Before the Decker Finale, a Retrospective – Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey

Before the Decker Finale, a Retrospective – Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey

Hello, readers, and welcome to a brand-new feature from Ultraman Connection! It’s an exciting time to be an Ultraman fan, we are psyched for the premiere of Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond, the upcoming epilogue movie which follows the events of Ultraman Decker. It will be available to watch through streaming right here on Ultraman Connection starting Thursday, February 23, and released the same day as its premiere in theaters! 

As you may know, we’ve been recapping and eagerly discussing the show itself since its premiere last July, so we’re very excited to see how the story of Ultraman Decker continues, and what all the characters have been up to in the meantime. 

At the same time, it’s also a good opportunity to talk some more about the TDG series of the Ultraman franchise, and note some of the connections between Tiga, Dyna and Gaia, and how they relate to the “New Generation” series. There’s a lot of obvious references and homages between Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna, and the shows which inherit and follow that legacy, Ultraman Trigger and Decker

Rather than talk about the shows as a whole, we felt the best way to celebrate their legacy and lead into the premiere of Ultraman Decker Finale: Journey to Beyond on February 23rd, would be to discuss the movies from each of the series. So, we’ll be covering Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey, Ultraman Tiga and Dyna: Warriors of the Stars of Light, and Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Dyna and Ultraman Gaia: The Decisive Battle in Hyperspace.

This will be a three-part series which dives a little more in-depth into matters since we’re talking about feature-length films rather than thirty-minute episodes! But I hope you’ll join us to discover the history of this era of Ultraman, and what makes it so beloved and influential, even now, almost thirty years later! Of course, we can’t talk about the legacy of Ultraman movies without naming one of the biggest and most influential of the bunch, so we’ll start today with Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey

Epilogues are always tricky things to handle when writing a story. “What happens next?” ideally should grow naturally from the events of the series itself, with the same familiar characters in a recognizable context. A writer or director certainly wouldn’t want this subsequent story to feel like it contradicts everything that came before, or somehow renders it futile with a new threat or completely new setting.

At the same time, if you’re sitting down to watch a full, feature-length movie, an audience would expect that story to be on a larger, more elaborate scale than just a 30-minute televised episode. That balancing act between the two – being continuous enough with the show to be recognizable, while also providing a new, exciting experience beyond the limitations of the show – might seem like an insurmountable paradox. 

If there’s one thing Ultraman stories do very, very well, however, it’s combining both the small-scale and large-scale together. That perspective, a field of view with an infinitely long focus, helps to enhance and emphasize all the points of a story in a unique way. 

Ultraman Tiga The Final Odyssey has become a classic within the Ultraman franchise because of how well it accomplishes this feat, not just in its storytelling but also with its cinematography, themes, and characters. It’s become such a crucial part of the overall lore of Tiga and the “Neo Frontier” universe where it takes place, that even modern takes on that lore (most prominently in Ultraman Trigger, of course) pay significant homage to it.

With that in mind, let’s look at how Final Odyssey cemented itself as one of the most influential Ultraman stories of this time, and of the franchise in general.

The shift in focus is immediately obvious from the first few minutes of the movie. It starts right where the series itself left off, after Ultraman Tiga and the GUTS team defeated the darkness brought by Gatanozoa. The final episode ended with a group photo of the team, but after the freeze frame of everyone’s smiling faces at the start of this movie, the frame of the camera itself shifts from the 4:3 televised ratio to a wide-screen resolution intended for a movie theater. It’s a small detail but sets up the expectation that whatever is going to happen next will be even bigger.

But where do you go after saving the world and all of humanity from certain destruction at the hands (tentacles?) of terrifying primordial darkness?

Well, the Ultraman Tiga series itself was focused on the idea of learning from the mistakes of the past, to not repeat them, and to make a better future through that understanding. Following that idea, we see an expedition sent by the TPC to investigate the island which rose from the ocean during that previous final battle, looking for more answers. Already they’re preparing for the possibility of what might come next in their future.

Meanwhile, Daigo Madoka – our protagonist – is also looking to the future following the events of the Tiga series. He’s been on vacation, traveling with his now-fiancee Rena, and simply enjoying his life on Earth, as an ordinary human being, appreciating the beautiful light of a sunset together.

The certainty of their future is about to be cast into doubt, however; both groups of characters stumble upon new dark threats which upend their expectations. Iruma, the captain of the GUTS team, finds that the mission she was sent on has more sinister goals in mind than just providing knowledge of the ancient past. Instead, this “Project F'' has found more “giants'’ preserved in stone, the same way that Tiga had been discovered at the start of the show and wants to use their power for humanity’s own advancement. 

Similarly, Daigo’s dream, imagining his future wedding to Rena, is interrupted by a nightmare involving an unknown woman. Well, not completely unknown, he does seem to know her name at least – Camearra. 

And so, the audience is introduced to the most openly-spoiled twist of Ultraman Tiga, the origin of the Dark Giants. It’s important to note that none of this was established in the show itself. At the time it aired, there were other “Giants” who appeared as statues in addition to Tiga: two which were in the same pyramid found in the first episode, and then another one whose power was used by Masaki Keigo to become Evil Tiga.

But the ancient Giants were thought to be mostly benevolent figures, even if they failed to stop the darkness which destroyed civilization 30 million years ago in the setting’s history. This is the first time the characters have entertained the idea of that power itself being something dreadful and terrifying.

Of course, the “Project F” expedition is immediately thrown into disarray when their hubris allows the three figures to re-awaken completely. The Dark Giants immediately go to work smashing that hubris apart, and appear to unleash even further darkness, and waves of monsters onto the world now that they have resurrected. It’s only thanks to Iruma’s own mystical connection to the power of light from the ancient civilization that the darkness is stopped – for now. But now, it has been unsealed, and it starts leaking out to the rest of the world, causing disasters in its wake.

We could honestly go through and recap the rest of the movie like this, it’s such a gripping experience watching this mystery unfold and how our characters respond to the mysteries and the disasters which follow. Just a straight recap doesn't really capture the effect of watching it, however, and it certainly doesn’t explain why this dramatic shift is so gripping in the first place. 

Part of that effect comes from the sheer production value of this movie. It’s cinematic in a way that couldn’t be afforded on a weekly basis and the huge scope of the story is told through its larger set pieces, bigger cast of characters and extras, and the detail of the miniatures and effects – even CGI, which was still a relatively new method for the year this was made, in 2000. Most importantly, this is a feature-length movie, so its story can be continuously developed and presented, paced out over roughly 90 minutes instead of 25-minute chunks.

For audiences who watched this roughly five years or so after the Tiga series ended, it’s also gripping because of the way it reframes and almost subverts a lot of the lore from the show. The arrival of the Dark Giants isn’t just scary because of how powerful or cruel they appear to be. Humanity and the Earth itself faced powerful and cruel threats already. 

During those challenges, the “darkness” they fought against tended to be personified as a sort of despair, hopelessness in the face of that overwhelming power. Instead, the darkness represented by the Dark Giants here (let’s see how many more times I can use the word “darkness” in this review) is different because it is corrupting. 

Several of the GUTS team members, investigating the abandoned ship from the doomed Project F expedition, encounter monsters who appear to be human, and gleefully attack them saying that they will also “become like them”. Meanwhile, Daigo’s attempts to try and enjoy his vacation continue to be interrupted by Camearra, who tries to cajole him into giving up his happy idleness and to join her instead. 

This comes to a head when Daigo has one of the most profoundly disturbing experiences we’ve seen in an Ultraman story. It’s not gory or anything so crass, but when he tries to become Ultraman Tiga once again, to fight off the swarms of monsters unleashed by Camearra and the Dark Giants, his power instead turns into something abjectly horrifying.

We should note for those of you who haven’t seen the Ultraman Tiga show, that Daigo no longer can turn into Tiga after the final episode. His Spark Lens disappeared, and while this was treated as a good thing at the time – since the light, the power of Tiga is something shared by humanity now – Daigo finds himself in need of power to fight once again. 

But now when he reaches out to grasp power, a power that Camearra calls his “true self”, it’s also dark. Literally, it’s a darker shade of silver and black, instead of the normal gold, red and purple. It looks cool though, right? Why would a different coat of paint change who he is? 

The difference is clear though, when he sees the destruction left behind by the attack on the city. He sees a young girl crying over her mother’s dead body in the wreckage and reaches out to her. Daigo, using the power of Tiga before, reached out to other lives in much the same way throughout the show. However, this time, instead of an open hand, he makes a fist and drives it into the ground to crush her. 

I’ll tell you guys; I about had a literal heart attack watching that for the first time. Thankfully, the vision is immediately revealed to be just that – a vision – but the message is clear. Daigo, and the power of Tiga which he made his own through the events of the show, has some sort of connection to this darkness, and it represents a power which is fundamentally, terrifyingly destructive. 

The rest of the movie continues along these lines. The TPC and the GUTS team itself tries to find a way to survive against the attacks the Dark Giants send out from their island, while Daigo tries to make sense of his own connection to the power of Tiga and its history in ancient times. 

Again, this is very similar to how the story progressed through the Ultraman Tiga series before. The past brought challenges and old threats back to life when uncovered, but it also brought light and hope, a way that the characters could overcome those challenges by understanding them. Things seem even darker and more challenging now, however, because what was previously understood to be a source of light and strength for humanity – the power of Tiga itself – can no longer be trusted. 

So, is that it then, will Daigo and the rest of humanity be overwhelmed by this darkness, unable to fight back against it, or subsumed into its corrupting influence? Camearra seems to think so, she spends most of the movie trying to convince Daigo to rejoin them, the way that Tiga apparently had done in the past already. She sees the new life he leads, with his own hopes and dreams living as a human, as something illusory and transient, a fake persona put on to hide his “true” self. Humanity itself is disposable, weak, and worthless compared to the power that he wielded as a “Dark” Giant in the ancient past. 

Too bad for the Dark Giants, humanity keeps proving that idea wrong through every single part of the Ultraman Tiga series. Not only that, in every part of the Ultraman franchise. This is what I mean when I say these stories are very good about combining and paralleling both large and small-scale stories. The large-scale victories over cosmically powerful threats are only possible because of those smaller stories and are given meaning and importance because of how they are reflected on such a huge scale. 

In the finale of the movie, Daigo – while still using the “Dark” power of Tiga – tries to fight the three Dark Giants to stop their efforts to destroy humanity. However, Tiga’s own power, and Daigo’s will driving it, would both have failed if it weren’t for the comparatively small efforts contributed by everyone around him. The efforts of the TPC, other characters who return to fight their hardest, inspired by both Daigo’s example and other relationships, proves to be crucial to even get him to the final battle against Camearra in the first place. In the end, his connection to Rena and their love for each other (as well as the remaining power of the other Giants of Light who were also sealed in the island) provides the strength to overcome even that battle and win the day. 

At the same time, those small, personal connections are also revealed to be the cause of Camearra’s downfall. Throughout the movie, it’s shown that she really does love Tiga – and Daigo, who also still bears that power – but the darkness that she holds onto as a source of strength also prevents her from truly seeing that love through. After all, the darkness in this movie is corrupting, only seeking its own ends and consuming other lives in pursuit of that power. 

In some way, she wanted to join Tiga in the light as well but was unable to understand what the light truly represented. Instead of that relationship giving her the strength to overcome the darkness, it was twisted into something that made her monstrous in her final battle against Tiga.

Speaking of “final” matters, whew, that was a long journey to get to the end of this article! To make a long story short (too late), The Final Odyssey works so well as an epilogue movie because its scope and emphasis so perfectly match the themes of the show itself. It presents a huge, cosmic-scale battle even beyond the scope of what was seen in the finale of Ultraman Tiga, without losing sight of the characters and why audiences cared about their battles in the first place. 

The Final Odyssey had such a significant impact on the legacy of Ultraman Tiga that even almost thirty years later, most of Ultraman Trigger draws its plot from this movie directly, instead of just from the show itself. The Dark Giants in Trigger show up from the very first episode this time and Trigger himself was also revealed to have his origins as a Dark Giant, before overcoming it to reclaim his own unique light. Rather than saving that plot for an epilogue movie five years later, it forms the central plot line of the series, and the focus of the audiences’ expectations during its run.

Thankfully the show wasn’t just a straight re-creation of the movie. That would’ve been pretty ironic, considering the major theme of this movie is how to learn from the past without being bound to repeat it. Ultraman Trigger similarly departs from its predecessor in one specific way I was pleased to see. In the crossover episodes with Ultraman Decker, Camearra’s “New Generation” counterpart Carmearra actually gets a shot at redemption this time. Trigger and Decker, working together, both helped to revive her and give her another chance at life, removed from the darkness that consumed her in the finale of the Trigger series. 

It was a genuinely touching moment to see that the “light” not only allows our heroes to overcome darkness, but it can also rescue those who themselves are still trapped by it. It’s just a shame that Camearra herself was left behind without that redemption in Final Odyssey

Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey may be one of the most memorable movies of the TDG era, but it’s not the only one we’ll be looking at in the weeks to come. It wasn’t even the first one of the era! Next time, we’ll look at the 1998 film which really kicked off the “Neo Frontier” universe as a shared legacy between the two shows – Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna: Warriors of the Star of Light.