Friday 13 November 2020

Miniseries REVIEW: Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes

Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes
Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes is available both subtitled and English dubbed on Youtube

Tsuburaya Productions' Ultraman global takeover plan is a battle that's being fought on several fronts. As well as a simulcast release of the current series and high-quality blu-ray editions of the franchise back catalogue, there's also the ongoing Marvel Comics series and a wider push on toy and merchandising opportunities. But one of the more interesting elements in all of this was the 2019 miniseries Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes. While the concept of an Ultra Fight miniseries is nothing new, this featured a significantly higher budget as well as being the first one to receive a global push on YouTube as well as with a simultaneous English dub version. Originally released as as 13 weekly five-minute episodes, the series was later uploaded as a full 50-minute video. The miniseries acts as both as something of an epilogue to Ultraman R/B as well as a prequel to following series Ultraman Taiga.

Darkness Geed and XUltra Dark-Killer

As Ultraman X and Ultraman Geed face off against dark copies of themselves in outer space, Ultrawoman Grigio trains on Earth to protect Ayaka City in the absence of her brothers. When both she and Ultraman Zero are captured by Ultra Dark-Killer, the Inter Galactic Defence Force summon Rosso and Blu to rescue them. However the headstrong pair rush off, leading them to run into battles of their own. 

Ultraman Taro explains that it'll take the combined strength of the New Generation Heroes, along with the help of Galaxy Rescue Force member Ultraman Ribut, to defeat Ultra Dark-Killer, his evil Ultra clones and the resurrected Dark Lugiel and Etelgar. However there's also another shadowy force acting behind the scenes - one that's much closer to home for both Taro and the Land of Light.

Zero & GrigioTaro and the New Generation Heroes

Once upon a time removing the human element from Ultraman would have seemed unthinkable, as it would take away the emotion the series had and leave it as simply a series of empty (yet highly enjoyable nonetheless) monster fights. However the franchise has evolved significantly over the past 55 years, not only expanding on the Ultras' origins across the multiverse but also presenting the characters in very different ways. Ultramen come in many different forms, and in the case of several of the New Generation Heroes it's seen humans directly becoming them. Geed grew up a human unaware of his heritage until the beginning of his series, whilst the Minatos directly transform into their respective Ultras rather than bonding with them in the traditional way. Ultra Galaxy Fight sees these characters step into the wider Ultraman galaxy for the first time - retaining that more human quality against the backdrop of expanding the Ultras' story in the wider galaxy. Ultraman has always been about the bonds we share and Ultra Galaxy Fight is certainly no different in that regard either, cementing the friendships we've watched this new generation of heroes develop over the past several years. 

First and foremost it's great to see Ultrawoman Grigio take such a prominent place in this miniseries. Asashi was truly one of the highlights of Ultraman R/B, and arguably one of its biggest missteps was waiting until the end of its movie to introduce her as the Ultrawoman she was always meant to be. To see her taking on a protector role at the beginning is a really positive step forward, which makes it all the more disappointing that she's quickly relegated to essentially being a damsel in distress for the bulk of its runtime. While it's true this story was about the titular Ultramen themselves (with even Zero taking a backseat for some time), with it having taken so long to get to Grigio it would have been nice to see her do more. That said, it hasn't taken long for her to comfortably stand alongside her older brothers and the appearance of Ultraman Gruebe (this time with an actual costume no less) was one of the series' strongest moments. That family has come a long way, and despite its flaws stands proudly as one of the most unique spins on Ultraman in recent years.

Ultramen Powered UpUltraman Ribut

One of the most significant elements of the miniseries though, particularly for Malaysian fans, was the live-action debut and essentially full canonisation of Ultraman Ribut. Although Tsuburaya created Ribut alongside Les’ Copaque Productions, previously he had only appeared in their animated series Upin and Ipin - something barely known to the rest of the world. Ribut’s proper introduction into the Ultraman canon is just another example of how Tsuburaya are extending the reach of Ultraman across the globe, not only by forging relationships in other countries but also by showcasing what they have to offer in their own productions. Ribut is off doing his own thing for most of the story but definitely makes an impression, as well as leaving the audience wanting to know more about his role as a Galaxy Rescue Force member. It’s already confirmed that Ribut will continue to star in these miniseries alongside Ultras from other parts of the world, making these the perfect place to expand the Ultraman universe in a way that might not be possible in the main series. Even when it comes to the production side of things, Ultraman is still about forging bonds. 

Despite having a real dedication to its history and making connections and callbacks wherever it can, one of the main strengths of the Ultra Series (particularly the New Generation Hero instalments) has been how newcomers can still comfortably watch these individual series without that prior knowledge. But while Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes still has plenty to offer on its own, the big payoffs definitely come from having seen those individual series. It acting as a bridge between R/B and Geed is the main sign of that, but also in the way the story chooses to draw parallels between its characters and the context (or lack thereof) it provides in certain areas. To anyone who hasn’t seen Ginga, the revival of Lugiel and Etelgar doesn’t really mean much at all. Whether its showing how all the New Generation Ultras have been influenced by Ultraman Zero in some way or this miniseries acting as something of a torch-passing between Showa and modern Ultras, it can sometimes come across as more of a supplement piece than a standalone one. That said, fans outside of Japan might struggle with some of the deeper cut references simply due to location. Dark Killer originally hails from the 2012 pachinko game CR Pachinko Ultraman Taro~Fight!! Ultra~6 Brothers~, which presumably the flashback sequences featured here are in reference to. Knowledge of said game certainly isn’t required for Ultra Galaxy Fight, but it does raise the question of whether it might give Ultra Dark-Killer a little more depth. But as far as context is concerned, the franchise does its usual great job of giving you the key details (i.e. those flashbacks). The use of Taro in this special is particularly clever given his relationship with Ginga, and the climax cleverly draws parallels between the two. It’s just a shame that the miniseries was presumably too early for Taiga to show up, as such a celebration of the New Generation Heroes doesn’t feel quite right without its final member.

All the Zero loveUltraman Zero Beyond Galaxy Glitter

Someone who does get a fair bit of love here though is Ultraman Zero, which is quite impressive given that he also spends a fair bit of the runtime captive. Despite not being billed as a New Generation Ultra, Zero has had some sort of influence on nearly every member of the line-up so in some ways could definitely be considered as a “mentor” of sorts to them. Celebrating his tenth anniversary this year, Zero has also become a big seller for the franchise as a whole. Whether it’s truly warranted or not there’s an awful lot of Zero love here, with not only the New Generation Ultras all adopted their forms derived from him but also giving an impassioned speech about what he’s taught them all. Zero even gets yet another new form in Zero Beyond Galaxy Glitter - an all gold version of his Geed form that ultimately isn’t all that impressive. Zero is one that usually likes to steal the show, but he doesn’t quite manage it here.

The story places so much emphasis on the Ultras themselves that the villains sadly don’t really get much of a focus, and for the most part just come across as an obligatory evil rather than having any real depth. Despite their histories with Ginga and Victory, Lugiel and Etelgar’s rivalries are really only summed up in a few sentences. Even Ultra Dark-Killer himself, as cool as that suit might look, is a fairly nondescript evil with a basic plan to defeat the heroes. It works for the runtime of the story, but he’s not a villain you’re going to remember much of afterward or have any desire to see again in the future. It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that the shadowy figure behind the scenes is actually Tregear, given that the miniseries bridges the gap between the R/B movie and Taiga (and his identity isn’t all that well hidden here either). Tregear’s appearance is a nice segway into the prologue of Taiga, but in the grand scheme of things he’s more bark than he is bite here. It definitely feels like a build up to something bigger, making the miniseries feel even more like a supplement that a standalone piece. 

But while Ultra Galaxy Fight might be offering more story than ever before the Ultra Fight spin-offs are still rooted in giving fans straight-up action, and that’s another area this entry doesn’t skimp on. With only a few minor kaiju appearances the miniseries instead opts for straight up Ultraman vs Ultraman action for the most part, as the New Generation Heroes face off against evil clones of Zero, X, Orb and Geed. Of course Ginga, Victory, Rosso and Blu also have more personal battles against Dark-Killer’s forces as well. The outer space setting requires far less miniature work as the fights primarily take place on rocky planets and swirling voids, but that doesn’t mean Tsuburaya have taken any less care in their craft. Instead the focus is entirely on the suits themselves, taking the audience through multiple forms and their flashiest attacks. Given the amount of characters that appear, it’s impressive so many forms are showcased even if it’s only for a minute or so each. From television forms to movie-exclusive ones, it really is a celebration of each character - emphasised by snippets of each of their respective theme songs. If you ever wanted a distilled version of what Ultraman is visually, the Ultra Fight series is exactly what you’re looking for. Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes gives you that, but with the added substance that’s made this franchise so beloved across the globe.

Ultra Dark-Killer's ForcesUltraman Tregear

Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes is a fun excursion into the wider world of Ultraman, with the enhanced production values making them more of an essential watch for Ultraman fans than ever before. While still in many ways a showcase of what a fully-fledged Ultraman series has to offer, this is both a fun watch for newcomers and a real reward for those who’ve been cheering these heroes on for years.

1 comment:

M said...

What's your favorite Ultra Fight miniseries, Alex?