Ultraman Mebius – Together Everyone Achieves More

(I know it sounds like a quote from a cat poster, but it’s true!)

Introduction

Recently the anniversary of Mebius came and went, and my Twitter timeline wouldn’t shut up about how awesome it was. Being a relative newcomer to Ultraman – newer even than Sentai or Kamen Rider, I decided to give it a shot, and wound up really enjoying it. Enough that I decided to start writing about it alongside my still-running Garo: Makai no Hana project, and weekly recaps of Ex-Aid.

I only started watching Ultraman shows with X and Orb, and knew very little else of the franchise before last year. Didn’t have much interest in it originally, since the classic sci-fi tropes that it features don’t interest me in general as much the wider variety of settings and themes that I found with Rider and Sentai. However, that changed when I received Ultraseven DVDs for Christmas from my brother (thanks, little bro, you are awesome). I fell in love with the setting and the characters, and got really interested in the lore that it developed, even with the old-fashioned styles and effects. There was a lot of charm to the series, and I wanted to learn more about it, and why so many of my toku-watching friends were so exuberant about the franchise.

One advantage Ultraman shows have over Sentai and Kamen Rider is that many of the main series are available legally, either through DVD releases or legitimate online streaming services. With Mebius easily available on Crunchyroll, it only took, really, about five minutes into the pilot episode of the series to get hooked on it.

And so I want to gush about how much I love everyone in this show and want to hug them in my typical article format. However, since this series is 50 episodes long, the chunks will be more than just 6-7 episodes like with Garo, and I won’t separate them into individual episodes. Instead, this will focus on the major themes for the arc within the series depending on where natural breaking points within the plot occur. This first article deals specifically with episodes 1 through 11.

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Like with any series, especially one that revolves so heavily around a team dynamic, Mebius first starts with establishing all its characters, their strengths, weaknesses, primary motivations, and how they interact together. Most Ultraman shows have some sort of special task force, governmental agency, or just general band of weirdoes (*ahem*  looking at you, Orb) that team up with, and assist the Ultra for that season. In Mebius, it’s the GUYS Japan squad, originally tasked with protecting Japan from alien attacks, but now largely ornamental in the twenty-five years since the original Ultraman’s disappearance and the cessation of monster attacks in general. However, when a new threat appears and the monsters start popping out of the woodwork again, GUYS has to reform from the wreckage of their initial mission, and assist the new Ultra sent to Earth, Mebius.

GUYS Japan


Each one of the episodes from the pilot to episode 6 deals with one of the main characters on this team, with a specific focus. So I will be tackling them in their episode order.

Mebius/Mirai Hibino

First of all, the pilot obviously sets up our main hero. In addition, it also establishes the main theme for this first major arc. The world at this point hasn’t had an Ultraman for a generation (twenty-five years!), and while everyone still looks up to the figure, they remember a distant, idealized hero. Both Mebius himself and the people he works with will have to make that ideal line up with reality once again, through the challenges and hardships that naturally come with being a superhero.

Sent to Earth with a intriguingly vague commission to learn from humanity, Mebius bungles his first attempt at being a hero by not thinking about collateral damage from his fight. His resolve to value humanity, not just as a detached savior but alongside them as a member of the newly-reformed GUYS squad sets the tone for the rest of the series.

Mirai Hibino seems like a generic Hero at first, but he brings a sense of youthful enthusiasm and idealism, combined with hard-won convictions to back up that idealism. He’s instantly likeable without being a complete bore, as he’s still inexperienced and visibly struggles in his fights against the various monsters the GUYS team encounters throughout the show.


He’s also remarkably bad at keeping a secret identity under wraps.

Ryu Aihara


In his first debut as a hero, Mebius/Mirai saw the strength of four random civilian bystanders who dropped everything to help someone in need, even at risk to their own lives. His first action as a GUYS recruit is to track down these civilians in order to create a new task force, but first Mirai has to convince the only holdover from the original team, Ryu, to accept them as a team. Not to mention getting them to accept their position as teammates in the first place!

In trying to recruit everyone individually, we see them initially turn down the position for much the same reason that we saw from the pilot. People are complacent now that Ultraman has returned and don’t see the need for them to personally get involved. They’re too concerned with the details of their own lives at the moment, what is right in front of them. So Mirai gets them focused on what they can do in GUYS right now by involving them painting the ship, to allow them a personal stake in the team.

Of course, while everyone is painting, they get a call to defeat a monster, and then the same drive to put themselves on the line to help others comes to the forefront. Each one of them steps up to contribute to the team, first as volunteers, then real recruits. Once they develop that personal attachment, when the reality of becoming a part of the team is apparent and in front of their faces, not a far-off abstraction, they stay on as permanent members.

Even though it focuses also on forming the team, I see this as Ryu’s focus episode primarily, as he feels responsible for the continued leadership of GUYS following the sacrifice of his former commanding officer, Captain Serizawa, in the pilot episode. By painting the main strike ship of the squad, it shows Ryu how the same spirit that he was entrusted by Serizawa can be more fully realized with a team, than on his own.

Teppai Kuze


The main support for the team, and a super Ultra-nerd who provides information on the monsters they face. Drawing knowledge from the database of GUYS as well as his own compilation of trivia regarding historical Ultraman battles, he provides a lot of the strategic planning for defense against the various threats each week.

In his focus episode specifically, the show uses his experience to expand more on how the team relates to Ultraman and how they are necessary for him to save the day. Mebius can’t save anyone if he can’t trust his team to back him up, and they trust that he’ll be there to defend them when all else fails.


The realization that previous Ultras have died in defense of Earth add a new dimension to Teppai’s admiration of the Ultras, and of Mebius. He’s not just a machine or a god, but a living being with a heart and a spirit who directs that vitality to its full value. The team may not be able to punch out the monsters directly like Mebius or the other Ultras can, but they are just as important, and none of the Ultras could fight as effectively without the teams.


Similarly, Teppai can’t fight directly with the other GUYS members, but he is just as important as the more front-line members of the squad, like Ryu, George and Marina.

Konomi Amagai


Following out of that idea, is a focus episode for Konomi, the kindergarten teacher-turned task force operative. She’s also used to introduce another long-running element of Ultraman shows, the Maquette Monsters. Think Pokemon before Pokemon was even conceived, where characters summon friendly monsters to help in fights.

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This episode deals with a theme of perceived weakness or uselessness, with highlighting Konomi’s character, and Miclas, a cute, but underpowered monster that they can summon. Konomi initially is the only one who can direct Miclas (thanks to her unfailing motivational spirit as a teacher!) but when put into an actual combat situation, she panics, and Miclas hesitates as a result too.

Konomi beats herself up hard as a result, blaming herself for Miclas’ failure and the destruction within the city as a result, and feels she can’t live up to peoples’ expectations of her.

But really, it’s her own weakness that allows her to empathize with those who are also weak, like the children who look up to her, the rabbits she saved to make them happy in the pilot episode, and Miclas itself. She symbolizes the heart that connects and empathizes with those that the team protects.

As a side note: Miclas also first appeared in Ultraseven, so this show has more than one reference to Seven, both as a namedrop, and a cute visual gag with using Konomi’s glasses the way that Dan Moroboshi used the Ultra Eye to transform into Ultraseven.

George Ikaruga


The last couple episodes deal with the weakest characters, physically, but these two focus episodes deal with the other fighters of the group. George is a former professional soccer player with a phenomenal athletic talent, but as we see, he was troubled when it came to dealing with a team, both on the pitch, and now in GUYS. His primary issue is wanting to do things on his own without involving the rest of the team. While he is talented enough to take ridiculous risks with his athletic reflexes, he makes everyone else’s job (and his own) harder by not communicating with them, and they wind up mistrusting him when those plans fall through.


When he’s reminded of the fact that he wants to be a hero, from Marina reminding him of an interview he gave to a sports magazine, he realizes that everyone else on the GUYS team shares the same heroic desire. It’s that commonality that allows him to open up to the rest of the team and trust them more fully in the heat of operations.

 

When George slips up in a penalty kick challenge against Mirai, botching his last famous Meteor Shot kick, he acknowledges that he’s not perfect, and needs to rely on a team to cover the times when he can’t do everything on his own.


(Side note: I like the implication that the flame effects on his Meteor Shot aren’t artistic license, and that he actually does kick the ball hard enough to make it spontaneously combust)

With his admission of humility, realizing he needs the rest of the team, like how Mebius relies on them, George can live up to his own potential better than he can alone. In other words, the whole is more than the sum of its parts! That idea is the first major theme of these episodes, how the members of the team more effectively use their strengths to assist the weaknesses of others. George, Ryu and Marina fight where Konomi and Teppai can’t, and Konomi and Teppai help support them in the field even though they don’t fight directly.

Marina Kazama


As we’ve seen so far, all of the characters on the GUYS Japan team have their own unique strengths. A professional motorcross racer, Marina’s skill at first seems very similar to George in that she is athletically gifted, which helps her immensely in the field alongside with him and Ryu. But her real talent turns out not only to be her incredibly sensitive hearing, but her attention to detail. She feels like it holds her back though, because she spends so much time worrying about her equipment, she can tell when things go wrong and pulls away too quickly, rather than meeting her challenges.

This focus episode deals with her “learning to trust the machine”, but more accurately I think it can be described as focusing on her direct task rather than second-guessing details. When she trusts the machine, she’s also trusting the huge team behind GUYS who designed, built, tested and maintained it for her to use.


Like George, she learns to use her strengths to a greater advantage in cooperation with the team.

Other characters:


In addition to the main GUYS team, there’s several other recurring characters who hang around. First of all, there’s Adjutant Toriyama and his assistant, Maru. Both are bumbling comedic relief. Initially assigned to GUYS as a cushy retirement position, they find themselves way out of their depth when the department is thrust back into relevance with new monster appearances.

On the other scale of effective leadership, there’s Captain Sakomizu. Even though he’s ostensibly the superior officer for the GUYS crew, he leads by basically letting everyone do what they need to, and being largely hands-off in directing them.

As I’ve said for these character introductions, the main point of the team is that their strengths and weaknesses complement each other, and it’s when working in cooperation with each other, and Mebius, that they are able to save the day and achieve more than they could alone. Captain Sakomizu recognizes that, and allows them to work without micromanaging the team.

What’s Going to Work? TEAMWORK!

Speaking of teamwork, this idea that cooperating together allows for more alternatives than working alone, forms the framework for how the characters are all introduced and developed in conjunction with each other. It’s also how the main overarching plot is developed as well.

Starting from episode 7, we start seeing the connections between all the monster attacks, and what is attracting them to earth in the first place. A new monster, Bogal, has been summoning all of them in order to feed and grow stronger, and will eventually grow to consume the entire world. Following behind it to try and destroy it before that happens is another Ultra, Tsurugi.


However, where Mebius is primarily concerned with fighting alongside, and learning from, the humans on this world, Tsurugi only has one goal – destroying Bodal at any cost, regardless of the consequence, or innocents caught in the crossfire.


Mebius learned from his mistake in his first fight in allowing too much collateral damage, and makes sure that his fights take into account his higher goal of protecting humanity, not just destroying monsters. Tsurugi just doesn’t give a damn. Another background aspect of the setting development I’ve glossed over, is a general distrust of aliens from the human public. This comes from the fact that so many people died, and so much destruction was wreaked by their rampages, without care, during the initial monster incursions that accompanied the other Ultras’ tenures. We see that played out here in the present day as Tsurugi visits the same careless wreckage upon the cities with his crusade against Bogal.

In the exposition describing Tsurugi’s mission, we also see contrast with Ryu’s own driving mission as the de facto leader of the GUYS team. Both fight for the sake of someone’s memory (Tsurugi, for the vengeful, dead spirits of the world he failed to save from Bogal), but one has an outright death-wish, while the other fights so that his superior and friend would be proud of him.


For Tsurugi, the guilt of the dead supersedes his original heroic spirit and mission. For Ryu, his heroism is fulfilled and motivated by memories of the dead. It is a positive, not a hindrance or negative. Ryu values his own life and the lives of others more fully because of that single life lost.

The parallel is strengthened even further because Tsurugi is using Serizawa’s body, after he was originally assumed to be killed in action in the pilot episode.
However, the pressure of trying to live up to Serizawa’s expectations (or what he thinks those expectations are) causes Ryu’s motivation to shift into desiring to merely save Serizawa (now being used as the human vessel for Tsurugi while he is on Earth) or focuses on that aspect of the mission over all other concerns.

Throughout this part of the arc, Ryu starts going down the same path that made Tsurugi don his own (literal!) armor of vengeance. The reason he doesn’t fall as far is because Mebius is behind him along with the rest of the GUYS team. I said in my Amazons write-up that I like seeing this in toku shows, but I also enjoy seeing it in heroic narratives in general. Seeing how the allies and friends a hero has made through the events of the show allow them options to fulfill heroic objectives without sacrificing something greater, or being forced to make awful decisions, is a really rewarding way to positively frame a hero’s character.


Tsurugi fights alone, and has stopped caring about the lives lost in the process of his vengeance. Ryu starts going down that path, but finds that he can destroy Bogal AND save the Captain without having to sacrifice anyone else because of the support of his team. Mebius/Mirai, as a member of that team, joins in that same ideal mission too. When Tsurugi is prepared to die with Bogal in their final showdown, Mebius rescues him from the resulting suicidal explosion long enough to die peacefully.


Ryu is destroyed by this loss, even with everything going perfectly, he still lost Serizawa – or so he thinks. In the episode following this climactic fight, we find that Tsurugi, now freed of his thirst for vengeance with Bodal’s defeat, has been revived fully along with Serizawa, the two now working together, rather than one dominating the other.

However, in the meantime, we DO start to see Ryu behave like Tsurugi did before. Callous, uncaring, focused only on destroying monsters in revenge.


When Tsurugi (now newly dubbed Hikari – literally “light” in Japanese) rejoins the battle to help save the day, Ryu’s faith in the ideals of GUYS is restored. The knowledge that his efforts weren’t in vain helps bring him back around to the position of leadership that Serizawa originally entrusted him with.

This first arc is interesting because Tsurugi is contrasted equally well by two different characters. His callousness runs counter to Mebius’ own idealism and willingness to learn from others. At the same time, Ryu’s own struggles parallel his own descent into simple, suicidal vengeance over goals of heroism or protection. In this way, Mirai and Ryu form a sort of a deuteragonist pair in the first part of the show.

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One remarkable thing I want to note about Mebius the series, is just that it does everything extremely well. Like how the GUYS team is more than the sum of its parts, the different aspects of the series itself contribute to making it such a fun, enjoyable experience altogether.

Ultraman X was fun to watch because the characters involved were all excellently developed, but the main plot felt fairly removed from them. In addition, the crossover elements of the show were also more isolated, and I had less interest in them, since it was my first Ultraman show and I knew almost nothing of the franchise at that point. Orb had a very tight main plot with a well-developed connection between the main villain and the protagonist, but the supporting cast all felt like afterthoughts. Ultraseven has some really strong individual episodes and plots, and supporting cast that is well-developed and integral to those strong plots, but doesn’t always deliver on the same level of quality through the whole season.

Mebius doesn’t just have strong characters and a strong plot that ties together all of their development arcs – the soundtrack, fight choreography, special effects work, and just general design sense also are praiseworthy alongside of it. Without these parts, or with even mediocre efforts, the basic framework of the show’s writing would be enough to make Mebius a good series – these points in conjunction with each other wrap everything in a pretty package to make a great series.

The special effects work was the first thing I noticed from the first episode. The CGI is obvious when it shows up, but it’s used sparingly enough, and in combination with practical props and miniatures, that it still looks good today. And the emphasis very much is on those practical props and miniatures.

The prop work is delightful, with detailed, well-designed monster suits, intricate backdrops and miniatures that really sell the scale of the fights.

The soundtrack is largely orchestral and knows exactly how to play to emotions of the scene. Hell, I was sold on Mirai’s character with just one line thanks to the swelling symphony in the background as he returns a lost balloon to a young girl.

For a show that’s so loud in terms of bombastic soundtracks, exaggerated characters, big fights, and lots of explosions, Mebius also knows how to utilize dramatic silence for its benefit. In the pilot, where everyone sees the light from his arrival, you can just feel the entire city holding its breath waiting for the new Ultraman to appear.

It was a really memorable scene because of the strengths of the cinematography – in how the shot was framed – combined with the realism of the models and the inspired sound direction.

The suited fights between the Ultras and the monsters is also fantastic, with acrobatic stunts, and a decidedly tight pacing and progression. Good fights always have a sense of continuity and strategy, an unspoken plot-line that guides the punches and kicks, rather than just flailing around.

We can tell when Mebius is struggling, when he’s confident, upset, worried, really any other emotion with the direction of this suit acting.

As I said, I could type out a lot of words just dissecting the characters themselves and their developments (as most of these articles tend to go), but what allowed me to become so engrossed in the series the more I watched, was all of these aspects combined with the strong writing.

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Overall I immensely enjoyed the first segment of this series, even with the admittedly dicey quality subs provided through Crunchyroll’s streaming service (it’s worth it at least to support an official release). In fact, it was actually tough to sit down and write this first article, as the more I talked about how the characters all work together as an effective team and sorted through my screencaps, the more I just wanted to go back and continue watching through the series. The fights, the visual direction, the characters, the music, all of it works together to create deeply effective emotional moments, fun comedic relief, and thrilling action sequences in equal measure.

I really can’t recommend this series enough to anyone who enjoys superhero stories or science fiction in general. Even though it’s an anniversary series for the Ultraman franchise, the callbacks to the originals are all explained well in-universe and contribute a lot even if you’re not familiar with its history at all (I only know what I’ve gleaned from others discussing the franchise, and my own foray into Ultraseven). If you’re looking for an entrance into Ultraman in general, this is a great place to start, and easily accessible thanks to being hosted on a legal streaming service.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 49 more episodes to get through, and I’m gonna love every minute of them.

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