The Hand We’re Dealt – Ultraman GEED and Destiny

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Grant, a contributor at Wave Motion Cannon, and fellow toku nut on Twitter, which provides another look at Geed’s mid-season arc, in episodes 11 and 12. Where my articles dealt mostly with the theme of “family”, Grant takes an alternate look at the story’s emotional catharsis. Enjoy, and check out his other articles and podcast appearances with WMC!

Episodes eleven and twelve of Ultraman GEED are a watershed moment for the series. While the show has not been shy about the hero’s feelings up until this point, the series’ broader themes are brought into fuller clarity here. GEED finally lays its cards on the table to show us what it’s really all about – the conflict between choice and destiny, nature and nurture, and how to make sense of our lives when we have so little control over them.

This pair of episodes dives headlong into Riku’s backstory. It uses one of fiction’s most deadly techniques to impart Riku’s true history, that being “cocky purple-tinged edgelord villain delivering exposition from park bench with alien sharpshooter backup”, (a common device well-loved by authors from Homer to Hemingway).

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More than simply revealing his connection to Belial (which was already known), Kei details the precise nature of our hero’s origin – Riku is a genetic clone created and nurtured for Belial’s express benefit. In order to activate the Ultra capsules, Riku has been quietly guided all along to become an Ultraman. By fighting the steadily more powerful foes sent after the Little Stars, he has been inadvertently unlocking the capsules’ potential for Belial’s future use, and now Kei has come to retrieve them for Riku’s genetic forebear.

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Even though the immediate threat is postponed, thanks to Pega, Laiha, and some good old-fashioned kaiju wrasslin, Riku is understandably shaken by this revelation. Until this point, he had considered himself a shaper of his own destiny, shunning inaction in favor of proactively doing what was right to help others. But suddenly it all seems like those qualities meant nothing because he was being manipulated into taking those actions by a plan set in motion before his birth. His decisiveness has been aiding and abetting the very enemy he hoped to fight and, quite possibly, could be a pre-programmed personality trait selected for him by his genetic architects.

Riku thought of himself as someone who acted, an individual making the right choices to protect the people he cared about. But now he has come face to face with the fact that he was built from the ground up to take all of these actions, and for a purpose antithetical to his chosen beliefs. Is he is own person, or is he an unthinking pawn in a grander scheme? Do his choices matter, or are they the byproducts of someone else’s tinkering? Does taking on the form of a powerful super-giant mean anything when you have no power over your own destiny?

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In the wake of this identity crisis, Riku follows up on a letter sent to him by a man who turns out to be his (semi) adoptive father, Sui Asakura, a scientist who oversaw the observatory where he was left as an infant. We learn he and his wife had hoped to have children, and had talked about adopting him into the family, before she died in a car accident and neither of those things came to be.

And it is here, dear reader, where GEED plants its flag and makes its case – we may not be the authors of our story, but we are its editors.

GEED is the story of characters who struggle against their fate. Outside forces set the stage for their lives,  often including tragic and seldom deserved events. They do not shrink from this knowledge though; instead they fight against their pre-ordained paths with every ounce of strength. They may not be able to reverse past events, but they alter their future trajectory to fit their aspirations.

Leito, the meek and bumbling salaryman with too much responsibility on the line to risk being a hero? He finds himself the host to Ultraman Zero’s essence, and chooses to embrace that willful courage without shirking his duties as a father. Laiha, the determined warrior whose family was violently taken from her by monstrous kaiju? Even as destiny denies her both the chance to have Ultra powers, and to take revenge on the man who took them from her, she trains tirelessly to master the blade and face her foes head on. Sui Asakura, who wished to have children of his own and raise a family with his caring wife? He loses her to a tragedy beyond anyone’s control, yet still imbues Riku with a name that carries a resolute spirit.

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Riku is the walking embodiment of this duality. He cannot deny his heritage; he feels the truth in his bones when Kei reveals it. He was not serving his own unique purpose – he was made to serve a function. Riku merely activates capsules, in much the same way that a toaster warms bread; his individual will is irrelevant. Every one of the decisions he has made were secretly in service of an invisible force guiding his development. His heroism is hollow: he is simply following his programming.

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Or so the villains would have Riku believe.

It is this moment that Riku’s ethos shines through: it’s all in how you play the hand you’re dealt. No, he cannot change his past; yes, he is the product of someone else’s machinations. No, his decisions were not wholly original; yes, he is playing into someone else’s schemes. But Riku still made those decisions of his own accord, for his own reasons, and he will continue to move forward regardless.

Standing still and doing nothing has not gotten him anywhere, after all.

Riku’s triumph is our own triumph in this often-cruel world. We have no say in our birth, our genetic makeup, or the obstacles that will plague us. But we still make decisions, and they still matter – our choices have impact, if we give them weight. In the river of life we cannot alter the flow of the current, but we can swim with it or against it. It is the importance of this fundamental choice that gives our lives meaning. The entire cast is imprisoned by the bars of destiny for the crime of being born, and while they cannot break those bars they can bend them, ever so subtly – inch by inch, moment by moment, choice by choice.

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Ultraman GEED is not positing that we have full control over our destiny. At no point is it revealed that Riku is anything other than exactly what the villain says he is. What does matter is Riku’s perspective on those events, whether or not he accepts their narrative, and how he decides to view his own choices. Kei and Belial state that he is playing into their hands like a puppet, and when Riku internalizes their viewpoint he is unable to be himself. It is only when he discards their understanding and reaffirms his personal perspective on those same events that he finds his power once more. He never changes the literal events, only his understanding of them. Riku takes the narrative of his life forced on him by others and strips it of its maliciousness. He removes their control by choosing for himself just how to interpret his tale.

All along Riku has done exactly as Belial and Kei ordained, and by continuing to fight and unlock the power of new capsules he is not altering their plan’s specifics. The critical difference is now he knows the outcome they had intended, and he is subverting their machinations to achieve his own goals. It is the same process, but a different outcome – and all because Riku has made the choice to interpret his own purpose, rather than let it be decided by others. Much like how his father reveals why he was named Riku (“This is what we wanted it to mean”), he too wills meaning into his life’s story. Riku learns that his DNA – his past – is immutable; but his future is his alone to decide.  

And in that moment he becomes truly Magnificent.

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