Sunday, 11 July 2021

First Impressions: Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga

Ultraman Trigger
Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga is available to stream on YouTube

July 10th 2021 marked both Ultraman Day and the 55th anniversary of the Ultraman franchise, so what better way to celebrate that with the premiere of a brand new Ultraman series? It's a particularly big year for the franchise as Ultraman Tiga also celebrates its 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion this monumentally popular series is being reimagined for a whole new generation in Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga. The series is said to be a reinterpretation of Tiga's story for the current audience to enjoy, as well as featuring callbacks and parallels that will appeal to those who grew up with the first Heisei era Ultraman series. The franchise's plans for world domination continue as Tsuburaya Productions are once again uploading the series to their official YouTube channel with English subtitles, with episodes staying online for two weeks from their premiere. 

Kengo Manaka

On a Martian settlement, botanist Kengo Manaka has a recurring nightmare about a mysterious woman and a giant of darkness. His attempts to find the perfect Martian soil for his plants to grow take him to some excavated ruins, currently being investigated by his mother and her benefactors the Sizuma Foundation. 

When the ruins are attacked by a monster, Kengo is mysteriously protected by a bright light. As he investigates further, the monster's master appears and Kengo is once again protected by the woman from his dreams. Standing before a statue of the mysterious giant, Kengo merges with it to come a giant of light - Ultraman Trigger!

Kengo transformsArise Ultraman Trigger

Given just how popular Ultraman Tiga is a production that fully celebrated its 25th anniversary was a given, but a modern day take on the story is definitely an interesting way to go about it. Ultraman Trigger might not be following Tiga to the letter, but at the same time Tsuburaya Productions certainly aren't going light on the parallels. It isn't just a case of them necessarily being there just for older fans to catch either, since Trigger's preview episode directly called out a lot of them for new viewers (not to mention Tiga being recapped in the Ultra Chronicle Z: Heroes Odyssey compilation series). Trigger's origins mirror that of Tiga's, while the Dark Giants he'll face off against are a reimagining of the trio that appeared in Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey. Defense team GUTS-Select is based on Tiga's own GUTS, and the monster that appears in this episode is a fusion of two Tiga kaiju (Golba = Golza and Melba). It feels both equal parts remake and reimagining, with no clear indication yet on just how exactly this fits in to the Ultraman universe. Of course knowing said universe Tsuburaya are almost certainly going to make it fit in somehow, and that mystery certainly comes as part of the appeal.

Carmeara

Whereas as some of the more recent shows have had a habit of introducing the whole cast within the first episode, Ultraman Trigger takes it slow and only utilises a handful of them to get the story going. There will surely be plenty of time spent with GUTS-Select going forwards, but for now all we really need to know is that they exist. It's a shame that the end of this episode suggests that a lot of action probably won't take place on Mars, because having it has a starting point really makes Trigger feel unique. The level of CG required to give it scale is perhaps a bit cost prohibitive, but it's nice to look at something that isn't just all conventional cities or Earth landscapes for once. Naturally driving the story is Kengo, our botanist hero who just wants to make everyone smile. There's a very classic sensibility to Kengo's words, one that makes him immediately likeable as well as perfectly suited to the role of a hero. The botanist angle is particularly endearing, as we see him carry his precious flower around in a capsule - determined to find the perfect Martian soil to make it bloom. Even though he doesn't have a clue what's happening around him and why he's suddenly wrapped up in some alien prophecy, he goes along with it so that he can help save people.

Supporting Kengo we briefly meet his mother Reina, as well as Mitsukuni Shizuma - the eponymous head of the Sizuma Foundation. While the pair mostly just help move the story along here, Shizuma definitely stands out as a point of interest. Not just because of his quickness to present Kengo with a Sparklence (the GUTS-Select firearm which in Kengo's case also switches to his transformation item) and invite him to join GUTS-Select, but also his various allusions to Ultraman Tiga. He seems very familiar with the story of Tiga, as well as musing that Ultraman "exists in this world" as well. When we do eventually find out just how Tiga and Trigger connect together, he is likely going to factor into it somewhere. But if villains are more your thing it looks like we've got some good ones here, as the Dark Giant Carmeara has awakened and is not happy with Ultraman Trigger for sealing her all those years ago. Her parallels to Camerra from The Final Odyssey aside it's nice to have another Ultraman series go all in with a monster villain from the first episode, her "giant of darkness" design mirroring the Ultras "giants of light" look in all the right ways. 

Reina & MitsukuniThe mysterious Yuzare

Trigger does a great job of distancing itself from the various New Generation Heroes shows in its setting, but it's with Trigger's reawakening and the subsequent fight scenes that the show really stands out against modern Ultraman. First and foremost it's just enjoyable to see an Ultraman that's completely free from the baggage of previous continuity (for now anyway). While there may be some direct Tiga references peppered in, there's no family ties or legacy Ultra fusions going on here - just a straightforward Ultraman with a limited set of abilities. As we already know from previews Trigger will have a variety of forms that match that of Tiga's but for now it's a pretty straightforward Ultra fight with his default Multi-Type form. With each subsequent new series it feels like Tsuburaya Productions have tried to bring something new to the table when it comes to the fight scenes, and in many cases that has been through the way their city sets have been built up and developed. With Trigger's debut taking place on a rocky Mars landscape, TsuPro have gone about different ways in making this feel suitably epic. The red skies are enough to give these scenes an appropriately alien feel, but the rocky structures and amount of dust brought up from the actors' movements make the sets truly feel alive even if the aren't as densely populated. The fight also kicks off with an impressive CGI sequence shown from a viewpoint below the giants, giving it an immediate sense of scale whilst also showing off just how much these sequences have improved. While both the fans and Tsuburaya themselves know it'll never replace the suit action Ultraman is known and loved for, its use here injects a speed and energy that the heavy suits wouldn't necessarily be able to manage.

What also really works here is that the fight isn't the same straightforward win we usually get from a premiere episode either. Trigger already has his hands full fighting Golba, but once Carmeara also joins the battle things start to go south for our hero pretty quickly. Trigger being overwhelmed so soon establishes just how much of a threat Carmeara is, and we see some great scenes of him literally being pounded in into Mars' muddy surface. I'm not sure when the last time Tsuburaya were this eager to have their beautifully constructed suits be caked in mud, but it definitely wasn't any time recently. It adds an extra level of grit and realness to the fight, as well as acting as a throwback to older days' when it felt like literally anything could go with the fight scenes. This disadvantage creates a good way for Trigger's signature weapon to be introduced, and as he turns the tide we get to see another beloved element of Ultraman that hasn't been seen onscreen for a while - the madmen going so far as to blow the actual monster suit up at the end. The whole thing is just a fantastic blend of old and new techniques, setting Trigger up as another series that's clearly going to have plenty to offer visually.

Mud fight!Actually exploding monsters

On top of matching the incredibly high standards the franchise has set for itself in recent years, Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga's first episode is another standout premiere in how it has immediately set itself apart from the more recent string of Ultraman shows. From its Mars setting and more individual approach to its Ultraman as a character to the more classic sensibilities when it comes to the fight sequence, Ultraman Trigger channels Ultraman Tiga in a way that manages to feel fresh despite the numerous parallels. It will be interesting to see just how Trigger plans to act as a companion piece to Tiga in terms of continuity, but given the franchise's track record whatever happens it'll almost certainly be an enjoyable show in its own way regardless.

5 comments:

M said...

Tiga is my favorite Ultra Show. What is yours, Alex?

Alex said...

Ultraseven is mine. There are a lot of really good ones but that's definitely the standout for me!

Unknown said...

I swear, why isn't Toei for Kamen Rider and Super Sentai what TP is doing for Ultraman world wide?

Big Boy said...

Maybe it's just me, but most of the Ultras since Orb have felt kind of generic. I'm constantly forgetting Taiga exists because it just blends with its peers in my mind. Like, outside of the connection to Tiga here and the much-appreciated return of exploding the kaiju at the end, there wasn't a whole lot that really felt new or gripping--especially since the protagonist felt about as milquetoast as it gets. Maybe I'm just missing something.

Anonymous said...

Kengo made it hard for me to get into the episode. Pretty generic with no real motivation. Sure it's all pretty and looks great but without some kind realism to the characters it falls flat imo.