'Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga + Ultra Fight Orb'
(Hideo Ishiguro, Takaya Aoyagi, Saki Fukuda, et al / 2-Disc Blu-ray / NR / (2016-2017) 2020 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: A spin-off to the TV series Ultraman Orb, the prequel introduces the characters Gai Kurenai and Jugglus Juggler, who, legend has it, once fought for the same power.
Blu-ray Verdict: Last year the silver giant of light turned 50 years old, and with the franchise having gained new footing in the past few years Tsuburaya Productions did plenty to celebrate.
Ultraman X kicked things off in 2015, leading into a movie which also featured appearances from both the original Ultraman and Ultraman Tiga.
However the main event was Ultraman Orb – a brand new anniversary series which once again saw worldwide distribution via Crunchyroll simulcasting.
Although this main series only ran for a total of 25 episodes, it was immediately followed up with a now-released Amazon Prime-exclusive prequel series as well as a movie.
As a child, Naomi Yumeno had a dream of a strange warrior of light fighting against a monster. This dream led to pursue the strange, extraterrestrial and paranormal – forming the SSP (Something Search People) with her friends Jetta Hayami and Shin Matsudo.
One day while investigating a giant monster attack, Naomi is saved by Ultraman Orb – a warrior of light who fights using the powers of his Ultra Hero predecessors. Shortly afterward the SSP then befriend wanderer Gai Kurenai, the man behind Orb, none the wiser to his heroic alter-ego.
Together with the SSP, Gai/Orb fights to prevent the resurrection of the Demon King Beasts who were sealed away long ago by veteran Ultra Warriors. Pulling away at those seams is the enigmatic Jugglus Juggler – a man from Gai’s past who wields the Dark Ring to counteract Orb’s light.
In a daring approach, 'Ultraman Orb' takes a very different approach from its predecessors and provides a standalone series with a greater emphasis on serialized storytelling with a smaller and more developed cast.
Even though Orb’s powers are derived from previous Ultras, the links start and stop there – making Ultraman Orb just as enjoyable to newcomers as it is to veteran fans.
The result is a series that feels very different to X, but has the same spirit, energy and reverence for the wider Ultra franchise.
As usual with this series, the visual effects are on top notch, pushing the envelope when it comes to miniature set design, pyrotechnics and physical stunt work.
Orb continues to enjoy Ultraman’s rich heritage of classic creatures, with appearances from monsters/aliens both old and new.
Old foes are brought back in exciting ways, from the ridiculous retro Space Mafia to the hilariously edgy (but unequivocally cool) reimagining of Zetton as “Hyper Zetton Deathscythe”.
I should also give a special shout out to the forms of Orb himself, which wonderfully blend the distinct traits of two different Ultramen while keeping Orb’s visual trademark of a circular color timer.
In closing, and on top of boasting the same level of technical quality that makes the Ultra Series just so spectacular to watch, Ultraman Orb pushes its narrative even further to create a story and characters that manages to surpass its predecessor.
Combined with 'Ultra Fight Orb: I'm Borrowing the Power of Parent and Child!,' the mini-series (again produced by Tsuburaya Productions, of course) is a direct spin-off of Ultraman Orb.
Released in 2017, and originally aired during the ending segment of Ultraman Zero: The Chronicle programming block on TV Tokyo, the film features the live appearance of Ultraman Orb's two game-exclusive forms, Lightning Attacker and Emerium Slugger from Ultraman Fusion Fight!
Not to give too much away here, but at the end of the series, it also features the debut of the titular character of Ultraman Geed! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.