Sunday 19 March 2023

Movie REVIEW: Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond

Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond

Ultraman Connection has been a godsend for Ultraman fans across the globe. While the series themselves (other than a few exceptions) have been simulcast worldwide for some time now (first on Crunchyroll and now via the Ultraman official YouTube channel), the cinematic release of their end cap subsequent movies meant fans outside Japan had to wait some time for them. But last year things changed as Ultraman Trigger: Episode Z was made available to rent upon release, and thankfully that continues with the release of Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond! The final chapter in the Ultraman Decker story, Journey to Beyond is unique in that the story in that it does not feature a crossover with the previous series Ultraman - something that has been a staple of these films throughout the New Generation Hero era.

Dinas TransformsIntroducing Ultraman Dinas!

Some time after the Sphere were defeated, life is returning to normal for GUTS-Select. Soma Ryumon is promoted to the new captain of GUTS-Select, while Ichika Kirino prepares to follow her dream of exploring outer space. However with his time as Ultraman Decker now over, Kanata Asumi is unsure where his path leads next. But as an alien fortress appears, GUTS-Select are thrust into action once more. Facing off against alien invaders they meet Dinas, a young woman with the ability to transform into Ultraman Dinas!

Teaming up with GUTS-Select, Dinas explains that the fortress belongs to Professor Gibellus - a mad scientist who has taken over multiple planets as experiments to find the "most beautiful method of invasion". With an alien army and powerful kaiju at his disposal, are there combined force enough to defeat Gibellus without the help of Decker?

Gibellus addresses the worldGigalogaiser

One of the most curious aspects to Ultraman Decker was the fact it effectively blew its load when it came to crossover potential in the main series. Granted Ultraman Z also appeared in Ultraman Trigger prior to his reappearance in Episode Z, but Trigger was a recurring character in Decker. Similarly Ultraman Dyna was also featured in the series, albeit in a much restrained and enigmatic fashion. The point being that Journey to Beyond couldn't fall back on the same allure that previous New Generation Ultraman movies had. So instead it goes back to basics by being a good old fashioned epilogue movie that's all about the characters themselves, and arguably it's all the stronger for it. It's a bold move to only feature your titular hero in the last ten minutes of the film, but it's one that pays off as we get to see what life is like for these characters AFTER Ultraman Decker. Though the main plot has little to no connection with the Sphere invasion that overshadowed the series, the story is the product of the development they made over those 25 episodes.

The camaraderie the GUTS-Select team had in Ultraman Decker was one of its strongest selling points, so having the film continue to be about them was perhaps the most important thing. While Taiji and Sawa play a slightly more restricted role in the film overall, as the senior members of the team it makes sense for the story to focus on the core three and prepare them for the roles they'll have post-Decker. Though the emphasis may be on where Kanata's journey is headed, the film still takes its time to highlight Soma and Ichika as well their fears for the future. What's particularly nice about to film though is that there's no secrets between them any more, and with Decker effectively out of the picture they're far more on equal footing as comrades, heroes and friends.

Kanata, Soma and IchikaUltraman Dyna

It isn't all about the veteran cast though, as Journey to Beyond continues to further the Ultraman mythos with the introduction of a brand new hero - Ultraman Dinas! Dinas herself is an immediately likeable character, arriving on the scene in a blaze of kickassery before her identity as an Ultraman is even revealed. As a human(oid alien) she's capable yet compassionate, using Decker's Ultra Dimension card gimmick in her own unique way. The non-binary Ultraman Dinas is a great addition to the franchise, with the Ultra hero mixing both masculine and feminine traits the way both Ace and Nexus have done previously. Though sadly Dinas is eventually sidelined in the movie so that Decker can return to save the day, up until that point Dinas is a pleasure to watch onscreen - again using the kaiju abilities from the Ultra Dimension cards to great effect whilst also proving themselves as a proficient fighter. From a purely "Ultraman" perspective this is Dinas' film more than it is Decker's, highlighting how much scope the character has for further adventures. Whether it's the link to Ultraman Dyna or just the fact actress Kayano Nakamura is a joy to watch onscreen, Dinas could easily carry their own miniseries should the opportunity ever arise.  

The Dinas suit is relatively simple enough in its design, but the subtle ways it differs from Decker is what makes it interesting. Dinas definitely comes across as "Decker-light", sporting all of the same design flourishes but less-so (one colour body, no galaxy print on the chest etc.). The permanently red colour timer is rather unique trait too. Outside of the film director Masayoshi Takesue has compared Dinas to what Nexus Anphans is to Nexus Junis, while designer Takahito Waki considered them a simplification of Decker so that theory was definitely prevalent throughout.

With the Sphere gone it's now up to Journey to Beyond to introduce a new villain, which it certainly has in the form of Professor Gibellus. Comparatively Gibellus is a far more straightforward alien invader-type villain, which works well for a one-off film since character development doesn't have to be too in-depth. He's certainly a fun villain if fairly-one note, with a really great design in both his normal and kaiju/Gigalogaiser forms. Gigalogaiser is even able to combine with Gibellus' spaceship, which itself is a fun gimmick and adds an extra dimension to the fight (especially since the film is otherwise lacking in alternate forms).

Dinas meets KanataProfessor Gibellus

Naturally the return of Decker himself at the film's climax is a big moment, but it's also a curious one that somehow seems to have less of an impact than the parts that came before. First and foremost when Decker is back on the scene Dinas is completely sidelined, robbing viewers of what would have been a pretty spectacular team up. Kanata and Dinas have great chemistry together (that never outright feels romantic) and to see that continue in their Ultraman forms would have been fantastic. Additionally, while the Decker fight has a lot of energy (that's further amplified by the use of series theme "Wake Up Decker!"), it all feels surprisingly restrained. It features absolutely no form changes, instead focusing solely on Flash Type. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but surprisingly given this is probably the last time we'll see Decker in the title role. The accompanying dialogue that sees Kanata recognise that he is both Kanata and Ultraman Decker is good, but that's all contained in the last minute or so. As a climax it serves its purpose, but for Decker's final outing it doesn't feel like all the stops were pulled out. Especially with no Decker/Dinas team up.

Until Decker's grand return though there's still plenty of action-packed moments to keep fans entertained, whether you're a longtime Ultraman fan or simply jumped onboard with Decker. In addition to the return of guest characters from the series to help carry the plot forward, Journey to Beyond features plenty of aliens from across the Ultra franchise. The Terraphaser also plays a big part in the film too, officially adopted into the GUTS-Select arsenal and even squaring off against the franchise's most prominent robot antagonist King Joe. Tsuburaya Production's eye for visuals is as sharp as ever, with each fight scene filled with detailed miniature work and impressive stunt choreography. 

King Joe vs TerraphaserDecker returns

Though it has its fair share of missed opportunities, Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond is a great end to another wonderful year of Ultraman. The lack of a crossover element allows a much better focus on the Decker cast, showing how far they've come over the course of the show as well as highlighting how capable they are without the titular hero. In addition to that, Dinas/Ultraman Dinas is a fantastic addition to the cast as well as an Ultra with plenty of scope for their own adventures should the opportunity ever arise. Thank you Ultraman Decker, it's been a pleasure.

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