Ultraman Nexus – Singularity

Introduction:

When you hear the word “Singularity”, it’s usually used in one of two contexts:

  1. Black holes
  2. Trans-humanist nerds who want to sound smart

The word actually predates both usages, and is traditionally related to mathematics. Simply put, it refers to a mathematical “object” that cannot be defined. The example most commonly used is the function (y) = 1/x , at the point where x=0, where it would equal 1/0, which is a mathematical impossibility for various reasons I won’t get into here.

In more general terms, a “singularity” refers to a point, past which the typical assumptions and rules that the universe operates under no longer apply. The usual structure of mathematics that holds true everywhere else cannot be used to define 1/0. The traditional laws of physics that we use to predict the behavior of matter and energy in the universe cannot predict what happens past a black hole’s event horizon.

A singularity represents a sort of “black box” into which information can enter, but what goes on within that boundary is unknowable. More than that, any information that could come out of it regarding its own nature would be incomprehensible to us, since it could not fit into the typical scaffolding and schema that we use to interpret that information.

So what does all this have to do with Ultraman?

Nexus is characterized by larger themes of truth vs. fiction, and reality vs. illusion. The characters operate past a singularity, beyond which their understanding of reality must shift in order to accommodate the events that happen in their new world. Similarly, they are left isolated from the “normal” world because the same information and experiences cannot be communicated to others without shattering the preconceived notions and assumptions that normal society necessarily operates under.

In a sense, this first segment of the show is almost Lovecraftian in tone with how it deals with the giant monsters and the existence of Nexus himself. The operational parameters through which the main character understands civilization, human nature, and humanity’s place in the universe are shown to be false. In response, all the characters must then figure out how to cope with a seemingly-uncaring universe that beats them down, as they find themselves caught in the midst of a conflict between two powers beyond human comprehension or scale.

Nexus predates Mebius, but forms an interesting contrast to the show because its tone is so starkly opposed to its successor. (Hit the “Ultraman” tag at the bottom of the article if you’d like to check out my thoughts on Mebius itself to compare.)

Mebius is characterized by a focus on the importance of teamwork, teamwork enabled by the fact that that humanity is basically good. The characters all achieve great things in the show by recognizing that good nature in others (humans and aliens) in order to unite and fight together. The GUYS team was driven by the ideals held by those who defended the Earth alongside the original Ultraman, and those ideals in turn guide it into the present and beyond. Through this hope for the future, it looks forward and moves forward, spiraling outwards through the course of the show.

Nexus, in contrast, is much darker in tone, as I’ve mentioned. Instead of an open, publicly-operated defense force, the Night Raiders and the global conspiracy around the organization that supports them, the TLT, is – well – conspiratorial, secretive and brutal at times. Its primary mission is to uphold peace and security at all costs, even the cost of individual lives.

This difference in mission and emphasis is also marked by aesthetic differences. The GUYS squad is associated with bright yellows and oranges in the design of their uniforms, and the style of their base and the scenes within it. Their mission control is brightly-lit, and almost made cozy by the presence of the small personal touches the team members bring with them, like Sakomizu’s coffee beans or Teppai’s action figures.

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In contrast, the Night Raiders’ uniforms are deep blues and blacks with intimidating weaponry, and events that have the team operating largely under the dark cover of night. Similarly, their base is dark, and hidden beneath the waters of a reservoir. The interior shots feature huge, empty hangars, rooms with high ceilings, chain-link fences, bare lighting, and equally barren concrete floors and walls.

Characters

Into this Brutalism-inspired backdrop, our protagonist, Komon, is thrown. In the early episodes, he finds himself shanghaied against his will by the Freeze Roidmude Director Matsunaga, in charge of their division. Now recruited into the Night Raiders crew, he’s sent through grueling training, and belittled and demeaned by his teammates.

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He puts up with all of it because as he says, he wants to save people and feels he can do so with this job. But “saving people” according to the Night Raiders’ directives requires multiple sacrifices, sometimes even letting people be abused or left to die.

Komon questions why he was selected for the team, but even if it’s not explicitly stated in-universe, for the purposes of the story and its major themes, he acts as its conscience. He’s consistently the only one to believe in Ultraman and is willing to trust him to fight for humanity, even against orders. He shares a closer connection to the figure due to multiple encounters, whether it’s having his life saved by Nexus multiple times, or from accidentally getting a glimpse of the past of Nexus’ human side, Jun Himeya.

More generally, he shares an empathy with Ultraman that the other characters do not have. It’s a quality that the team members appear to lack as a general function of serving as the militant arm of a giant bureaucracy meant to hide its actions from accountability. Because of this conflict, Komon is often asked to perform actions, or allow actions to happen, which compromise his desire to save everyone and his faith in the good nature and intentions of Ultraman.

Throughout the course of the show, Komon, even though he is not Ultraman himself, provides the major viewpoint through which we see the Night Raiders developed, and experience the conflict that they become embroiled in. He provides narration bookends for most episodes, mostly referring to the recurring themes of accepting reality vs. living in comfortable illusions.

They’re purposely vague and questioning, and initially irritated me because they came off as a freshman undergraduate trying to sound deep after taking their first 100-level Intro to Philosophy course. But they do tie closely to the themes of the show, and we see those same themes developed in a consistent and thoughtful manner. Most specifically in regards to Komon’s relationship with his somewhat-long-distance-girlfriend, Riko.

The scenes with Riko themselves seem dreamlike, either an oasis of honest reality amidst the lies and manipulation that come with his job, or a happy illusion that Komon uses to escape from the brutal reality of the world of monster attacks and mass human casualties.

Komon’s dates with Riko at the zoo, where they make small talk and she draws cute pictures of animal families, provide context and motivation for Komon’s struggles within his new position, but also show the tenuous peace that is only possible when the monsters are hidden away. It is what he ultimately fights to protect, but is no longer able to engage in himself because of that fight. Ironically enough, while standing at a contrast to other Ultraman shows I’ve seen, this is a paradox that is downright endemic to Kamen Rider narratives instead.

Also in direct contrast to Komon’s idealism is Lt. Captain Nagi Saijyo, his immediate supervisor who is hardened, violent, and distrustful of everyone around her – especially Ultraman.

 

(Also – fun fact – portrayed by the same actress who plays Jabi, a major recurring character in the Garo franchise.)

She begins to soften a little by the point where I left off in the show, but her past experiences define her actions within this section of the series. The fear generated by her childhood trauma stays with her through every monster encounter in the present day.

This emotional response provides the framework for her logic of prioritizing the destruction of Ultraman and all other “beasts” above everything else. Even though she claims to be the rational, reasonable one compared to Komon’s faith in Nexus.

 

The other Night Raiders don’t need much introduction. There’s the cheerful weapons nut, Shiori, the boring data-crunching guy, Ishiboshi, and the firm-but-fair Captain Wakura. Wakura is a bit more of a developed character, who simultaneously chastises Komon for his naïve spirit, while also encouraging him to grow stronger in order to be able to protect those ideals. He’s clearly conflicted by his position, but is also devoted to his duty, and to keeping those under his command safe.

In Mebius, all the characters of the GUYS squad were newcomers, so their roles within the team were functions of their characterizations established in various focus episodes. Here, with an already-established team, it’s reversed. Their characters are extensions of what they do within the organization. They are introduced by roles first, and we infer the characterization later by how they interact with Komon and fight the monsters.

The organization that sponsors the Night Raiders, the Terrestrial Liberation Trust, or TLT, has multiple other shady levels as well. A mission control dude only referred to as the “Illustrator” who is even more mysterious and is hinted to have a special psychic connection to the “beasts” they fight

His enigmatic direction usually keeps the Night Raiders alive, and provides ways to defeat the monsters, but like every other mission directive in this organization, often provides that success at the cost of other lives. He even directs them to turn weapons on Nexus at times, simply out of distrust, a calculated test to judge his intentions, which adds handicaps to already-brutal fights.

There’s also the “Memory Police” who function like Men In Black – erasing memories of survivors and covering up not just the evidence of monster attacks, but the government’s response to those attacks as well.


At first, I was indignant alongside Komon about the MP’s methods, but the lady who runs it, Chief Shuto, is fully aware of the severe steps she is taking. Despite it, she believes that forcibly erasing parts of people’s lives is preferable to living with the knowledge of monsters and the horror of their attacks on the civilians. She has a point though, when she shows Komon the awful state that some people are left in after monsters destroy their lives, and they find themselves broken by the trauma.

She’s right that they have the power to help alleviate that suffering by taking away the cause of the trauma in the first place – those memories. My main issue is the fact that the decision of how to use that awful power to erase the truth is put into the hands of a cold, efficient, faceless bureaucracy that has already shown itself to be willing to go to extreme lengths to hide its existence and remove accountability. It makes it too easy to abuse that power, and, as we’ll see in the next article, that temptation attracts certain kinds of individuals to that power.

In what seems like a contradiction to her duties though, she also points Komon to the truth of his girlfriend, Riko.

Her tip shows him that instead of the happy, perfectly ideal home life he had imagined her living in, her actual life away from the zoo where they meet is dark, tortured and painful. Does the MP chief hold other ideals that can sometimes pre-empt her primary service of withholding knowledge from others? Or does she wish to teach Komon a lesson about the pain people hide, and how everyone paints illusions and masks over their trauma?

That ambiguity is characteristic of this show in general. Ordinarily I’d call it wishy-washy or relativistic (and if there’s one thing I hate it’s moral relativism), but here I think it’s appropriate that the answer might just be “all of the above”. Individuals are complicated, after all, and we see multiple sides to all the major players in this show, their vulnerabilities as well as the strengths that they use to move past those shortcomings.

Despite what I’ve said so far about the team and the organization, none of these individuals are truly evil, even though they may justify evil actions in the course of their duties. They’re all real people, and struggle with the questions Komon continually revisits.

Even though their job requires a sort of callousness, they haven’t been deadened entirely to the toll it takes on others, and still make an attempt to minimize casualties. But, still, they admit that sometimes it’s impossible to save everyone.

This contrast between the idealism of the main protagonist and the organization that recruited him isn’t the only contrast between Nexus and its succeeding series, Mebius. Ultraman Nexus himself is a stark counterpoint as well. Mebius was Mirai Hibino as his human disguise, but his character never changed regardless of the face he showed. Nexus’ host is Jun Himeya, but while he has taken on that role willingly (kind of), the actual nature of the power granted to him remains mysterious.


Jun himself was a mundane photographer who sought to fight injustice by exposing it with his work. When an orphan he was caring for dies in a war zone, his published photos from the event made him famous, but becomes so disillusioned that he withdraws from his career as a photographer entirely. In this depression, Nexus calls him to be its host for an as-yet unknown reason.

Given how other Ultras generally work with human hosts though, mostly likely just in recognition of his continued desire for justice and to protect others, even though his perceived failure left him with something of a death wish.

Now, even with the power to protect others in a way he couldn’t as an ordinary human, Jun is still unsure as to Nexus’ reason for using him. This uncertainty is not helped either by getting the snot beat out of him by murderous space beasts, dark shadows of his own power, or an unappreciative and paranoid crew of humans that he seeks to protect regardless. Sometimes in these fights, he gets the snot beat out of him by all three at the same time. 

Being an Ultraman kind of sucks in this series.

The Story

The episodes in Nexus generally connect together to smoothly develop the mysteries around the show, the characterization of the main players, and the major recurring themes. This is another difference from Mebius, which, while consistently adding to the setting and characters, featured much more self-contained, episodic plots in comparison.

This smooth development happens at a smoldering pace though, only leaving breadcrumbs as clues to the main mysteries behind the events of the series in the first episodes. Instead, it starts out focusing mainly on how Komon adapts to accept the new world he’s been initiated into, and his attempts to impose his deeply-held ideals onto it despite being repeatedly beaten down as a result. Nagi is a major player in beating him down (literally, at times), as any ideals she had once held herself are broken by this point in her life. First as a child with an encounter with a monster, then again when a mysteriously-hinted-at teammate somehow betrayed the team, leaving her as his protege and successor.

She fights against Komon, berates him for his mistakes and uncertainty in facing the monsters, and his willingness to ignore orders that require him to prioritize killing monsters above saving individual lives.

When his attempts to put those ideals above the mission directives at hand end with severe consequences, we see him go through multiple crises, doubting his own ability and his place on the team as a result. But each time he finds new motivation to rejoin the fight. As I said above, in this part of the show, that motivation often comes from revisiting his girlfriend, Riko, and being reminded of the peaceful idyll that he seeks to protect with his new position.

However, eventually through this segment of the show, that idyll is revealed to be -you guessed it – an illusion.

Understatement of the year right here. 

The slow reveal of something Not Right with his girlfriend is incredibly well-crafted. At first we are led to just believe she is a random victim of a monster attack in an episode, but then her involvement becomes deeper and the illusions, the assumptions we’ve made about her life come apart under pressure. Small clues, memory loss, odd behaviors, all add up to create a tense atmosphere where we fear for her and her relationship with Komon, something that has remained an anchor to keep him from being lost in the shadows of his new reality.

But Riko’s life is filled with shadows as well.

I’ve had nightmares like this, where I arrive home terrified by a monster that has been chasing me, and find things seemingly perfectly warm and happy among familiar surroundings. But then those surroundings prove to be another trap, before I wake up. This show hits uncomfortably close to home as a result, and also from another monster of the week that I’ll deal with in the next article.

“Shadows” are another recurring theme in this show. The evil “Ultraman”, Faust, describes himself as Nexus’ “Shadow”, and seeks only to fight and prevail over him, hijacking monster fights to do so.

We also see a dark reflection of the Night Raiders – yes, for as shady as they are, they still nominally retain a selfless motivation to protect the world.

Shinya Mizorogi was the former Lt. Captain before Nagi, but he disappeared from an operation under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, he is revealed to be the main antagonist, manipulating the events up to this point. He most specifically serves as a shadow to Nagi, since it’s implied that they have a history together. We see how they exchanged dog tags sometime in the past with the hope of reuniting later. Now when they do encounter each other again in the present, he tries to tempt her to join him with the power he now wields.

Similarly, he taunts Komon with what is simultaneously Komon’s own strength and motivation, and his weakness – his relationship with Riko.

Riko is eventually revealed to be an illusion herself, reanimated after Mizorogi orchestrated her death and the deaths of her family six months earlier.

The reason why?

She had just met Komon at the zoo for the first time, arranged a date, and Mizorogi somehow, preternaturally, knew that Komon would eventually become part of the Night Raiders team. She was a prop, a tool, created as a “marionette” to serve as a host to Faust, in an attempt to drive others into despair.

There are lots of toku villains that use “causing despair” as a motivation or end goal, but I can think of very few others who are as adept at manipulating it as Mizorogi in this show. Hell, it drove me into absolute despair.

There are times when I read, or watch something particularly soul-crushing in a story, that causes me to close the book, or pause the video, and just stare at the wall for a few minutes. That’s what happened here when they reveal Riko’s purpose in trying to destroy both Komon and Ultraman Nexus.

Overall, this first arc deals with testing Komon’s idealism, showing the consequences of holding to it, and forcing him to redefine what he means by “saving people”. Remember, the recurring theme of this show involves “reality vs. illusion”. At first we’re to take Komon’s ideals as the illusion that must be broken, and in some ways, they are. But it’s also the irrational, idealistic love that he shares for Riko that winds up redeeming her as the host for Faust, and allows them to defeat the monster that threatens them.

Even then, despite being freed from Faust’s control – and control from Mizorogi as well – she still dies in the process of protecting Komon.

Just because these ideals are powerful and can accomplish great things, they don’t make everything perfectly happy. That material perfection of happiness is, in fact, an illusion used by the villains to control others.

The main idea that Nexus, the series, seems to convey is that while these ideals may not always match what we see as “reality”, they are also very real and powerful themselves, and can give the characters the strength to overcome the cruelty of the world around. We also see this developed with Jun’s backstory, how he started with ideals of saving the world and revealing the truth with his photographs, but that dream was destroyed first in his home country, then in the foreign war that he found himself embroiled in. Now, even though it hurts him to hold to those ideals – protecting people, defeating evil – he’s still driven to chase after them, and still finds a way to make a difference by working to live up to them.

Nexus starts with Komon entering a singularity where his previous assumptions of the world no longer fit, and can no longer model the events that he participates in. But instead of breaking him, it forces him to discover the actual truth of the world. That truth is not the fate of bleak hopelessness in serving as an unthinking or unfeeling soldier, or the plaything of Mizorogi’s games. While those dilemmas and threats may exist, and must be dealt with, they are not the sole end  to his existence, and he can still find the strength to help others even in these darkest moments.

Mizorogi himself makes use of illusions to manipulate others – putting fuel on the fire that allows their fear and hatred to burn hotter and overwhelm them. But what allows these characters to cut through those illusions to fight back are the positive ideals they discover. The consequences that Komon and the other characters face for holding to these ideals are dangerous and very real. But understanding the value of human life, the importance of selfless sacrifice to protect it, and the determination to not give in when tempted with easy ways to escape from pain or fear, is what breaks the shadows that Mizorogi casts. In doing so, it allows those characters, most specifically Komon and Nagi, to keep moving forward and create some good in a world that seems intent on destroying them.

Everything Else


The OP theme is one of the best I’ve heard and it’s gotten stuck in my head for days at a time. It’s pretty much the Platonic Ideal of early-00’s butt rock and I love it so much. 

Overall, I think Mebius is the stronger series in terms of design and fight choreography. This is largely due to the smaller variety in monsters used in Nexus. Mebius would run through a new one per episode, but Nexus will fight the same monster over the course of multiple episodes, and within an equally limited miniature backdrop. While these monster suits are lovingly-detailed and impressive in their complexity, the variety of fights suffers a bit as compared to Mebius’ action sequences.

Also because of the ability of GUYS to operate openly, they encounter a wider variety of challenges and missions in Mebius. This makes the team feel more like a part of a globally-established organization. Paradoxically, even though the Night Raiders are also part of a massive, international operation that by necessity must have a huge infrastructure and reach, the conspiratorial and clandestine nature of that operation means that the scope of the show feels more tightly confined. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different.

Another contrast is in how the main themes are developed between the two shows. Mebius is very straightforward. The characters are open and honest with their motivations and emotions, which reflects back again on the brighter, more open aesthetic style and thematic emphasis of the show in other aspects. Nexus, dealing with shadows and obfuscation of the truth, uses murkier character aspects, and purposely understates some aspects of development rather than having characters discuss honestly how they feel. This doesn’t slide into Faiz-style misunderstandings (thank God), but rather requires the audience to infer characterization through actions and unstated or withheld information.

Another unique aspect of Nexus’ style is its penchant for echoes within its script. In developing the concept of shadows even further, we see shadows cast from certain lines, or certain framed shots within the events of the show. We hear it in the constant reprisal of the metaphors of dreams and reality, light and darkness, as you can tell from the screenshots I’ve posted throughout this article.

Maybe it would better be described as ripples within a pond, bouncing back and forth and spreading through the various characters and elements within the series.

Or maybe I’m just reaching for poetic metaphors at one o’clock in the morning and this is just a consequence of reading too much into a translation job that uses a limited variety of vocabulary or phrasing. Who knows!

In conclusion, the tone throughout this show is very reminiscent of what I’ve seen of early-Heisei period Kamen Rider shows, such as Kuuga, Agito or Blade. (Fittingly so, considering it aired the same year as Blade itself!) All of those mentioned series start on a slow burn with many mysteries that take time to be revealed, but become engrossing the deeper you get into said mysteries. Mebius was exciting right off the bat because it wastes no time in plowing straight into significant character development within the team, even if the plot itself takes a half dozen episodes to connect together. Nexus’ character development happens slower as a result of its tighter focus on a smaller number of characters, but the depth to which the aspects of those characters are tied together is truly impressive.

It’s been a fascinating ride so far into the first major conflicts and plot twists of this show, and I’m excited to continue watching to see where else it goes from here.

And fully prepared this time to have my heart broken into tiny bits by the absolute suffering all the characters get put through. I wasn’t ready at first.

Be warned of this fact if you wish to experience Nexus for yourself. (You really should though.)

 

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2 comments

  1. It is very hard to comment on Nexus since the show has such an intricate plot and lore that talking about it would require spoiling the back end of the show, especially since there are a lot of things about the plot that change quite a lot in retrospective.

    That said, you pretty much hit the nail in the head with this line:

    “The main idea that Nexus, the series, seems to convey is that while these ideals may not always match what we see as ‘reality’, they are also very real and powerful themselves”

    Generally speaking, like any other Ultra Nexus is pretty much about Hope, but the setting of the show does seemed designed to state that reality is not a wonderful place free of worries, but that doesn’t mean that Hope is meaningless.

    This actually carries into a certain “twist” we see in the final episode that I won’t spoil, but I will say that it touches into some of the issues you mentioned with the Memory Police.

    Oh, and before I forget, about the character of Shiori; there is a “lost episode” that didn’t air but was released with the DVD that greatly expands on her character background. I wouldn’t say its fundamental but it does add to the Nexus experience. I am not sure if it was released by Crunchy though (also, ep 29 has a director cut).

    Finally, there is one more thing you mentioned here that doesn’t seem to make much sense now, but once you reach a certain point it will pretty much change your understanding of certain characters dynamics you covered.

    That said, I think I’ll wait until you reach that point to comment on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m past episode 29 now, and don’t remember anything about Shiori’s backstory in it, so I’m guessing I’ll need to look it up separately, off of Crunchyroll. Thanks for the heads-up though.

      Like

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