Ultraman Mebius – Trials and Tribulations

Author’s Note: This is part 3 of a 4-part series, where I record my thoughts and commentary on Ultraman Mebius after watching through the show for the first time. Check out my previous two articles if you’re just now tuning in:

Part 1 – Together Everyone Achieves More

Part 2 – Trust Falls

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I’ve never been a big fan of most sci-fi settings that deal heavily with aliens and outer space (with a few exceptions – mainly from nostalgia rather than actual quality, like Star Wars), mostly because I don’t enjoy a lot of tropes and conventions that entrenches the genre frequently. One of the most common issues is that nature of humanity, and how it relates to the exotic alien races in the setting, becomes confused or ill-developed. The writing tends to swing either too wide in making humanity unbelievably awesome and special, or unbelievably terrible.  This is the chief reason why I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to look more deeply into Ultraman series, I didn’t want to have to wade through that cliche, along with others of the genre that I find tiresome or overused.

However, what got me engaged into the Ultraman franchise when watching Ultraseven was the realization that these shows, at their best, hit a pretty interesting balance between those two extremes. It opened up my expectations enough to want to try out more series within its long-running history.

This section of Mebius further expands on that balance between two extreme viewpoints, in how the nature of humanity is framed against the context of life within the galaxy at large. Humanity, in relation to the various aliens that come to invade visit, is shown to have a capacity for evil and good. Evil is usually shown as a combination of ignorance and (mostly) fear, but we can see that those elements are shared by other aliens as well. Now, the main villains behind the continued incursion of monsters and alien invaders are just straight-up dicks as we’ll discover (in the final edition of this article series). However, the other aliens, attracted to Earth for various reasons, ultimately share similar ideals as well as similar flaws.

The episode immediately following the mid-season climax deals with Mirai fitting in with the new status quo of having his teammates know his identity…Which actually doesn’t change the status quo at all, they all treat him exactly the same.

Just like with his reveal in the last episode, they don’t have fear or trepidation at the knowledge that he’s Mebius, because he’s already proved, through his actions, his shared humanity. That is, the same combination of ideals and flaws.

To highlight this major theme, instead of mostly consisting on focus episodes on the characters of the team (although we do get a couple), this part of the series deals with alien-invaders-of-the-week that test and weigh the hearts of humanity. It is somewhat similar to how the bonds of trust between Mirai and his teammates were tested in the previous arcs. Those tests served to make those bonds stronger, in the same way, these episodes demonstrate the negative aspects of humanity, but also show how our positive aspects can be revealed and strengthened as a result.

The first of these episodic plots deals with a member of an alien race called “Mates”. The representative who arrives on Earth initially points up the ignorance and fear that led to his father’s death when he was stranded on the planet 30 years ago. This is initially set up as a “Humans are the real monsters!” plot, but we quickly see a familiar reflection of these flaws in his own actions, arriving with the equivalent of a loaded weapon in tow to Earth, and making exorbitant demands in retribution.

He was expecting to see revenge done, the same way that the human lynch mob that killed his dad was looking for a scapegoat. However, it’s upon seeing that his father’s legacy of kindness outlived him – kindness that’s revisited by children he encounters when injured – that he gives up his vendetta.

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Later, an alien shape-shifter uses Tsurugi/Hikari’s form to wreak havoc, trying to cast suspicion on the Ultras. Following behind, the REAL Hikari shows up with newfound resolve to prove himself as a hero on equal standing as the red Ultras that are more familiar to the people of Earth.

He puts a lot of trust into GUYS Japan in revealing his identity (at this point, only the immediate active crew of GUYS even knows Mirai is Mebius!) but then that trust is rewarded when the doppelganger attacks while Hikari is detained by GUYS. It’s a good extension of the themes of trust that we saw developed in the previous arcs.

He put his trust in the GUYS crew and Mebius when he left Earth before, and now he sees it returned by humanity in kind.

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Next is Kako, a member of a psychic alien race who tries to create mischief (because she’s a jerk), but the crew takes pity on her and tries to welcome her, despite their original suspicion, while she’s under Mirai’s protection.

Touched by having connections to people who accept her regardless of A.) being an alien, and B.) being a jerk at first, she relents on their original plan to defeat Mebius and, in fact, leaves a warning as to why monster attacks are still occurring. Being a member of an alien race without a home world, the hospitality that Kako was shown by the GUYS crew create a sense of belonging she couldn’t find otherwise.

(Side note, the GUYS crew names her “Kako”, because she is initially introduced as Mirai’s “sister”. “Mirai” means “future”, “Kako” means “past”.)

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One of my favorite episodes in this stretch has a more traditional alien conqueror plot, but with a fun twist using a story structure I’m particularly fond of. An alien “snake” invasion exploits a mother’s wish to live to see her family, by turning her into a slave to establish an advance guard to take over the Earth. That same love for her family gives her the strength to throw off the alien control and help fight back against them.

Even though it’s straightforward, I LOVE “lower decks” episodes, or stories within shows that focus on background characters. It’s always fun to see the characters and the setting they interact with from an outside perspective. Here, Mrs. Hinode, who is a cook at the GUYS headquarters, winds up being the world’s most unlikely action hero.

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In a more Twilight Zone/Outer Limits-styled episode, an alien plant hive-mind preys on the loneliness of marginalized and ostracized humans to assimilate them into its tendrils. I don’t know why, but most plant-themed monsters or villains in toku shows wind up being completely horrifying usually because they make use of this same concept, being forcibly brainwashed or controlled by an inexorable, creeping, completely alien presence.

For an unusual change of pace within this series, this episode actually deals mostly with Mirai outside of the context of the GUYS team.


While all his friends on the crew are happy, optimistic people (usually), coming to understand the feelings of a bullied high school student helps give Mirai some new insight into the human condition that he wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The dilemma of whether oblivion is preferable to pain and suffering also helps to give the female student at the heart of this story a new understanding and resolve to reach out to others. That loneliness that they feel allows them to show compassion to others. Truthfully, it’s also the fact that Mirai himself stands apart from the rest of humanity that he reaches out to the girl in the first place. He’s only out wandering around on his day off because he doesn’t really have a place to come home to, apart from the GUYS headquarters. Because of this, he gets involved in this story at the ground level, not just when it comes time to beat up a kaiju monster.

In each one of these cases, humanity faces familiar violence, distrust, despair or fear from others, and instead of falling to that level in their response, individuals answer with kindness, mercy and faith in the better angels of their nature.

One thing I noted while watching through Ultraseven, is that while nearly every single alien race that shows up eventually proves themselves to be a bunch of pricks, humanity can afford to maintain their idealism and better nature because of the presence of Seven helping to protect them. Where otherwise they might have had to make awful choices or sacrifice those ideals, the strength of an Ultraman fighting on behalf of the Earth gives them a third path, a more positive option that allows them to hold fast to that… well, if not innocence, then at least innocent intentions.

As we can see, even though there’s a lot of bizarre – often dangerous – aliens out in the universe, at their heart, many of these races are merely reflections of both the good and bad of humanity itself. These tests bring flaws of humanity to the forefront, but it always comes with forward-looking optimism, showing that we’re not doomed to always make the same mistakes, and that humanity can also achieve more by acknowledging those flaws.

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If these alien invasion plots show how humanity works to overcome its flaws, the Ultras demonstrate the best aspects of humanity and its capacity for goodness and heroism. Remember, they fight to protect Earth specifically because they recognize that goodness and want to protect it, and create a space where it can continue to grow. We’ve seen how other alien encounters respond to these positive aspects of humanity, now Mirai/ Mebius is called to take that same responsibility for protecting and exemplifying those ideals upon himself. And not just in regard to his relationships to his teammates, but with humanity as a whole.

Ultraman Leo and Ultraman 80’s episodes are more stand-alone and (from what I’m told by other fans) also provide a more contained cap to their own respective series. I haven’t seen those series though, so again, I’ll take their word for it!

At first I scoffed at the main conflict of the Leo episode, where he insists that Mebius/Mirai isn’t good enough to be worthy of protecting Earth, and challenges him to defeat a particularly strong alien monster in order to prove himself. After all, hasn’t Mebius and the GUYS crew achieved a pretty damn good track record in defending Earth before this point?

After hearing his backstory though, both within this episode and from other fans who have seen his series, Leo’s concern is much more understandable. Leo’s own series is largely characterized by SUFFERING. Just look at what he’s lived through!

Leo’s purpose in challenging Mirai to improve himself is to make sure that he understands the real stakes of failure. Battles that he “can’t afford to lose” don’t just impact him immediately, but everyone else who calls Earth home and values it dearly.

As a teacher myself, 80’s episode hit way too close to home.

As his human identity, Takeshi Yamato, 80 tried to stop the creation of “minus energy”, or  force borne from negative emotions and despair that can summon or empower monsters if left unchecked. He found a vulnerable population to try and stop its creation, within a middle school, by serving as a teacher and mentor for the students.

A lot of times in this profession it’s easy to feel like you aren’t making any difference, and that all the hard work that goes into educating students is lost on the ones who need the most help. As it turns out for 80 though, when his students put on a reunion in the old school building they attended before it is demolished, he had a huge impact on individual lives. Both as a teacher, and as Ultraman.

It’s those personal memories that shaped his students into good people as adults, more than explicit instruction, or any single battle he fought during his time on Earth. That’s what truly defines his victory as a hero.

Another self-contained episode with an Ultraman cameo is one of the weirder Christmas specials I’ve seen in toku, really any TV show in general.

(Remember Taro, Mebius’ own superior commanding officer from the mid-season finale? This is his dad.)

Oddly enough, it works as an effective metaphor. Instead of waiting for a Christmas miracle to save the day, we get Father of Ultra coming out of nowhere to save Mebius when he gets turned to gold by an alien totem pole.

Like I said, a weird Christmas special, but like the other Ultraman cameos, it shows just how important it is for Mebius to be able to live up to expectations of him as a hero. These episodes are all reminders of what the Ultras represent to the world they protect, and why it’s important to not take that role for granted.

This theme fits more in with the direction of the Ultraman cameos that show up later on in the series, closer to the finale. Especially since, as we’ll see in the article that covers that finale, humanity reaches its darkest points when it feels like that hope has been betrayed.

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As a reflection of extending the main themes of the series to relate to humanity as a whole, we also get a chance to see how the GUYS organization in general relates to the concept of Ultraman.

First, the GUYS Japan crew launches a joint operation with the GUYS Ocean division, which is responsible for protection of the seas. The hotshot pilot who works with them initially has a conflict with their chief mechanic, since it’s revealed that he quit a promising position under the chief mechanic’s tutelage in order to make a name for himself as a pilot. It provides a nice lesson on having confidence in yourself to achieve your potential, while also not forgetting the people who supported you on the way.

It’s a good, self-contained episode, even if it doesn’t tie in as closely to the main direction of the thematic elements that other episodes contribute to at this point. But the main reason why I want to at least mention it here is because SWEET  MOSES THEY MADE KUSAKA A CAPTAIN.

 

Er, I mean, for those of you reading who don’t know, this is Kohei Murakami, who played the secondary Rider, Kaixa, in Kamen Rider Faiz. This character associated with him is also infamous for being an un-repentantly awful person who antagonizes the main Rider for pretty much the entire series. Said antagonism on part of the character is one of the main reasons why I disliked the show overall – although from what I’ve seen elsewhere, the actor himself is a pretty cool guy who loves what he does.

It’s incredibly bizarre seeing him in a uniformly positive and heroic role, especially since Mebius aired very shortly after Faiz ended, so the actor looks almost exactly the same between both roles.

Funnily enough, this also gives the actor the equivalent Grand Slam of tokusatsu appearances, since in addition to acting in Ultraman and Kamen Rider, he also played a recurring supporting character in the most recently-finished Sentai, Zyuohger, and a Horror of the Week in Garo: Makai Senki.

Temporary freak-out on my part aside, the other episode that focuses on the organization of GUYS is the one that I’d like to end this article on before it gets too long.

I had some tough deliberation trying to figure out where to draw the line between this third article, and the fourth and final one, since all the themes build on each other so smoothly. I couldn’t just skip straight to the finale trilogy without including a big, honking “TO BE CONTINUED!” disclaimer at the bottom of this third article first. Similarly, I couldn’t separate the episodes based on thematic focus, since both the alien-invasion episodes and the Ultraman-cameo episodes tie together so closely in purpose. But then I realized that this particular episode that deals with Sakomizu’s backstory, and how he came to be Captain of the GUYS Japan team, is a perfect transition into the major thematic direction of the finale.

The general focus of Ultraman Mebius as a full series gradually expands outward from a personal starting point. We begin with the individual motivations, strengths and weaknesses of each of the GUYS Japan crew, as well as the flaws, failings and struggles of the Ultras that fight alongside them – Mebius, and later Tsurugi, who becomes Hikari through overcoming that challenge. Next is a move from the personal to the interpersonal as we see how those strengths and weaknesses connect to each other, uniting the crew and Mebius together as an unconventional family who can accept and trust each other despite those flaws. In this section of the show, that focus moves outward even further, out from the nucleus of the GUYS crew into examining humanity in general, and seeing the worth of their lives on this planet in light of its positive and negative aspects.

So where is there left to go?…

To the stars.

Turns out, Captain Sakomizu is older than anyone else in the main GUYS Japan crew realizes, he was a test pilot and astronaut during the early days of the SSSP (the defense force that fought alongside the original Ultraman!). His time testing an experimental sub-light-speed ship in the outermost reaches of the solar system has kept him young through a quirk of relativistic physics, but it also allowed him another unique perspective that he brought back with him to Earth.

I’m just going to go ahead and post most of this in screen-caps because it’s such a cool scene.

In this whole scene, we have the guiding principle for the GUYS organization in general, a principle exemplified by the team Mirai has gathered around himself. Humanity and Earth aren’t just a pet project to the various Ultras that have protected the planet. In us, they’ve found kin, and it’s that expectation, that example that they provide that has allowed humanity to come so far in the 40 years since the original Ultraman came to Earth. The true power that they represent is their light, the ideals they hold to, and that is a light that humanity is capable of reaching, with their protection in the meantime.

Even though Sakomizu is more than qualified to stand in a higher-level position than just Captain of this squad of weirdos,  he willingly took up the role after Serizawa’s death in the first episode. In that team of weirdos, he also sees a group of people who can live up to his ultimate hope and expectation. Through all the trials of the series up to this point, they’ve also come to share those ideals, and with my final article, we’ll see just how far that hope will take them.

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5 comments

  1. I mentioned this back on the twitter-verse, but the Leo/80 episodes are really outstanding from a continuity perspective.

    See, back when Leo aired, the Kaiju boom that started in the 50’s and that gave birth to Ultraman was dying out, so Leo and 80 were at the back end of the popularity of the franchise (remember, Leo and 80 aired five years apart). That, combined with other factors caused both shows to struggle, particularly in the budget department.

    This is important because during the 70’s Tsuburaya tried really hard to create a cohesive continuity for the Ultra franchise, so starting with Return of Ultraman (1971) it was common for the heroes of previous series to return to the currently airing one for a cameo or two. This had the added benefit of giving an epilogue to some of the series that had already finished.

    For example, at the end of Return of Ultraman (slight spoiler), the main hero, Hideki Go/Ultraman Jack leaves earth and returns to the Land of light. Then, 3 years later he reappears in Ultraman Leo, so you know that he has moved on and has continued fighting for peace in Space.

    Leo and 80 didn’t had that benefit since their series had “abrupt” endings and there were no Ultra series afterwards to continue the story, so once their series ended you never knew what really became of these characters.

    For the record, I think Ultraman Leo had one of the best finales ever in the history of ultra, but it is no secret that budget concerns affected the development of the final arc. Similarly, the whole teacher aspect in 80 was eventually dropped because of budget issues.

    This is what makes their cameo episodes in Mebius so magnificent; in the case of Leo, you can see how the naive Ootori Gen has come full circle and assumed a role similar to that of his own teacher, Ultraseven. In the case of 80, as you pointed out, you can see how his attempts at connecting with his students were not in vain.

    Basically, these two episodes gave closure to two series that had been somewhat abandoned due to real life circumstances.

    On last note on this already long comment.

    The episode with Alien Mates is actually a direct sequel to one episode of Return of Ultraman (if you haven’t noticed, I love that show). You probably know what happens in that episode thanks to this one, but I think is worth mentioning that Mebius did a wonderful Job of continuing that story; the original had more or less the same morale, though it was far simpler and a little bit brutal (the alien is killed by a mob), but having a sequel to it really exacerbates the feeling that the legacy of ultraman on earth has changed people for the better.

    Looking forward to the next (and final, I assume) article!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You know, if you want to add more Ultraman history details, I’d be happy to post them here on the site as their own articles. I really enjoy the extra background!

    Like

    • There a few things about Mebius worth talking about, but I haven’t fully watched the show in like, eight years, so my memory is a bit rusty.

      Here’s a tidbit that might be useful on your final article:

      On the mid-season climax, Mebius gained a new upgrade, Burning Brave mode. One of most remarkable attacks of this form is the Mebium Dynamite, an attack where he engulfs himself on fire and the runs towards his opponent and then explodes.

      You might already be aware of this, but the Mebium Dynamite is an attack he “inherited” from his mentor, Ultraman Taro. Back in the day, the Ultra Dynamite was one Taro’s trademark techniques, like the Storiom Ray.

      For the context of the show, the fact that he gained that attack is basically proof that he has reached the level of his mentor, which creates a neat parallel during the final arc of the show.

      See, the final villain of the show, Emperor Alien, had never appeared before onscreen but he has been part of the Ultra Lore since 1973… when he was mentioned as part of the backstory in Ultraman Taro, since the only one who had ever faced him was Ultraman Ken AKA Ultra Father AKA Taro’s Father.

      This actually creates a cool line of succession that basically culminates in Mebius; first, Emperor Alien was defeated by Ken, then many years later when he became Ultra father, he trained his son, Taro, as seen in the Ultraman Story Movie (1984), to defeat Juda Specter (another Ultra recurring villain, you will see him in Ultra Fight Orb). Finally, in Mebius, it was Taro’s student the one who could finally finish off the Emperor.

      You probably knew some of this, but it creates a real neat continuity mythos, kind of like how Seven trained Leo and years later Leo trained Zero, Seven’s son.

      Oh, and here’s another mythology tid bit that you probably don’t know since it involves the Hikari Saga, a Mebius side story.

      As you mentioned in this article, when Hikari returns to earth he must face an impostor, who turns out to be Alien Babalu.

      (Be warned, small Leo spoilers)

      Now, this whole story line is pretty much inspired by episodes 38 & 39 of Ultraman Leo, where Astra, Leo’s younger brother and the other survivor of the massacre of the Leo system, appears in the land of Light, steals the Ultra key and then escapes to earth while the Ultra Brothers give chase.

      Once on Earth, Leo enters in conflict with the Ultra brothers since he wants to protect his younger sibling, going as far as to defy his mentor, Ultraseven. Things escalate until Ultraman King appears and reveals that the Astra who stole the Ultra key was actually… Alien Babalu, a shape-shifter.

      This is important because if you watch the Hikari saga, you’ll know that the one who gave Hikari the Brave Brace was none other than Ultraman King himself. In fact, Hikari, Leo and Astra (and sometimes Zoffy) are the only characters that are regularly associated with King, a mythical figure even among the Ultramen (he is literally older than the land of light).

      Admittedly, the Hikari Saga in Mebius ends up in a different direction, but that is still an interesting connection.

      Okay, that is it.

      Sorry for the rambling. It’s hard to control myself sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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