Ultraman Geed #1 – Absolute Power

After several weeks of anticipation, Tsubaraya productions and Crunchyroll both announced (with only a few hours to spare before it aired on TV in Japan) that the latest Ultraman series, Ultraman Geed, would be streamed on the service with English subs. Cue much rejoicing from the English fandom, and a dozen live-tweet threads excitedly ogling the first episode when it went up on Friday. I was one of them, and to be quite honest, my Twitter timeline and other social media feeds have been largely dominated by Ultraman all week.

I get excited, I can’t help it.

But as you may have picked up from my previous Ultraman posts, I’m relatively new to the franchise despite my enthusiasm for it. Thanks to Crunchy’s streaming service, I watched Ultraman X and Orb as they aired in 2015 and 2016, but this was before I really “got” the franchise and wasn’t invested much at all in the overarching lore and history. Watching Ultraseven and Mebius changed that, and I then went on to go watch Nexus, and many of the side movies and shorter miniseries that aired in the last decade or so. Given all that, I was really excited when Geed was announced because in addition to involving a fun-looking cast and a cool visual style, it’s also far more lore-heavy in its plot than either X or Orb.

Like with many other shows, Ultraman Geed had promotional features and previews that led up to its release, and Crunchyroll actually put up the most central one as “Episode 0”. This preview does a good job of running down the necessary backstory for the events and characters of Geed, so I’d recommend watching it alongside the “real” Episode 1 if you’re new to the franchise itself, or not familiar with the specific parts of its continuity that are relevant here. However, I wanted to write my own summary to start off this series of weekly posts, because the conflict central to this latest series brings to light a long-running rivalry between two other Ultraman characters, a rivalry that has some very interesting thematic material that will almost certainly factor into our main hero’s development.

The Ultraman franchise hits some unique notes when it leaves Earth behind almost entirely and goes full-powered Space Opera with its setting and characters, which is how both Zero and Belial were introduced. If you’re interested in watching Geed itself, and haven’t done so, I would highly recommend watching the three main stories that the Episode 0 preview deals with here – Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends first (in addition to laying a good chunk of Ultra-related lore, it also shares a director with Geed – Koichi Sakamoto), then Ultraman Zero: Revenge of Belial, and finally Ultra Zero Fight. All three movies (well, more specifically, Ultra Zero Fight is a two-part miniseries) are only available through fan-subs, unfortunately.

Being an English-speaking fan of the franchise means long-suffering waits for side material that never gets officially distributed and making due with hacked-together bootlegged subs. Not to mention the numerous “main” series that are still tied up in distribution rights, preventing official subs from making their way here (DYNA SUBS WHEN) This is why we were holding our breaths waiting for the announcement from Crunchyroll this week, to allow greater accessibility to the next series in line. Despite all of that hassle, the movies I mention are very much worth the trouble to track down, as they’re all fun, entertaining bits of superhero fantasy with some fantastic characters.

So that’s enough me trying to shamelessly promote this franchise (seriously go watch this stuff, it’s great), let’s get down to brass tacks about the actual history of Geed.


”Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Both Zero and Belial are set up as plainly obvious foils to each other. Both have similar origins, in that they each tried to claim the power of the Plasma Spark for themselves, the source of the light that gives all the Ultras their incredible powers. But they also both wind up in very different places, not just from quirks of circumstance, but also how they approach those circumstances differently.

Belial first attempted to take the Plasma Spark, only to be thrown out into exile for such a transgression. It’s implied that his background is very Sinestro-ish before this point, shown in side material that he wanted to enforce justice on the universe around him and saw himself as the only arbiter of such, which leads to some very brutal justice in practicality. Seeking more strength, he went after the Plasma Spark, but when cast out by the other Ultras, he found more power than he could’ve bargained for, and was corrupted by the power of Reiblood. An ancient overlord that once ruled the galaxy with his absolute control over alien kaiju, he eventually died, but his influence still exists. Reiblood sought to corrupt members of other alien races to revive that power and rule the galaxy again. When Belial was exiled out from the homeworld of the Ultras because of his own pride, and away from the light that gives them strength in the first place, he fell prey to that corrupting power and became the monstrously evil villain everyone knows today.

Yeah, he’s also a pretty obvious metaphor for Lucifer too. As I pointed out in Nexus, this franchise is not shy at all when it comes to borrowing elements of Judeo-Christian symbology.

Then we have Zero, the son of Ultraseven, who was overly cocky and ambitious with his power as well. But aside from nepotism, what saved him after he also tried to take the Plasma Spark is the fact that he was essentially a bratty teenager by Ultra standards. Instead of simply being tossed out to fend for himself, he was exiled with the intention of being taught better by Ultraman Leo, who also was trained by Seven. Zero proved himself worthy to leave his training behind and be accepted as an Ultraman again when he began to see the purpose of power as to protect those without it. This is made apparent during a fight, where he throws himself to protect a tiny little Pigmon alien. (Zero’s weakness for cute squeaky things to protect is also a recurring aspect of his character).

In other words, what sets them apart at the beginning is a classic dichotomy of deadly sin vs. primary virtue – pride vs. humility. The Ultras learned their mistake after casting out Belial to his fate, and Zero learned to use his own power to help others rather than simply fighting for his own sake. If they didn’t learn those lessons, then we’d be discussing a very different series of events in this franchise right now.

Over their various encounters following the Ultra Galaxy Legends movie, we see how Zero and Belial continually gather more power to fight and defeat the other. Both are stupidly powerful compared to even other Ultras, and gain more stupidly overpowered sources of strength in each new story. However, Zero gains them through the bonds he makes with others rather than solely through his own conquests and merits. That happens LITERALLY in the case of the Revenge of Belial movie where he gets a power-up through the same source of light that gave rise to Nexus

– oh crap wait no that’s spoilers for an article I haven’t written yet. YOU DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING.

Later in the movie Ultraman Saga, Zero also gains one of the most powerful upgrade forms we’ve seen in the franchise by combining his own power with two other Ultras – Cosmos and Dyna. That power from the other Ultras sticks with him as we see in Ultra Zero Fight, which also coalesces with the Noa Nexus power he was gifted previously to create his “Shining” form, an upgrade so powerful it lets him literally reverse time to bring people back from the dead. (Accidentally including Belial, which brings us to our current problem in Geed).

What makes the Ultra Zero Fight special so unique in Zero’s own development is that it’s the first time we see him actually scared of his own power. This is the most recent story that deals with both Belial and Zero before Geed started airing, so it’s really the most direct lead-in to the current storyline. But at this point, Zero recognizes the parallels between himself and Belial more significantly.

Belial attracts more power to himself, but as is common with any toku series, the main difference between the hero and the villain’s power, is that power used for positive ideals attracts allies and friends, which then multiplies that strength far more than any of them could reach on their own. Villains do not make friends or allies, they conquer and subjugate and consume – which is exactly Belial’s mode of operation.

He raises an army of kaiju monsters, conquers an alternate dimension, and even tries to hijack Zero’s own body for his own use in an attempt to resurrect himself with even greater power after his defeat in the Revenge of Belial movie. (There’s a reason why we jokingly refer to him as “Bad Touch Belial” in the fandom.) We can see this distinction more obviously in how Belial gains increasingly monstrous forms as he increases in power during the final fights in each story, but Zero’s forms are pure expressions of the typical Ultra design motifs, all silver and light.

All the Ultras represent awe-inspiring power, but what separates Belial from the others of his kind is how he’s chosen to use it.

And so now we’re up to speed for our current storyline, with Geed.

Important note here, given the fact that all the Ultras are gathered to fight, and Zero is usually the only one who can hop between different worlds within the wider multiverse of the setting – this is actually the main continuity Earth that gets straight-up nuked. (By “main continuity”, I mean taking place in the same timeline and universe as the classic Ultraman series and Mebius.)

Hell of a way to start the series.

But what’s implied here in the OP sequence is that Ultraman King stitches the universe back together somehow.

Now, this is pretty excessively powerful, even for an Ultra that’s so old that he’s pretty much a minor god, so I strongly suspect that things haven’t been put back together perfectly, or there are some other caveats hidden within this event that we aren’t aware of yet. Going forward from this pilot then, uncovering the mysteries around the series will most likely involve what actually happened to repair the Earth and how it impacts the other characters.

Anyways, our story picks up from there in the more-or-less present day. Say hello to our main protagonist, Riku, and his Pegassa best buddy, Pega.

Riku’s definitely not normal, in between being an orphan with unknown parentage and also having abilities way beyond normal human limits. The actual reason for this has been stated multiple times in promotional materials – in fact it’s one of the first things we learned about the series when it was announced – so it shouldn’t come as much as a spoiler that he’s called the “son” of Belial. In other words, somehow when the universe got stitched back together, he wound up as an inheritor of the same power that Belial possessed. Traces of that “Crisis Impact” are still in this continuity, not just in Riku’s power, but also in memory and legend of giant monsters that attacked the world six years ago, and rumors of Ultraman who fought back against both the kaiju and Belial himself.

Riku’s not the only one with a connection to Belial though, we also see Kei, an unknown man (with horrible fashion sense, seriously, Juggler would be ashamed of you) who also has the same ability Riku has, to take the “Riser” and fuse the powers of monsters together to rampage.

There are a couple visual clues as to their connection, one of which is extremely obvious if you’re watching. Kei’s own transformation shows Belial fusing with the Kaiju powers.

Riku’s is a bit more subtle, and something that you’re probably not going to pick up on if you’re new to the franchise. First, REM, the computer system that finds Riku and provides him with his equipment to turn into Ultraman, states that the Riser will let him return to his “original form”. But the base suit that he fights in, called “Geed Primitive” isn’t this original form at all.

This is.

IMG_4359

 

It’s brief, but you can certainly see a suit that is not his Primitive design during this transformation. Instead, that’s what Belial himself looked like before his exile and corruption.

I’ve seen some speculation that this series is setting up to be Belial’s redemption of sorts – pitting his original uncorrupted power against his fallen self and seeing which one comes out victorious. Riku’s challenge then is taking this power and choosing to be a hero rather than falling prey to the same temptations.

 

We see this touched on a bit in his stated motivations – Riku is a fan of superheroes and wishes he had that same power to help others. This desire becomes even stronger when a giant monster attacks. He willingly picks up the Riser with no second thoughts, eager to use this power to fight and prevail over it, and seeing himself as the only one who can do so.

His catchphrase speaks to that motivation, but is also void of morality on its face – doing something doesn’t necessarily mean that what one is doing is right.

I hope he can keep that “go-get-em” attitude oriented in the right direction as the series continues, because this struggle is just brimming with potential for high-octane suffering as his desire to save others will be continually tested.

As if you weren’t getting enough of that weekly with Ex-Aid already.

……Actually, that brings up an interesting point. Riku’s main role model is from a show-within-a-show that deliberately parodies the style of 70’s Kamen Rider. It’s where he borrows part of his transformation catchphrase from, even.

Riku himself takes a power that is used by a supremely evil force trying to take over the universe and now must use it to fight back to protect others. That’s pretty much the main consistent theme that all Kamen Rider shows have had in common since their inception.

Okay, that’s enough conspiracy crafting around Geed’s main plot for now. We’re only one episode in and there’s plenty of other characters and events to happen that will hopefully bring the details behind this conflict more into focus. Let’s discuss a few other points of the first episode.

First of all, SWEET KING JOE THIS SHOW IS SO PRETTY.

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Look at this setting with the detailed model work for the city!

Look at this night fight!

Geed drop kick

LOOK AT ALL THESE FRICKING LASERS!

Geed Wrecker Beam
GIF credit – @ApolloGeese

The soundtrack also does yeoman’s work in lending a unique atmosphere to Riku’s first fight as Geed. If you’ll remember Mebius’ first entrance in his own series, he appeared with no backing theme at first. Dropping in to dead silence as the city held its breath, before breaking into cheers and a triumphant main fanfare, it represents a happy return of a cherished heroic figure. Riku, on the other hand, does not get this kind of reception. Instead, the silence continues after he appears, and the onlooking civilians react with fear at his arrival. This is coupled with the backing music, a brassy, minor-pitched track that is more apt to herald a villain than an Ultraman hero.

Even when he succeeds at defeating Skull Gomora, the monstrous kaiju fusion that Kei summoned, the city is in ruins and the only people left who cheer his victory are the children who don’t understand the consequences of the destruction around them.

It’s a really powerful scene, managing to both be an engaging fight that shows off Riku’s conflicting passion and inexperience, while also carrying an undercurrent of unease and fear. Riku doesn’t really understand what’s happened to him until the end of the episode when REM drops the bombshell of him carrying Belial’s DNA. And given the wholesale destruction of multiple city blocks in the wake of their fight, the public also likely isn’t sure whether to treat him as a hero yet or not.

Overall, this was a strong introduction for the series, in how it makes the main characters likeable and interesting while also setting up some pressing mysteries to be further developed and explored as the series goes on. As more of the supporting cast is introduced and fleshed out in the following weeks, I’m really looking forward to where Geed continues from here.

Because I know you all can’t wait for Ultra-Salaryman Zero to arrive. (I sure know I can’t!)

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