Author’s Note – This is part 3 in a 4-part commentary series as I watch through Ultraman Nexus for the first time. If you haven’t read the other entries already, check them out here:
Nexus starts into its second half with a number of mysteries, and to recap they have a very well-done clip show episode that doesn’t FEEL like a clip show. This is mainly due to how it’s framed, as a debriefing session interrogating the main characters after the events of the first half. While it reviews things we’ve already seen, it adds a fresh perspective onto those events because the characters bring with them their own development to reflect newly onto those details of the plot. Komon’s grief has been replaced more with hope in the power of Ultraman and trust in his teammates, for example. We also get more insight into Nagi’s past (her parents were both killed in a Space Beast attack when she was a child). But most importantly we get some insight into the TLT itself and the mysteries they still hide.
Interestingly they set up an explicit connection here with a standalone Ultraman movie Next. Turns out that the events of that movie occurred five years before this series, and serve as a prologue to the current battle for the fate of the Earth. A sort of first contact event, if you will.
But at the end of this recap and reorientation, we’re sent in a new direction for the series. Before, the drama has been largely based around Komon’s character, how he comes to be initiated into this new world, and how the ideals he brings with him affect the others around him for the better. Now, however, with those ideals firmly established, the series produces a new focus for the drama and deepening mysteries around the nature of Nexus and its foes, as well as the TLT itself.
Speaking of deepening mysteries, say hello to Ren, the new host for Nexus. He’s got a lot of questions of his own.
There’s others floating around this section of the series too. Why are there still monsters appearing on Earth if Mephisto was destroyed?
What’s going on within the TLT itself? Who is sabotaging the organization and spying within it?
Put most of these questions to the back of your mind. Because, really, none of that matters.
What matters to the characters (and thus, to the audience as well) is that there are people who need protecting right now, and they are the only ones who have the power to do so.
Much like the initial arcs, this show keeps an emphasis on the virtue of hope during the darkest times, and as events become murky with the conspiracies and hidden threats that extend into this part, that becomes an increasingly important message. So, quite uniquely, this section of Nexus withdraws to a much more personal focus, and shifts its tone into something almost more like a slice-of-life relationship drama.
Take for example how Ren is introduced. He’s a carefree teenager working at an amusement park and living out of the staff quarters. Nobody knows where he came from, what his history is, or why he has an effortless knowledge of university-level cell biology. Or why he has inexplicable psychic powers, for that matter.
Komon stumbles across him by looking for the next host for Ultraman after getting their butts saved by the giant of light again, and the two kick off an unlikely friendship. Their duo is later joined by Mizuo, a young woman who works with the MP (memory police) for the TLT. Despite her hard job and hard orders from the Director to spy on Ren, they quickly develop mutual crushes on each other.
Why is she ordered to only report to the Director? How much do they know about Ren? Who is this other mysteriously hooded figure who follows him around? Again, there’s a lot of questions here, but the manipulations of the higher-ups within the organization don’t matter. What matters to all the characters are the people they are directly beholden to, the relationships they have developed, and the feelings they have for each other.
Ordinarily, this would be insufferable to sit through – I can count the number of “young love” stories that are well-done in toku shows on one hand, much less ones where the mysteries of the series are pushed aside in favor of developing that relationship drama. But the fact that this show does a good job of developing the characters and showing their simple humanity helps sell those relationships, and keeps the audience invested in the unfolding storyline amidst the conspiracies that underlie the events of Nexus.
The tighter focus on character relationships also brings with it a recurring thematic metaphor that shows up here – that of free will, and how the characters choose to protect what’s immediately obvious and within reach to them. There are two major ways that this theme is developed throughout this section of the series. One is rather explicit with Ren’s development and his connection to the other characters, but the other is with a surprising reprisal of a character I thought for sure was dead – Shinya Mizorogi.
First, let’s talk about Ren.
Ren’s an incredibly likable kid, and adds a bit of levity and optimism to the darker themes and atmosphere of Nexus.
It’s a welcome change of pace, but that outwardly sunny attitude covers a lot of suffering of his own. Of course, because this is still Nexus.
Turns out he’s the product of a genetic engineering project designed to create the next level of humanity But interestingly enough they never really portray this as a bad thing, the kids aren’t mistreated, the organization (the same one that runs the TLT) isn’t trying to take over the world. This isn’t Les Enfants Terribles. Except for being superhuman, genetically-engineered prodigies, the kids seem pretty happy and well-adjusted. Some of this perspective might also come from the source of this information – the “Illustrator” himself, Yu, who was another product of the program and a friend of Ren’s while they were growing up together.
This isolation from normal humanity only seems to strengthen Ren’s desire to help others and immerse himself in the small concerns of those around him. You’d never guess that he came from that sort of background with how easily he makes friends and enjoys company. But his contrast with Yu sets up the main theme of this section of Nexus explicitly.
Ren uses the metaphor of birds, not in the more traditional sense of wishing for the freedom to fly away from the obligations and expectations of the Prometheus program, but the ability to fly at all, over long distances, despite not knowing what the future brings.
It’s an interesting way to describe what I consider to be the main theme of Nexus – keeping hold of hope in the face of crushing darkness – but it applies it far more personally here.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of clichés wrapped into this storyline: the conflicted puppy love between Ren and Mizuo, the awkward friendship between him and Komon, and it turns out that on top of everything else, Ren is dying from a flaw in the genetic process that created him in the first place. But all the characters are grounded and well-rounded enough to make it enjoyable to see them have a few fleeting moments of happiness amid the continued fighting against monsters and concerns about the fate of the Earth.
Ren’s storyline is the main emphasis of this metaphor and makes up the most explicit framing for these arcs. But the other side of this thematic development comes from an unexpected source, Mizorogi. Turns out he didn’t die after the final showdown between Mephisto and Nexus in the last arc, but he did lose his memory entirely. On the run from the TLT for dark deeds that he can’t remember, he meets a girl who also is missing her memory after being caught within this larger conflict in the previous arc of episodes.
Remember when I mentioned that Komon met another family at the zoo, and they coincidentally had a daughter named Riko? Well, Mizorogi (under the control of Mephisto) abducted the family, killed the parents and replaced them with monsters, and used the children as hostages to drive Komon and the Night Raiders into further despair. We see the aftermath of that arc here, where her brother had all memory of the event wiped by the Memory Police, but something went wrong with Riko and she lost all memory of everything BEFORE the monster attack, even her own name and identity.
Now, in the wake of that apocalypse, both she and Mizorogi meet again, both on the run from shadows they don’t understand and a fear they can’t comprehend. But Riko recognizes that Komon and the Night Raiders were trying to protect her, even if she remembers getting hurt in the encounter accidentally, and Mizorogi recognizes the value of the innocent life in front of him and the need to protect it. No longer being used himself by the dark power Mephisto represents, the same concern that led him to throw himself into an encounter with the unknown to save Nagi before he fell to the darkness, leads him to also feel responsible for Riko’s protection as well.
It’s when it seems like the story is headed for a real redemption – Komon and the others recognize that Mizorogi has changed and offer him a chance to make up for his mistakes – that the mysterious dark power behind everything makes its move. It possesses another agent within the TLT and uses him to summon the power of Mephisto again.
But even though Mizorogi gains his memories back from the encounter, even though he knows all the sins he’s committed, he still devotes himself to protecting what is in front of him. This time, fighting to help Ultraman against the same darkness that once controlled him.
I’ve been fairly dry and analytical in my writing about Nexus, not because I’m not invested in the story or the characters, but because the show deals with seriously weighty themes, so flippancy doesn’t seem to compliment that tone as well.
But holy hell this sequence is amazing!
Amazingly tragic too, Mizorogi’s final redemption earns him a good death, but also a newly bereaved Nagi, as she’s left without closure from revenge yet again.
He also leaves behind further warning that confirms what we’ve seen built up through this whole section – the dark power that once controlled him is still around and is manipulating events from within the TLT. Just as his original defeat as Mephisto didn’t stop it for good, their defeat of the second Mephisto is only a temporary setback for the “Unknown Hand”, and now they’ll have to fear further betrayals from within the organization that sponsors them.
If this seems like a shorter article, it’s because this section of the show is remarkably straightforward. As the Director succinctly puts it, there’s a lot going on in terms of plots, mysteries and conspiracies, but none of it matters all that much in the face of the indomitable courage that the main characters show.
They can be trusted to do the right thing, and while the TLT tries to use that to manipulate them into achieving their own objectives, at the end of the day, lives are saved, and that’s why everyone fights to begin with. It’s why Komon stuck with the Night Raiders in the first half of the show despite the dire conflicts he found himself entangled in, it’s why the others on the team rallied around him and Ultraman despite their own doubts.
They may be forced to make hard decisions, or even sacrifice their own happiness (or lives), but their flight is fixed due north, just like the birds in Ren’s metaphor. Now they must rely on each other to give them the strength and courage to continue on to their final destination.
Just what that final destination IS though, has yet to be revealed…