Every Saturday, a member of the Tokusatsu Network staff will post an article pertaining to anything tokusatsu related. To start things off, here are my opinions on Ultraman Ginga and what I believe went wrong with the show.
No matter if it was a relatively new fan or someone who has grown up with the franchise, tokusatsu fans were most likely excited when news came out that there would be a new Ultraman series in 2013. After such a long time without a series, a new hero would arise to take on new challenges. Sadly, no one told us that the challenge would be in the task of actually watching the show.
Being the new face of the Ultraman franchise since Ultraman’s Zero’s appearance in Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends The Movie in 2009 and the first Ultraman series to air since 2008’s Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle: Never Ending Odyssey, there was a lot riding on Ultraman Ginga being an amazing show. On top of that, Ginga was to coincide with the celebration of Tsuburaya Production’s 50th anniversary. Expectations were rather high for this show from the beginning. So, what happened?
Now, I can only tell you what I believe to be the major problems for this show. And just as a disclaimer, I’ve only seen the first seven episodes of the show that were subbed. But, with a show that ran for only eleven episodes, that seems to be a good enough gauge for what the show is about.
While the story for Ultraman Ginga felt like there could be something underneath the surface, there was just a lot left to be desired upon its execution. The connection between the Ultras and Hikaru comes off as paper-thin at best. And while they tried to enforce the standard that every acquaintance of Hikaru will turn into a monster after failing to deal with their own demons, you rarely felt a need to care about the problems of these characters. The only one that comes close in that department is, ironically, is Chigusa. While she can be perceived as annoying a majority of the time, her arc felt the most natural because there was a bit of build up to her conflict. Other than that, the story of Ginga often feels like a means to get to the action.
The problem is that the action in this show is not the most satisfying goal to reach. With the low budget that was provided for the show, it is understandable that corners had to be cut to be able to create something with the means they had. And props to the cast and crew for the job they’ve done. But its still hard to move past the blandness of just about every fight in the show. From the lack of locations to the lazy editing, the Ultra battles feel like the drag on a lot longer than they should.
You could say that we, as fans, were spoiled a bit by the Zero movies. With Sakamoto directing the first movie, it set the trend for fast-paced action that moved those movies along. In Ginga, there are times when the camera uncomfortably stays on a shot seconds more than it needed to, with the suit actors standing there in an almost confused manner. And with very little danger being presented to our hero, the fights act more as placeholders than anything else.
With Ultraman Ginga being an anniversary series of sorts, it seemed only natural that the show would follow in the footsteps of similar series from other franchises like Kamen Rider Decade or Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Each series has a gimmick where they use collectible items that represent past heros of their respective franchise in order to use their powers in battle. Decade used cards while the Gokaiger team used Ranger Keys to summon the powers of their predecessors. Since Ultraman as a franchise is a bit different in that the monsters are just as celebrated as the Ultras, Hikaru uses toy figures, known as Spark Dolls, of various monsters with his Ginga Spark to transform into them for his battles. And this would be fine, if only it was done in a more imaginative way.
In order to transform into a monster, Hikaru touches the tip of the Ginga Spark to the foot of the Spark Doll. Now, it looks about as uneventful as it sounds. One of my big problems with the transformation sequences in Ginga is that it never looks like the actor is doing anything. Even in past Ultraman shows, they would strike some kind of heroic pose while yelling and pointing their device in the air. Hikaru just stands there and touches the two toys together and bam, insta-monster. And the main way that Hikaru can turn into Ultraman Ginga is by willing the Ginga figure into existence and having it come in contact with the Spark in the same manner. It’s very lackluster for a gimmick and pales in comparison to past anniversary transformation devices.
The monsters are not the only characters that are turned into figures. Due to a massive battle, the Ultramen of the past were also turned into Spark Dolls and scattered across the universe, similar to the Ranger Keys in Gokaiger. So far in the series, the only two Dolls that we see with characters are Alien Valkie, who is restored to human size by a mysterious evil figure and Ultraman Taro, who is still in Doll form but can speak and guide Hikaru through his journey. Whether Hikaru ends up using the powers of the other Ultras doesn’t really matter at this point. With the way that the gimmick is set up, it will not look nearly as meaningful as it should. And that’s a shame since this should be a celebration of these characters, not just a means to reuse suits from time to time.
Ultraman Ginga had a lot of things going for it, but somehow the ball was dropped and what was produced was a rather big letdown. A lot of it did have to do with budget restraints, but this is one of the reasons why tokusatsu appeals to so many of us. The cast and crew are capable of doing incredible things with very little and we appreciate this effort on many levels. But, when a show feels constrained and trapped in its own surroundings, you know that a wall was reached. And when the actors themselves look unenthusiastic and give off the feeling of not wanting to be on set, there is only one way that the show can turn out.