Previously on Ultraman Decker, the audience, and our hero – Asumi Kanata – both had the chance to step back and look at the role of Ultraman through a new perspective. While fighting alongside Ultraman Trigger, Kengo Manaka, Kanata came to understand the importance of using his power as Ultraman to fight to protect simple things, such as smiles, instead of just trying to defeat monsters.
While this has long been a recurring theme in Ultraman series, last week’s episode did a wonderful job of contextualizing that lesson in a unique way. The depth of Kengo’s wish to see everyone smile – even his enemies – helped to bring about something that seemed impossible. By the end of the episode, the Dark Giant Carmearra had been revived, but chose to leave the Earth to follow a new path into the future, rather than simply reviving old grudges against Trigger and his new successor.
That overall pattern – taking old themes and revisiting them with new contexts and new, deeper understandings of their importance – has defined virtually every part of Ultraman Decker. It doesn’t just sketch the larger focus of the show as a sequel and homage to past Ultraman series, but also the narrative arcs which the main characters follow within each episode. I’ve said many times in these articles that Ultraman shows always excel when dealing with these themes on multiple levels: explicitly and implicitly, on large, small, and personal scales.
Episode 9 took a step back down to that small, personal scale with its plot, but retained that same idea – of revisiting and recontextualizing the past in unique ways. This week, we were introduced to a mysterious girl and her father, a now-retired galactic superstar of martial arts. The Steel Phenomenon, Grace the Gregore, and his daughter Mika, have a similar story to the Pitt alien from back in Episode 5. They also found themselves trapped on Earth after the Spheres attacked a year ago, and blocked anyone from traveling to, or away from the planet.
Well, almost everyone. Last week’s episode also showed that there are ways around that barricade, so I’m interested if any other surprise guests may be arriving from space later. But that’s speculation for another time, back to the story at hand!
Mika initially tried to rope Kanata to fight against her dad, hoping that a good martial arts challenge would restore his “pride” as a fighter. Kanata turns them down, but interestingly enough, Captain Murahoshi of GUTS-Select decides to accept the challenge and battle against him! It might seem counterintuitive at first, using the strength of the defense team and its members for such a frivolous competition, but I think Murahoshi’s actions and words in these scenes relate that “pride” to how the show considers the role of Ultraman.
Last week, the audience and Kanata both saw how Kengo understood his power as Ultraman – to protect seemingly small things that are important to people and ensure their happiness. Even if that involves fighting, and putting himself at risk, Kengo wants to take on that responsibility for those selfless purposes, and in fact that determination gave him the strength to overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Paralleling that, Captain Murahoshi’s words in this episode were very similar to Kengo’s, as he explained to Kanata that protecting the “peace” on Earth also meant protecting those small things, like the admiration Mika has for her father, and even Grace’s own hopes and dreams regarding his legacy as a martial artist.
Again, nothing about this concept is new to the Ultraman franchise. But the specific circumstances – watching the human defense team throwing down with a retired galactic superstar fighter in one final blaze of glory – definitely were. Even seeing Grace’s own unique “Rise” sequence as he grew to his full gigantic size before fighting Red King, was a fun twist on my expectations for the show. Those unique twists serve to make the classic ideals of Ultraman even more obvious to the audience, and help Kanata and the other GUTS-Select members understand those ideals in a new way.
Grace may have the fun, bombastic showmanship of a professional wrestler, but he fights alongside Ultraman for those same ideals in this episode. In addition to that, the people of Earth also recognize that ideal – using one’s strength to protect smaller, more vulnerable lives and their happiness – and end up cheering for him in the same way they would for Ultraman too! That scene of a huge crowd chanting his name in excitement after he took down Red King the first time was honestly my favorite part of the episode. It was the sort of heartwarming, slightly silly, but totally earnest exuberance that I love from this franchise.
Those elements on their own – the “aging martial artist comes out of retirement for one last title fight” story, Captain Murahoshi’s praiseworthy concern for his responsibility protecting the lives of civilians and aliens on Earth – all of those would have already made this episode great. However, there’s another layer to this week’s story which took it up another notch, making it what I consider to be the best episode of the entire show so far.
Earlier in this piece, I noted that Ultraman stories excel at making these points on multiple levels. The concept of revisiting old history, taking those lessons and applying them to new, unique circumstances in the present, is an explicit part of many episodes in Ultraman Decker. This week’s story also represents old history in another implicit, metatextual way.
Some readers might recognize this plot from an episode of Ultraman Dyna, “Battle to the Death: Dyna vs. Dyna!” In that story, Shin Asuka – Ultraman Dyna – faces off against a different Gregore seeking to test his strength. The episode ends with Asuka demonstrating his true strength as Ultraman. Rather than just fighting to defeat and destroy his opponents, Asuka proves himself as a hero because the human beings on Earth trust him and recognize that he fights to protect smaller, vulnerable lives instead. Those ideals give him the strength to overcome the challenges he faces, rather than just being strong in a physical sense.
It’s a very similar theme to this episode in Ultraman Decker, but Decker comes to that conclusion from the opposite way. No one has to learn a lesson or change their mind in this case. Instead, all the characters succeed by finding the courage to keep fighting for those ideals, even when it seems difficult – or even hopeless.
To further emphasize that similarity, Grace himself in this week’s Decker episode is played by veteran suit actor Koji Nakamura. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, then readers might be interested to know that he was the main suit actor for Ultraman Dyna in that show, along with many other Ultraman heroes in different series! I know I was surprised to learn that fact. It truly is impressive to see the great lengths Ultraman Decker commits itself in order to emphasize that theme of paying respect to history without simply copying it exactly.
After all, the Ultraman franchise has always been focused on looking forward, but with the passage of decades it is also learning how to grow towards that future by understanding the past and present around us. Ultraman Decker continually works from that concept each week, making it explicit even in Kanata’s signature catchphrase: "I look towards tomorrow! Into the beyond!"
That forward-looking focus, the momentum that carries the show’s characters and the audience into the future, truly makes me excited to watch each new episode. Be sure to stay tuned to Ultraman Connection for those new episodes each week, and join us in the future, right here for more recaps from Ultraman Decker!