Monday, 8 January 2018

Series REVIEW: Ultraman Geed

Ultraman Geed
Ultraman Geed is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

After making a comeback in a big way over the past few years, Tsuburaya Productions continued the new generation of Ultra heroes in 2017 with Ultraman Geed, the newest entry in their signature Ultra Series. After briefly making his debut at the end of Ultra Fight Orb, Geed introduces the titular Ultraman properly to a worldwide audience thanks to the continued simulcast deal with Crunchyroll. The series also continues the fight between Ultraman Zero and Belial, which first began in Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends and continued through Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial and Ultra Zero Fight.

Belial destroys the worldRiku transforms

When the universe is destroyed by the evil Ultra warrior Belial in a cataclysmic event known as the Crisis Impact, it takes the whole power of Ultraman King to restore it. Earth survives, with only a vague recollection of the catastrophe and a memory of Belial's evil.

Years later, the monster Skull Gomora attacks and orphan teenager Riku Asakura, along with his alien best friend Pega, stumble across a secret base below the Earth's surface. It's here that Riku learns that he is not only an Ultraman in human form, but also the son of Belial himself. Inspired by his childhood hero Donshine, Riku becomes Ultraman Geed - a hero that defies his heritage to defend rather than destroy. Aided by monster hunter Laiha Toba, AIB agent Moa Aizaki as well as his father's long-time enemy Ultraman Zero (now partnered with hapless salaryman Leito Igaguri), Ultraman Geed protects the Earth from the monster attacks perpetuated by Belial's loyal disciple Kei Fukuda. And of course, Belial himself isn't too far away plotting his return.

The cast of Ultraman GeedKei Fukuda

The handling of continuity has always been a point of interest in modern Ultra shows. Whereas some of its closest rivals effectively reset every year and only look back on the past for annual crossover movies, Ultraman fully embraces its heritage. While Ultraman X did it through tribute episodes featuring returning characters, Orb took a different approach and carried the legacy through powers based on the veteran heroes. Ultraman Geed however takes it one step further and combines both of these ideas – continuing the core gimmick of Ultraman fusion whilst also creating a proper platform to continue Zero and Belial’s story. For a newcomer this could seem incredibly daunting, but Geed has been crafted in such a way that while previous knowledge certainly enhances the experience, it by no means dominates it. Essential knowledge is covered comfortably within the show itself, and for any further reading there’s also an “episode 0” that comfortably abridges Belial’s reign of terror. While it can’t replace the thrill of watching the actual films/specials, it’s more than enough to launch you into Geed without any reservations.

The power of bonds and teamwork has always been one of the most prevalent themes in Ultraman, but Geed takes that one step further and is all about family. Riku grows up an orphan before discovering that his father is one of the most dangerous entities in the cosmos, and in defying as he defies that heritage to become a hero finds value in the family he has created for himself. His road is also one of acceptance, as his visual similarly to the creature that caused the Crisis Impact makes him less trustworthy in the eyes of the people he’s trying to protect. Similarly Laiha loses her family at the hands of Kei, and in her pursuit of revenge meets Riku and the rest of the cast. Moa grew up with Riku, but now finds herself having to share him with everyone else. But perhaps the strongest family link of all is Zero, who now shares in the everyday family life his host Leito shares with his family and daughter. Like Riku, Zero’s own family ties are complicated to say the least, but with Leito he learns the true value of these ties. All of these positive morals are then subverted with Kei, whose toxic fanaticism of Belial emphasises the contrasts in the evil Ultra’s approach to bonds. Whereas Ultramen and their hosts develop a symbiosis, Belial takes until there’s nothing left. And as villainous as Kei may be, his devotion to his master is ultimately tragic because of this.

Leito Igaguri/Ultraman ZeroMoa and Zena

These strong themes resonate thanks to the show’s excellent cast. Like Orb before it Geed manages a much smaller cast and no wide-scale science patrol team (instead opting for the AIB, a covert Men in Black-type organisation), however does a much better job at giving them all a distinct place and purpose. Riku’s tokusatsu fanboyisms make him instantly relatable to the viewer, but his proactive nature and selfless heroism are what truly make him shine as a hero. Laiha works as a voice of maturity to Riku and Pega’s childish lifestyle, but has her own strong character arc and displays her own physical prowess and heroic compassion throughout it. Moa is clumsy and loveable, but growth in regards to her competency and reliability to her superior Zena. Zena himself also gets some excellent focus episodes, peeling away his icy exterior to reveal his past among his alien Shadow brethren. Finally while Kei is at a particular disadvantage following on from the charisma of Orb’s Jugglus Juggler, he still remains a lively villain that just won’t stay down.

In the recurring characters you have Zero, who at this point sinks very easily into the mentor role, and Belial – the ultimate evil and a truly despicable villain. In Leito Zero finds that true sense of humanity he previously lacked, while in Zero Leito finds the conviction to step out of his comfort zone and become a hero. The pair are truly one of Geed’s biggest highlights, culminating in an excellent sequence with Leito’s family as the pair approach their final battle with Belial. Even Belial’s development doesn’t go unchallenged, as even though Geed stays strong to his villain status it purposely hints that even someone as evil as he isn’t totally beyond redemption.

Revisiting the same gimmick idea for the second year in a row could be considered a surprising and somewhat risky move, but Geed's Ultra Capsules feel different enough both visually and thematically to separate them from Orb's Ultra Fusion Cards. The idea of fusion feels right at home in Ultraman Geed given Riku's inexperience as an Ultraman as well as the show's overall feelings on heritage. The notion of combining Belial's power with two of the most significant characters in Ultra lore is significant, showing what even Belial could become if he would just let go of evil inside of him. Unlike in Orb where the use of fusion was to help recover a lost identity, here it is used to help Geed define his.

Ultraman Zero BeyondGeed vs Pedanium Zetton

And despite the breakneck pace the show introduces its numerous forms (final form Royal Mega Master debuts a mere four episodes after his Magnificent form), Geed doesn't feel anywhere near as toyetic or merchandise-driven as Orb did. You'd think it'd be the opposite given the use of switch-operated plastic capsules over basic cards, but Geed does a good job of making its blatant product placement mix with the story. For example, the introduction of Orb Origin in Ultraman Orb heralded lengthy Orb Calibur demonstration sequences which would completely pull you out of the fight, whilst Royal Mega Master's demonstration of the King Sword somehow enhances the fight thanks to the soundtrack and visuals it brings along with it. That isn't to say Geed gets it right every time - the Geed claw more often than not feels completely out of place due to its small size and toy-like design, but largely does a decent job of helping you forget how these shows are now almost entirely driven by merchandise.

Of course it goes without saying that Tsuburaya are still ahead of the game when it comes to production values, with the current half-year episode count seemingly allowing them to go all out when it comes to suit designs and miniatures. Geed is perhaps a little more CGI heavier than its predecessors in some places, but its use always feels primarily to enhance rather than to replace. Tsuburaya have continued to perfect the concept of fusion forms, resulting in not only some brilliant looking suits but also ones that wildly differ from each other and reflect the varying abilities and fighting styles of the Ultramen they draw from. The same praise can also be said of the Belial-fusion monsters Kei creates over the course of the series, which combine two staple Ultra kaiju but also throw in a dash of Belial in the same way Geed’s main attributes are carried over to his various forms. The sets and choreography are as immaculate as always, with the series getting off to a particularly strong start as Geed debuts as part of a striking nighttime battle. This gives way to the usual high-quality city fights, as well as a number of countryside skirmishes that offer both visual variety and a chance for Tsuburaya to show off just how talented their miniatures department is.

As a final note, the series as a whole also acts as a wonderful tribute to the 50th anniversary of Ultraseven, which was also celebrated in 2017. While Seven's direct anniversary appearance was in the Ultraman Orb movie, Geed's approach is a lot more understated - instead drawing on connections and familiar faces to tie it back to the landmark series. The most obvious these is of course the return of Zero, but far more significant are the reappearances of the likes of Aliens Pegassa, Shadow, Godola and Bado as well as the kaiju Gyeron (to simply name a few) - some of whom haven't been seen since their original debut. The result is arguably far better than a more gratuitous celebration, since it doesn't impact on the story Geed wants to tell while showing a deeper love for some of its wider elements. The tributes are all there if you want to look for them, and if you haven't seen Ultraseven then there's nothing that would ever make you feel lost.

Belial AtrociousThe many forms of Ultraman Geed

Despite some pretty fierce competition, for the third year in a row the Ultra Series has defied its rivals to come out swinging as the strongest superhero tokusatsu series of 2017. Ultraman Geed takes the main strengths of both X and Orb and makes them its own, combined with its own unique themes and messages as well as furthering the story of one of the most popular modern Ultraman sagas. Featuring both a solid overarching story and the kind of episodic adventures Ultraman has always excelled at, Ultraman Geed is another unmissable installment that perfectly captures the franchise at its very best.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Such a great show.

...I have the biggest crush on Moa.

Humam Ahwazi said...

Love how the opening song of Geed itself really describe Belial's and Riku's journey

Get over now
Get over pain
Get over Mind
Jump up Geed

It really describe how in pain Belial is and really can't get over his pain, revenge, anger, and rage.

Riku did that, he got over his pain, anger, mind, and he finally do his motto "Sitting around, won't get you nowhere"