Wednesday 1 June 2022

Miniseries REVIEW: Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad

Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad
Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad is available to rent on (English dub only)

For Ultraman fans across the globe the Ultra Galaxy Fight series have become a rather special event. What initially seemed like a fun little battle-orientated miniseries like the Ultra Fight series of old have developed into so much more, drawing on every corner of Ultraman continuity in a galaxy-spanning adventure that puts the Ultramen (and women) themselves in the spotlight. After the story was left on a cliff-hanger in The Absolute Conspiracy, Tsuburaya Productions have now unleashed the next chapter with Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad. Supposedly boasting over 100 characters, the ten-episode miniseries has been made available in its entirely on the Ultraman Connection website (though at the time of writing sadly the English dub only) – boasting over two hours of hardcore Ultraman content.

Absolute Tartarus greets the Land of LightZero's training intensifies

Following the kidnapping of Princess Yullian at the end of The Absolute Conspiracy, the Land of Light prepares for a full-scale rescue mission as they try to learn more about their newest enemy – the Absolutians. Unable to match Absolute Tartarus' immense power even in his Ultimate Shining form, Ultraman Zero turns to Joneus, Seven and Leo for training as Ultrawoman Grigio also tries to discover her own fighting style.

Meanwhile the Absolutians begin targeting powerful Ultras that could stand in their way, crossing paths with the New Generation Heroes as well as Ultraman Ribut and the Ultra Force. As a rescue party arrives at the Absolutians' homeworld The Kingdom, a long thought lost Ultraman is found who may help turn the tide in the Ultras' battle against this overwhelming threat.

The New Generation HeroesThe Ultra Brothers prepare for battle

Whereas the mainline Ultraman series have tried to remain relatively standalone and newcomer accessible even though most modern entries have a huge legacy element to them, the Ultra Galaxy Fight series have quickly become a huge smelting pot of continuity designed to please the most dedicated of fans. While they may have a story to tell there's no denying that the main draw has quickly become the cameos – with seemingly no element of the franchise left untouched as more and more characters are introduced into the story. The previous two entries particularly made a bid to bring Ultramen that were created in other parts of the world, such as the Malayasian-created Ultraman Ribut and Australian-produced Ultraman Great and Ultraman Powered. This continues into The Destined Crossroad, with the big draw this time being the inclusion of Scott, Chuck and Beth – the three Ultras that appeared in the one-off Hanna-Barbera animated movie Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (aka Ultraman USA) in 1989. Also representing the obscurer side of the franchise are Ultramen Zearth, Nice and Boy – all of whom hail from much less serious entries and are represented as such here. While it's fantastic to see so many different faucets of the franchise appear, it does result in The Destined Crossroad often skirting the line of being too entrenched in continuity. It remains approachable in that it gives each character a proper introduction (those introductory cards from the previous entries are still a staple here) and ensures the continuity nods only enhance the story rather than tell it, but for those not as well versed in the complicated web that is the Ultraman franchise there is a chance that the sheer amount of characters presented here can be a little too overwhelming at times.

That all said, there's no denying that the team behind The Destined Crossroad (as well as just Ultra Galaxy Fight in general) know their Ultraman. With nearly every character that's introduced writer Junchiro Ashiki has been able to hone in on a previously established storyline or trait and apply it either to the overarching story or an exchange with a specific character. Whether it's something as significant as Ultrawoman Grigio looking to step out of her brothers' shadows or a minor moment like Ultraman Victory exclaiming the importance of treating your sword like a partner, every move it makes is a calculated effort to both build and further connections in the Ultraman universe. Of course not all of it is entirely necessary, but who doesn't want to see Ultraman Hikari don the Hunter Knight Tsurugi armour once again? Or have the parallel isotope Belial wielding Beliarok? No matter how deep into the Ultraman franchise you are, the sheer breadth of these references guarantees you at least one little moment like this that will make you smile.

Beth, Chuck and Scott, Ultraman USA!Belial and Beliarok

As per the previous miniseries The Destined Crossroad can be broken down into very distinct parts, each one focusing on a different group of Ultra heroes. The big story beats include the next step in the Absolutians’ plans and the gathering of the New Generation Heroes, as well as the rescue operation to save Yullian which culminates in a big showdown between the Land of Light and the Absolutian forces. But in amongst them are a lot of individual character arcs as well. In addition to the aforementioned Zero and Grigio storylines Ultraman Ribut’s relationship with the Swordsman Absolute Titan and their encounter with Nexus/Noa is a particularly good bit of character work that serves to enhance a character who doesn’t have the luxury of their own show or movie. Even smaller touches like having Nice, Zearth and Boy characterised as a more comedic trio of Ultras goes a long way to illustrate the different personality types these heroes can have. Given that all of this is carried out entirely through suit and voice acting makes it all the more impressive, and shows how much character Tsuburaya are able to put into their heroes (and villains) without needing to convey it through more visible emoting.

One of its biggest draws though is the introduction of a brand-new Ultra hero – Ultraman Regulos, who was the mysterious silhouette we saw as a captive of the Absolutians at the end of The Absolute Conspiracy. As a martial artist specialising in the Cosmo Beast Style, Regulos is a great contemporary to Leo and Astra, both of who have an expanded role in this miniseries. His design is also quite unique too, adopting the more angular shapes of some of the Heisei Ultras as well as animal crests on both arms. Though his appearance here is quite limited, it is nevertheless a significant part of The Destined Crossroad as well as one that has plenty of implications for the future. Much like how the last few years have built up Ribut and made him a de-facto protagonist of Ultra Galaxy Fight, it feels as though Regulos has been created for much bigger things and will have an important part to play in these miniseries going forwards.

Grigio vs Grigio DarknessUltraman Regulos

There are some shortcomings though, as after two specials (and an Ultraman Trigger tie-in that came far too early) it is questionable just how much the Absolutians have to offer outside of being incredibly strong villains. In The Absolute Conspiracy Absolute Tartarus introduced himself as a villain with some real potential – calm, composed and able to withstand a beating from even the strongest Ultras. Here he's competing for screen time with Absolute Titan and martial artist Absolute Diavolo as well, in addition to the parallel isotope Belial and Tregear created previously. Combine that with all the other characters The Destined Crossroad is showcasing, and the result is a real battle for plot-relevant screentime. The most significant characterisation goes to Titan, while Tatarus and Diavolo (though still likeable) feel comparably one-note. Belial and Tregear meanwhile get some good moments, but are much less integrated into the main plot this time around. It's a shame because while the Ultras may be the focus, the Absolutians are the ones that probably won't appear in anything else and so would benefit from some closer development. Though we get a little bit more information on both them and the Kingdom here, even after two hours of action it doesn't feel like their plans have advanced that much.

A lot of this issue stems from The Destined Crossroad being part of a much larger story, once again ending on a cliffhanger of sorts to gear fans up for the next instalment. While there's certainly potential – the ending suggests bigger plans for Belial and Tregear going forwards, there remains the question of whether the momentum is still there to (hopefully) conclude this story in a year's time. There's no doubt that Ultra Galaxy Fight is the perfect kind of "event" storytelling for the franchise, but it's potentially one that could be better spent on smaller more contained pieces rather than one bigger piece that's taking yeas to come to fruition.

Absolute Titan and Ultraman RibutAbsolute Diavolo

Storylines aside though the Ultra Galaxy Fight series hasn’t lost the action-orientated focus of its predecessor, with each of the miniseries’ distinct sections centred around big fight sequences featuring huge numbers of characters. This is how The Destined Crossroad is really able to boost that number of characters it features, with plenty of kaiju, alien and robotic characters showing up simply to take a few hits in these fast-paced skirmishes. It’s also an opportunity for Tsuburaya Productions to show off all the various forms for the included Ultramen and they do exactly that - making sure to include everything from the final forms of the New Generation Heroes to the forms of Heisei era characters like Cosmos and Justice. But what’s particularly special is that it’s an opportunity to see some of the most powerful Ultra forms that are both limited in their previous appearances and unlikely to be seen again elsewhere, such as Ultraman Reiga and Mebius Infinity.

Of course Tsuburaya don’t pass up the chance to throw a few new forms into the mix either, with Ultraman Zero once again taking centre stage as he attempts to regain his primal fighting instinct. Although it’s appearance here is brief (and largely used as a bridge to the previously established Ultimate Shining), it’s a welcome addition to Zero’s ever-growing collection of forms whilst also cleverly homaging Zero’s conceptual origins as Ultraseven AX. As usual Ultraman Z isn’t far behind his master either, also showing off a new form that’s simple in its execution but strong in its delivery. While alternate forms always seem to have some element of merchandise-shilling to them, the brevity of these forms appearances as well as their placement in what's ultimately a fan-focused side story gives them a little more sincerity than usual whilst still providing the obligatory cool factor. 

Ultramen Zearth, Boy and NiceZero regains his primal impulse

In the end Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad is very much more of the same, and that’s by no means a bad thing. While it often comes dangerously close to being overwhelming in its parade of cameos and continuity (particularly when watched in a full two-hour sitting) but somehow manages to still remain relatively accessible. Whether the Ultras battle against the Absolutians has enough left in it for another entry is another question entirely, but given the quality of the Ultra Galaxy Fight releases so far it only seems fair to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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