Previously on Geed:
Riku Asakura has his dream fulfilled when he’s offered the chance to become a superhero, and fight to save people from monsters. Unfortunately, he also finds out that the power he wields to become Ultraman Geed comes from the same evil being who once almost annihilated the universe – Ultraman Belial. Now working with his best alien buddy Pega, and a mysterious woman named Laiha, they work to uncover the mysteries behind lights called “little stars”. These lights not only grant their bearers unusual abilities, but seem to be the key to unlocking the Ultra capsules that Riku uses.
Hot on their heels though, is the man who is threatening the peace of this newly-restored world, Kei. Why is he seeking to gather this light himself? What is his connection to Belial and Riku?
Well, none of that gets explicitly answered in this episode, but we do get a big info dump on some other pressing details, thanks to the arrival of Ultraman Zero. So, without further ado…
We start off this episode right in the middle of a fight against a Darklops robot. Originally designed by Belial to replicate Zero’s powers, he used them as shock troops in an invasion against other universes.
Why yes, Belial does have an unhealthy fixation on Zero, what gave it away.
Riku can’t so much as dent the thing though. Laiha later rags on him for being an unskilled fighter back at their base. Harsh, but she’s not wrong, Riku has absolutely no training and has just been fighting on instinct in the past couple episodes. His victories more come from grit and luck, than anything else.
The lucky event that saves his butt this week turns out to be the REAL Zero who shows up to destroy the Darklops, although the attempt takes a lot out of him. He’s obviously still weakened from the fight against Belial that we saw in the first episode, taking place before the present-day events of the series. He doesn’t quite know what to make of Geed either.
In order to preserve himself in his damaged state, Zero takes on a host, bumbling salaryman Reito. Even though he’s clumsy and awkward, Zero saw that he put himself in danger to try and save a child during the fight against the Darklops, and uses his own power to prevent him from dying from his injuries.
This event sets up the major running theme that I want to discuss with this article, since it also is an example generally of how Ultras work with hosts in this franchise. There’s a few unique ways we see it shown off in this episode, and they not only contrast with each other, but also provide an unexpected analogy for some fairly sophisticated theology that I find interesting.
We’ll get to the Religious Studies lecture later though. Right now, let’s finish running down the major events on their own.
First of all, Zero’s relationship with his host this episode marks some interesting development for him. This isn’t the first time Zero’s bonded with another person, he did so in the Revenge of Belial movie for much the same reason. That is, to save a person who proved to have a heroic spirit from death, and also because he was too injured to fight at full power himself. But in that instance, he had full control of Ran’s body, rather than riding shotgun. The second time he used a host was in the Ultraman Saga movie, where he joins up with cocky newbie pilot Taiga. Unfortunately, in that movie, both of them were so similar in stubbornness that it took a while to come to understand the other and fight united.
In this week’s episode, Zero seems have learned to treat the human side of the equation with a bit more tact, he even asks permission nicely before using Reito’s body to beat the snot out of some hooligans.
Seriously, Zero is having way too much fun with this.
There’s several other funny moments between Zero and Reito here, keeping up the classic tradition of Ultras being absolutely awful at keeping a secret identity.
In addition to the other domestic shenanigans as both of them try to figure out how to navigate the pitfalls of married life with this new arrangement.
But Zero’s not just here to goof around, we also learn more details about the Crisis Impact from his dialogue with Reito.
Seems that after the universe got blown to smithereens by Belial’s final attack, Ultraman King stepped in and did something similar to what Zero attempted, in bonding with the –
Wait, the ENTIRE UNIVERSE??
Well that explains the OP visuals a bit more. This is a huge development, and goes to illustrate not just how powerful King actually is, but how utterly FUBAR’d the universe was after Belial’s attack. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ultra capsules tie into all this more specifically, and might also lead to an explanation for Belial’s own power being split into two halves as a result. (Zero’s own reaction to seeing the Darklops attack implies that the other surviving Ultras assumed Belial died in the fallout of the Crisis Impact)
Speaking of Belial’s power, there’s a line in this episode from Kei that implies something interesting about his situation.
So unlike Riku, he’s fully aware of the history between Zero and Belial, and the personal way he speaks of this rivalry seems to imply that he actually is Belial, at least the post-corruption version of himself. This brings up the question of his outward subterfuge, however. Belial is not exactly sneaky when it comes to his usual master plans. But I think this time it’s related to why Zero himself avoids jumping headlong into battle later in the episode, when Kei sends out more Darklops robots to attack again.
Like Zero, Belial is likely greatly de-powered as a result of the Crisis Impact (not to mention whatever the hell is going on between the evil side in Kei and the, well, not-evil side in Riku). He won’t act until he’s gathered enough power for a crushing victory, which is represented by the Ultra capsules everyone is after. He seems to be purposely hunting the people who have this “little star” power with the intention of Riku as Geed receiving their light, in order to activate the capsules. It’s a safe bet to then assume that he has some plan in place to either steal them back, or otherwise use their power for himself.
Just remember, Belial’s main mode of control when it comes to gathering power is through corruption.
Aside from these bits of overarching plot development, the rest of the episode proceeds more or less as expected. The kid with the “little star” power they find this week is a fan of the same toku show Riku loves, and there’s some cute interactions there. Then, notably, he sees Geed as the same kind of heroic figure as Don Shine, and as a result, comes to believe that he can overcome a battle against three Darklops robots (seriously that’s cheating, Kei). This unlocks the next Ultra capsule – Ultraseven – and a new form for Riku to use.
And oh sweet Noa THIS IS SUCH A COOL FORM.
The steam vents on its armor are significantly unique among other Ultraman designs, and it lends a neat effect in making the various finishing moves seem even more impressive.
There are other elements Solid Burning borrows from Leo and Seven beyond just the design of the suit though. The “rise” sequence also takes visual effects from both Ultras (Seven’s Ultra Eye, and Leo’s own “rise” sequence effects), and I can certainly hear a few sound effects stolen from Seven’s own attacks in this fight too.
I can only hope the debut of Geed’s other form, Acro Smasher, is just as incredible.
Well, that about wraps up the major plot events from this week. Riku doesn’t just gain more power to help him fight alone, we also see Zero and the rest of the civilians impressed enough with his fight to start treating him as a hero rather than another threatening version of Belial. Next week, it seems that more supporting characters will join in the mess, and we’ll also get an appearance from one of my favorite kaiju in the franchise, Eleking! These first few episodes have been very exciting and I’m eager to see how the story continues to unfold.
Oh right, the dissertation part of this week’s article that I promised.
Did you know that Eiji Tsubaraya was a convert to Christianity? The imagery is fairly obvious in some classic Ultra series, from the cross Ultraman makes to fire his finishing beam attack, to the repeated motifs of “light”, sacrifice and resurrection. Not to mention the franchise’s recurring love of literally crucifying its heroes. Even Return of Ultraman gets pretty on-the-nose with it in its pilot episode, where I saw the main love interest praying with a crucifix to save the life of the hero who would later become Ultraman. (I’ll talk more about Goh here in a bit too.)
I don’t know how much of it is intentional, either back then, or nowadays, but there’s a lot in this franchise that makes for useful allegories when discussing some theological concepts. And I’m not talking just about heroic virtue or things like courage, hope and love. Ultraman shows have that in spades, but so do plenty of other stories, both within the genre of tokusatsu, and more generally with other superheroes. I talk about those topics all the time in these articles.
No, I’m talking about specific concepts within Christian theology that have been debated for thousands of years and have gotten people kicked out over heresy. These are topics that got Arius punched in the face by St. Nicholas.
So yeah, serious business.
Ultraman itself obviously isn’t that serious. It’s still a show for Japanese children and meant to shift toy sales, but I’m continually surprised at how elements within it make for useful metaphors to illustrate some sides of these topics. The main recurring one, and what I’ll address in this article, is the concept of how Ultras can combine together with a human being – or the entire substance of the universe, as we see this week – in order to fight together.
In one of my articles on Kamen Rider Agito, I brought up concepts from Manichaen Gnosticism, which is where a lot of Japanese takes on Christian theology and cosmology tend to fall. With its repeated dualistic imagery related to darkness vs. light, Ultraman shows sometimes fall into the same pattern, but there are a couple important distinctions we need to make here. Rather than associating the physical state with darkness and evil – an obstacle to be overcome by the spiritual – Ultraman series often show how it is perfected by the union with the divine. Even monsters within the Ultra universe aren’t inherently evil in many cases. As beings belonging to that same physical creation, they’re usually portrayed as either simple animals without malice, or used as tools by truly evil figures instead.
We see this theme developed more strongly with how Ultras work with hosts. If you watch the classic Showa-era series, when a human being joins with the power of an Ultra, they often don’t stay as human + Ultraman, but literally become one single being.
From what I’ve seen of the older series, Ultraseven and Leo are the major exceptions to this. They don’t have a host, but just take on human appearance while on Earth. Mebius pulls the same in his series as well. Zero himself is also different, in that when he works with a host, he doesn’t merge with them totally. That’s mostly because, well, to say Zero is a bull-headed, independent hot-shot is a bit of an understatement. That willful identity keeps a nice, distinct line between his own self and whichever human he’s sharing headspace with at the moment.
Moving forward into the modern series, I also noticed Tiga points out that same concept when they mention the main character, Daigo, is special because he is both a flesh-and-blood human being AND Ultraman, a being of pure light. This example, along with the other classic instances I noted, are interesting because they carry a significant connection with Christology. That is, the theology regarding the nature of Jesus Christ himself.
Mainline, orthodox Christianity that adheres to tenets laid down in the Council of Nicaea, believes that instead of being man + God, the two sides being separated and isolated from each other, Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. Neither side is diluted or restrained as a result. This teaching is referred to as the “Hypostatic union”, deriving from the Greek “hypostasis”, meaning “substrate” or “foundation”. It refers to something being real, physical, and concrete, as opposed to purely idealized or formless.
Yes, there are lots of other questions that this teaching brings up, and yes, people have been discussing and debating those questions literally since the Church was founded 2000-some years ago. Certain heretical sects, like Gnosticism, Nestorianism or Arianism, tend to downplay one side over the other – or saw both as limited because of that union.
Ultraman King’s attempt at restoring the universe plays on another concept, not in Christology, but in dealing with the relation of physical creation as a whole to God’s influence and grace
Another way that mainline Christian theology distinguishes itself from other sects, is not just in how it views the natures of Christ, but also in the nature and purpose of physical creation itself. Deists, for example (which largely came out of the Enlightenment period post-Renaissance), see the divine as not necessarily opposed to the physical world (like the Gnostics do) but thoroughly uninvolved with it. This is the concept of God as a watchmaker, who winds the hands then steps back to let the whole contraption run.
Mainline, orthodox Christianity on the other hand sees the universe as something that is continually sustained and generated by God’s presence. The universe does not “go” on its own, but is powered in every aspect by that divine cause. Other non-Nicene-professing branches of Christianity might extrapolate that out to a more Animist angle, to claim that every bit of matter in the universe would then retain some substance of the divine. But usually orthodox Christianity goes the Thomist route, and says that the structure and order of the universe reflects divine nature – the same way we can learn about an artist by studying the paintings he or she makes. We can learn something about that person, the intentions they had in making this creation, the message and purpose they crafted behind it, but the painting is not the person.
This is where we can see an analogy to King. It’s his power that now holds the universe together following the Crisis Impact, but it’s a little too early to see how far that analogy stretches to match. Like the teachings involved in Christology, there’s a LOT of other implications that these arguments lay down, and Ultraman shows are certainly not intended to be serious treatises on religious studies. They’re fun superhero stories, and Geed itself has been a lot of fun to watch each week so far, even if it winds up not lining up exactly with Christian dogma.
Ultra Lore Corner
Whew, those are some weighty topics, let’s wrap this up with something a little lighter.
The Ultra capsule they highlight this week in Geed is Leo, who I already covered last week, so let’s talk about Ultraman Jack, the hero of the series Return of Ultraman. (Much of this information is courtesy of Ultra-fan @TheIvanhobe, thanks!)
Surprisingly, there’s several connections between him and Zero, the most obvious of which happens this week when we see in how both of them join with a host. Like Zero, Jack joined with Goh after he sacrificed his life to save a child during a giant monster attack. They even borrow the same visual effect here (which shows up in other Ultra series as well, they really like making reference to Return of Ultraman).
In addition to this, there’s other parallels between their characterizations. Goh as Ultraman Jack was also a stubborn hot-head through most of his own series. Conflicts with the defense team he worked with led to Goh getting fired or suspended more than once, and like Zero, he tended to charge into fights without fully realizing the consequences, often getting hurt in the process.
Interestingly, both Jack and Zero also wield similar weaponry, a brace that becomes different items to help them fight against powerful foes. Zero received his brace originally from his dad, Seven, in the Revenge of Belial movie, but when upgraded by Noa to become the Ultimate Aegis, it allowed him the ability to travel between universes freely. In addition to helping him save the day in the movie itself, it also opened up the possibility for Ultra series that didn’t take place in the “main” continuity to be crossed over for the first time. Unfortunately, the Aegis was also broken in the last fight with Belial before the universe went kablooey, which leads to the situation Zero finds himself in during the beginning of this episode.
Ivanhobe pointed out that Return of Ultraman also did something very similar:
Ultraman and Ultraseven were basically independent things that just shared a name, and RoU was half sequel, half reboot of the former. But episode 18 pretty much established that the 3 (well, 4 counting Ultra Q) shows existed in a single continuity, thanks to the appearance of Seven giving Jack the bracelet. It was literally the first time something like this had been done, and basically created the Ultra continuity in the classic era. It’s an interesting parallel to think about.
So far, Ultraman Geed has wrapped together many different aspects of Ultra lore and thematic development in various ways. Like the connections I’ve made here, some of them are relatively obvious and striking, others are a little subtler. But all of them have made for a very entertaining and engaging show, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what else they throw into this mélange in upcoming weeks.