ULTRAMAN Episode 31, “Who Has Come?”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Blood-Sucking Plant Keronia

Some parts of this story pose it as a clash of civilizations – one of the few not to involve aliens, but rather intelligent plant people from South America. Putting humanity in contrast to another form of life entirely is pretty standard (as is the “explorer returns after years in the jungle” part of the plot), but the idea that plants have somehow evolved to the point of building pretty advanced technology (powered by their internal electrical currents – as little sense as it makes, I like the little biological details) is weird even by this show’s standards. We get a brief scene of a strange plant growing in the middle of the city ala War Of The Worlds, but otherwise the episode is dominated by more flying saucer battles, so the plant aspect is only there for a bit – but it’s still there.

This show will make very broad philosophical statements at the end of an episode, and going back to the “clash of civilizations” idea, here comes the scientist saying that a civilization based on blood drinking can hardly be called a civilization. This is a wonderful B-movie-ism, made even better because you could theoretically dissect the nuances of his argument – and how it fits with the series’ approach to non-human civilizations in general.

ULTRAMAN episode 34, “Gift From The Sky”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Megaton Monster Skydon

Now here’s a comedy episode through and through – well, except for that scene at the beginning where a man jumps off a building (going a little too far to demonstrate that theme, people.) But aside from that, this one feels not only like the most devoted the show has ever been to being funny, but it’s also strangely one of the more experimental ones, production-wise – we see plenty of new camera angles, some interspersed title cards, ending fake-outs that feel surprisingly ahead of its time (almost Police Squad-esque), and in many other ways playing with the usual format of the show. This being pure comedy probably emboldened them on that front, but considering that this episode is also very late in the show’s run, they probably just wanted to do something really out there as they approached the end of the series.

ULTRAMAN episode 15, “The Terrifying Cosmic Rays”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Two-Dimensional Monster Gavadon

This is ostensibly a comedy episode, but the action parts really don’t seem all that different from a non-comedy episode, so the tone is a little uneven. The actual plot is very lighthearted, and all the stuff with the kids fits in with that – but while the Science Patrol stuff has what I’m pretty sure are meant to be jokes (“The monster is destroying the economy!”, or the part where the Science Patrol decides risking casualties blowing the monster up is less boring than just erasing it while it’s still a drawing), it’s played a little too straight, at least compared to most of the other humorous episodes. Maybe it just needed a little more whimsy.

Still, I think the stuff with the kids and their monster is pretty cute – how they go from something very simple to something covered in random features and colours, how worried and sad the kids get when it’s being attacked. It’s also an episode where the monster is more of a nuisance than a threat, so the violence against it is not so justified – and since there are characters in the show that empathize with the monster, the audience probably feels justified in feeling the same. It’s kind of like “The Mysterious Dinosaur Base”, but with children instead of a crazy man.

ULTRAMAN episode 9, “Operation: Lightning Speed”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Uranium Monster Gabora

It’s interesting to see the show integrate natural disasters alongside the monster stuff – monsters are fair enough as story fodder, but pairing it with something we know can actually happen lends even the fantasy stuff an ounce of extra tension. The show can gloss over the collateral of a monster attack whenever it feels like, but it’s appreciated when we get some actual reactions from normal people as well. In a series with fewer monsters (and, let’s be real, less fun), two kids trying to get food for their camp after a storm could probably carry a half-hour – but in this case, we also get a monster, so all the better.

The fact that everyone knows the name of the monster as soon as it shows up indicates that it must have been some sort of nuisance before – and a uranium-eating monster (another monster that eats a resource! Another creature based on modern human activity!) seems like something that they’d want to know about way ahead of time. I like it’s face-covering, too, as an extra little design element – is it supposed to be like radiation shielding? This episode is fairly early in the series, but it reminded me that Hayata has been in so many aerial vehicle crashes over the course of the series – you’d think the rest of the Science Patrol would wonder just how unlucky/lucky he is by about the third or fourth time.

ULTRAMAN episode 21, “Break Through The Smoke!”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Poison Gas Monster Kemular

So yes, we’re still having to deal with this show’s general treatment of its sole female main character, who does take the lead in this episode initially, but is quickly written out and, before that, relies heavily on the twelve-year-old to get them out of a jam. Not as bad as before, but still…

Some scenes early on in the episode might make you think the story will go full-on JAWS, as a hotel manager complains about monster sightings ruining his business in this resort area (another good location shoot, I assume) – but then the monster just shows up and that possible plot point is put to bed early. Still, it’s kind of fun to see the fantasy interact with the real world, even if only in a fleeting way.

Third point: hey look, the monster is the prototype of every video game boss ever, with a big growing pustule on its back for someone to shoot at. I’m sure there must be some sort of precedent for this sort of idea before that, but this is so conceptually and visually similar that I would not be at all surprised if the designers of say, The Legend of Zelda have this episode in mind every time they design of a big boss monster.

ULTRAMAN episode 18, “The Brother From Another Planet”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Evil Alien Zarab

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that they would try the “alien tries to turn the earth against Ultraman” plot at some point. Here, you’ve got one a seemingly nice (but weird-looking) alien you can talk to, up against another one who does have a history of helping out but doesn’t really explain his actions. Still, the con game the alien pulls in this isn’t really all that subtle – he shows up just when something weird happens, and then can instantly solve the problem (and when he uses mind control so others do things for him, they’re even less subtle than him) – but aside from the government-types who show up, no other humans totally trust this towheaded thing who has just suddenly appeared with his radio. The aliens that appear on this show are varying degrees of blunt, and this one probably falls right between the Baltans that show up earlier, and the much trickier Mephilas that shows up later – he’s very calm and collected, and has pretty much figured out everything he needs to do, which makes up for the fact that he’s doing this thing without back-up.

Still, although there’s no mystery, it is kind of interesting that they ask the question of what would happen if Ultraman turned on humanity, and how the Science Patrol would react. The show thus far seems to be good at addressing these kind of throwaway concepts over the course of 39 episodes, and while they don’t really mean anything in the long run (it’s not unfair to say that this kids’ show is not terribly interested in seriously addressing all the ethical concerns that could be derived from its stories), its fun to see that the people making it seem to have the same thought process as the audience every once in a while.

ULTRA Q episode 19, “Challenge From The Year 2020”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Kidnapping Phantom Kemur Man

So, not much in this episode makes a lot of sense. Between the initial unnerving scenes of a sentient puddle making random people vanish and the climax, we have a mystery where revelations come and go and mostly just elicit a “huh? Um, okay.” There are many ideas that come and go, and the central question is answered with things that just raise further questions.

Still, if we can just appreciate the little things instead of just being put off by the big things, there’s fun to be had. The episode makes a good use of locations – having the initial scenes be set mainly at a resort of some sort is neat, and the final nighttime carnival setting is especially creepy in black-and-white. I enjoy the mini-storyline of the photographer’s schlubby-looking police bodyguard proving to be very competent. The scene where the airplane pilot disappears is a good idea for a tense moment in theory, although his passenger (hey, it’s the future Captain Muramatsu of Ultraman!) appears a scene or two later none the worse for the wear (I guess being in the military means he knows how to operate a plane.) Also, the monster is pretty strange and disturbing-looking (as a puddle and as a…thing, that uh, spits foam from his antenna-tube?), even if its motivations and abilities aren’t very clear. All of these disparate elements were obviously prioritized over an unscrambled plot, but who needs one of those all the time, anyway.