Previously on Ultraman Decker, our heroes were faced with a terrifying, extradimensional threat from out of Ultraman’s history. The fiendishly powerful force known as Yapool trapped Kanata Asumi in space, on the wrong side of the Sphere’s barrier looking in. Luckily, after finding assistance from Ultraman Trigger, Kengo Manaka, once again, Kanata was able to rally his determination and fight his way back to Earth.
The Spheres proved themselves to be the more terrifying threat, however, by annihilating even Yapool’s undying hatred and darkness before turning their assimilated weapons against Kanata and Kengo. That terror comes from a sense of the unknown more than anything else; even at this late stage of the show, the Spheres’ motivations and end goals are almost entirely a mystery to both the audience and the GUTS-Select team members themselves.
Often in Ultraman series, the sense of the unknown is both a challenge to be faced, and something to be feared. As far back as Ultra Q and the first Ultraman, each episode’s conflict comes from encounters between humanity and the unknown, whether it’s strange monsters, cryptic aliens, or other even more bizarre dangers.
Sometimes, the danger faced by the main characters does not come from the unknown outside of the limits of our familiar world, but by all-too-familiar dark corners of the human heart. Sometimes, it is humanity’s response to the unknown which causes monsters to become violent, which pushes alien civilizations to escalate threats into open war, or for bizarre events to encourage humans themselves to act in monstrous ways.
The combination of these dangers – both familiar and foreign – has always been one of my favorite aspects of the Ultraman franchise. This week, I was glad to see Ultraman Decker reach into that legacy and bring us an episode that calls back to the more varied and self-contained anthology style of older shows. This story wouldn’t have been out of place from the classic Tiga-Dyna-Gaia (TDG) trilogy of series – appropriate for Decker’s position as a New Generation love-letter to Ultraman Dyna – or even something from the Showa era like Ultra Q and the original Ultraman as mentioned before.
Also, appropriately for the throwback style of this episode, it features a classic monster who first debuted in Ultra Q – Ragon!
You know if the title “Lord Ragon” for this episode didn’t give it away already.
This week features two characters from GUTS-Select who sadly haven’t received much attention in this half of the series, Vice-Captain Sawa Kaizaki and Ichika Kirino, Kanata’s spunky, mystery-loving teammate. The two of them provide a fun contrast of personalities; Kaizaki playing the experienced, professional, strictly scientifically minded senior, and Ichika showing off her excited interest in this sort of puzzle of lore. We haven’t seen much of that side of Ichika’s personality since the early episodes, so it’s great to see it factor into this story’s events in a major way.
She’s in fine form, excitedly questing into the history of Wadatsumi City. Soon, both Ichika and Kaizaki realize that things aren’t quite what they seem. The attacks only leave the townspeople scared (and covered with slime), and no one seems to know where the strange fish-faced monster appears or disappears from. But rumors abound, involving old religious rites, and the town’s history tied to the ocean.
Now, this is far from the first time a defense team in an Ultraman show has been sent to investigate weird occurrences in a provincial town, which uncovers more secrets from its past. Often in this franchise, the theme of technological and cultural progress, its impacts on communities, traditions, beliefs and even the identity of the people left in the wake of that industrialization, are explored through these kinds of plots.
Since the TDG series marked the franchise’s movement into the modern era, many of its most memorable episodes – or even its themes across the whole run of a show – dealt with this conflict between the history of a place or people, and the inevitable movement of time towards the future.
At first, it seems like the past is treated as a dangerous place. It seems like “Lord Ragon” is a vengeful god of the sea at first, once appeased by the townspeople to protect them from the threats that would come from the ocean. The ocean itself has long been a symbol of unformed, unpredictable, and often destructive chaos, existing at odds with modern society – which can be seen as safer, predictable, and controlled by humanity’s new understanding of scientific principles and their technology.
In other Ultraman shows (and even in other Japanese sci-fi media involving giant monsters and tokusatsu special effects…) ancient threats from this dangerous past arise from the ocean, in a way that demands either respect or retribution against a human civilization that has forgotten that sort of primordial terror.
But through the town’s historian, Nagi Urasawa, we learn a different side of that story. To her, Lord Ragon wasn’t a threat, but a friend. She played with him as a child, and then had to watch helplessly as the other townspeople banished Ragon through a mysterious stone arch, leaving her behind. The “appearances” of Lord Ragon in the town were Urasawa’s doing, wearing the traditional mask and ritual clothing from her own past, and threatened his return to scare away further development that would destroy the stone arch – the only remnant of that past.
Even here, one might interpret this revival of past regrets as something dangerous. Mrs. Urasawa was so fixated on her own past and everything she had lost in the march of time that she unwittingly brought the town to harm. Later in the episode, the same stone arch she was protecting causes the actual Lord Ragon to appear – as a giant! – and seemingly threaten the town with destruction in revenge for its people no longer respecting his power. Since the town had severed its connection with the ocean, filling in the coastline, driving itself inland, and forgetting its past, it seems as if the town would be destroyed fittingly by a flood.
I could make a bunch of references to another notable flood used as punishment against humanity, but this episode just goes ahead and name-drops the Old Testament of the Bible anyways. And then the Cthulhu Mythos (Lovecraft’s Innsmouth is actually cited in the episode). If I’m being completely honest, that more than anything else is why this is the most TDG-esque episode of Ultraman Decker so far.
Anyway, getting back to my point, it seems like the past is something that only brings tragedy in this episode, and serves as a threat that must be fought against and defeated. Most obviously there’s the threat of Ragon destroying the town by dragging it back to the ocean. But the main characters in this episode, and the audience all see how the pain of the past drives the historian Urasawa to cling to the legend of Ragon. She even tries to leave the Earth behind entirely and go with Ragon back to its own world through the arch.
In many other Ultraman series, the story would have ended there. Urasawa would have left the modern world – which had become just as bizarre and frightening as the world Ragon came from. Without her, the mysterious and dangerous ancient world of memories would sever itself from our modern world entirely, leaving the characters forever wondering what could have been. The past would have remained something unknown and dark, which cannot be understood by modern conceits and paradigms, and that loss would have been ominously remarked on as the episode trails off to the ending credits…
But that’s not how the story ends this week.
Instead, Ichika Kirino reaches out to her. More than anyone else on GUTS-Select, she retains the spirit of adventure which drives her into the unknown. She seeks out mysteries and tries her best to understand the past and present together, and use that knowledge to keep moving to the future. Even in early episodes, Ichika came across as someone who tries to connect lives together, to understand each other and use that cooperation to become stronger. It helped her bring her teammates together, and now it pushes her to literally dive into the unknown to bring Mrs. Urasawa back.
Even then, her own efforts seem like they won’t be enough. The world Ragon came from is not a place for humans, as Kaizaki desperately cries after her.
It’s a good thing that there is another power in this show, which can bridge the gap between humanity and the unknown, and the present with the past.
The moment Decker reached through Ragon’s dimension to pull Ichika and Mrs. Urasawa back to dry land literally made me gasp in shock. What a way to literally illustrate all the themes I’ve discussed here so effectively! It also ties in many other themes from this show about the relation between the future and the present. Over and over again, we see each of the members of GUTS-Select draw strength from the past in order to help them fight for the future. As recently as the last episode, the message from Kanata’s own parents helped him do exactly that. Now, that same strength which lets him fight as Decker also helps him support the same dreams for the future borne by his teammates.
Most importantly though, this episode of Ultraman Decker shows that the past isn’t something that stands in opposition to the present, or even our progress into the future! The final scene, with Ichika and Mrs. Urasawa happily chatting together, trading stories, and then passing on the ancient seashell once given to her by Ragon himself, represents that precious connection across time.
There are so many other things I could say about this episode, and how expertly it develops the theme of history, legacy, memory and all those other special aspects that define us as humans, not to mention the actual technical cinematography, which yields some astounding shots, including the twin traffic mirrors reflecting Ragon and Decker in the midst of battle.
But my own time for this recap article draws short, so I’ll call it a day here. As time keeps slipping on into the future – so to say – join us again next week for more Ultraman Decker, right here at Ultraman Connection!