2013 was kind of a rough year. Things weren’t so hot at Toei, with Kamen Rider Wizard and Doki Doki Precure generally considered by fans to be among the weakest installments of their respective franchises, and my personal dislike of Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (which, admittedly, seems to be a somewhat unpopular opinion). But the year was perhaps hardest on the Ultra Series, because that was the year Ultraman Ginga came along. I did a recap of the show way back when, and I did not like it very much, to say the least. Ginga S, while no masterpiece, was more likable and truer to the spirit of the Ultra Series, but not enough to really let me know that the franchise was back on its feet.
Well, I do know now that the franchise is back on its feet, because Ultraman X is one of the best seasons of the series in quite a while. It came at the right time, too, because immediately preceding Ginga was a period of basically nothing but Ultra Seven spinoff media. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but combined with the much more gimmicky Ginga shows, it’s hard not to leave with a bad taste in your mouth. X knows how to use the Spark Doll thing to its advantage, without feeling like it’s just suckering the viewer to buy toys. I mean, it is, obviously, but the show is never blatant about it, as the story and characters come first, and that’s what really will get people buying. But enough chitchat, it’s time to delve into the mountain of awesomeness that is Ultraman X!
First off, the theme song is amazing. But since it’s the Ultra Series, that kind of a given. This one feels kind of old-fashioned, like it’s trying to be more of a power anthem than a full on rock out like the Ginga openings were. But the modern instrumentation really brings out a badass vibe to it.
The series begins by introducing us to the science research division of this season’s monster defense team, Xio. We are introduced to our main hero, Daichi Ozora, as well as his colleagues Rui Takada and Mamoru Mikazuki. One of the best aspects of this show is Daichi himself. Well, that’s another given, as the quality of any Ultra season depends largely on how likable the lead is, but Daichi is unique because unlike most Ultraman human hosts, he is a scientist first and a fighter second (a relatively distant second, as we shall see). This means that his personality and approach towards monster threats are more pacifist than usual and his actions are just more often driven by curiosity of the unknown, attitudes that are not nearly as prevalent in previous Ultraman seasons. Daichi is really a breath of fresh air, as is the show he is the main protagonist of.
Daichi, Rui and Mamoru are testing their new technolgy which will hopefully allow them to “Live” Daichi’s Gomora
action figure Spark Doll. The test fails, but Daichi is only more determined, because of something that happened in his childhood. His father told him to keep Gomora safe while he went in a building to “save” Daichi’s mother, but both of his parents disappeared into data due to the presence of an aurora that I’m sure is actually an aurora and has nothing significant to it beyond that.
Gomora himself is ill at ease, which Daichi detects using his all-purpose Plot Device. I kid, but I am actually glad that there is technology displayed in this show that enchances monster communication like this, because that is something that Daichi would use often, and enhances the overall message of this show in a subtle but meaningful way.
After an incident at a lake, Xio’s actual fighters are called. Their names are Asuna Yamase, Wataru Kazama, and Hayato Kishima. They’re awesome. Anyway, the three and Daichi get caught up in a pretty great action scene with the series’ first monster, Demaaga. It’s great because each team member has his/her own unique function, with Daichi providing monster information and strategy, Asuna handling ground attacks, and Wataru and Hayato attacking from above.
Demaaga makes it to civilization so that what viewers truly came for can begin. Most of the shots of the monster are low angle, and maximize the amount of menace that he possesses. Daichi continues to provide background information; namely, that Demaaga is an ancient mythical “god” who is prone to some violent outbursts, and that in the past he was sealed away by the “Giant of Light”. Hm. Wonder who that is.
As citywide destruction continues, Daichi’s attempt to save his precious Gomora action figure result in him nearly getting killed. But he’s fine, of course, because he is saved by uniting with the ultimate plot armor, Ultraman X. There’s a delightful scene where Daichi reveals a fear of heights, which means his giant body will take some getting used to.
The rest of the episode is predictably a very well made action scene, with Wataru and Hayato getting in on the action. Daichi, after protecting Asuna from a fire blast from Demaaga, unites further with X, and the resulting fight is pretty spectacular. In addition, because civilians were seen evacuating earlier, there is actually justification for the obligatory wrecked buildings to be empty!
X’s Xanadium Beam turns Demaaga into a Spark Doll, which is what Daichi had been meaning to do the whole time. You see, he’s a pacifist, so he does not really want to harm monsters, no matter how much destruction they cause, a trait which can be both a strength and a weakness, and is the pillar of why he is a great character. Anyway, the heroes all meet up, and because the giant is an unknown creature, Daichi decides to name him “X the Unknown”, but to avoid a lawsuit from Hammer Film Productions, changes it to Ultraman X.
I remember the first episode being really good, but boy, I had forgotten how good it really is! As far as pilots go, this one gets everything right. It is fast-paced enough to grab a viewer’s attention, it introduces the characters sufficiently, with room to flesh them out in future episodes, and it is extremely well-shot. Daichi in particular is a breath of fresh air, as he is often reluctant to fight and is kind of a wimp compared to most Ultraman protagonists, but never in a way in which he feels pathetic because of it. This episode gets A+ marks!
Episode 2 begins with some potential recruits taking a tour of Xio’s headquarters. On the way, we are introduced to Dr. Gourman, the head scientist who is an alien allied with the human race, and responsible for the development of most of Xio’s technology. Afterward, when speaking to people about the tour, Captain Shotaro gives his customary “hero speech”, explaining that while it might be heroic to fight monsters all the time, whether violence is always the answer to alien threats is something he cannot answer. There’s a also a great moment when the strategist, Sayuri Tachibana, is asked how she decides whether to attack a monster, and her response is, “No casualties.” Blunt, to the point, and befitting of a military strategist. I like it.
There’s a scene with Daichi and Ultraman X, with the latter revealing that he is made of data, and lost the ability to make himself concrete without a human host 15 years ago, and that Daichi is somehow compatible as a host because of his elctromagnetic composition or something. Then a pointless scene with Dr. Gourman and Rui’s invisibility serum. Why Xio would ever need an invisibility serum is beyond me, unless the invisibility also comes with the ability to manipulate force fields.
The monster this time is Birdon, originally from Ultraman Taro. Although Birdon normally lives in volcanoes and such, apparently its eggs need cooler temperatures to develop properly, which is why it’s outside. This makes no sense whatsoever, but then we wouldn’t have an episode, so who cares? Birdon is causing trouble by building a nest out of destroyed buildings, and two unfortunate bystanders are stuck in the middle of it. Seeing this, Asuna distracts Birdon to get her away from the nest so as to avoid civilian casualties.
Wataru and Hayato have their aircraft, the Xio Sky Musketty, damaged in a vary good aerial fight, but are rescued by Daichi turning into Ultraman X. After some fighting, Dr. Gourman proposes that Ultraman X can combine with data that Xio has collected from other monsters, and so X combines with Cyber Gomora to don the Cyber Gomora Armor. With this, X is easily able to defeat Birdon.
As the first “normal” episode of the show, this episode features all the hallmarks of any season: shiny new powers, speeches about the possible coexistence of humans and monsters and what it means to be a hero, and well done action scenes. This stuff is all done exceedingly well, of course, with all the Xio members in on the action. All in all, a fine episode.
Episode 3 sees the presence of many mini-earthquakes concentrated within a specific area. 3 guesses as to what the cause is. This time it’s Telesdon, from the original Ultraman. Daichi and Asuna fight it by using the Land Musketty, but it ends up getting away. Since Telesdon has some connection with the rumored Underground Woman, who is a woman who is rumored to hang around subways and eat people (remember, all Internet rumors are true), the Xio team investigate accordingly.
As Daichi literally uses a scanning device to detect sorrow in the Uderground Woman’s voice (apparently, emotions leave sounds that have specific wavelengths. Just go with it.), the others identify her with a beauty salon manager named Mabuse Ryoko. As such, Asuna and Daichi have to go undercover as a couple, with Asuna getting to make use of the new shoes she bought the other day.
The whole undercover thing is pretty pointless, because the real Mabuse Ryoko died a few weeks ago, and so the Underground Woman really has nothing to hide. She gets away from Daichi and Asuna, a task made easier by Asuna’s high heels preventing her from running effectively. Along the way, said heels get damaged, pissing Asuna off to no end.
In a brief breather scene, Asuna mentions that the reason she wanted cute shoes was because of her first crush who she beat in a kendo match, causing her gradual girliness upgrade. After the speech, the Underground Woman strikes again, with a speech of her own about humans’ “false light” robbing the night from the Underground People.
The next appearance from Telesdon triggers the obligatory final action scene with Ultraman X, who at first isn’t doing so hot, but Telesdon quickly gets distracted by the timely intervention of Wataru and Hayato, armed with Xio’s new weapon, the UltLaser, which was created by analyzing X’s powers. Also helping is Rui and Mamoru’s completion of the Cyber Eleking Card, which X also manages to put to good use.
The Underground Woman is still around, and she tries to shoot Asuna, but one of her heels breaks, causing her to fall in the nick of time to “dodge” the shot. Wataru or Hayato (I can’t tell them apart :P) fire back, but she seems to disappear. The next day, all of Xio celebrate Asuna’s brithday, complete with expensive new shoes which she’ll certainly only wear on special occasions.
This really isn’t the best episode of Ultraman X, which given the show’s high standards means that it is merely pretty good. The plot with Asuna is not much to brag about, but the action scenes are as well done as usual. But the highlight is Ultraman X himself’s complete lack of tact, such as asking Daichi to inform Asuna about what her weight is, and inquiring how old she is. It really brings out X’s human side.
Episode 4 concerns Hayato and Wataru, who are fighting now for some reason. This time the attacker is Alien Zarab, originally from Ultraman, who uses the Spark Doll for Bemstar, originally from The Return of Ultraman. Daichi fights Bemstar as Ultraman X, while Wataru and Hayato try to attack Zarab, but their bickering prevents them form being able to defeat it.
Bemstar ends up swallowing Ultraman X into his stomach thing, and the rest of Xio get chewed out for not being a team and whatnot. Thus, they have to be sent out again after Bemstar, but this time wiser about how they will work off each other. Meanwhile, in Bemstar’s digestive juices (which are made of lava or something), X reveals to Daichi that he caused the Ultra Flares that led to Daichi’s parents’ disappearance when he was a kid, when X pushed a villain bent on solar system destruction into the sun.
The three remaining members of Xio manage to destroy Zarab, and then use Dr. Gourman’s most recently finished vehicle to fly up in space to rescue Ultraman X, who is using his energy to keep Daichi safe. Wataru and Hayato make use of the Cyber Telesdon card to get Bemstar to basically puke Ultraman X out of its stomach (much less nasty than it sounds). This of course cues the theme song to play, and for X to lay on the whoop-ass.
It goes without saying that the action in this episode is incredible, possibly the best so far. But this episode really is not all that interesting. Wataru and Hayato’s conflict is never explained, so there’s no real reason to believe that they might not make up at the end. That removes a lot of the tension and suspense. Also, Ultraman X revealing that he caused the Ultra flares does virtually nothing to affect his relationship with Daichi. This could be seen as a sign of healthy Ultra and human relations, but all Daichi really does is say, “Oh, okay,” and that’s that. Once again, it’s the action that has to carry the most empty plot so far.
Episode 5 starts with an extremely amusing scene involving bread, dimensions, and traumatic childhood flashbacks. The real plot of the episode concerns the science division of Xio trying to analyze Ultraman X’s Xanadium Beam to try and identify the particles that turn monsters into Spark Dolls. But the transfer of the Spark Dolls to research lab is not smooth, as what do you know, a giant monster attacks, this time Black King.
Black King proves hard to take down, as previously effective tactics do not seem to work as well, Ultraman X included. Eventually, an Alien Nackle named Bandello joins the fight, and the two monsters easily beat Ultraman X.
Their curb-stomping of Ultraman X is interrupted by the appearance of Ultraman Zero, arguably the most overpowered Ultraman in the franchise (which is saying something). The overpoweredness of Zero is not lost on Black King, and while King is getting pummeled, Bandello takes his actual coveted prize, the Spark Dolls with him. The thing is, Rui is still in the van that the Spark Dolls are in, so Zero cannot directly fire at him as he leaves for another dimension.
In captivity, Rui makes her escape through her bumbling use of Xio’s technology. Daichi tries to save her, but Ultraman Zero informs his that he needs another “twenty millenia” to actually reach the distant planet where Rui is stranded. But that’s rounded to the nearest millenium, right?
In an absolutely beautiful scene, Bandello confronts Rui, telling her that only the strongest survive, to which Rui retorts that the strongest don’t always win, juxtaposing with scenes of her friends back on Earth making a dimension hopping device. Since the UltLaser is out of energy, Rui has to settle for the Cotton Candy Gun to keep Bandello at bay. A more permanent solution to the Bandello arrives in the form of Ultraman Zero.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gourman and his team have completed the Ultimate Zero card, which allows Ultraman X to travel through dimensions as well. Cue the timely teamup with Zero on the other dimension. So the day is saved, and Rui gets to take a selfie with Ultraman Zero.
This episode is the first of many teamup episodes, which are some of the best episodes in the series. This one is no exception. The teamups, by their very nature, go all out on the action, and with an Ultraman as gloriously overpowered as Ultraman Zero, this leads to some fun times. But aside from that, this is Rui’s focus episode, and she holds her own well as a character who can carry an episode largely by herself. The only real complaint I have is that Ultraman X is able to dimension hop a little too easily, but that’s a very minor issue.
Episode 6 is about an amnesiac alien who finds that being different makes him a pretty big target for bullies. Xio is called to investigate, and quickly discover that the alien is from Planet Gold, a supposedly peaceful species who would not invade without provocation. Turns out, he’s actually there to retrieve a Rudian Spark Doll that his ancestors left on Earth for no reason.
A series of misunderstandings caused by a suspicious cop lead to the deployment of the Rudian Spark Doll in its giant robot form, which the alien tries and fails to control. The alien’s earlier healing of an injured girl and his former lack of retaliation against hostile action makes Daichi and Ultraman X reluctant to fight Rudian, and eventually the robot is brought back to its Spark Doll form.
Treatment of the unconscious Alien Gold in the medical ward and an investigation of his memories and brain hormones lead to the conclusion that the alien is a refugee, and he really has no intention of causing harm. Rather, his ship is sending a distress signal warning of a monster called Gargoron (a rare original monster for Ultraman X). It’s after Gold energy that is stored inside Rudian. So thanks, Gold Aliens, for putting Rudian on Earth in the first place. Are you sure you’re as peaceful as your reputation suggests?
To avoid more unnecessary conflict, Daichi pretends to offer himself as the alien’s hostage as he makes his escape from the Xio medical ward. The alien, tE rU, can sense that Daichi is Ultraman X, and can communicate with him telepathically, so the two agree to help each other to defeat Gargoron privately.
This is another episode that suffers from Setup Episode Syndrome. If it seems like not much happened beyond some episode-long exposition, that’s because that’s more or less exactly what happened. There are some inklings of a larger story in there, with a connection between Gargoron and the Gorgon of Greek mythology, and the subplot involving a girl pining after tE rU, but for the most part this episode is best considered along with its continuation.
Episode 7 starts with Gargoron kicking X and Rudian’s asses. While protecting tE rU, Daichi gets stoned (by that I mean petrified), but not before discovering that “fear” is Gargoron’s weakness, and not before Ultraman X temporarily manages to keep Gargoron at bay.
As tE rU is being treated by the random schoolgirl who likes him for some reason, Gargoron threatens to petrify all life on Earth if tE rU is not handed to him. Xio attempts to launch a bunch of missiles at Gargoron, but because missiles are not beings of light, the monster quite easily dispatches of them.
tE rU offers to act as bait while Xio attacks Gargoron’s weak spot (his eyeball in his mouth) in order to revive Ultraman X. The Xio members easily comply, because they want to save Ultraman X in return for all the times he’s saved them. Apparently they forgot about episode 4, but that’s pretty understandable. They of course plan to use a new weapon made by Dr. Gourman to carry out this plan, because God forbid one of those things not become obsolete within a week.
After tossing around Gargoron a little, tE rU gets Xio a clear shot at the eyeball by sacrificing himself and allowing himself to be petrified. Not that it lasts long, because immediately afterward Xio fires their Ultlasers at the eyeball, and this is enough to restore all petrified beings. Don’t you wish life was like this, so that destroying Uwe Boll would result in every copy of Alone in the Dark disintegrating?
It’s a forgone conclusion what happens after Ultraman X and Rudian are de-petrified. After defeating Gargoron, Xio celebrates its most recent victory, and tE rU leaves for Planet Gold once again, but not before tying up loose ends with the random schoolgirl who looks like his sister.
This whole two-parter was overall very good, but the main problem is that it simply doesn’t feel “grand” enough” for the finale to the first act of the season. tE rU is likable enough, but doesn’t really make that big of an impression in the long run, certainly not enough to justify a romantic subplot that feels like it’s in the way more than anything. Also, given how quickly he is revived after being petrified, it makes his “sacrifice” feel kind of hollow. Considering how bare episode 6 felt, the petrification ability could have easily been introduced then, and made for a stronger cliffhanger.
However, this does not diminish the decent action, the strength of Daichi’s character, and the effective use of teamwork on Xio’s part. If there’s any complaint that I have about any episode of X, it’s that they’re all good in the same ways. For the finale of the first part, I kinda wished it offered a bit more. Not that I am not thankful for what I got.
So that was part 1 of Ultraman X. We haven’t even gotten to the really good stuff yet. Stay tuned, and until then, eat your vegetables and be nice to strangers. Unless they’re made of rubber.