Just this past Friday, July 8, 2016, Crunchyroll began to simulcast Tsuburaya Productions newest installment and commemoration to the 50th Anniversary in the Ultra franchise, Ultraman Orb. The series stars Kamen Rider Den-O’s Hideo Ishiguro (Kai) as Gai Kurenai/ Ultraman Orb, who is out to defeat the Demon King Beasts and stop his archenemy Jugglus Juggler played by Takaya Aoyagi. However unlike previous Ultras, Ultraman Orb uses the past Ultras’ powers combining them through Ultra Cards to obtain new forms.
The episode opens up with either a flashback, or foreshadowing event where Orb and Zetton battle in front of girl. In the battle the girl dies, and in a fit of rage Orb unleashes a mighty attack that destroys Zetton as well as the surrounding area. Gai recovers in the remains of the burnt forest, and screams in agony of what has occurred. Flash forward to the present where random tornados are appearing throughout Tokyo, as the S.S.P. (Something Search People) has begun investigating the weird occurrences while also avoiding their landlady for overdue rent. A shipping-freezer truck stops in the nearby whereas Gai emerges from it, only to end up at S.S.P.’s currently location as the team’s leader Naomi argues with her uncle the Captain of VTL (Versatile Tactical Leader). The tornados appear again and begin destroying more of the city, as S.S.P. drives into the eye of storm, as Gai lunges onto the vehicle warning the team to get away before its too late… However it already is too and the group is sucked into the main tornado. Gai identifies that there is a kaiju in the storm, Maga Basser and quickly transforms into Orb to battle the creature along with rescue the team. S.S.P. tries to film the battle via Naomi’s phone, but in the chaos uses the wrong camera, recording her reaction.
The team continues to research the event of the tornadoes further, and during a coffee run Naomi runs into a mysterious individual. Soon after meeting this stranger, the storms begin again and Naomi is sucked into the storm. She is luckily rescued by a flying Gai, as Maga-Bassar reveals itself to the city. Gai runs off into a photo booth to transform into Ultraman Orb, fusing Ultraman and Tiga together to assume his Spacium Zeperion form to combat the kaiju. As the fight between Orb and Maga Basser goes on S.S.P. learns of Orb via the mysterious man Naomi met earlier. The battle is intense, and brutal with property damage at a ‘low’ however Ultraman Orb’s energy is soon winding down, so he unleashes his finisher to kill the kaiju. Gai soon reappears to absorb energy from the remains of a jewel from Basser to receive the Ultraman Mebius Ultra Card, before removing his photos from the booth to cover his tracks and protect his identity. Gai then informs S.S.P. this won’t be the last time their paths will cross, and also learns he almost lost his harmonica (the Orbnica) in the storm, but it was held onto by Naomi.
For being the first episode to the newest series, Ultraman Orb attempts to be a different take in the franchise while maintaining several elements from previous series. The changes made are not entirely too visible to new fans, but for more common or average Ultra fans they are. Gai or Ultraman Orb, is the first main Ultra who is not attached to an Earth based exploration team or Kaiju prevention teams, and is seemingly depicted as ronin or more specifically a wandering cowboy. The other change is the Kaiju prevention team VTL, which uses vehicles based on the original Science Patrol (or Science Special Search Party) is not focuses upon, but rather more focuses on S.S.P. (Something Search People), a small investigation team that specializes in paranormal activity. Aside from the changes, the first episode still holds to what the franchise is normally known for.
Gai Kurenai is the incredible highlight of the episode, as he is based on Dan Moroboshi/ Ultraseven, who is a highly skilled Ultra in disguise and the other attribute which was mentioned before, as being a wandering cowboy. These characteristic and traits when thought of and combined, seem to already be the perfect combo, adding more to the mystery of Gai or who he is, which branches off the ‘prologue scene’ seen in the opening minutes. Now, one who has seen series Ultra series, Gai does not just felt like he is entirely based just off of Dan/Ultraseven alone, but Jin from Ultraseven-X as well as from other hosts in the Ultra franchise, specifically the secondary Ultras; especially due to how he dresses, featuring some sort of leather jacket, a common trope for secondary Ultras in human disguises. Two things that really stick out about Gai, is his apparent use of abilities in human form such as the ability to fly, and the other being how he tries to maintain his ‘secret identity’ in an American hero-like way using the photo booth. Seeing that gave me hope that Gai will need to rely on his powers from time-to-time in human form, and when trying to maintain his secret that he is Ultraman Orb, I could see that becoming a part of the comedic aspect of the show in some degree.
As for the other casts members, mostly the members of S.S.P., Naomi stands out due to the fact she is the series lead actress and group leader, as well as there is already ‘shipping’ between her and Gai. Whereas for Jetta and Shin, they did not seem to barely receive any development outside of providing what their duties for the group were. Then as for VTL the only known member is the captain, Cap. Ittetsu Shibukawa, who in our first episode is only established as the uncle that is allowing S.S.P. to exist only due to caring for his niece, Naomi! Hell, as the Captain of the traditional kaiju prevention team, he nor his team deploy to combat Maga Basser until all the action is over… Not sure if it that was to build off the comment said in the episode, that VTL is slow to respond, or it was just merely a coincidence. Finally, as for our villain, Jugglus Juggler, he is very typical for an antagonist in the Ultra franchise, having no real introduction into his identity or his motives, pads the plot.
The Tokusatsu aspect for this first episode feels very thin, as in the opening scene where Orb battles Zetton merely hooks the viewer into a mystery. Making the viewer question is what they witness a battle from the past, or foreshadowing of a battle to come? Then it is soon followed by a short battle between Orb and Basser within the storm, with most of the battle cloaked by the storm itself before coming to overall final battle between the giants. The final battle is very intense, but follows suit to several battles seen within the franchise, where for avid fans parts become easily predictable, as to how the fight will play out. Now, I do not hate the action in the episode, but felt it was very light for a first episode. The tornado battle was an interesting idea since rarely no Ultra really begin featuring two battles with the ‘monster of the week’ in the series first episode, without it possibly carrying over to a continuing episode. As for the final fight, the part that stood out the most was when Orb’s color timer began to signal that his energy/life was dwindling down, that the Ultras (Ultraman & Ultraman Tiga) used for the combination begin emerging from his body, exposing that the fusion will dissolve. It is easily became one my most favored way to signify a battle worn Ultraman, even if he is the only Ultra to date that relies on the fusion of previous Ultras.
Overall for our first episode, Ultraman Orb it feels like a common Ultra series, but has a few differences from the norm to give the series some new and fresh elements. The series shows a lot of potential with these differences; however I can also already see that these differences may or could lead to the series’ to become unsuccessful. Even if turns out to be a terrible Ultra series, I will continue to watch it avidly and review it, but I am pretty sure it won’t be terrible because this show isn’t Kamen Rider Ghost! (Shots Fired) Never the less, I look forward to the next episode where Orb and Juggler will have their first on-screen confrontation, and hopefully it will explain more of the overarching plot along with the Juggler’s villainous plan. As well as I hope to hear back from the fans on what they thought of the first episode in the comments below!