An Orb of History

American pre-teen TV deals with high school drama, maybe relationship troubles or, at their dramatic peak, drugs. In Japan, there’s Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga about Japanese Imperialism, loyalty to nation, and whether war can ever bring peace.

As with anything in the Ultraman universe, this mini-series (12 episodes, streamed digitally in its original broadcast) concludes on colorful action. Giant warriors shoot beam weapons at monsters, the mythology twisting enough to feel as if written on the fly. There’s no grounding, yet a release from the historically-themed events prior.

Multiple planets factor in, two of them at war, with a Princess connected to an Earth-bound researcher via an interplanetary tree seed. That’s wild, but the central conflict forces this Princess to address a growing invasion from the villain who seeks to “purify” the universe by erasing free will. She questions whether turning into a War Goddess and creating conflict is ever a solution, wrestling with morality and the oaths she took to protect her people.

Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga critiques, lambastes, celebrates, and acknowledges Japan’s bumpy past

It’s fascinating to watch because the script fights with Japan’s lineage. Costumes represent multiple eras, from samurai to now. That bridges the nation’s struggles to defend itself from outside influences, through World War II’s aggression, and into a respect for the natural order. In a dozen episodes, Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga critiques, lambastes, celebrates, and acknowledges Japan’s bumpy past. Consider an American equivalent with the Power Rangers admitting colonialism and Middle Eastern wars were mistakes – that’s what Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga does for the island nation.

The more overarching narrative is that of men seeking power, believing they know what’s right. Psychi (Motoya Izumi) sees only disgust in mankind’s action, hoping that removing free will can prevent humanity’s in-fighting. Countering that is Gai (Hideo Ishiguro), on the side of right, if conflicted. In the finale, there’s a moment where Psychi begins to dangerously sound reasonable. Around the heroes, Japan crumbles because of a war they’re involved in. It’s hopeless, until the heroes make right.

Splendid miniature work and kinetic action keep things driven, never enough to lose the target demographic, while softly, even ingeniously striking against complex dogmas. It’s all commendable, even as Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga turns into a toy commercial. Dismiss the noise and incomprehensible anime-like action for something undeniably rich in nuance.

Video

Spread across two discs, the battle on Mill Creek’s Blu-ray comes from compression. Noise swells into heavy blocking, reducing detail for an image quality akin to streaming; that’s appropriate considering where the series debuted.

Digital cinematography does produce often clean visuals. This isn’t theatrical filmmaking, but for TV, captures high resolution material better than most. In close, facial definition excels, sharpness exquisite. Things dip when digital composites appear. Softness intrudes then, if as expected.

Thankfully, black levels hold their form. Density gives space pure black to play in. As Ultramen send out beams, contrast turns blinding. Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga isn’t short on color either, richly saturated to get the most from explosions. Costumes bring out reds, yellows, and blues in almost every frame.

Audio

In stereo, action avoids splitting the soundstage. But a handful of moments stretch the front channels. Possibly by design, this lets positional touches stand out. A surprise voice or explosion sourced from a specific direction calls attention to itself.

Mixing allows low-end extensions, giving weight to giant footsteps. Scale is consistently established. Music stings equally apply.

Extras

Mill Creek includes Ultra Fight Orb, a 30-minute transitional sequel series that’s little more than one extended action scene. Fun, if opaque in purpose.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Ultraman Orb
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  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga uses its platform to subtly teach kids about Japan’s wartime mistakes between splendid giant monster battles.

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