MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Brain Wave Monster Gyango
Here’s another comedy episode, which also opens in a way that’s definitely meant to evoke “Kanegon’s Cocoon” (even reusing the same music!) This actually sets the tone for the rest of the episode (although most of the scenes involving the Science Patrol feel just a little too serious given the silliness of the rest), which is a series of goofy physical gags that stand out even amongst the funnier episodes I’ve seen so far. We even get a practical joke montage! The comedy also helps some of the weirder ideas/unclear plot points from being too distracting (what plans the criminal actually had in mind when stealing the stone, for example.)
You also have some pretty fun stuff in the fight scene, with both the monster and Ultraman played for laughs pretty effectively – it’s one of those subtle little characterization things in these types of shows but the fact that Gyango only real fights with cheap, cowardly tactics really lights up the whole fight, giving something rather stock plenty of personality. It helps that the strange design of Gyango really fits into the fantastical, goofy style of the whole episode – he looks like a monster a child would come up with, with of lots of incongruous colours and mechanical parts.
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Space Ninja Alien Baltan, and The Three Faces Phantom Dada
Here are two alien invasion stories, which are their own little thing in this show. I find it interesting that the series has certain structures set up for different sorts of stories: it feels like a remnant of how they were writing ULTRA Q. I always enjoy the way a fantasy series like this can move fluidly between genres, and while ULTRAMAN is mostly sci-fi, it can fit a range of ideas into its base formula (as we have seen, and we will see.)
These episodes are pretty standard in a lot of ways, but both have little details worth mentioning.
The plot of “Science Patrol To Outer Space” is split between “scientist who wears formal wear under his space suit” and “aliens from before fix the hero-can-easily-kill-them problem”, the latter of which is an entertainingly silly way to follow up the previous Alien Baltan episode. There are implications that the scientific rivalry between the Science Patrol’s own scientist and the suit-wearing one is about the values of perfectionism and the space race, but that doesn’t end up playing into the story at all – just another idea to fill the time.
That also happens in “Human Specimens 5 and 6”, which begins with a mystery that seemingly doesn’t get solved by the time the actual plot happens (the answer seems pretty obvious, but none of the actual characters mention it, so it just gets left there) – clues and red herrings that come and go very quickly. Then the alien appears – it seems to me that they were trying to replicate the creepy vibe in the first Baltan episode, but while the weird design of it fits, it ends up being played more goofy by the time Ultraman shows up. To be honest, though, the alien never seemed to be particularly good at his job throughout the episode.
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Coin Monster Kanegon
This is regularly cited as a particularly well-known and influential pieces of kaiju media in Japan (here’s the writer of one series of Digimon making reference to it, for example), so I thought it imperative to check it out as my second Ultra Q episode. What struck me first was how different it was from the first one I watched – which really shouldn’t be surprising given this series’ aims, but it was an interesting contrast, and even showed how the opening credits sequence, with its more whimsical marching band music, could set up that different tone. The whole episode is full of pretty well-observed childlike wonder – the kids in it are pretty realistic scoundrels (the first thing they do is sell each other stolen junk in a quarry, and the main boy’s friends constantly threaten to just abandon him in his time of need) who even in the most strange or dire situations never take the whole thing at all seriously – and the episode never really does, either, with one goofy thing happening after another. I especially like the two bullies, who chase the kids from the quarry (driving a bulldozer) so they could do…something. Kanegon itself is a pretty likeable creation, one that perfectly fits this sort of silly semi-moralistic fable tone – it’s basically a giant living change purse, the kind of monster a child would come up with. Watching a lot of these tokusatsu shows gives you plenty of the rougher concepts for monsters, it is pretty refreshing to see the same style be used for something a little less rooted in violence – it’s very evident how much the dynamic this episode in particular produces in this series (and the small town feel that it deals in as well) influenced later dabblers in the kaiju arts, Pokemon especially.
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Tide Wipe Monster Gamakujira and The Oil-Beast Pestar
Here are two episodes that are more or less the same story (a marine monster threatening some important resource, Ultraman barely shows up), but I found the former just so much more entertaining than the latter for a lot of reasons. Of course, the big one is that the central premise of “Pearl Oyster Protection Directive” is based on a…um…less than agreeable concept (and there are also not enough jokes in it to make it a full comedy episode, either) – because women love their pretty things, right? Fuji’s not a character who has been used in a major capacity in any of the episodes I’ve seen, so having the one episode that sort of revolves around her be based on a sexist joke is unfortunate. Otherwise, aside from a silly finale, there really isn’t that much to it, although I kind of like the shots of the Science Patrol camped out across from the resting monster.
“Oil S.O.S.”, on the other hand, is interesting in how it transitions from a more traditional episode to The Towering Inferno – the monster is barely a threat, really, and its more about the fallout of trying to deal with it, the kind of wider look at the core premises of the series that are surprising when they show up. Once again, it becomes a Ide-has-a-crisis-of-confidence episode, and it benefits from it – by the end of the episode, the tension comes not from trying to destroy the monster, but from Ide trying to make up for his mistake. It’s surprisingly thrilling.
Also, the monsters: Gamakujira from “Pearl” is a little strange (lordy, that fleshy vacuum tongue), but still pretty standard as far as kaiju go (it also spends a lot of the episode only being sort of destructive, which makes it seem like more of a large nuisance than a total threat), but Pestar is another thing entirely. Not only is it one of the stranger visuals in the show, watching it in motion makes it entirely clear that it is being operated by two suit actors, which is rather crazy to think about.
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Magnetic Monster Antlar
This is another fairly straightforward adventure episode, with some much-appreciated participation from the Science Patrol’s seemingly ineffectual (but well-meaning) non-Japanese branches. The whole episode feels like an excuse to bring up old lost city tropes and bring in some (probably not extremely well-researched) foreign locations – in those regards, perfectly acceptable! It also has an ant-lion monster, because as I have known from years of playing video games, a lot of people in the fantasy milieu in Japan find this particular insect quite interesting.
One thing in this episode feels like an interesting artifact of its time, especially compared to us in 2016: it introduces a historical background concept that both the people writing it and we the audience of 1966 know will never be followed up on. Here is the tantalizing suggestion that there have been Ultramans visiting earth for millennia and inspiring our ancient legends (and doing so just before von Daniken, began suggesting that the same thing happened in real life…er, more or less), but it simply exists here to add some additional element of untold history to the setting, and to give them a solution to that week’s problem. Revealing increasingly complex backstories for your characters is de rigeur these days, so its interesting to see older shows introducing some “mythology” with the tacit understanding that this or its implications would never be referenced again.
(I will note that to my understanding the Ultraman/Noah thing is, in fact, referenced in more recent productions, which only proves my point.)
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Friendly Rare-Beast Pigmon, The Comet Monster Dorako, The Underground Monster Telesdon, and The Monster Chief Geronimon
I’m still fascinated with Ide, who is the only member of the Science Patrol who is given a large degree of pathos in the episodes I’ve watched, on top of being the show’s comic relief. Here he is given another episode to himself, suddenly pinging on the fact that the majority of the monsters are taken down by Ultraman and not by his many monster-killing inventions. It makes total sense that the comic relief would also be the one who has crises of confidence, but it’s still not a characterization that you’d expect from a simple show like this – and it even goes as far as having him screw up because of it, leading to an inspiring tragedy. It’s still just so surprising that the show would even attempt that kind of range over the course of its run.
Also notable in this episode is the return of Pigmon, the ugliest-looking creature that has ever been sold as a friendly, “cute” character. Pigmon gets an expanded role in this episode, a wild contrast to his last episode, but it also means they get to pretty much completely reuse his sacrifice from that same episode and have it feel a little more weighty – him being there doesn’t feel sort of dashed off. Considering that this episode also reuses other monsters, it feels like a sort of bottle episode – but I guess by putting Ide and Pigmon in the lead roles, it doesn’t necessarily feel like that much of a retread.
Finally, I just want to bring up that the main creature in the episode is called Geronimon, and is the “monster chief.” I am sure your life has been radically improved upon learning this.
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Malicious Alien Mephilas
There are numerous episodes about alien invasions, but this one has a slightly different style, as the invader uses demonstrations of superior technology rather than brute force (although he gets to that eventually, despite claiming to be “a gentleman”) and a pretty basic moral quandary: would you “sell” the earth for access to that technology, for immortality? It’s an interesting theme, the possibility that we could take this world for granted, sacrificing greater things for personal gain, and that its fate would be determined less on actual ideas of ownership, but rather on a test of loyalty – although being loyal to a planet is kind of a strange idea, really, basically scaling up nationalism to absurdity (the scope of it is probably one of the reasons why the alien thinks he can trick a child.) When Ultraman finally shows up, him and the alien are more or less equals, otherworldly beings debating the morality in human nature. It’s not exactly deep, but it’s definitely a change-up from the norm in these things.
Also fun: it’s one of the few episodes where a non-costumed actor gets to walk around the miniature set, kind of a reminder of what the behind-the-scenes of the show looks like. There’s more to giant monster shows than themes and philosophical musings, after all