akinoame: (Yui: Angelic)
[personal profile] akinoame
While a little more serious in tone, this show absolutely captured the heart and soul of my current favorite Ultra series. It shows what starts to break Gai and Juggler, builds up two friends who become bitter enemies and shows the beginnings of their split, but it also holds true to Orb's belief that there is always a light in the darkness.

Now, forgive me for not having the best overall review of this series, but the only reason I was able to finish these three episodes in one sitting is because I'm home from work with a cold. But despite that, I'm going to do the best I can to explain what I loved about it.

In Orb proper, we know Gai and Juggler over a hundred years later--possibly many hundreds of years later--when they've become enemies with a rivalry so legendary that every criminal and hero in the galaxy knows about their bad blood. Despite that, you always get the sense that neither really wants to eliminate the other; he just wants him to see his point of view and acknowledge him as right.

Orb Origin begins with what started this rift. The end of the original series revealed that when they were younger (as in physically the same age but still centuries in the past), they traveled to Planet O-50 to climb Warrior's Peak, a stormy mountain with the power of a Warrior of Light obtainable at the summit. Juggler reached the summit first, but when he tried to claim the power of Ultraman Orb for himself, he was rejected. Gai then reached in and was chosen. This bittered Juggler both against Gai and the Light itself, and started him on a journey toward darkness.

But The Origin Saga reminds us that this was a journey, not a singular event. Episodes 10-12 reveal a flashback that adds yet another viewpoint of what happened--the night before the climb, Juggler found Gai sitting by the fire, playing his orbnica. He mocked him for being so relaxed, but Gai admitted he wasn't at all--he fully believed that Juggler would be the one chosen. After all, Juggler was a better warrior, stronger, and far less naive. Gai didn't think he stood a chance, but he still made the climb because he believed in trying to create a world where nobody would ever be sacrificed.

And this is the driving force of the drama--Gai's wish and Juggler's insecurities. I can't help but think of The Origin Saga as a swordsmith--both of the characters have their flaws and strengths refined and hammered, sharpening them until we see whether they will withstand the battle or splinter and break. Fittingly, of course, both Gai and Juggler are defined by their swords: Gai by the Holy Sword Orbcalibur and Juggler by the Serpent-Hearted Blade.

Juggler agrees to help Gai through the first half of the series, when they're supposed to be fulfilling a mission presumably on Planet Kanon (I'm assuming, since I'm working of a fansub that may have missed the implication). But Gai is immediately distracted by the sound of a child crying on Planet Rurin--Gai cannot ignore anyone in danger, something that irritated Juggler to no end when they served in the same rescue squad on their home planet. They find a child whose parents have been poisoned by the mind-controlling kugutsu created by the Queen Beelzeb and are fighting to the death. Gai manages to save the kid, but not their parents. Juggler tries to tell him that he's naive for continuing to wish for a world without sacrifices, but Gai continues to stick ot that belief.

While they never return to Rurin, the side-trip gives them necesary information for what's going on on Kanon. Alien Wraith Dr. Psychi is using the Queen Beelzeb to try to control the entire universe, relying on ancient Kanonese legend that if she should meet their Queen, the War God, they would create a new world. Amate is the young Queen of Kanon, a pacifist who fears using her inherent powers in battle, even if it's to protect the Tree of Life, which spreads seeds of knowledge throughout the universe and created both the War God and the Beelzeb. Protecting her are two warriors, Miccot and Ricca, who serve under Captain Shinra, who is suspected of trying to poison Amate with kugutsu under Psychi's orders. That, however, is just the machinations of Raigo, Shinra's rival and superior officer, who wants Amate to use her power and protect their planet--especially because he has a pregnant wife who will otherwise be hurt. Shinra works with Miccot, Ricca, and the two warriors to try to protect Amate from Psychi while Raigo manages to convince her to use her powers.

Two other Ultras, Dyna (Shin Asuka) and Cosmos (Musashi Haruno), cross universes to join the battle, though Musashi makes it clear that he's not going to try and convince Amate of anything--just support her decision, so long as she makes it with a mind free of fear. While Gai tries to learn from his predecessors, Juggler finds himself gaining Miccot's admiration, since she insists on calling him Master and begs him to teach her the Serpent-Hearted Way. He refuses, but it's clear her belief in him means a lot when he's doubting himself. He confesses to her that the reason he's so distant isn't because a woman or Gai yes, the implication is heavy that Miccot smells the ho yay on them has betrayed him, but he feels he's betrayed himself. He's temporarily under the control of kugutsu and gets healed from a carving made of one of the seeds to the Tree of Life, but it makes him realize that this whole time, he's been going against his own principles in order to stick to Gai's, and he can't keep doing it.

When the Queen injects the War God with kugutsu, Juggler finally has his moment to shine as the hero, retrieving a fruit from the Tree and hurling it toward Gai so he can get it in Amate and save her. However, this doesn't end the battle. Miccot goes to retrieve Juggler's sword, but a Beelzeb attacks, and she's killed trying to fight it off. The grief awakens the darkness in Juggler's heart, and he transforms into his demonic form for the first time, slaughtering Beelzeb left and right before deciding to take matters into his own hands and cutting down the Tree of Life, so no one will ever fight over it again. But because everyone has turned against him, he tells Gai that he's no longer going to follow him, and sets off on his own.

However, unbeknownst to everyone, the Tree of Life spread its seeds to Earth, and a young man named Shohei Moriwaki helped unconver one of them and formed a psychic bond with Amate across 70,000 lightyears. His bond with her helped her regain her sanity, and it may have helped a new Tree of Life sprout on Earth. Gai travels to Earth to investigate, especially since Psychi and his robot partner, Partel, plan to resume their plans there. This Earth has never faced any monster attacks or giant aliens, so it's woefully unprepared when the Beelzeb and other mind-controlled monsters begin to attack over the Tree. Fortunately, Gai, Shohei, and Shohei's friend, Yui Nishioka, have help from two Ultras from yet another universe--Gamu Takayama, Ultraman Gaia; and his former rival, Hiroya Fujimiya, Ultraman Agul also he's played by Tezuka from Ryuki, and I'm proud of myself for recognizing his voice right away. Amate decides to come as well, after sensing Shohei's psychic turmoil, and she's accompanied by Shinra and Ricca. Yui's jealous of Amate and Shohei's instant connection, but Gamu is intrigued by the evolution in Shohei's brain as a result of the Tree of Life. Together, they decide to try to protect the Tree on Earth, even while Juggler fights and never really figures out what he's supposed to be doing. But Fujimiya can sympathize with him, since he'd had a similar point of view when he was younger, and he trusts that one day, Juggler will figure himself out.

In these episodes, we finally learn just what it is that Psychi is trying to do. We know he wants to use the Beelzeb Queen and the War God to override free will throughout the universe, with him as the only immune one through the seeds of the Tree of Life. He hates conflict and believes that free will, intelligence, is what's caused it. We see his backstory at last--as a child, he lost his parents to war, and he felt a deep connection to the Beelzeb Queen and her powers of mind control. Destroying free will would lead to a peaceful world with no conflict--he constantly berates the other characters for choosing violence over his philosophy. But to do so, he needs the War God to be so overloaded with kugutsu that she will explode and spread it throughout the universe in a second Big Bang, tainting everything the blast touches. This will, of course, kill Amate, and Psychi finally admits what he's been doing all along--justifying "sacrifices" in the name of a better world.

During her battle with the Beelzeb Queen, Amate felt a psychic resonance with her, and she wants to try to communicate with her again. Shohei supports her and gives her the ability to communicate with her, but the Japanese self-defense forces begin attacking the Beelzeb. Gai tries to talk reason into them but fails, so he tries to protect her from attacks. Since he can only do so much, Amate becomes the War God again to help, but she realizes that the Beelzeb Queen was only manipulating her, using their own psychic connection to reflect what Amate wanted to see and hear, even using Amate's own painful memories of her mother's final battle as the War God against an invader, and Amate's pleas for the battle to stop apparently causing the monster to disappear--this appears to be a lie created by the Beelzeb Queen to lure her closer. What the Queen really wants is to eradicate all traces of intelligence from the universe--all technology, all civilization, everything. All life will be under her control.

Both Gai and Amate are put under the control of kugutsu, so Ricca, Yui, and Shohei rush to an underwater temple to retrieve a fragment of the sprouted seed to save Amate. It fails, however, and their ship is about to crash. Ricca prays to Miccot's spirit and sees her helping her regain control of the ship so they can land safely--Miccot was always the better pilot of the two. But Juggler retrieved the fragment of the seed and forces it into Gai's mouth, saving him. Gai points out how many times Juggler's saved him, but Juggler can't let himself get attached--he knows this may well be the last time he'll do so.

Despite learning the Queen's true intentions, Psychi still believes that this will create a world without conflict, so he has Partel merge the two of them through a quantum warp. Gai "borrows the power" of the other Ultras by joining forces with them while Shohei and Yui race to the Tree to try and retrieve another fruit. But when they do, the seeds aren't shining, and Shohei nearly loses hope. Yui, however, tells him that it's his belief that's brought them this far and brought Amate this far, so he can't give up. With her help, Shohei is able to bring light to all of the seeds, and they're able to save Amate once again. But there's still enough kugutsu in her body that Psychi and the Queen can spread if they blow her up themselves--assuming, of course, that the Ultras don't destroy them first. Realizing that Psychi has no hope of surviving, Partel reverses the fusion, allowing Gai to retrieve him before the monster explodes. Partel then dies protecting Ricca and Shinra from a stray piece of rubble flying their way.

Gai only lets himself rest when he realizes Psychi is still breathing, and the not-so-good doctor asks why he saved him. Gai reiterates that he refuses to let anyone be sacrificed, and this revelation shakes Psychi, especially when Gai shouts back that maybe the Tree of Life created a monster that could destroy intelligence, but it also created an antidote to that poison, so as long as the seeds keep shining, intelligent life is still worth protecting. This starts to get through to him at last, especially with the realization that he lost Partel, the only person who ever truly understood him, and all as a result of his actions.

The Ultras return to their universes, and Gai returns to O-50 to resume his journey. While there, he imagines seeing Juggler there, waiting for him, but to his disappointment, he's alone. But the power of Light feels that he's done well on his first mission, so it unlocks his full power as Orb Origin, changing his form to the one we know from the series.

The Origin Saga doesn't have easy answers. And maybe it doesn't have a traditional sense of justice. Raigo gets off scot-free despite everything he did, and we can only assume that Psychi will face justice for his crimes. Miccot, unfortunately, is fridged in order to begin Juggler's descent into darkness and madness, while foreshadowing the events that will begin to redeem him--we know that because of her death, he saves Natasha to spare Gai the same pain, and he'll save Naomi even when he can't explain why. I'm never really sure how to take Amate and Shohei's relationship, but the series doesn't try to push them into a relationship; on the contrary, Amate encourages Yui and Shohei, pointing out that Yui's love for Shohei is what gave him the power to energize the seeds, just as Shohei's love for Amate helped her hold on. Gai, in turn, wants to believe in love and light altogether.

Is this a super-mature series? Not really. Not if you're expecting Tsuburaya's first foray into an Amazon Prime series to be like Toei's--this is no Kamen Rider Amazons. Rather, it takes the heart and soul of its child-friendly series and lets it grow up a little, gives it a bit more of a YA flair, and that helps the series all around. Orb was already a show with surprising complexity, and while I wouldn't want to strip it entirely of its silly charm, The Origin Saga proves that it can tell the same story both ways. Indeed, this only makes it more evident that Orb proper is the lightness that Gai and Juggler need, after beginning their careers in such a dark place. I truly enjoyed every second of it, and I hope that we will get the chance to see further chapters in the Orb saga.
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Akino Ame

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