika and Ryumon enough to recruit them onto his team. He trusted in the compassion shown by those same teammates when they tried to help other aliens stranded on Earth. To be perfectly honest, the depth of his trust in the good nature of everyone around him – and the lengths he was willing to go to bend the rules for them – make Murahoshi a notably unique character compared to many other defense team captains in this franchise. Many other captains have a healthy case of skepticism, for better or worse, and take more convincing to get them on board for whatever scheme the main heroes have cooked up to help Ultraman that week.
Captain Murahoshi’s trust isn’t exactly a sense of naivety or gullibility, but simple faith in the goodness of every individual around him. Even in the system which seeks to condemn him, since Murahoshi refuses to protest his orders or show any insubordination, even when he’s put in a prison cell. Like many defining personality traits for characters in this show – such as Kanata’s single-minded determination, Ichika’s impulsive instinct to try and right wrongs and fix other people’s problems, and Ryumon’s expectations of perfection – that assumption of good faith winds up becoming a weakness in addition to a characteristic strength in this episode.
Another notable aspect of this theme of trust comes from the alien we see playing the role of Inspector on the TPU’s side. I try to stay away from in-depth explorations of Ultraman history and lore in these articles and stay focused on the case of Decker in the immediate present, but a bit of a recap of the role served by the Alien Metron might be useful here.
Alien Metron first appeared in 1967’s Ultraseven, featured in a rather famous episode titled “The Marked Town”. (Episode 8 for those of you following along at home!) Unlike many other episodes in that series, the Metron didn’t particularly intend to conquer Earth. Instead, they used the planet to test mysterious red seeds, provoking violent attacks from human beings affected by the substance. Notably, it was stated that the reason the victims lashed out, trying to hurt others around them, was because they couldn’t trust others and saw everyone as an enemy. Although Ultraseven himself defeated the Metron in battle at the end of that episode, it was still treated as an ominous defeat – after all, the Metron had proved their point about humanity’s base nature.
In other appearances since then, the Metron generally continue to be detached, calculating scientists towards humanity, and seek to manipulate individual human beings by taking advantage of those flaws. I don’t bring this up to be, well, biased against the TPU’s director of Internal Affairs, Nigel, but rather to explain why they’re an interesting counterpoint to this usual depiction of a “Metron plot”.
First, obviously, Nigel acts in defense of humanity, and wants to protect the Earth by their actions! Captain Murahoshi’s lax interpretations of rules and regulations to benefit his team and other individuals is seen by Nigel as a significant obstacle to that aim. I find it fascinating that the major flaw of humanity the director pounces on isn’t a lack of trust, but rather an overabundance of it. That same good-natured optimism only seems like dangerous sentimentalism and irrational weakness to them.
The conflict between Nigel and the Captain seems to come to a head over an incident from Murahoshi’s past, where he claimed that he ignored orders during the Metsu-Orochi crisis (AKA Ultraman Trigger Episode 17, a gorgeous use of continuity) to save a child’s life. With no hard, empirical evidence on file showing this, Nigel treats him with mistrust over his supposed rash, impulsive emotionality.
Eventually, however, that evidence presents itself – Ryumon himself. He was the child saved by Murahoshi’s actions during the events of Ultraman Trigger, when the future-Captain literally tried to single-handedly take on the Dark Giant Hudram to lure him away from an attack.
Considering the sheer audacity of this man, I would literally follow him into hell. The rest of the GUTS-Select team feels the same way, and eventually their conviction convinces Nigel that they – ironically – irrationally misjudged the Captain; and in doing so, misjudged the rest of humanity with him.
After all, as I said, the ability to see the good in everyone, and to have trust in that goodness, can be a major character flaw, but it’s also a source of strength for Murahoshi and the rest of the team alongside him. Those bonds of trust united Kanata with his teammates, and in this episode, we see how it unites the rest of them under the Captain’s command, to fight together and achieve victories that the Metron previously thought were logically impossible.
Entries in the Ultraman Series have frequently revisited the fundamental question of “The Marked Town”, and humanity’s supposed flaws stemming from our paranoia and distrust of those around us. Episode 17 seems to be a pointed rebuttal of that argument, or at the very least, a counterpoint showing how much more humanity is capable of when that trust in others is preserved. Now that the GUTS-Select team has proved this to Nigel, I hope we can see them go on to achieve even greater victories in upcoming episodes as well.
That said, they’re probably going to need all the help they can get to face whatever challenges this show could throw their way in the finale; a finale which is quickly approaching now that we only have roughly a half-dozen episodes left! I’ll be waiting for whatever comes next, and I trust you’ll join us in the upcoming weeks here at Ultraman Connection too