Though I was very young when I started watching Ultraman Tiga, I initially only had a small selection of episodes to enjoy and finding more was difficult for an American kid in the early 2000s. It took me almost a decade to catch the rest and they were rarely in order. In fact, the last episodes I watched on my initial journey through the series were episodes 43 and 44, “Land Shark” and “Inheritance of Shadows,” which introduced Evil Tiga. Imagine my surprise when I first saw the trailer for Ultraman Trigger Episode Z and realized that I would be completing my journey through Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga the same way! I consider the Evil Tiga story to have been one of the peaks of the Tiga narrative; could Episode Z reach the same heights?

Warning, Spoilers for Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga and Ultraman Trigger Episode Z ahead!

Short answer? Yes! Episode Z is at least this reviewer’s favorite story in the entire Trigger saga. Drawing on the best aspects of not only the show it preceded, but of massive fan-favorite series Ultraman Z, the story told in this special feels like a perfect epilogue to this recent era of Ultraman television.

The story takes place two years after the final episode of Trigger. The world has changed since Kengo Manaka went into the Eternity Core. GUTS-Select has evolved its arsenal with a host of new weapons, and a new captain! Ryuichi Tokioka is an Ultra-Ancient Civilization researcher with deep ties to Akito and Chairman Mitsukuni, who has become team leader after former Captain Tatsumi’s promotion and reassignment. Under him, GUTS-Select has managed to protect the planet from the odd monster attack without the aid of any Ultraman.

However, though the menacing specter of the Giants of Darkness has passed, new threats are still ready to rear their ugly heads. When a change in Kengo’s stasis puts his life in danger, GUTS-Select begin a bold operation to rescue him, returning him to the waking world. However, his rescue comes at the cost of his ability to transform. Thankfully, Haruki Natsukawa and Ultraman Z have crossed universes once again, and are here to help Kengo until he can become Trigger again. However, Haruki’s appearance and Kengo’s circumstances are all part of a much darker plot, 30 million years in the making…

Episode Z is a fantastic showcase of all of Trigger’s best qualities. Raiga Terasaka, Shunya Kaneko, and Runa Toyoda form the emotional core of the film with their bond, having taken their chemistry from the original show and allowed it to mature significantly, despite how little time has passed since Trigger was shot. Kaneko and Toyoda especially get to explore new qualities in the performance they honed over 25 episodes, both serious and comedic. Raiga Terasaka has managed to, over the course of his tenure as Ultraman Trigger, make “Smile, Smile!” a rallying cry for fans and casual watchers alike, and he brings his signature blend of sincerity and lightheartedness to the finale of Kengo’s story.

Kohshu Hirano is one of the most beloved performers to ever wave a transformation device, and fans who lamented the lack of an Ultraman Z movie should be sated by this story. During the special, Hirano’s acting is put to the test when his portrayal of Haruki is inverted due to the circumstances of the greater threat, providing a challenge that the actor proves more than a match for. Tokusatsu veteran Yuichi Nakamura brings his prodigious talent to the role of Captain Tokioka, and villain Zabil delivers what may legitimately be one of the most gloriously unhinged performances in the entire Ultraman Series.

Episode Z is directed by Masayoshi Takesue, best known for helming the direction for Ultraman R/B, and his influence is clear as crystal throughout the special. Takesue’s talent for naturalistic, earnest character writing is on full display, and works exceptionally well to bridge elements from Trigger and its multi-million-year timeline, as well as Z. The fight scenes run the gamut from desperate, destructive battles to even a tag-team wrestling match in a ring made of power lines, and all of them look fantastic, matching the best episodes of Trigger with no major lulls.

If all this has you excited to see Ultraman Trigger Episode Z yourself, take heart; you can still rent the VOD right now, right here, for $6.99.  A purchase gets you unlimited plays within 48 hours of first play, with a 7-day period to watch. Don’t miss out on the finale to the Ultraman Trigger story—or the teaser to what comes next in the Ultraman Series at the end… And for more Ultraman media, news, and reviews, stick close to Ultraman Connection!