Monday, October 15, 2012

On the subject of Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy

Alright, my first blog post here. I figured it would be a good idea to start with
something big so here: my thoughts on the 2009 Ultra Series film, Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy. I guess you can call this a review. Some amount of spoilers are to be found within, as I make known my opinion of various aspects of the film. However, I will not actually summarize the plot.

When I say big, I mean it. The conflict is on an amazingly grand scale, with the
Ultra homeworld itself being threatened, as well as featuring numerous Ultra heroes,
including one crossing over from a different universe, and (as the title suggests) quite a large host of Ultra monsters, mainly as part of the main villain's monster army. Suffice to say, the principle of "bigger is better" is at work here, to some extent.
Image from the opening sequence

The movie has an opening sequence, explaining the concept of Ultramen, as well as somewhat summing up Rei's story without actually going into detail. I assume this sequence must have been very important, as the Ultra Galaxy TV series was only broadcast on pay-per-view in Japan, so probably very few people had known about Rei's story before viewing this film, moreso for people outside of Japan. I know I
hadn't. (Although I have seen it since, both the first season, and Never Ending Odyssey.)

Mebius and Hikari face Belial in battle
The main plot kicks off as the film's villain, the Dark Ultra Warrior, Ultraman Belial is freed from space prison which he was (of course) imprisoned in. I have to say, Belial is an interesting addition to the "classic" Ultraman universe, being the first true evil Ultraman of this continuity, and a Reionyx too. Despite that, he didn't quite feel like an Ultraman to me during his fight sequences, as his combat style mainly relied on his staff, the Giga Battle Nizer. It's not a very Ultraman-like fighting style. However, I must admit, he's an impressive villain nonetheless. His attack on the Land of Light is a glorious and amazing large scale battle, with a large scale result as he succeeds in taking the Ultra homeworld's power source, the Plasma Spark.

The two heroes most highlighted in this film are newer characters, Rei the earthling Reionyx and crew member of the ship Space Pendragon from the Ultra Galaxy series, who possesses the ability to control monsters (mainly his Gomora), and Ultraman Zero, a new character introduced in this movie. As for Rei, I find that the first actual scene to feature him did not establish his importance, or his strength very well. Despite the scene coming right after Mebius is told that his help is required in defeating Belial, it doesn't do too much to support that. Rei shows quite little fighting ability as he struggled to defeat even a single monster. I cannot quite remember how I felt, but I imagine people would have trouble buying that he would prove much help against Belial, considering that the latter had successfully fought through a large number of Ultramen. As for Zero, he leaves a great impression as a character, despite only being involved in the struggle against Belial quite late into the film.

An important aspect of these two heroes, which I found interesting is that
comparisons are drawn between Belial and each of them. As Mirai/Mebius explains the situation to Rei, the latter compares how Belial represents the dangers of "power without justice" to his own dark side, his"Reionyx Burst" form. Belial's attempt to gain power in his youth, which led to his original banishment from the Land of Light and being discovered by Reiblood, is compared to an act Zero had commited. The key difference being that Zero had a mentor figure to train and guide him during his banishment. Said figure being Ultraman Leo.

The various other characters featured in this film are not given much focus. The senior Ultras demonstrate the "never give up" attitude so commonly seen in Ultra media, as they maintain a sense of hope despite their planet and its people having been plunged into a frozen near-death state. The only Ultras present during Belial's attack that did not get frozen were Ultraman, Ultraseven and Mebius, and they are amongst the ones to confront Belial and his army in the film's climax. The Space Pendragon crew are mainly focused on as Rei's group of friends rather than individual characters. An intereting addition to this film is the involvement of Shin Asuka, also known as Ultraman Dyna, who lends a hand to the Space Pendragon crew before transporting them to the location of the film's climactic battle.

I found this movie really entertaining. The action is fast-paced, well-choreographed
and keeps going almost non-stop throughout the film to drive the story along. The
accompanying soundtrack helps quite a lot.It has a nice, grand feel to it. Indeed, if you want an Ultra film with impressive fight sequences and action, this one is undoubtedly a great pick. I would not say that action is the biggest draw of the Ultra Series for me. Not in general. It's just that this film does it really well. It's also an interesting departure from the usual settings of earth and human-populated areas for the Ultra Series.  The computer-generated landscapes look cool, and for this film, CGI is almost only used when it would work best. Unlike the 2006 and 2008 Ultra films that preceded it, Mega Monster Battle avoids the more inappropriate uses of CGI. No weird portions of battles where the Ultramen themselves are sudddenly (not-so-great) CGI.

Dream team-up, or random choices?
As an Ultra fan, I have to also discuss this film's context in relation to greater Ultra Series continuity. The history of the "classic" Ultra universe gets explored to an extent, most especially the history of the Ultras as a people, as Mirai's explanation to Rei also depicted the origin of Ultramen and the Plasma Spark. The appearance off Asuka/Dyna is clearly intended to connect with the events of the Dyna series finale, which I found to be a nice touch. This film is actually a direct continuation of three stories. Yes, three. Aside from continuing from the Ultra Galaxy TV series and the events of Ultraman Dyna's final episode, the movie'sevents directly pick up after the third Ultraman Mebius side story, "Ghost Rebirth",which introduced the Giga Battle Nizer. Despite that, you won't really get lost in the movie if you haven't seen those. Indeed, watching this film is not a bad introduction to Rei and his friends, as the events of the Ultra Galaxy series are only referred to in vague terms, without ever going into detail.

I must admit, what really drew my attention to this movie was the inclusion of so damn many Ultramen. It's a great team-up of heroes across generations of Ultra Series. There are also loads of cameos that while enjoyable, get odd for continuity reasons, such as Musashi of Ultraman Cosmos showing up as a ZAP Spacy member. This movie is like a big fandom treat, with this sort of dream team up between the heroes (depending on what your dreams are like, I guess).The scenes at the land of Light provide a nice glimpse of the society which the Ultras came from.The new Ultras are pretty cool too, at least visually, even if Belial does not use Ultra-like attacks here (although the following film sort of fixes that). Zero is especially impressive in this film, as he pretty much steals the show when he finally takes part in the climactic For anybody is completely new to Ultra Series, this movie might not be a bad starting point. True, a lot of characters are involved in this movie, but for most of them, you don't really need to know who they are, as their involvement is hardly great. Plus, the opening narration does help explain things, even if it's just a way of telling without showing. Just don't expect other Ultraman media to have so much fast-paced action after seeing this.

In the Ultra Galaxy series, a profile screen is displayed for every monster that appears. Thankfully, this film does not do that at all. It was already tiring during the series itself. Plus, it would have taken needlessly long.

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