This might be an odd way to start an article, but to live in a world where Tsuburaya Productions can deliver new Ultraman shows while maintaining an excellent level of quality every single year really does feel like a dream come true.
Sure, the new Generation Ultra series don’t have quite the same production values of the shows of old (circa 2006) and I would lie if I said that I don’t want for Ultra to return to the fifty-episode format, but if the franchise keeps selling well enough to upset Toei’s Kamen Rider division, maybe one day Ultraman can return to it’s former, yearlong glory.
You can do it Tsuburaya, I believe in you.
The thing I find most impressive about this Ultra renaissance is not just how each series is better than the last one, but also how each of them comes up with a completely different spin on the Ultra formula; Ginga was a coming of age drama, Ginga S was basically Ultraman by way of Toei, X was a reinvention of classic Ultra using modern elements and Orb was literally a showa era superhero show made in 2016.
And that brings us to Ultraman Geed, the 2017 iteration of the franchise that reinvented the Ultra franchise yet again in the most unexpected way possible: by becoming a Kamen Rider show.
A good one.
I am not even joking. Okay, maybe I am a little bit, but when you break down Geed to it’s basic components and see how they work within the narrative of the show, it’s hard not to find some similarities to the modern Kamen Rider formula; you have a core cast of character who tackle the ‘cases’ that involve monsters, a more consistent use of victims of the week, a ‘secondary’ hero and a protagonist whose origin and powers are VERY closely related to the main villain of the show.
Sure, there’s still plenty of Ultraman DNA in there, after all this season taps heavily into modern Ultra lore, but by and large you could easily rework it into a modern Kamen Rider series by adding a few more fight scenes inside warehouses and removing all the meticulously crafted miniatures.
That said, if there’s one thing I could single out that makes Ultraman Geed more akin to your average karate bugman production, that would be its main antagonist.
No, not that one. I mean the show’s REAL antagonist, Fukuide Kei.
I may be going on a little tangent here, but there’s a reason why out of all the Toku franchises, Kamen Rider has always had the most memorable villains; good Rider villains are not just power houses, they also play with the hero with their constant schemes and even when they are beaten, they are not truly defeated because they are in it for the long game.
That is precisely what makes Fukuide Kei so unique as a villain in the context of this franchise.
Ultra has had remarkable villains before, but none of them were as effective as Kei at driving the entire plot of the show. Sure, some Ultra villains have done the “working behind the scenes the whole time” shtick, but Kei brought it down to a personal level; he was more than a schemer, he was the catalyst for the events of the entire show and he continued to play a pivotal role in it all the way up until the end, which is made more impressive when you consider that he wasn’t even the main bad guy.
But wait, I hear you say, didn’t Juggrus Juggler from Ultraman Orb do the same thing?
Well, not quite.
While it is true that a good chunk of Ultraman Orb revolved around Juggler, his story was ultimately one of redemption, so while he was certainly the main antagonist and played a fundamental role in the show, I wouldn’t truly call him the show’s villain.
Remember, an antagonist plays the opposite to the protagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a villain. In Juggler’s case, he was the antagonist to Orb/Gai, but by the end of the story he had developed into a protagonist in his own right.
For a little context, to make an effective villain you need to build a proper character, and writers often fall into the trap of making the villain character too likeable while trying to develop it. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it often leads to redemption arcs or at the very least a glorious death because the last thing you want in a hero story is for your audience to admire a bad guy.
This is precisely why I find Kei to be such an exceptional villain; he was a properly written character with a backstory and a fully defined motivation, but at no point the show tried to make him likeable. From beginning to end he was a bad person who did bad things and he even reveled in it, so while you could understand why he did what he did and even feel pity, you still wanted for him to face his punishment at the hands of justice.
This fact alone made of Kei one of the most refreshing aspects of the show for me. He carried the torch of the bad guy far more effectively than Belial did, but he wasn’t a tragic figure nor a misunderstood outcast; he was a fully fleshed character that was also evil to the core and was completely unrepentant about it, which again, is a pretty rare thing in most Super Hero media, let alone Ultraman.
Honestly, Geed deserves all the praise it can get just for this feat alone: writing a tridimensional character that is also 100% evil is far more difficult than writing an imposing evil presence whose only character traits are “being evil” and “dresses in nothing but black”, as a plenty of shows do.
Of course, having the best villain of 2017 in your show (suck it, Dan Kuroto) doesn’t mean much if there’s no one opposing him, so let’s talk a bit about the Hero of this story.
Sorry, I can’t help myself some times.
Anyways, let’s talk about the real hero of the show: Ultraman Geed himself.
Asakura Riku/Ultraman Geed, played by Tatsuomi Hamada, was quite honestly a pleasant surprise; I am used to young and inexperienced actors in Tokusatsu, thanks in no small part to Super Sentai, but casting Hamada, who was barely 17 at the time, as the lead of Tsuburaya’s flagship (and let’s face it, only ship) series seemed like a huge gamble.
Granted, for child actor standards Hamada was more experienced than most, but it’s not like Tsuburaya can afford to take that many risks with their productions.
Fortunately, it paid off.
Hamada pretty much owned the role from the get go; he was charismatic enough to pull off the young hero role without coming off as annoying, and he had the acting chops to carry himself nicely during the most dramatic scenes. He could have easily been one of the best Ultra leads of recent memory… if he had been treated better by the writing of the show.
The issues I have with Asakura Riku are not with his performance, but with the way his character was handled in the story; the entire selling point of Geed as a character is that he is basically the son of the (ultra) devil, so him having to prove that he is a true hero in spite of his father’s shadow lurking around him should make for some incredibly compelling writing… but unfortunately the show never fully realizes the potential of this idea.
The main problem is that while we, the audience, know who Belial is and what Riku/Geed being his son means, almost no one in the actual show knows or cares about this. Hell, not even Riku knew who his father was before episode one, so when the show tries to build drama around the idea of the public not trusting “the son of Belial” it never truly works because there is not a real conflict in there.
Don’t take me wrong, the whole idea of a hero having to earn the trust of the public because of his lineage is really good, but the execution of it is undercut by the fact that our hero needs to earn the approval of the people solely because of the way he looks.
Mind you, this is mostly a problem with the framing of the character and not the character itself. Riku himself is fairly well written and his take on the Hero’s Journey is actually quite interesting; unlike most super heroes whose sense of righteousness is born from one or more dead relatives, Riku’s desire to be a hero is born from his admiration for his own childhood heroes.
Here on Fanboyism Extraordinaire we have nothing but respect for this take. It is half of the reason why this site even exists after all, but unfortunately it does come with some downsides; while this aspect of Riku’s character works brilliantly in some instances, there are a few moments when it is used to highlight his immaturity as a person in a very unflattering way.
The best example of this is episode 21, in which Riku kicks Pega, his best friend, out of their home base after he accidentally breaks a piece of Donshine merchandise during an earthquake.
As much as the collector in me cannot help but to sympathize with Riku’s anger, taking it out on his best friend, who has stuck with him through thick and thin, does make him come out as an immature, selfish brat, and before you ask, no, I am not saying that just because I am a member of the Megumi Han Defense Squad.
Generally speaking this was a good episode, but Riku’s characterization bothered me a lot because of its time frame; the episode takes place near the end of the show, so by this point Riku had more than proven himself as a hero and went through several moments of personal growth, making this display of immaturity particularly unbefitting of him.
To be fair, none of these problems necessarily ruin Riku as a character, as I said, his performance is outstanding and more often than not the writing is excellent, but they do make it feel inconsistent, which ultimately hurts is role as a protagonist.
Mind you, he still does a good job and the rest of the cast help carry the show nicely, but he doesn’t come off as strong as a lead as say, Kurenai Gai/Ultraman Orb.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only aspect in which the show feels lacking.
As I said earlier, the writing of the show is excellent most of the time, but it’s not without it’s caveats; while the main story beats are executed rather flawlessly, the pace of the story is so fast that it leaves very little time to establish and develop some of the other aspects of the show, like side plots and character arcs.
Usually I chalk these kinds of issues to an inexperienced staff or a hurried production, but in this case I believe the real issue to be the limits of the show’s format; Ultraman Geed has an episode count of 25 episodes, but sometimes it feels like the show needed a 50 episode run to fully develop some of its ideas. The shorter length definitely helps to make it more entertaining on account of the quick plot developments, but the faster pace doesn’t always work in the show’s favor.
Remember, pacing is a very important tool in story telling; a quick pace helps you create a sense of urgency, and a slow pace can be very useful to establish certain elements of the story and let the audience digest important events, so it is always a good idea to slow things down and let the audience rest after having a big, emotional moment.
I know all this talk about consistency in an otherwise fairly well written show sounds like nitpicking, but believe me when I say that I mean it with the best of intentions; Geed is the kind of show that plays with a lot of good ideas and that it totally delivers when it counts, but having watched Ultraman for years I know full well what the franchise is capable of, and this is a show that really felt like it wanted to do more than what it actually achieved.
To illustrate my point, just take a look at Geed’s secondary Ultra, Ultraman Zero.
In what was a break away from tradition, because apparently we don’t count Ultraman Gaia, Geed featured a secondary hero, the always boastful Ultraman Zero. In what was also an unusual twist, this time Zero had a new human host, the middle aged, mild-mannered salaryman Igaguri Leito.
I won’t lie, I probably enjoyed Leito and Zero’s characters more than Riku’s, if only because of their unusual dynamic; unlike most Ultra hosts, Zero and Leito remained as separate entities within a single body, so their act of balancing the life of Leito, the head of a middle-class family, and Zero, the hotheaded giant hero, was always amusing.
The best thing about them, besides their hilarious straight-man/world’s strongest child dynamic, was how they each had independent character arcs that went in opposite directions; Zero, the action man of space, learned the value of family and having a peaceful life, and Leito, the regular man of the office space, learned that protecting the world was important to protect his family’s future.
These two probably got some of the best moments in the show, but looking back it is pretty obvious that the show never had the time to fully flesh out their stories; while Leito’s big heroic moment early on was great, it lacked some impact because his character had barely been stablished; while seeing the cool and aloof Zero caring for a family will never stop being endearing, the fact that he really didn’t spend that much time with them on screen feels like a huge missed opportunity.
From Moa, Riku’s secret agent sister, to Lumina-san, Leito’s loyal badass of a wife, there were plenty of stories left untold that could have expanded both the main characters arcs and this world’s history. We still got just the right amount of characterization to make an enjoyable show, but there was plenty of substance in there to do more, and while that’s not exactly something I can fault the show for, it doesn’t change the fact that there were plenty of great ideas that the show mostly glossed over because of a lack of time.
If you are a fan of Geed as a show, then you may find my ruthless-yet-harmless criticisms a bit petty, but I got a point here, and a good one at that, so hear me out.
As I stated back at the beginning, the New Generation Ultraman shows have followed a consistent trend where the newest show manages to improve upon the previous one. This remains true of Geed, both in a storytelling and budgetary sense, but I really do think that this show pushed the limits of what you can do with the 26 episodes format; generally speaking, just the concept of Ultraman by itself and what you can do with it works better with the year long format, and Geed is proof of this.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Geed is bad, quite the contrary; this is an excellent show that is highly recommendable, even if you are not that familiar with the literal decades of daunting Ultra lore. I’d even say that Geed is an excellent entry point to the franchise, except that I don’t think there is such a thing as BAD entry point to start watching Ultraman. Not even Powered.
I still think that Geed has plenty of untapped potential that might leave you wanting for more, but that is hardly something you can hold against such an excellent series; the writing of the individual arcs is really good and the main cast is one of the best we’ve had in years, and if you are in for the giant hero action, then Geed won’t leave you disappointed. Simply put, there is something in this show for everyone.
Dumb jokes aside, Geed is certainly not without its flaws, and while I’d have liked to see more done with the ideas this show gave us, that doesn’t make the experience any less enjoyable. No show is perfect, after all.