For new fans interested in any franchise, “Where should I start watching?” is always a common question. With 56 years of history behind it, that question can sometimes make the prospect of venturing into the Ultraman Series seem intimidating from the outside. So far, however, Ultraman Decker has sidestepped that problem by developing its own unique style. It has remained remarkably accessible for new viewers with no expectations or experience because it tells its story from the perspective of its own fresh recruits – the newly-reformed GUTS-Select team.
This week’s episode used their perspective to specifically introduce (or reintroduce) the audience to the events of Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga, occurring almost a decade prior. Even if someone has never even heard of Ultraman before getting into Decker, it’s remarkably easy to become invested in the main characters themselves. With Kanata’s ever-present enthusiasm, Ichika’s steadfast friendliness, and Ryumon’s, uh… single-minded determination, the audience comes to care about the world of Decker because they care about these individual stakes in that universe, and why each of them makes the choice to stand up and fight to protect the Earth.
But these characters, along with their Captain and Vice-Captain (and of course Hanejiro, I’d be hounded off this site if I forgot him), aren’t the only ones who care deeply about protecting the Earth and humanity. The opening of this week’s episode brought back some familiar faces from the previous GUTS-Select team. In a remarkably dramatic cold open, we learned that at least five of them, three that we see, have been fighting against the Spheres for an entire year while stranded on Mars!
It’s incredible to think that Ultraman Trigger himself – Kengo Manaka – alongside Akito and (former) Captain Tatsumi managed to survive and continue fighting in such a desperate resistance against the invading Sphere UFOs. All this while the events of Decker have been happening on Earth!
For as much as I’m already enjoying watching Decker each week, I would definitely be excited to watch a whole separate series depicting that fight on Mars. Even this brief opening scene portrayed a compelling and significantly more mature team dynamic where each of them used all their strengths – whether it’s the power of Ultraman, super futuristic science, or big guns – to do everything they could to protect the lives of other survivors.
It was a fascinating bit of world-building that made the universe around the main events of the show feel more coherent and alive. Even though most of humanity is trapped on Earth by the Sphere barrier, the audience was given a clear reminder that many other things are happening throughout this universe, with or without our main characters’ direct involvement.
While fighting on Mars, the trio of ex-GUTS-Select members also received a shocking wake-up call. Kengo is given a mysterious message from Yuzare – but not the Yuzare that returning viewers would recognize from Trigger. She bestowed Kengo with a cryptic summons to Earth, brand-new Dimension Cards, and a shiny new sword to boot.
(I guess Ultraman Hikari was busy this time and couldn’t make the delivery himself.)
The question of who this Yuzare could be, and why she chose this moment to appear to Kengo, was left as a dangling plot thread for now. Still, they wasted no time getting Kengo through the barrier back to Earth, understanding the urgency of this message.
Again, if you have never seen an Ultraman show in your life before this, it would still be an engaging scene to watch. The stakes were obviously high, the characters had an immediate dynamic which implied their history as teammates, and the mystery of this new message from Yuzare was just as baffling to the characters in-universe as it would be to new viewers at home.
This sort of handy plot exposition and world-building from a fresh perspective continued when Kengo arrived on Earth and met his successor. For someone like me who watched Trigger as it aired last year, it was really rewarding to see Kengo as more of an older-brother mentor figure in his conversations with Kanata.
He’s not perfect in his abilities or knowledge, and yet Kengo’s demeanor had a sort of quiet assurance, a confidence which would naturally follow from his experiences in Ultraman Trigger and the events of the Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z movie. It was new, but it felt like an organic development from where we last saw his character.
Kengo may have come off as a more experienced professional compared to Kanata’s youthful enthusiasm but watching them both still struggle to hide the fact that they’re both Ultramen from the rest of the new GUTS-Select team had me literally crying from laughing. Some things never change, and I’m endlessly amused by the idea that Kanata is just as bad as his predecessor when it comes to keeping his secret identity under wraps.
Most of this week’s episode consisted of setting up Kengo himself, and where Ultraman Decker currently stands in relation to the events from last year’s show. Some of that set-up, in fact, came off as a summary, but these can be valuable parts of a show’s pacing and put a different spin on those old events by showing how the characters look back on them with a new perspective.
That was the case in this episode – new viewers got a quick catch-up to lead into the continuing story, while returning fans could clearly see how Kengo and the other characters from Trigger have continued to grow from their experience. It distinguished and clarified Kengo’s character, and his role as Ultraman Trigger, by contrasting that experience with Kanata’s new and untested exuberance.
Both Kengo and Kanata will need all their combined skills – experience and exuberance both – to face the threat behind Yuzare’s warning. Throughout the episode, there were hints of something big coming, reports of mysterious energy readings matching the “dark energy” from the aptly-named Dark Giants who fought against Trigger last season. At the very end, we’re left with one heck of a cliffhanger as the source of this dark energy revealed itself. It would have been worrying enough if one of the Dark Giants was resurrected again to fight against our heroes. That’s not the case, however.
No, they get to go Round 2 against the final boss from Ultraman Trigger – Megalothor! Not only that, but a version of Megalothor that seemingly has resurrected itself by stealing power from the Spheres themselves.
Oh yeah, and Carmearra, the semi-redeemed villain from Trigger herself, also seems to have been resurrected in the process!
Once again, even if someone watching this had never seen a single episode of Ultraman Trigger, the sudden shock and halt from the titular Ultraman hero in that final shot speaks volumes about the kind of trouble they’re in for next week.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. In the meantime, stay tuned to Ultraman Connection!