Wednesday 21 July 2021

Movie REVIEW: Ultraman Taiga the Movie: New Generation Climax

Ultraman Taiga the Movie: New Generation Climax

With Ultraman Z having launched the franchise's worldwide availability on YouTube and the everything from Ginga to R/B having either streamed on Crunchyroll or now released on Blu-Ray via Mill Creek, 2019 instalment Ultraman Taiga feels like a bit of an outlier for fans outside of Japan. Like the previous New Generations Heroes series it returned for a movie epilogue in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic its cinema release was delayed for five months. Ultraman Taiga the Movie: New Generation Climax brings together the heroes of the previous six Ultraman series, almost seeming like an end cap to this era of Ultra shows even though its spirit effectively continued on into Z.

Six months have passed since the events of Ultraman Taiga, and Hiroyuki Kudo is continuing his working with EGIS whilst acting as host to the three Tri-Squad members - Taiga, Titas and Fuma. However Hiroyuki's actions are becoming more reckless, so much so that Taiga has avoided telling him that the Tri-Squad have finally returned to full power - meaning that they're now able to leave his body and return home.

Meanwhile Tregear has also returned, and his latest scheme not only targets Hiroyuki but also the father of Taiga - Ultraman Taro! A new threat is looming over the Earth, one that will require the strength of all the New Generation Heroes to defeat.

Right from the very start New Generation Climax feels quite different to the rest of the New Generation Heroes era Ultraman movies, and that's not just because it has all of them in it. While the previous shows' stories were wrapped in the episodes themselves so that the episodes could act more like additional adventures/epilogues, Ultraman Taiga had a lot of unfinished business. The Tri-Squad were all still residing within Hiroyuki, and Tregear was very much still at large. The times were also changing for this version of Earth, with aliens becoming more accepted by society - some even joining EGIS in the final episode. Taiga still felt like it had a lot more to tell than the other shows, and this is really why New Generation Climax stands out amongst the rest of the movies. It may be a crossover movie that's the culmination of a whole generation of Ultraman story telling, but above all it is the ending to Ultraman Taiga - and one that truly feels like it's moving onto a whole new chapter in the franchise. There's clearly still debate on whether Ultraman Z  is a New Generation Heroes series or not (the JPN wiki article cites that it wasn't intended to be one, but since the style/themes were so similar they just continued with it), but  this was definitely written as though it had the end in mind.

That isn't to say it manages to pull it all off brilliantly, as naturally there is an awful lot of content to balance in this film and 70 minutes isn't a lot of time to do it in. Certain elements quickly get the cut, and unfortunately time spent with EGIS is one of them. While it's great that Alien Magma and Markind haven't been forgotten about, they don't really get to do enough to truly leave a mark here either. The rest of the supporting EGIS cast each get a moment to share with one of the returning Ultraman protagonists (Kana with Gai and Pirika with Daichi are particular highlights), but as far as being actively involved in the plot there isn't a whole lot for them to do once Tregear's plan properly kicks in. Truthfully if there was any weight the film needed to shift to meet its lofty ambition EGIS were probably it, but Ultraman always feels a bit more lively when it's keeping these characters in mind as much as the Ultraman themselves.

The New Generation Heroes castHiroyuki & Taiga

But as far as having a lot to do in the story goes, arguably the same could be said for most of the returning Ultramen as well. New Generation Climax may feature all the titular heroes all the way from Ginga up until Taiga, but as far as prominence in the story goes in isn't really all that different from previous films in that it primarily acts as a crossover between Taiga and R/B. The Ultras themselves get a bit more involved in the fight scenes later on, but for the actors themselves the roles are mostly cameos at best. With each of them apparently having given up their ability to transform in order to defeat Grimdo the first time around, the interactions are mainly concerned with them meeting with Hiroyuki in order to get their powers back rather than "protecting him". It's a great way to get all these characters in one place, even if it lacks any sort of urgency since we've never seen these characters have to deal with being unable to transform. The Minato brothers have far more of a stake in the story however, having of course previously dealt with Tregear more personally in their own crossover movie. It's a shame that the film couldn't have found away to incorporate Asahi into it as well given the outcome of that film (Grigio only appearing at the end so that the brothers are able to transform into Groob), but with so many characters already crammed in she was bound to be the one that got the cut.

New Generation Climax might be a bit lacking when it comes to serving the extended cast, but it's justifiably offset by how well it handles its core characters. As previously stated this is a finale to the Taiga series above all else, so it's no surprise that Hiroyuki and his relationship with Taiga and the Tri-Squad is at the centre of it all. Only a few months have passed since the conclusion of the series but we immediately see how much those events have changed Hiroyuki, becoming far more reckless and confident in battle due to his relationship with the Tri-Squad - to the point where it could be argued that he's relying on them a little too much. At the same time Taiga has been avoiding telling Hiroyuki that he and his fellow Ultras have returned to full strength, meaning they're also ready to leave him. This isn't really something commonly seen in the New Generation Heroes shows - either the shows have featured Ultras with proper human alter egos or the ones that have had human/host dynamics have had the Ultra either stay with or quickly return to the host. Here it's very much the end of the road for Hiroyuki and the Tri-Squad, but the film emphasises how they will remain partners even when separated. The opening sequence of EGIS taking on a rogue Dada brilliantly shows how their relationship has evolved, before the main story dives into what their partnership truly means to them. Out of everything that happens in New Generation Climax it's this element that stands out the most, both because it's handled so well and the way it gives the film real importance in Ultraman Taiga as a whole.

One last goodbyeTregear & Taro

Tregear is another strong link in the film, especially with his plan finally diving into the character he and Taiga both share a strong mutual relationship with - Ultraman Taro. In typical modern Ultraman fashion the film is careful to make the 1973 Ultra hero approachable to a modern audience by not delving too much (or even at all) into his past exploits, and instead just portraying him as the legendary Ultra that he is. Again there simply isn't enough time in the film to flesh out all the details in a completely satisfying fashion, but the story is able to comfortably convey the history Taro and Tregear share through their exchanges. With Taiga having established his own character within the series itself, this movie was the perfect time to feature Taro properly and bring this strange triangle between Taiga, Taro and Tregear together. Grimdo is another fantastic creation from Tsuburaya Production's monster department, with a wonderfully demonic design perfect for a primordial chaos god.

Admittedly though it's one thing to say that New Generation Climax has a lot of content for such a short running time, nearly all of that story content is contained within the first half of the film - that second half taken up by the kind of high quality action sequence that earns the movie its title. Ultraman Taiga and the rest on the New Generation Heroes take Tregear, Taro, Grimdo and a number of other kaiju in a spectacular battle where every character gets to really shine. Seeing the three Tri-Squad members onscreen together and working side by side is spectacle enough, but on top of that you then have the joys of seeing all these returning characters showcased in ways worthy of the big screen. Seeing all these Ultramen together at last is one thing, but seeing them all transform into their movie-exclusive final forms just makes it even more special. Especially the opportunity to see lesser-seen ones like X's Beta Spark Armour, or Groob as proper physical suit as opposed to the CGI construct they primarily were in the R/B movie. A big crossover like this is a success when it has something to offer fans of all the returning characters, and the fight scenes definitely aren't lacking in that regard.

An ULTRA combinationUltraman Reiga

But for a real "New Generation Climax", the finale of the film sees all these Ultras come together to create a brand new hero - Ultraman Reiga. Though the film itself doesn't draw too much attention to just how powerful Reiga is supposed to be, there's something wonderfully poetic about an era that's repeatedly looked to fusion and legacy powers as its gimmicks to culminate in an eleven-character fusion form. The "New Generation Eye" is a nice throwback to the Ultraseven-style transformation item, and even though the Reiga suit is very clearly based primarily on Taiga (in fact it's a modified version of a scrapped design), the additions and colourings of the other New Generation Ultras really help transform it into its own character. Ultraman Reiga doesn't seem like a character that fans will be seeing all that often, but as the "end" of an era for Ultraman and a real-life transition into the Reiwa period it serves as a very memorable finale.

Ultraman Taiga the Movie: New Generation Climax is ambitious even by modern Ultraman standards, and while it perhaps bites off a little more than it can chew it certainly can't be faulted for trying to make the New Generation Heroes era go out with a bang. The allure of seeing all of these heroes together on screen is worth the price of admission in itself, but above all it stands out as an extremely satisfying end to Ultraman Taiga as a whole. As one of the lesser-talked about instalments in the English-speaking fandom, I do hope that the eventual Blu-Ray will allow more people to either experience or revaluate the series. Ultraman Taiga was a fantastic show, and New Generation Climax is just another example as to why.

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