Monday 15 February 2021

Miniseries REVIEW: Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy

Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy
Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy is available both subtitled and English dubbed on Youtube

When Tsuburaya Productions released Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes via their official Youtube channel in 2019, it showed a dedication toward bringing the Ultraman franchise to global audiences that rival tokusatsu properties can't even begin to compare to yet. This wasn't just releasing the currently airing show with English subtitles - it was creating an all-new weekly miniseries especially for streaming on a free platform with two language choices. It's no surprise that an offer like that proved a hit, so of course TsuPro followed it up with a sequel. Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy was released as a ten episode miniseries, with each individual episode averaging around ten minutes long. As well as leading into the beginning of Ultraman Z, The Absolute Conspiracy also begins a new story arc that will continue on into future Ultra Galaxy Fight instalments.

Absolute TartarusUltraman Max & Ultraman Ribut

The Ultimate Lifeform, Absolute Tartarus, has arrived and set his sights on the Land of Light. Manipulating events across time itself, Tartarus quickly begins his plans to create an all-powerful army. The threat of Maga-Orochi and Leugocyte, the origins of fallen Ultras Belial and Tregear, the creation of the Space-Fear Demon Fett - all are in Tartarus' sights.

But where there is the threat of darkness, the Ultramen will appear. Ultraman Ribut's induction into the Galaxy Rescue Force, Ultraman Ken's origins, the continuing story of Ultraman Taiga and the Tri-Squad - these are all also intertwined into the events Tartarus seeks to manipulate. This is a danger that no longer simply threatens the Land of Light, and it's going to take Ultramen from all across the galaxy to stop it.

Belial & Tregear: Early StyleThe Ultra League

If there's one thing that The Absolute Conspiracy certainly isn't short of, it's ambition. The Ultraman franchise has always had a particular love for continuity and connecting its various media wherever it can, but this miniseries takes it to a whole new level. Given that it's presence on Youtube (along with the fact it has a simultaneously released English dub) means that The Absolute Conspiracy is intended for a global audience, it's amazing just how deeply the miniseries dives into the most obscure parts of Ultraman expanding media - referencing things that will barely be known to fans outside of Japan. Both Sora and Zett for example had previously only appeared in stage shows. Anywhere else this would be an incredibly risky move, but by now TsuPro have truly perfectly the art of doing this without alienating the audience. Drawing characters from decades' worth of Ultraman means The Absolute Conspiracy has a hell of a lot of introductions to get through, all of which are handled suitably succinctly. Each character gets a nice, wallpaper worthy introductory card with their name in bold letters, and any key information about the character that isn't conveyed within the story itself is quickly dropped in a sentence or two to bring everyone up to speed. As usual it's not done in a way that there's the expectation that people will have seen all these series, but the hope that the viewers that haven't will then go out on watch them off the back of their appearance here. For example, I've not seen Ultraman 80 but based on his introductory fight in episode one it's definitely a series I'm particularly eager to check out now.

The Absolute Conspiracy is split into three distinct chapters, each focussing on a different cast and time period. Episodes one to three has been dubbed "The Beginning", and sees the return of the Malaysian-created Ultraman Ribut after his live-action debut in New Generation Heroes. Previously in my review for that I commented how Ribut's appearance here was significant for showing how the franchise itself is forging bonds across the world, and this section of the story solidifies it by featuring two other Ultras from other parts of the globe - Ultraman Powered (Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero) and Ultraman Great (Ultraman: Towards the Future). Presenting these two as mentors to Ribut is thematic brilliance, truly conveying the notion that Ultraman is something Tsuburaya want to be enjoyed globally. This section also includes the appearance of several other significant characters from. the early 2000s, many of which haven't been seen in a prominent piece of Ultraman media for some time. This is another aspect to the Ultra Galaxy Fight series that works as an advantage to the franchise as a whole - not only can it draw from the whole back catalogue of characters, but it can ensure that they all stay in the public eye to some extent.

Ultraman Powered & Ultraman Great80 meets Cosmos and Neos

The second part of the story is perhaps the one most anticipated by fans, as "The Divergence" sheds some light on the history of both Belial and Tregear before their falls from the light. Both villains have proven to be highly popular, but were also both seemingly killed for good in their last appearances. While death never necessarily means the end in these sort of things, The Absolute Conspiracy sets up this alternate pathway for the two characters. These versions have been made aware of their future fates, and have allied themselves with Tartarus to put themselves on a different path. Whether they survive beyond the next Ultra Galaxy Fight instalment is another issue, but for now there's so much potential this "resurrection" of sorts could hold. That aside, finally getting to see some of this backstory on screen is a real treat. Some elements have been covered in novels and other bits of side media, but naturally these aren't all that accessible to fans outside of Japan. We see that although both Ultras eventually sold themselves over to greater powers, their personalities would have always put them on this path. The only lingering worry is that now that this may be all we get of their respective backstories. As engaging as they are neither are particularly very long at one episode each, and there's so much more that could be told about their relationships with Ken, Taro and Hikari. 

"The Appearance" is the final section of story, bringing newer fans into far more familiar territory as it focuses predominantly on the New Generation Heroes we've become accustomed to in recent years. As with Ribut it's great to see these miniseries give Ultrawoman Grigio more chance to shine. It's something she definitely would have benefitted from in R/B but at least addressing her popularity here means she can stand out without shadow being cast over her by her brothers. Structurally this is the part of the story that feels most similar to Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes, with the fight scenes indulging in a bit more form change showcasing as well as giving Zero a new form that's technically just a variation of his older ones. Even with its focus on the newer heroes though it isn't without that same throwback charm as the rest of the production, with particular love shown to everyone's favourite space dinosaur Zetton. Zett brings along with him nearly every variation of the kaiju that has existed over the years, perfectly showing off the evolution of the monster as well as giving fans the kind of lineup they dream about. The comfortable tie in to the beginning of Ultraman Z at the very end feels a little abrupt, but does a good job of ensuring that this is tied into the wider Ultraman story. The chapter also truly establishes the creation of the "Ultra League", a special task force of Ultras from across the galaxy put together to defend against the threat of Absolute Tartarus. Not only is this a great concept in that it allows future Ultra Galaxy Fight releases to continue switching between characters the way it has up to now, but mixes Ultras together that aren't necessarily grouped by something more obvious (like the Ultra Brothers or New Generation Heroes). It's interesting that this idea was coined by director Koichi Sakamoto, as he was clearly gunning for a similar idea when mixing the Super Sentai and Metal Heroes franchises together in the Space Squad films.

Ken, Marie and a bitter BelialTaro and Tregear

As usual the Ultra Fight series is notable for its removal of Ultraman's human element, focusing purely on the aliens themselves and the fight sequences. Taking away such a significant part of the franchise could easily leave this miniseries lacking, but the longer dive these offer into Ultra society ensure that isn't the case. The fight sequences are as enjoyable as always but its actually the lower-key scenes that highlight the suit acting, with each character being able to nicely convey emotion through body language alone. Naturally the Ultras are far more verbose than they ever are in the main series, but all the dialogue is dubbed over these suits that have static faces - to match up the body language so well shows a real love for both the characters and the craft itself. Similarly by moving the action to alien worlds the scenery becomes far less reliant on miniature work, capturing the audience through colour and imagination instead. Once upon a time there was an element of cheapness to these Ultra Fight series with their cosmic but otherwise empty backdrops, but a renewed TsuPro have been able to inject these with a level of wonder even when they aren't reaching the production values of the main show.

Ultimately though The Absolute Conspiracy is simply the first part of a bigger story, and if anything this is what proves to be its biggest problem. There's a lot of backstories and Ultraman history being thrown around here to good effect, but Tartarus himself often feels sidelined in his own story. His overall plans feel incredibly vague until the very end, and even when he does finally announce them it's mainly as set up to the next instalment in the Ultra Galaxy Fight saga - "The Kingdom". Using The Absolute Conspiracy as build up isn't necessarily bad in itself because there's so much else going on here as well, but it does make it feel somewhat incomplete by its end. Tartarus is shaping up to be a great villain - composed, tactical and knows when to retreat from a fight, but you're just left wanting more. The Kingdom is also inevitably going to introduce more new threats to the Land of Light as well, so there's no guarantee that's going to be the place he gets it either. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise as the villains were arguably the weakest element of New Generations Heroes as well, but The Absolute Conspiracy offered far more depth and then struggles to deliver.

Zett and his army of ZettonUltimate Shining Ultraman Zero

Tsubaraya Productions have been delivering winner after winner in recent years, and Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy is just another example of how well this franchise is continuing to grow over five decades since its creation. This isn’t just a free Youtube miniseries, its a primer on Ultra lore for newcomers, a celebration of it for established fans and the opportunity to tell the kind of stories that perhaps wouldn’t work in a mainline show. The TsuPro Youtube channel has become a haven for Ultraman content for fans worldwide, and other companies would be wise to take note. THIS is how you promote a franchise.


M said...

I wonder who is the Ultra at the end. Ultraseven?

Alex said...

Definitely seemed like Seven!