Monday 21 March 2022

Movie REVIEW: Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z

Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z

If there was ever any doubt that Tsuburaya Productions weren't sincere in their efforts to bring fans Ultraman on a global scale, there certainly isn't anymore. Not just content with releasing Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga weekly (with subtitles in various languages) via their official YouTube channel, they're now also ensuring everyone outside Japan doesn't have to wait too long for the movies either. Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z was released in both Japanese cinemas and via the Tsuburaya Imagination streaming service on March 18th 2022, but on the same day it was made available to rent internationally on the Ultraman Connection website. As well as continuing the story of Ultraman Trigger, the film also sees the return of Ultraman Z - who despite previously crossing over with Trigger did not receive a movie of his own last year.


It's been two years since Ultraman Trigger defeated the Giants of Darkness and sacrificed himself to stabilise the Eternity Core. Since then Seiya Tatsumi has left his position at GUTS-Select, and the team is now under the command of Shizuma's right hand man Ryuichi Tokioka. But when monster attacks start to become more frequent, a plot by the Ultra-Ancient Civilisation cult Lyerah is unearthed to bring back the light. At the risk of losing Kengo forever, GUTS-Select agree to assist them.

But while they may have been successful in freeing Kengo from the Eternity Core, this is just another step in the real mastermind's plan. As Haruki breaks through the dimensional barriers once more in pursuit of the parasitic lifeform Celebro, both Ultraman Trigger and Ultraman Z are faced with a scheme that has been millions of years in the making...and the rise of Evil Trigger!

Haruki returns (again)!Evil Trigger

When we last left Ultraman Trigger it was left in the precarious position of trying to have an emotional ending with Kengo sacrificing himself, but by that point fans already knew he would be returning for this film anyway so there wasn't really any weight to it. Thankfully Episode Z doesn't dwell on this fact too much, choosing to bring Kengo back in a relatively simple way that's both easy to understand and makes sense for the story being told. Although it's a subject that makes up the first third of the film, that time is also spent catching up with the other members of GUTS-Select and setting the seeds for the rest of the film - bringing the audience up to speed after this two year time skip. 

This straightforwardness is both something of an asset and a detriment to film, as it could be argued that nothing in Episode Z really comes as a suprise. The plot itself is a fairly lineal one - broken down into three very distinct acts with next to nothing in the way or side stories or supporting development. As tends to be the case with these films the identity of the main villain isn't the twist the plot presents it as, entirely down to the fact that a big name tokusatsu actor is guest starring in it (in this case YĆ«ichi Nakamura, aka Kamen Rider Den-O's Yuto Sakurai/Kamen Rider Zeronos). But while the story may not have much to offer in the way of twists and turns, that certainly doesn't get in the way of its entertainment value. And perhaps in response to the distinct lack of subplots, the film makes a conscientious effort to make sure the whole of the cast are involved in the main story. While the focus is still around the usual suspects, every member of Trigger's cast feels like a part of it - which is more than can be said for parts of the show itself.

Welcome back KengoWe are Ultraman

Kengo's return brings the question of why Trigger's light decided to reincarnate in human form, and in turn what path should Kengo take as a human now that the fighting is over. Though this isn't something Kengo himself really struggles with over the course of the film, how the human element of Ultraman influences "the light" is an important plot point - and Kengo's infectious positivity and catchphrase of "smile smile" flows through each life he's touched. To GUTS-Select Ultraman Trigger isn't just a symbol of hope, he's their friend - and Kengo's identity no longer being a secret makes it much easier for the story to feel like it involves every character even if in reality the focus hasn't really changed.

For many Episode Z is also as important for Ultraman Z as it is Trigger himself, given the lack of his own movie outing at the end of his series. Sadly like most of the New Generation Hero crossover films this lacks any of Z's supporting cast, which means the chances of ever seeing some of the STORAGE crew again is pretty slim. Nevertheless it's wonderful to see Haruki again though, with Kohshu Hirano slipping back into the role effortlessly. With main series antagonist Celebro also making a return in the film Episode Z makes an effort to continue Ultraman Z's story along with Trigger, even if the resolution basically leaves things in exactly the same place.

Z Gamma FutureCelebro returns

But despite their excellent dynamic, the two leads are very different kinds of Ultraman and it's questionable how well of an understanding of that Episode Z has. Though it may be quick to recognise that Haruki and Z's Ultra/host dynamic isn't the same as Kengo being an embodiment of Trigger's light, it only ever feels like there's room for one of them to be explored here. Just why Trigger's light took human form is a key question the film poses, but the relationship Haruki has with Z is barely touched upon at arguably one of its crucial moments. As Celebro takes control of Haruki and in turn Z's powers, it's only really Haruki we see trying to fight back against the parasite. Save for a few motivational lines that come little too late, Z's part in the equation is lost altogether. With exchanges between Z and his host nearly non-existent, for all intents and purposes Haruki IS Ultraman Z here. While Haruki is strong enough of a protagonist to be able carry things on his own, it's a key dynamic that shouldn't have been so underplayed - especially in the absence of the rest of Z's cast.

A new addition to the world of Ultraman Trigger here are the Lyerah, along with their leader Zabil. As previously mentioned while the reveal of Zabil's identity can be seen a mile away, the way the film is able to weave him in as the architect behind the events of the series works surprisingly well - painting the Zabil as something of a tragic figure completely consumed by desires and a lust for revenge. How the light can be corrupted when coveted is a common theme in the franchise, but one that works particularly well for Trigger and the establishment of its Ultra-Ancient Civilisation. Nakamura gives 110% to his performance, quickly shifting Zabil from a calculating villain to a cackling lunatic without the character feeling like he's suddenly lost his way. It's also nice to see that while Evil Trigger is clearly a reinterpretation of Evil Tiga, the circumstances behind the two are different enough that Trigger doesn't feel like it's slavishly copying its predecessor.

ZabilGiant-sized Evil Trigger

There's also nothing to question when it comes to Episode Z's action sequences, delivering multiple set pieces comprised of some really well thought out pairings and/or dynamics. In the surprising absence of movie-exclusive forms for both Trigger and Z it's up to newcomer Evil Trigger to deliver the eye candy when it comes to new suits, delivering that sublimely detailed Trigger design in Evil Tiga's striking silver, black and red colour scheme. Ultraman Trigger may have come under fire for slavishly copying elements of Tiga but at least it knows not to fix something that isn't broken, with Evil Trigger working as a great visual counterpart to Trigger the same way Evil Tiga did to Tiga all the way back in 1997. That said little changes can go a long way, as is evidenced by the Celebro-possessed version of Z. Even though the main difference is one red eye, that combined with the stark shift in mannerisms and body language does a lot to convey him as a different character.

Anyone who's watched Ultraman before will know full well that that suits themselves are just a tiny fraction of the spectacle Tsubaraya have to offer though, and that certainly hasn't changed with this film. As usual the level of craftsmanship when it comes both the scale and detailing of the miniatures is second to none, with Episode Z offering an excellent balance of city and nature-orientated scenes. Naturally Z's Gamma Future form is on hand for the perfect pairing with Trigger, but it's in pairing up their other forms that some of the film's most memorable moments are born. The combination of Trigger Power Type and Z Beta Smash turns into an all out wrestling match against Genegarg and Deathdrago - complete with a ring made up of surrounding electrical wires. It's those little touches which really puts Ultraman ahead of the game when it comes to giant-sized fight scenes, with Tsuburaya constantly looking for clever ways to incorporate elements of the scenery into the action. But it isn't just the Ultras that stand out in Episode Z either, with the GUTS Falcon also spotlighted in its match up against Gazort.  Though a constant presence in Ultraman Trigger, both the GUTS Falcon and Nursedessei really leave their mark in Episode Z - amplifying the film's message about Ultraman's truly shining because of the bonds they share.

Celebro ZThe wrestling event of the decade!

Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z may not do anything particularly unexpected but nevertheless it remains a strong movie outing for both Trigger and Z - building on and concluding their stories nicely with a fun story filled with clever, memorable fight sequences. The biggest pleasure of all though has been the ability to legally rent and watch this film immediately upon its Japanese release, rather than waiting the six to eight months it would take for the film to be released on Blu-Ray there (or potentially even longer if waiting for an international release). When Tsuburaya said that they wanted to bring Ultraman to the whole world, they really meant it. Toei take note, THIS is how you treat international fans.

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