Friday 30 June 2023

Miniseries REVIEW: Ultraman Regulos

Ultraman Regulos

Even among the pantheon of lesser-known Ultras brought to the table during Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Destined Crossroad, Tsuburaya Productions still found the time to introduce fans to a brand-new Ultra hero as well – Ultraman Regulos. This martial arts-based Ultra debuted with very little backstory within the web series, but showed clear links to both Ultraman Leo and Astra as well as similarly new villain Absolute Diavolo. With Tsuburaya seemingly taking a break from the Ultras ongoing battle against the Absolutions in 2023, instead they're finally shining some light on this new hero with an Ultraman Regulos miniseries. Running for a total of six episodes, this web-series debuted on both the Tsuburaya YouTube channel and Ultraman Connection with both Japanese and English language audio (as well as a multitude of subtitle languages) – once again showing their dedication to spreading the word of Ultraman across the globe.

The Cosmo Beast Style FightersSpica and Regulos

Before he was taken prisoner by the Absolutians, Ultraman Regulos lived peacefully on the Planet D60. Having arrived there with no memories other than his name, Regulos was taken in by the Cosmo Beast Fighters and trained in their sacred martial art – the Cosmo Beast Style. Along with the Cosmo Beast Fighters, Regulos trained alongside fellow student Dias as well as occasionally sparring with Ultraman Leo.

But after the Alien Magma destroy Planet L77 and seemingly Leo and Astra along with it, the villains then turn their attention toward D60. Although the Cosmo Beast Fighters are able to fight them off, Regulos vows to become stronger and avenge L77. Seeking tutelage under an expelled Beast Fighter, Regulos begins his journey to becoming the one true inheritor of the Cosmo Beast Style.

VolcanInheritor of the Cosmo Beast Style

With the Ultra Galaxy Fight miniseries have evolved to become almost a crossing point for all the various universes and parallel dimensions that make up the Ultraman mythos, Ultraman Regulos is a far more stripped-back approach in comparison. While the idea that this should be something that at a base level can easily be understood by newcomers remains, gone are all the left-field cameos, multi-series call-backs and obscure references aimed at the more "hardcore" fans. Instead this follows a character whose story is completely unwritten, even more so than Ultra Galaxy Fight's other star player Ultraman Ribut. It's a pretty simple story that doesn't offer much in the way in surprise, but at the same time doesn't stretch too far beyond the boundaries of its (limited) running time. Tsuburaya however definitely show ambition in trying to launch this entirely new character in the form of his own mini-series, and certainly create enough interest in Regulos that he could easily have life of his own through periodic miniseries of his adventures.

It really is no exaggeration to say that Ultraman Regulos is a blank slate either. He begins the miniseries as an amnesiac, with the events that follow neatly leading straight into his introduction in The Destined Crossroad. Again it’s a pretty straight-forward story and a rather cliche one at that, but the whole vibe of this stranger whose past is a complete mystery and present seeped in tragedy works well for the classic martial arts vibe TsuPro are going for with the character. Regulos is interesting that it isn’t often we see an Ultraman being defined without a human host in tow. Although the Ultra Galaxy Fight series may have dispelled the human element, nearly all the Ultras that appear in it were originally characterised alongside a partner human or alter ego. Given the likes of Zero and Ribut, Regulos isn’t the first to be 100% Ultra as such but it’s still a rarer occurrence. As it stands right now there’s also a lot more nuance to Regulos as well - despite being a hero as such, vengeance is a big motivator both here and seemingly beyond the story presented.

Ultraman LeoRegulos vs Tubahn

Regulos' standing as a more martial arts-based fighter also fares well when it comes to choreography, which definitely has much more focus on technique than it has in recent years of Ultraman. Sure there are still plenty of special attacks with fancy graphics on screen, but it's much less concerned with beam variations and the like with a much greater emphasis on the flow of the punch and kicks being delivered. While perhaps not an amazing display of martial arts prowess, the opening sequence for each episode gives you a good idea of what to expect from both the show and character. Visually overall the miniseries isn't too far removed from previous Ultra Galaxy Fight instalments – it's the same concept of suit actors set against various greenscreen backgrounds viewers will be all too familiar with by now. It works just as well as ever, highlighting the more alien elements of the Ultraman franchise as opposed to the Earth-based antics of the main series instalments. The frequency we've been getting these web series has really helped propel that side of Ultraman, and while something like this could certainly never replace a main series the more concise nature of them (as well as the heavier continuity) balances them out well.

Although Ultraman Regulos works perfectly as a standalone story, it does have some ties to the wider Ultraman mythology through Ultraman Leo. While the character's brief appearance in the film feels merely like a nod to his shared martial arts motif, Regulos' story becomes more intertwined with that of Leo's with the reveal that this is another side to the aftermath of L77's destruction. Regulos believes his friends to be dead, when we as fans know Leo chased a single Alien Magma to Earth while Astra became their prisoner for some time. From their previous interactions it was a given that Regulos would have some ties to Leo and Astra, but to enhance their own origins decades after Ultraman Leo first aired and to make it such a driving force of the story (without any prior knowledge of Leo really required) is a very pleasant surprise.

This in turn brings the Alien Magma into the story, with their status as a vicious race of war-mongers continuing to be elaborated on. The Magma are characterised on a fine line between bandits and conquerors, which makes for a good range on the ones highlighted in this miniseries. Whereas the invasion army captains and "Inferno siblings" Yurub and Lava fall more on the former side of things, their armour-clad leader Volcan feels like a far more credible threat. Even without prior knowledge of the Alien Magma's previous appearances in Ultraman history, Ultraman Regulos gives a good summary of them as a race as well as the level of individuality they can have - which in terms of appearance feels much less commonplace in the recurring Ultraman alien races.

Master AludeAlien Magma

Taking place solely on D60 also means the introduction of several new characters that help to round out Regulos' origins. They key players in this are of course the Cosmo Beast Fighers, consisting of Master Alude, Instructor Phoros, Spica, Tubahn, Albeo and Pharood. Each one has their own Cosmo Beast that they've bonded to and have derived their fighting style from, and is also based on said animal design-wise. While most of these characters are little more than your traditional martial arts archetypes (the wise old master, the strict instructor, the outcast etc.) in a short and simple setting like this it makes it much easier to get to grips with their characters. A good dynamic develops between Phoros and Tubahn, while Spica is quite unique in that while she may act as the obligatory female support to Regulos she's also his senior. The variety of character designs here (even if they are largely just alienised animal masks and basic martial arts clothing) also give the miniseries are more distinct flavour than numerous Ultras (or Ultra-like characters) conversing in the Ultra Galaxy Fight series. For many of these characters though sadly it's a one and done affair, as they're used to build up a more tragic origin for Ultraman Regulos. While there's every chance that they could find their way back to Ultraman one day, it feels like it short changes both them and Regulos to cut the latter off completely from the characters that shape him.

Regulos himself isn't the only character this miniseries had the opportunity to provide some backstory on though, so it's a shame that it takes the easiest route out when it comes to Absolute Diavolo. While it's abundantly obvious from the get-go that Dias is in fact Diavolo, the story of how Granted there isn't a lot of time to dedicate to Dias given all the other characters running around in this, but there's certainly a hint of potential in his initial appearances here. However he's quickly side-lined for the rest of the episodes, only for the epilogue to rapidly reveal that he was a villain all along. It's not an awful reveal given the way it further emphasises the tragedy of Regulos' story, but it makes their dynamic feel a lot more one-note with the reveal that all the time they spent training together doesn't really amount to anything. Between this the Ultra Galaxy Fight series Tsuburaya are trying their hardest to make the Absolutians a credible threat, but there's next to no depth to them beyond "they're really strong". Ultraman Regulos was an opportunity to give Diavolo the level of characterisation Absolute Titan got in The Destined Crossroad, an opportunity that was sadly squandered. 

DiasAbsolute Diavolo

Ultraman Regulos is a relatively straightforward yet enjoyable backstory for the brand-new Ultra hero. It provides good context for Regulos whilst also leaving plenty of questions unanswered for future instalments, and while sadly the majority of these characters are unlikely to be seen again what we do get of them is both memorable and pivotal to the development of the titular character. It's pretty much a certainty that this won't be the last we see of Ultraman Regulos, but the refreshing dive back into more martial arts-based Ultras he provides suggests more solo offerings like this would be as equally welcome as regular Ultra Galaxy Fight appearances.

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