“Mom from Another Dimension” and “The Crystal of Destruction”
With Mama Minato now back with us, everyone quickly tries to think of ways to deal with Leugocyte without firing a laser at it. It doesn’t work out so well, so R/B will probably have to fire a laser at it.
With the grand introduction/return of Mama Minato, Ultraman R/B finally shifts into plot mode and attempts to make up for lost time. Given we’re three episodes away from the show’s conclusion when she returns, you can’t help but notice how awfully paced this is. She also hits the ground running from the moment she’s released from the mystic space vase, with her actor working at 4000% to inject some personality into the tiny window they’ve allowed her. And to be fair, it’s reasonably successful given what she has to work with; she’s a pretty cliche scientist type, but she seems more fleshed out than a number of mainstay characters already.
Joining her is Kamisori Demaaga, big ol’ knife monster from the dimension she’s been locked up in for 15 years. I do have a few questions – how is Mama Minato so well kept after 15 years in the same clothes, and are we meant to believe that she was attacked only as she was about to leave, and not once during the rest of her stay? It’s a kids show, I get it, and I’m not expecting some long-winded explanation to these questions, but given the show is very quickly attempting to resolve the plot in the time it has left, it makes her other dimension-ness seem even more poorly resolved. Kamisori Demmaga, at least, is a pretty rad monster. It’s a shame that after putting up a decent fight and tanking a lot of Reube’s hits that it explodes rather anticlimactically to yet another hand laser.
Amongst the scrabbling to resolve the plot is also the question surrounding Asahi’s existence. Mama Minato handles the situation of suddenly gaining a daughter pretty well, and explains that Asahi might well be her daughter from another dimension. Stranger things have happened in this show, so sure, why not. We’re not done with this plot thread in these two episodes, however, as Asahi gets a vision when she receives a head pat from Mama Minato. I hope this is actually going somewhere interesting, and rather than just being an explanation of how she got here, I want to know why. So far the big reveal that she’s not of this world has been used for literally no purpose, so hopefully this is resolved in the showdown with Leugocyte.
Back to the plot, we learn that Goth Alien has planted “space trees” (?) to redirect Ray Energy (??) along the Ray Lines (???) caused by her dramatic landing on Earth. Basically it’s a bizarre way to explain that she has enough explosive power at Aizentech to blow herself, Earth and Leugocyte up for the greater good of the universe. It’s a little strange that they spend so much time to this when it could be waved away by saying they’ve been saving up energy for years or something, but we do get to see Goth Alien planting space trees so that’s good I guess?
Due to Mama Minato being stuck in a cheap rendition of the Ant Man sub-dimension for 15 years, she’s been able to observe events present and future. I assume this is also why she has an immediate game plan as soon as she’s back, though they don’t really say one way or the other whether she’s just very good at Ultraman science and is thinking on her feet or not. She does explain the reason for Leugocyte attacking Earth, stating it’s something alike to white blood cells attacking what they consider to be bad, so she must have done some research while away.
She’s also come up with a solution to it being in an impervious gas form, which she resolves by shooting a laser out of a pile of junk and all three gyros, which she steals from her kids by karate chopping them and leaving them in an alleyway somewhere. They’d have lent you them mum, that’s a little over the top.
This laser is enough to turn Leugocyte into a pog, with the plan being to toss it into the dimension Mama Minato was trapped inside via the space vase. Goth Alien is correct to point out that this is kind of a shitty thing to do, given it’ll just wreck shop over there and come back later anyway, but they don’t get the chance to do it after the dimension closes for… reasons unexplained. Goth Alien then takes it and heads off to Aizentech to complete her plan to blow it up for good.
I do appreciate that she’s seeing her plan through as far as she can take it, but at the same time I don’t think that the story beats leading up to this have been the best. We’ve known about her plan for quite a while now, but we’ve flitted between her being a maniacal villain to a grieving sister without much reason. We have all the pieces we need for her story to be properly delivered, why she needs to do things her way and the driving force of losing her brothers to Leugocyte, but it’s all been very slapdash and disjointed. Fortunately, it concludes about as well as you can hope for a plan that was never going to succeed, in what was probably the highlight of these two episodes – Rosso and Blu attempting to stop her from reaching Aizentech.
This is interesting for a few reasons, but primarily because the fight isn’t just throwing a monster at an Ultraman and seeing who survives. The goal isn’t to subdue Goth Alien, it’s to prevent her from reaching a location. It’s also a grander fight for the survival of Earth, as well as for the Minato family trying to save Goth Alien too. She even warp-digivolves to Grigio Regina, a somewhat bonier version of Grigio than Grigio Bone was, to increase her chances of reaching Aizentech without being stopped.
Admittedly, I was rolling my eyes at the start of this sequence. When Rosso and Blu first transform, they insist on using their sword weapons I forget the name of, giving us the tokusatsu special of a final look across the toy catalogue before the ultimate fight. We run through all weapons, merge into Reube, and do just about everything except using the water and earth forms, but to my surprise, they don’t succeed. This toy display is not all that uncommon in toku shows, but I’m not sure I know of a time that it’s happened and the users haven’t succeeded. No, Grigio Regina tanks their final laser attack and returns in kind, reverting Rosso and Blu to their human forms and leaving her unobstructed.
Of course, even with this subversion there was no way she was going to get to blow Earth up, so it’s not really a surprise that she’s foiled by the Leugocyte pog having enough of its plastic form and magically using Goth Alien’s gyro to turn into a monster. One thing I will say is that I was hoping that with Reube down, we’d get a grand return of Aizen as Dark Orb for a last stand (and also failure), for a last bit of save-the-Earth camaraderie, but alas it was not to be. His absence has been criminal.
Not a bad end to these two episodes, that’s for sure, but again, you can’t help but wonder how this could have been with better pacing and execution. Why not resolve Mama Minato’s absence a few episodes earlier, so we have time to see her character develop, and how she changes the dynamic between Rosso and Blu? A little more time on Asahi’s predicament wouldn’t go amiss either, and I don’t have high hopes for a satisfying conclusion to that in the final two episodes.
A little before the Grigio Regina fight, we see a short scene with Asahi and Goth Alien meeting at a cafe and eating taiyaki. It was around this point that I realised that there are quite a few similarities to last year’s SSSS.GRIDMAN. Different motivations and circumstances of course, but similar enough that I couldn’t help but compare Asahi and Goth Alien’s relationship to Rikka and Akane’s, and wonder what could have been.
- Grand King Megalos doesn’t return, which is a bit of a shame. It seemed like a stronger pull than Horoboros, anyway.
- Where is Aizen? I miss Aizen.
- Still no Dinosaur Tank.
King Kong Escapes is a stark reminder of how much is possible in the Tokusatsu format. Watched between episodes of Ultraman R/B, it is a damning insult. It’s made all the worse for R/B by the fact that it was made over fifty years ago.
I understand that I’m making an unfair comparison, of course; Escapes is a feature film; it’s got time and budget on its side. It bothers me, though, because we have seen R/B do so well just a couple of times, so we know for sure what they’re capable of. For example, there was the first appearance of the wind-wielding purple Ultraman, which was uncharacteristically well-executed. They clearly can do good, and yet they consistently fail to. With few exceptions, the choreography and cinematography are formulaic, the acting is unconvincing, the monsters are boring and indistinct, and the stakes are not established.
Escapes is certainly not without its problems. It has period-appropriate (but serious) gender issues, and it has some pretty dodgy compositing. I can’t help but forgive it, though; they were clearly pushing the boundaries of what was possible at the time, and they managed to do a number of things incredibly well. There’s good acting here, in particular within the suits; there’s one scene where Kong chokes out a dinosaur and the dinosaur does a really, really good job of selling it. The three monsters are visually very distinct from each other, and convincingly convey personality. Most importantly, though, Escapes actually has something resembling pacing and development. Every new setting feels like a different place, and is well-established when we first visit it. We actually see the consequences of destruction, and we are shown it in interesting and varied ways. By the time the film is over, the world is a different place, and the characters have changed.
That last point in particular feels like a low bar to me, but it’s one R/B only meets occasionally, and never with finesse.
Ultraman first aired in 1966, the year before Escapes was first shown in Japan. I suppose it’s unfair to expect them to keep up a consistently high quality when they’re putting out new episodes pretty much every week for 53 years. I’m going to be glad when this series is over and I can choose not to watch another.