Recently the anniversary of Ultraman Mebius came and went, and my Twitter timeline wouldn’t shut up about how awesome it was. Being a relative newcomer to the franchise – 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 Ultra Seven 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.
Ultraman shows have a notable advantage over some other tokusatsu franchises because 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.
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 (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 departure of the last Ultraman on Earth (80) 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.
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.
First, the pilot obviously sets up our main hero. But it also establishes a major theme for this first arc of the show. The world at this point hasn’t had an Ultraman for a generation, and while everyone still looks up to the figure, they remember a distant, idealized hero. Both Mebius himself and the team he works with will have to test that ideal, and bring it into a personal focus through the challenges which 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 considering collateral damage to the city during his fight. Following this realization of his initial mistakes, he resolves to value humanity, not just as a detached savior but alongside them as a member of the newly-reformed GUYS squad. This resolve then sets the tone for the rest of the series.
Mirai Hibino seems like a bland, generic hero at first, but he brings a sense of youthful enthusiasm and idealism, combined with tough convictions to back up that idealism through his initial tests. 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.
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 member 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!
When Mirai tries to convince them to form a new team, they all 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 to personally get involved. Why do they need to play hero when Ultraman can take care of everything? They’re too concerned with the details of their own lives at the moment, worrying about what is immediately before them. So Mirai tries to focus those characters on what they can do for GUYS right now by involving them with painting one of the jet fighters. It provides that initial, personal stake in the team.
Of course, while everyone is painting, they get a call to defeat a monster, and then the same drive we saw in the pilot to put themselves on the line to help others comes to the forefront. Each one steps up to contribute to the team, first as volunteers, then real recruits. This develops that personal accountability and responsibility as an immediately apparent reality, not a far-off abstraction. When the dust clears, they all decide to stay on as permanent members.
Even though the story focuses on forming the GUYS Japan team, I see this as Ryu’s focus episode primarily. He feels responsible for the continued leadership of GUYS following the sacrifice of his former commanding officer, Captain Serizawa, in the first episode. By working with his new team to paint the main strike ship of the squad, it shows Ryu how the same spirit (symbolized by the flames they depict on the jet fighter) entrusted to him by Serizawa can be more fully realized with a team, than on his own.
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 contributes much of the strategic planning for defense against the various threats each week.
His focus episode allows the show to use his knowledge of past encounters to illustrate how the team relates to Ultraman, and why their efforts are necessary for him to save the day. Mebius can’t protect anyone if he can’t trust his team to back him up, and they trust that he’ll also be there to defend them when all else fails.
Realizing that Ultras have died in defense of Earth adds a new dimension to Teppei’s admiration of those heroes, and of Mebius in the present. 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 in the protection of other lives. The human defense team may not be able to punch out the monsters directly like Mebius or the other Ultras, but they are just as important, and none of the Ultras could fight as effectively without their support.
Similarly, Teppei 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.
Developing out of that idea, we next have 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. In fact, the capsule monsters Seven used in his own series influenced the concept of that game franchise thirty years later! Here, the concept is used in the same way, with friendly, giant monsters being summoned to help our heroes fight against threats to the Earth.
Emphasis on the “friendly” part, for this particular plot.
This focus episode deals with a theme of perceived weakness or uselessness, highlighting Konomi’s character alongside Miclas, a cute, but underpowered monster himself. 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 resulting fallout from the battle. She feels she can’t live up to the expectations of others when it matters the most.
But, really, Konomi’s own weakness allows her to empathize with those who are also weak, like the children at the school who look up to her, the rabbits she saved to make those children happy in the pilot episode, and Miclas. She symbolizes the heart which connects and empathizes with the innocent lives the team fights to protect.
As a side note, Miclas also first appeared in Ultra Seven, so this show has more than one reference to the show. The titular hero is name-dropped, but there’s also a cute visual gag using Konomi’s glasses the way Dan Moroboshi used the Ultra Eye to transform.
The last couple of episodes dealt with the weakest characters, physically, but these next focus episodes develop the other fighters of the group.
George is a former professional soccer player with phenomenal athletic talent, but as we see, he was troubled when it came to working with a team, both on the pitch, and now in GUYS. His desire to do everything himself without the support of his team is the primary, driving reason behind this conflict in both contexts. While he is talented enough to take ridiculous risks by betting on his athletic reflexes, he makes everyone else’s job (and his own) harder by not communicating with the others, and they begin to mistrust him when those plans fall through.
But he’s also reminded of his initial desire to be a hero, thanks to Marina referencing an interview he gave to a sports magazine expressing his admiration for Ultraman. Then he realizes everyone else on the GUYS team shares the same heroic motivation. That commonality allows him to open up to the rest of the team and trust them more fully in the heat of operations.
George tries to prove he doesn’t need the rest of the team by showing off in a penalty kick challenge against Mirai, but it backfires when he botches his famous Meteor Shot kick. As a result, he’s forced to acknowledge he’s not perfect, and needs to trust his team rather than trying to 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 kicks the ball hard enough to make it spontaneously combust)
With his admission of humility, 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! As the GUYS Japan team becomes closer, and Mebius gains more confidence in his role as a hero to protect Earth, it becomes the strongest major theme in this first arc. George, Ryu and Marina fight where Konomi and Teppei can’t, and Konomi and Teppei help support them in the field even though they don’t fight directly.
As we’ve seen so far, all of the characters on the GUYS Japan team have their unique strengths, but Marina’s skill at first seems very similar to George, considering her background as a professional motocross racer. She’s also athletically gifted, which helps her immensely in the field alongside the other main combat operatives of the GUYS crew. However, her distinctive talent isn’t just physical, with her incredibly sensitive hearing, but also relates to her attention to detail. She thinks it holds her back though. Because she spends so much time worrying about her equipment, she can tell when things start going wrong and pulls away too quickly, rather than rising to meet challenges.
This focus episode explicitly frames her character growth as “learning to trust the machine”, but I think it it’s more accurately described as focusing on her immediate 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 rest of the team.
In addition to the main GUYS team, there are several other recurring characters who hang around. First, there’s Adjutant Toriyama and his assistant, Maru. Both are bumbling comedic relief. Initially assigned to GUYS Japan 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 side of the scale of effective leadership, there’s Captain Sakomizu. Even though he’s ostensibly the superior officer for the GUYS crew, he leads by letting everyone do what they need to as individuals, and is largely hands-off in directing them.
As I’ve said for these character introductions, Mebius the series focuses on how the strengths and weaknesses of the individual team members complement each other. When working in cooperation with each other, and Mebius, they are able to achieve greater victories than they could alone. Captain Sakomizu recognizes that, and allows them to work without micromanaging the team.
What’s Going to Work? TEAMWORK!
This idea, that cooperating together allows for more opportunities for success than working alone, forms the initial framework for the introductory episodes of the GUYS Japan team. But it also directs how the main overarching plot itself is developed as well.
Starting from episode 7, the reason for the new surge of monster attacks becomes apparent. 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 Bogal at any cost, regardless of the consequences, or innocents caught in the crossfire.
Mebius learned from his mistakes in his first fight, where he allowed too much collateral damage to be inflicted, and now he makes sure he fights with the primary goal of protecting others, not just to kill monsters. Tsurugi just doesn’t care.
There’s another background aspect of the setting I’ve glossed over, a general distrust of other aliens from the human public. So many people died, and so much destruction was wreaked by attacks which accompanied the other Ultras’ tenures, that the populace is wary of other foreign interlopers on the planet. We see that played out here in the present day as Tsurugi visits the same indifferent wreckage upon the cities with his crusade against Bogal. They don’t see him as an Ultra hero, but as a threat. Mebius would be aghast at the PR disaster, but Tsurugi has no intentions of being a protector, only an exterminator.
The exposition describing Tsurugi’s mission also contrasts 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 and supplants his original heroic spirit and mission. For Ryu, his heroism is fulfilled and motivated by memories of the dead. It is a positive driving force, not a hindrance. Ryu values his own life and the lives of others more fully because of his recognition of that sacrifice.
The parallel is strengthened even further because – as you may have noticed from the screencaps – Tsurugi is using Serizawa’s body, after he was originally assumed to be killed in action in the pilot episode.
But eventually the pressure of trying to live up to Serizawa’s expectations (or what he thinks those expectations are) causes Ryu to lose sight of this motivation. He comes to desire only saving Serizawa, or focuses on that aspect of the mission over all other concerns. Like Tsurugi himself, he becomes consumed by his own guilt.
Ryu starts going down the same path which made Tsurugi don his own (literal!) armor of vengeance. Thankfully, he doesn’t fall as far because Mirai is behind him, along with the rest of the GUYS team. Again, we see how the allies and friends a hero has made through the events of the show allow them options to fulfill their objectives without sacrificing greater ideals, or being forced to make awful decisions. It’s a rewarding way to positively frame a hero’s character development, as well as the impact their ideals have on other characters around them.
Tsurugi, in contrast, fights alone, and has stopped caring about the lives lost in the process of his vengeance. Ryu was saved from that path when he comes to believe he can destroy Bogal AND protect his mentor without having to sacrifice anyone else, thanks to the support of his team. Mebius/Mirai, as a member of that team as well, joins in that same ideal mission.
But even with everyone working together finally, the newfound ideals our heroes hold are still tested. While Tsurugi is prepared to die with Bogal in their final showdown, Mebius rescues him from the resulting suicidal explosion long enough for him 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 Bogal’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. Ryu takes Tsurugi’s death as a refutation of the virtues that had been built up previously in this arc. Even with their hard work and hard-won convictions, he thinks it amounted to nothing without Serizawa’s life to show for it.
When Tsurugi (now newly dubbed Hikari – literally “light” in Japanese) rejoins them later, Ryu’s faith in the ideals of GUYS is restored. It’s not just that Hikari/Serizawa’s life was restored literally, but Ryu and the audience also see how the ideals the GUYS Japan team fought for have redeemed Tsurugi from his anger and despair. The knowledge that his efforts weren’t in vain helps bring Ryu back around to more fully accept the position of leadership that Serizawa originally entrusted him with.
This initial story 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 to live up to the obligations left to him by Serizawa parallel how Tsurugi lost sight of his “heart” as an Ultraman, seeking vengeance instead of serving to protect others. In this way, Mirai and Ryu form a sort of a deuteragonist pair in the first complete plot line of the show.
There is one remarkable thing I want to note about Mebius the series – how 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, in addition to the writing and plot synopsis, contribute to making it such an enjoyable experience to watch.
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 also felt more isolated for someone with no prior experience with the franchise. Ultraman Orb, in contrast, had a very tight and engaging main plot with a well-developed connection between the main villain and the protagonist, but the supporting cast all felt like afterthoughts. Ultra Seven had some really strong individual episodes and plots, and a supporting cast that was also strongly established and integral to those episodic stories, but didn’t always deliver on the same level of quality through the whole season.
Mebius combines almost all those positive points together into a consistent whole. It doesn’t just have strong characters and a strong plot which ties together all of their development arcs. The soundtrack, fight choreography, special effects work, and even the general design aesthetic are also 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. But these points all in conjunction with each other wrap everything up in a pretty package to make a truly great series.
The special effects work was the first thing I noticed from the pilot episode. CGI effects are obvious when they show up, but they’re used sparingly enough, and in combination with practical props and miniatures, that it still looks surprisingly good today.
And the emphasis is still very much on those practical props and miniatures, rather than the CGI.
The prop work is delightful, with detailed, quality-constructed monster suits, along with intricate backdrops and miniature sets which really sell the scale of the fights.
The soundtrack is largely orchestral and knows exactly how to play to the accompanying emotions of a scene. Hell, I was sold on Mirai’s character with just one line of dialogue thanks to the swelling symphony in the background as he returns a lost balloon to a young girl in his first appearance.
For a show that’s so loud in terms of bombastic symphonic background music, exaggerated characters, large-scale fights, and lots of explosions, Mebius also knows how to utilize dramatic silence for its benefit. In the pilot, when the civilians running from the monster first see the light from his arrival, you can just feel the entire city holding its breath waiting for a new Ultraman to appear.
It was a really memorable scene thanks to the strengths of the cinematography – how the shot was framed and filmed – 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, or really any other emotion thanks to the direction of this suit acting. It’s remarkably expressive for a character with a face that doesn’t move!
I could type out even more words just dissecting the characters themselves and their developments (as most of these articles tend to go), but it was all of these aspects combined with that strong writing, which allowed me to become so engrossed in the series the more I watched.
Overall I immensely enjoyed the first segment of this series, even with the admittedly dicey quality of the official subs hosted on Crunchyroll’s streaming service. Not that they’re crab-sticks, but there are odd, head-scratching typos sprinkled throughout the scripts that I wish CR would go back and edit. But even taking that into account, it was surprisingly tough to sit down and write this first article. The more I talked about how the characters all work together as a team, and sorted through my screencaps reliving the events of the show, 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 emotional moments, fun comedic relief, and thrilling action sequences in equal measure.
I really cannot 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 classic series are always explained in the show’s own context. Those references contribute a lot to the development of the story and characters, even if you’re not familiar with the franchise’s history at all. After all, I only know what I’ve gleaned from others discussing the franchise, and my own brief foray into Ultra Seven. 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 39 more episodes to get through, and I’m gonna love every minute of them.