Sunday 10 July 2022

First Impressions: Ultraman Decker

Ultraman Decker
Ultraman Decker is available to stream on YouTube

Thanks to the revival of the Ultraman franchise as a worldwide brand, Ultraman Day has become an event that isn't just celebrated every July 10th (the day the "Birth of Ultraman" preview event was originally broadcast back in 1966) - it's become a week-long celebration of everything Ultraman. Much like the last few years Tsuburaya Productions have ensured that this celebration coincides with the release of the latest instalment in the franchise, and once again it's marking another big anniversary. Last year saw the 25th anniversary of Ultraman Tiga marked with the release of Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga, and with 2022 marking the same milestone for Tiga sequel Ultraman Dyna the story of Trigger continues in Ultraman Decker! In what has become a staple for the franchise, the series is available to fans worldwide subtitled in a variety of languages - with episodes remaining on Youtube for two weeks after their premiere.

Kanata AsumiThe Sphere invade

It's been seven years since Ultraman Trigger and GUTS-Select saved the world from the Dark Giants. Since then, humanity has entered a Neo Frontier Era - space travel has advanced rapidly, there hasn't been a monster attack in years and GUTS-Select's arsenal has become entirely automated. However that's all about to change with the arrival of the Sphere - a mysterious alien race which quickly begin to invade the planet. The Earth is surrounded by barrier that prevents all form of movement and communication, while the planet surface is decimated by both the giant monsters and Sphere spacecrafts.

As GUTS-Select members are redeployed for protection and defence, rice cracker store working Kanata Asumi also gets caught up in the Sphere attack. After helping save a woman trapped in rubble, Kanata is seemingly swallowed up by a Sphere craft. But in a mysterious void, a voice calls out to him. Using the Ultra D Flasher and Ultra Dimension cards, Kanata becomes Ultraman Decker! As well as helping fight off the first wave of Sphere attacks, Kanata joins GUTS-Select's newly reformed Monster Response Department as its latest recruit.

SpheresaurusKanata meets Decker

At this point it's redundant to say that legacy is a big part of the Ultraman franchise, but if Ultraman Trigger proved anything it's that these newer shows need to be very careful when it comes to forging their own identities and try not to get lost in a sea of callbacks. Though it might have a "New Generation" tagline like its predecessor, Ultraman Decker is still very much cut from the same cloth as Ultraman Dyna. The overall beats of this premiere are very much the same as Dyna's - from the Sphere invasion right down to the number of years that have passed since the respective predecessors. Of course much like Trigger these plot beats have all been suitably remixed for a modern audience, with the writing staff perhaps taking some influence from recent years in his presentation of the Sphere incursion. Though on the surface it still takes the shape of classic alien invasion, their creation of a barrier around the world serves a far more sinister purpose. Suddenly the Earth is trapped, people are cut off from their loved ones that now live off-world - it isn't that far removed from the various lockdowns many of us will have experienced.

Decker's curious place in the Ultraman legacy might suggest that a cursory knowledge of both Trigger and Dyna (and in turn, maybe Tiga too) is required, but if there's something the franchise has always been good at it's being able to give the audience plenty to enjoy without prefacing it with a mountain of required reading. Any direct reference to Trigger is casual at best (and can easily be understood as just humanity entering a new age of prosperity) while the parallels to Dyna aren't tied into the story and instead there for the fans to pick up on. Of course as the series develops this is likely to change on both counts, but for now it's the perfect way to begin a story without alienating any newcomers. Some might try to argue that a sequel series like Decker should have a strong element of connectivity to it, but considering Ultraman continues to pick up new viewers every year (more so now that it's growing as a globally recognised brand) it's definitely the right attitude to have to a premiere.

Kanata transformsUltraman Decker Flash Type

The premiere also does a great job of establishing characters with very distinct personalities, even if the majority of the screen time here goes to Kanata. And a great introduction that is too, with this seemingly normal rice cracker salesman selflessly throwing himself into the ensuing chaos. Kanata shows his true colours as a hero long before Ultraman is on the scene - helping to save a trapped woman before joining the TPU/GUTS-Select forces in fending off attackers. His heroism immediately catches the attention of Taiji Murahoshi, the principal in TPU's training school thrust into role of GUTS-Select. Taiji's dynamic with Kanata, as well as the rest of his team, already feels neatly laid out which should hopefully bode well for their involvement in future episodes. One of Trigger's biggest weaknesses is that it made the rest of GUTS-Select feel superfluous, so getting the balance right here is extremely important.

It's only after the great introduction to all these characters that we meet Decker himself, whose introduction is presented as appropriately mysterious. In terms of design the Decker suit is already a cut above that of Trigger's - capturing the core colours and visual cues of Ultraman Dyna but ensuring that its unique qualities stand out just as significantly. The off centre colour timer and galaxy-esque colouring on the chest and forehead are particularly nice touches. Transforming through the use of cards is nothing new at this point, but the device itself (the "Ultra D Flasher") is a similarly nice twist on Dyna's Reflasher - serving the same basic function but presenting it in a modern "buy this shiny Bandai toy" kind of way. While we already know Decker will have multiple forms just like his Heisei-era inspiration, the episode itself naturally only showcases his basic "Flash" form. So in terms of fight choreography there isn't a whole lot that's standing out right now. That isn't to say it's bad in any way - more that Ultraman's action sequences are usually so good (even when other areas of the series are lacking) that it's just very much of the same...but in the best way possible.

The TPU/GUTS-SelectDecker vs Spheresaurus

Decker isn't the only looker in the series when it comes to suits either. Though the episode may be more preoccupied with a full-scale alien invasion, it just wouldn't be Ultraman without a kaiju to face off against as well. And Decker finds a great first opponent in Spheresaurus - a brand new creation that continues to show off the show's careful balancing of homage and originality. A crystalline creation with piledriver-like arms, Spheresaurus is exactly what you look for in a first opponent - a design striking enough that, even if the rest of the series were to fail, that at least could easily carry forward into future Ultra instalments.

Really what the episode manages to do best of all is set the stakes for the rest of the series, arguably better than any New Generation premiere has done for some time. Sure Ultraman Decker has arrived and together with Kanata has been able to save the day, but can it really be called a victory? Decker fails in holding back the Sphere or their encasing of the Earth, while the GUTS-Select arsenal is left in ruins as the organisation hastily reforms back into a defence squad. Whilst the arrival of a new Ultraman in Earth's time of need is uplifting, the shadow that the Sphere have cast over our heroes is overwhelming.

Kanata and TaijiThe Sphere surround the Earth

Overall this is a really strong start to Ultraman Decker. While it's fair to have some trepidation toward another series that presents itself as a "modern version" of a classic, this first episode is able to use those beats from Dyna to create something that's powerful in its own right as well. Tsuburaya Productions continue to deliver their incredibly high standard when it comes to scale, craftsmanship and action but it's the high stakes and quality of characters that really sell the episode. The fear of Decker stumbling to find its own identity much in the same way Trigger did is very real, but there's also the hope that they've learned from the experience too. Shine bright and flash, Decker!


CPF said...

While I understand it, is it REALLY needed to mention Trigger so much? You didn't do so about previous entries when doing first impressions.

Alex said...

That's a fair point, but when it's a sequel series to Trigger that's serving the same purpose as Trigger is I think it's warranted. Most series I've done first impressions of stand entirely on their own.

Anonymous said...

My only dissapointment is Decker Flash Type form looking to similar to Dyna. Especially since imo Trigger did a good job of looking like Tiga but being it's own thing but the rest of the episode and the other forms looks good so far so I'm willing to give that a pass.

Anonymous said...

IMHO The first episode of Decker already established a better World Building than the past New Generation series. As you mention above from episode 1 the show has already raised the stakes high by cutting off the Earth from outer space help and presumably ruining Mars and that created a strong tension for the characters.

Really love Asumi and his dynamic with the new Guts team. My biggest problem with Trigger is that all the Guts Select members were really cringed beside the captain. All of them don't look like a team that would defend earth. One of the most important aspects of Ultraman is the Dynamic of the defense team.

rogerph2015 said...

Hope and pray Kanata Asumi/Ultraman Decker won't be like Shin Asuka/Ultraman Dyna V2.0 because the latter had said blasphemous/vulgar words when he's being attacked by the enemy.
Also, we wished the cast and the crew of this New Normal Ultra Series safe from COVID-19 Coronavirus since they are shooting in the isolated bubble locations right now.
We also hoped that Takeshi Tsuruno would return as Asuka/Dyna in Decker.
Wake up, Decker!!! Stay safe!!!