Monday, 8 July 2019

First Impressions: Ultraman Taiga

Ultraman Taiga

July has arrived once again as usual that signals the start of a brand new instalment in the Ultra Series, the first of which to be released in the Reiwa period. Ultraman Taiga is the 31st entry in the overall franchise as well as the seventh New Generation Hero series, a subset of Ultraman shows that began back with Ultraman Ginga in 2013. Ultraman Taiga introduces three new Ultra heroes in the form of Taiga, Titas and Fuma as well as containing several links to older shows. Ultraman Taiga is the son of Ultraman Taro (and thus the grandson of Father of Ultra) while his partners Titas and Fuma hail from the planets U40 (the home of Ultraman Joneus) and O-50 (the home of Orb, Rosso and Blu) respectively.


Sometime in the past, the New Generation Ultramen battled against Tregear – a dark Ultraman and former friend to Ultraman Taro. The team were later joined by the "Tri-Squad" of Taiga, Titas and Fuma, who despite putting up a good fight were eventually defeated and their life forces dissipated across the galaxy.

12 years later EGIS officers Hiroyuki Kudo and Homare Souya attempt to assist an alien in delivering a baby Zandrias home to its mother. Their mission is interrupted by an Alien Magma, who lures the mother down to Earth with his own monster attack. When a mysterious person then summons the monster Hellberus to further complicate matters, Hiroyuki's resolve to save the baby is heard by the spirit of Ultraman Taiga. Using the Taiga Spark, he becomes the titular Ultraman and a new hero is born.


One of the finest qualities of the Ultra Series is its ability to respect its history and keep decades' worth of continuity alive, while at the same time making each new show perfectly understandable and accessible to new audiences. Despite having some rather deep references to past Ultras, "Buddy Go!" forgoes all of those finer details to deliver a premiere that's simple in structure and very much classic Ultraman at heart. For those interested in some the links Taiga has to older shows, an "episode 0" prequel short was also put out that chronicles some of the older exploits of Ultra heroes. It's by no means essential viewing, but acts as a nice little introduction for Taiga and helps set out his place in the ever-expanding Ultra universe.

After only making his debut earlier in the year in Ultraman R/B The Movie, Ultraman Tregear returns once again establish himself as a potent villain. Not much might be known about the character just yet, but he definitely has the looks and strength to carry himself until more is revealed. In the opening alone he's able to make short work of the New Generation Heroes before going toe to toe with Taro and soundly defeating the Tri-Squad. His suit design is great and far enough away from Belial to keep comparisons to a minimum, though his briefly-seen human guise seems to be keeping the same goth aesthetic that's made every human Ultra villain instantly recognisable for the past several years. Ultraman Taiga has a lot of elements that I'm looking forward to, but finding out Tregear's deal is perhaps the one I'm interested in the most.


The rest of this episode feels like fairly standard Ultraman fare, following a mission for this year's science team culminating in the main character bonding with Ultraman to stop a monster attack. It's a perfectly serviceable episode, but doesn't show off Taiga's main gimmick of having the hero be able to transform into three different Ultramen. Undoubtedly it works far better for pacing to bring them in one at a time, but without it this episode is very much by the books Ultraman. Enjoyable, but not really bringing anything new to the table.

Having EGIS (the Enterprise of Guard and Investigation Services) be a private security organisation for hire is a nice spin on the usual science team structure, and from the little we see of the extended cast here they seem to be a likeable bunch. After a few years of civilian protagonists Hiroyuki returns things to more classic territory, and his immediately relatable demeanour and sense of justice puts him on a good path to being a memorable lead. Taiga himself also gets a fairly great showing in terms of personality – playfully confident but not to the point of cockiness. The last time there was an Ultra/host dynamic with the titular Ultraman was in Ultraman X, and it'll be exciting to see how Taiga's youthfulness plays into that.


On the action side of things Tsuburaya Productions rarely let fans down, and Taiga's debut battle is the same miniature-smashing, suit-battling practical effects extravaganza we all know and love. As usual there's a good mix of past and present Ultra creatures on show in the episode, again giving Taiga solid continuity without drawing attention as to alienate others. Taiga's transformation sequence feels delightfully unobtrusive, and while the show is still loosely holding on to past Ultra powers with its Orb-let it's done in a way that doesn't draw too much attention away from the new heroes.

With only one of its three heroes properly introduced the first episode of Ultraman Taiga doesn't give a good sense of how it plans to stand out from the others, but is still a solid opener that plays all the best notes of the Ultra Series. As franchise that's particularly keen to keep its history alive in newer shows there's plenty of callbacks to fans to sink their teeth into, as well as continuing to establish new elements and characters that will carry on into further shows. The Ultraman New Generation Hero series have been consistently great, so there's no reason to expect Taiga won't be more of the same.

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