Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Don't give up!" Thoughts on Ultraman Nexus.

Of all of the major tokusatsu franchises, the one I have the least exposure to is the Ultraman series.  A while back, I bought the original series boxed set for around $5.  I found it to be a fun distraction, though it was far too much of an old, episodic, monster of the week type of show to watch in large doses.  I never quite got through it all the way (a sad tragedy that will have to be remedied), and I never really got into other Ultra shows.

I read some board suggestions for the Ultra series, and managed to snag some subs for Ultraman Nexus, one of the more recommended entries.  Sadly, these subs sat in a folder on my hard drive for quite some time, until recently, when I had burned out on Sentai and Kamen Rider enough to seek some other toku entertainment.  It only took a handful of episodes of Nexus before I was absolutely hooked.

Komon: pretty average dude.

We start the show with Komon, our main character, failing kinda hard at a rescue team mission.  Despite his failure and his thoughts of quitting his job, he is approached by the chief of a secret organization called TLT.  The chief is interested in him for some reason and wants to see if he is up to the task of being part of their special Night Raiders task force.  TLT's purpose turns out to be the extermination of space beasts while keeping the public from knowing anything about monster attacks and other incidents.  To help them with this, they even have Memory Police, who can erase people's memories Men In Black style. (Except with just their cell phones.  Nifty.)

Komon is such a likable guy.  I know I say that about most of the leads of these shows, but he is very kind and legitimately wants to help others, hence his rescue team job.  He can be a bit clumsy and awkward, but in a realistic, average guy kind of way.  He gets a lot of moral support from his girlfriend, Riko, who is very beautiful and sweet.  They always have nice conversations at the zoo, where she likes to work on her art.  His relationship with her is both believable and a bit heartwarming.  Watching them actually made me sigh and made me wish I had a Riko of my own...  She is more important to the plot than anybody realizes at first, which is interesting and also very unfortunate...

The cute couple.

While he is on his way to his training at the TLT HQ, Komon finds out firsthand the threat of the space beasts, as he is attacked by one.  He is unexpectedly saved by a silver giant, who is none other than Ultraman Nexus.  --What, the main character isn't Ultraman?  Interesting and unexpected for sure.  Anyway, we get to watch Komon struggle through Night Raider training and get acquainted with the other members, including Nagi, a harsh and experienced woman with an intense hatred of any creature from space.  Komon's interactions with her are something else.  She's always full of harsh "advice" for the newcomer and is very judging and bitter.  As the story unravels, we get to see her relationship with Komon develop quite a bit, and we find out many things about Nagi's past.  The other members are all likable in their own ways, though they are bit less developed (though not neglected).

Nagi, y u so hateful

We do meet the human form of Ultraman Nexus, a man named Jun Himeya.  This guy has quite the tragic past, and carries a heavy burden as he struggles to figure out the meaning and purpose of the powers that were bestowed upon him.  The guy is inspiring, epic, and completely badass (for Komon and viewers alike).  Of course, Komon completely trusts and believes in him and Nagi wants to blow his brains out for taking the form of a space creature.  Fun times.  As Ultraman, Himeya provides an invaluable asset to kicking space beast butt.  This unfortunately does not mean that his is treated with respect and trust from TLT, which occasionally orders the Night Raiders to shoot him.  More fun times.

Himeya's packing too.

I will note that to my joy and surprise, the Night Raiders aren't useless onlookers to Ultraman's battles.  They actually have decent fighting capability on foot and in their aircraft.  They regularly hurt the space beasts, and even destroy a few.
Anyway, the plot thickens many, many times, with quite a few twists throughout the series.  It isn't really apparent who/what is pulling the space beasts' strings until fairly late in the show.  Ultraman Nexus also has many characters who at first seem suspicious that turn out to be decent people, and it also has people that you think nothing of until they show their true colors in sudden and often devastating ways.

Without a doubt, Nexus has some great writing.  I think that I was immediately surprised by the character depth and the more realistic, adult relationships depicted in the show.  Nexus is also pretty dark and insanely epic at times.  I do know that it was aimed at more of an adult audience than previous Ultra shows, but what kills me is that the series had to be wrapped up a bit early due to low ratings.  This is quite unfortunate, as the ending seems a bit rushed.  Nexus was great, and it would have been even better if had gotten a full 50 episodes, but as criminal as it seems, that's how this industry works.  I guess it just didn't capture its intended audience, and I am pretty sure that it had a cruddy time slot.  Dayum shame.

Before I wrap things up, let me address the fighting scenes and the music.  The fighting scenes were well-choreographed.  I didn't notice any obvious and deliberate positioning or footwork that resulted in fake-looking or convenient fights.  I have seen this in some Ultra shows, and while toku is full of fun and silly fights (especially the older shows), it's nice to be able to take it seriously sometimes.

The music for Ultraman Nexus was composed by Kenji Kawai, who has worked with Mamoru Oshii on many of his films, including Ghost in the Shell.  The soundtrack for Nexus is epic and wonderful.  Many of the tracks are variations on the Nexus theme, but they are all different and great in their own ways.  Himeya's theme is incredibly touching and sad, and the Night Raider themes get the blood pumping.  This is one of those times where I immediately went out and found the OSTs.

Overall, Ultraman Nexus is a fantastic show.  Just about everything about it is well-done, including the plot, the characters and their development, the fights, and the music.  The only complaint I can come up with is that it is tragically a bit rushed toward the end, and I also found the "Second Season/Blue Nexus" portion to be a little underwhelming after becoming attached to Himeya and witnessing his amazing struggle.  The show never stops being good, though.  In my opinion it is tokusatsu at its finest, and it is definitely one of my new favorites.  Watch it.  Now.

Nexus is a cool guy.

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