Six episodes into any show, and one would expect it to fall into a pattern of familiar beats each week, finding a stable status quo to build out from. While much of Ultraman Decker has featured a lower-key, self-contained focus on our main characters in GUTS-Select, the show finds new ways to develop that focus, and keeps things feeling fresh every episode. Episode 6 was no exception, but also used that foundation to springboard into some extravagant surprises.
The first half of the episode was exactly the sort of monster-focused “whodunnit” mystery which formed the bread-and-butter substance of classic Ultraman series. In this type of story, the defense team is faced with bizarre occurrences, related to a giant monster (or rumors of a giant monster), and have to puzzle out the best way to address the threat before more cities are destroyed, or lives lost. It can be easy to dismiss this kind of set-up as formulaic or “filler” to pad out a show, but Ultraman stories always use this basic premise to develop a huge variety of tones, character arcs, themes, and styles.
In this episode, GUTS-Select considered Pagos—an underground monster that debuted in Ultra Q, and more recently appeared in Ultraman Z—and its seemingly-random appearances attacking cities. But even if the audience, and GUTS-Select, are both familiar with this Kaiju, there is a twist this time. How is Pagos able to move so quickly, and why has it chosen to attack specific locations? Thanks to Vice-Captain Saizaki’s unmatched knowledge of giant monsters, the team can pinpoint Pagos’ attacks and launch its own operation to stop the creature.
And if that was all there was to this episode, it would’ve been a fun little science-fiction story with some cool special effects and a big old rumble against a Kaiju at the end of the day. I, for one, am very easy to please when it comes to episodes like that.
But wait, there’s way more!
This episode also brought us some much-needed focus on the third new member of GUTS-Select—Ryumon. He’s mostly been in the background of the show up to this point, as a taciturn, grumpy, but thoroughly dutiful teammate alongside Kanata and Ichika. The audience knew from the second episode that he was also a perfectionist who holds himself and others to high standards, but here he reveals more about why he feels that way. To him, his role on GUTS-Select wasn’t just a high honor, but one that he achieved through his own hard work and dedication, and he now devotes that same dedication to protecting all the lives he can.
I appreciate that there seems to be a consistent theme connecting the trio of Kanata, Ichika and Ryumon here. All three of them are defined by very distinct character traits, such as Kanata’s unfailing optimism or Ichika’s ease with making new friends and connections by reaching out to people. As noted by the Captain and Vice-Captain however, those traits can also be major flaws.
The audience has already seen Ryumon’s perfectionism conflict with other members of the team earlier in other episodes. That’s easy enough to recognize. In this episode, though, Ryumon was able to show off why his dedication pays off as a valuable strength. Thanks to his focus, quick-thinking and intense training, Ryumon’s piloting and shooting skills help to stop the threat from the monsters.
Yes, “monsters”. Plural. Guess what, there’s still more to this episode!
There’s a lot of classic elements of the Ultraman franchise at play here. Aside from the plot focused on identifying and stopping a threat from Kaiju attacks, using that plot to highlight key traits of the show’s supporting cast is also something that classic Ultraman shows handle very adeptly. In fact, playing such a dour perfectionist character against a more lighthearted, enthusiastic rookie reminded me exactly of the kind of defense team dynamics one could find on shows like The Return of Ultraman.
And then just as I was thinking “Boy, this really feels like an episode of Return of Ultraman,” two things happened. First, Ryumon gets a building dropped on him. No, seriously. One of the most key aspects of Return’s cinematography is a focus on scale-model destruction—often filmed from ground-level, mimicking the characters’ own perspectives as they’re caught in the disaster.
Secondly, two of the most iconic Kaiju from Return of Ultraman make an appearance: Gudon and Twin Tail!
As it happens, Pagos isn’t the only monster responsible for attacking the city. The audience, and the GUTS-Select team, learned that an entire ecosystem of monsters existed under the city! Gudon seems to be in charge, driving the monsters to attack an energy production plant to get the special metal that fed them.
Emphasizing that the monsters are natural creatures, that have specific patterns of behavior, needs, and even personalities that factor into their appearances, is also a classic element of the franchise. It always makes for memorable scenarios when it becomes a focus in episodes like this. I was really impressed at how the show took a lot of elements of Pagos’ appearance in Ultra Q, and then produced a plot twist that relied on the audience’s own expectations of that story, and other plots regarding similar monsters.
But wait, there’s still more!
This episode pulled out all the stops, not just with how it built up the mystery around the monsters, and not just with the underlying story developing Ryumon’s character and his role on the team. This episode went even further beyond expectations in every respect, right down to the big fight against the monsters and the distinct cinematography used in it.
From the moment Decker gets yanked underground to fist-fight an entire monster jamboree, I can honestly say my jaw dropped open. Everything about the sense of scale for the underground set – emphasized both with CGI and practical set pieces—was incredible to watch unfold. All of it, including the shots of the GUTS Falcon swooping in to help Decker in his fight, the reveal of all the Kaiju one after another, the GUTS-Select team immediately calling in an aerial strike to deal with the monsters, and then finally another appearance by Ultraman Decker Miracle Type to finish off Gudon in the most spectacular fashion possible, made for one of the hypest climaxes I can recall from any Ultraman series.
If someone were to jump from episode 5, which ended in a very tender way that reunited two friends without violence, straight into the last ten minutes of this episode, I’d imagine the whiplash would seem pretty strange out of context. However, Ultraman shows work because they can handle a huge variety of tones and contexts within the same general premise. Ultraman Decker is a fantastic example of that every week. You never quite know what you’re going to see each week; the episodes feature call-backs from the earliest days of the franchise alongside fresh new CGI techniques and huge action-based spectacle set pieces right next to each other.
This show makes it all work, and make sense together, because of its firm focus on the characters of GUTS-Select. The audience can experience the highs, lows, and everything in-between alongside our main characters as they fight to protect the Earth and all the lives on it.