Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

Thoughts on Ultraman Moebius ep. 18

I've been meaning to write this up for some time. And since we're getting set to release episode 20, maybe I should get on with it. So...
Episode 18 is one of my absolute favorite episode -- in my top ten favorites if not my top five. (Hard call on that last bit, since there are just so many good episodes!) I think what I like about it is watching the conflict resolution process within the team. Mebius isn't a series that always deals with absolutes -- not every problem breaks down into black and white, I'm right and you're wrong. This episode is one where there is more than one way to look at it, like one of those pictures that, depending on how you see it, is either two faces or a vase. Is either one of them the "right" picture? No, each of them is equally valid.

The scenario starts simply enough: a piece of the comet from episode 16 is headed toward Earth. Following and feeding on its wake is a monster that gave a previous Ultraman a really hard time. The team heads out to destroy the fragment (and hopefully get the monster to Go Away by doing so), but Mebius, worried that he wouldn't be able to defeat the monster "alone" now that Hikari's gone, heads out and blows up the comet first.

That's the set up. From here the interpretation splits into a story of a vase or two faces.

On the singular "vase" side we have Mirai's teammates getting mad that Mebius jumped the gun and took out the comet without letting them get a chance at it. Angry -- and not realizing who they are speaking to -- they say some things that are pretty darn nasty and Mirai's understandably hurt by their words. It's fair to critisize their actions since, hey, Mirai's a nice guy and he was only trying to help. Mirai's complaint that Mebius is too a part of the team because he's out there putting his life on the line along with everyone is justified.

But on the "faces" side, several points strike me. To begin, what Sakomizu says when Mirai comes back after getting into a fight with his friends has always fascinated me. "Trust is hard to build up, but it's scary how easily it can be destroyed." It reads to me as a kind of critism, like Sakomizu is saying that he thought that Mebius' actions broke the team's trust somehow -- which implies that he thinks that Ryuu and the others' behavior has validity. The first few times I saw that bit it always bothered me. Mebius was only trying to help -- what's wrong with that?

The answer actually lies ten episodes back, in episode 8 -- though it was reprised (just to refresh everyone's memory) in the previous episode. In a flashback Ryuu and Serizawa were talking about why the Ultramen defend the Earth, and Serizawa points out that he thinks the reason has to do with us Earthlings getting out there and trying to help ourselves. (Giant silver aliens help those who help themselves?) There's a kind of unspoken compact that Earth's defence force gets first crack at solving the problem, with Ultraman only stepping in when there's nothing more that the residents can do. This time the folks who live on this planet didn't get a crack at fixing their problem at all. Mebius completely broke that compact, and I think that's the trust that Sakomizu's referring to. And from that perspective, he's right. Mebius overstepped his bounds and did the equivalent of walking into someone else's house and starting to clean it for them without asking. Sometimes that's a kindness, but in many cases that can be seen as being rude. It's an implied insult that the people living there can't (or won't) do it for themselves. I can see why the people who are out there trying to do their own housecleaning would get upset by that.

He broke trust directly with Ryuu, and so from that perspective I can see why Ryuu is justified in being upset. From way back in the first episode Ryuu's always been very clear in his belief that it's up to humanity to take care of their own planet and not rely on Ultraman to do it for them. Mirai is well aware of Ryuu's feelings on this matter (it's hard to miss, even with as generally clueless as Mirai can be), and generally acts in a way that is considerate of his feelings. But in this case, he went and did something that hurt Ryuu's feelings. It's a bit tit-for-tat critisizing Mirai for that. But at the same time I think he's more in the wrong for doing something he knew would upset his friend, as opposed to Ryuu saying things about Mebius without knowing that Mebius is also his friend.

(On the humans saying insulting things to Mirai count, I hold Teppei's commment in episode 33 about "as a human I can't just abandon her" against him a lot more than I hold it against Ryuu, George, or Marina in this episode, since Teppei knew exactly who he was saying that to. Ryuu and the others were ignorant, and would have handled it differently if they had known. So would Mirai, for that matter.)

It occurs to me that there's a third trust he broke as well -- the trust that was laid on him to follow in the footsteps of his forerunners. He was given charge of Earth with the expectation that he follows the unspoken rules. In not following that charge by jumping the gun, he didn't just insult his friends, he let down his sempai.

And his actions were insulting to his friends -- doubly so for brushing them aside to deal with this particular threat. This was the comet that, two episodes back, they handled destroying all by themselves. It's the closest they come in the entire series to resolving the problem completely on their own without any help from Ultraman. Wiping out this one piece was clearly well within their capabilities. But Mebius didn't even let them try. So, yeah, I can see why they'd be upset. They didn't need help, so Mebius jumping in first is almost patronizing.

The other main point that strikes me -- the second "face" as it were -- is that by going off and destroying the comet on his own, Mebius was acting like he wasn't part of the team. Ryuu's statement of "he's no comrade of ours", while harshly worded, is really only a true description of Mebius's own actions in this matter. Mebius wasn't being a team player. Mirai is the one who chooses to distance himself from the group by saying that he's all alone since there are no other Ultramen on Earth. The team doesn't kick him out. He withdraws from the group of his own accord. He defines his fellow Ultramen exclusively as his support group, and by doing so cuts out his human friends.

As unpleasant as it was for him to get chewed out, I think it was probably a good thing for him. He seemed to have forgotten along the way that defending the Earth was a charge given specifically to him, not to him and Hikari. He started out being the only Ultraman on Earth and didn't have a problem with it back then. But along the way he got used to having tall backup and forgot that he -- with a little ground-based support -- was the one who managed to take out a monster that killed two of his teachers. Bemstar may have been difficult to destroy in the past, but at the same time it hadn't previously killed Tarou and Zoffy. Mebius has managed tough monsters in the past, and he needed a reminder that he's still fully capable of dealing with tough monsters with nothing more than the support of his teammates.

So, yeah. Complex episode, with differing but equally valid perspectives, and hurtful actions taken on both sides.

This episode is one of the ones in particular that makes me wish I could get a coherent plot formed around sitting Mirai down and basically saying "you think you feel alien? Try being a blonde caucasian woman in Japan. You at least get people assuming, on first shake, that you're part of the group." Because really, it's not just people from outer space that the Japanese consider to be outsiders. But I'll revisit this thought in episode 32, since that brings up more clearly the whole "you can't tell a good alien from its cover" thought.

Tags: ultraman moebius
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