Here we are, it’s my 400th post on this site and we’re right back where we started. Very appropriate!
The first batch of episodes sets the stage pretty well, as you will see, and things only go up from here, so click that Read More so we begin the adventure.
Episode 1, “The Invisible Challenger”
ALIENS!: The Space Hunter Alien Cool
As first episodes go, this one both sets up much of the series while also not answering a number of questions about that set-up. We see Dan meet up with the Ultra Guard for the first time, show how he helps them thwart your average alien invasion (in this one, their plan is to force humanity to surrender by making a dozen people float in a room for a while), and then have him officially join the team—they also make sure to demonstrate both Dan’s use of capsule monsters (and their propensity towards getting beat up when they are used) and the fact that, unlike in Ultraman, his superhero identity won’t always be giant-sized. He even gets to demonstrate his eye-slugger and the gruesome violence it wreaks when he slices off the top of an alien’s skull. It does encapsulate a lot of what you’ll be seeing in later episodes.
What it doesn’t do is explain who Dan/Seven are, or what they’re doing on Earth—Dan’s transformation into Ultraseven happens without any build-up, or even the narrator telling you what’s going on. Some of these details are kinda-sorta explained in later episodes, but not a lot, and it’s almost as if they thought the theme song summed all that stuff so well that they don’t need to include it in the show itself. The other members of the Ultra Guard don’t even seem to wonder why this random stranger knows so much about the aliens. Considering that the character of Dan/Ultraseven is made to be much more straightforward, traditional superhero secret identity set-up (rather than the more complicated two-beings-in-one-body origins set up in the first episode of Ultraman), you’d think that they’d then have the time to explain more about the character more—but no! That’s a sign of confidence, I guess.
Episode 3, “The Secret of the Lake”
ALIENS!: The Transforming Phantom Alien Pitt
…and MONSTERS!: The Space Monster Eleking
This is the one where everything really begins to click, containing not only a full-on kaiju battle (both with another capsule monster, the delightful Miclas with its big, goofy expression, and Seven himself), but a scenic location (with local comedy yokels putting in appearances) for said battle to take place, and also one of the recurring tropes of the series: the aliens already know that Dan is Ultraseven and steal his Ultra Eye. Seriously, every other alien menace in this show’s run seems to do their homework and does the obvious thing to complicate the plot—either that, or Dan is just really bad at this secret identity business. This show also really love having the aliens take on unexpected forms, just to vary things up, so in this case the aliens who unleash the episode’s monster appear as giggling teenage girls. I find it entertaining, and sometimes they use it to fake you out—but not this time, as it’s pretty obvious what’s going on the whole time.
On a historical note, this episode’s kaiju has ended up becoming one of the Ultra franchise’s iconic monsters, appearing in multiple series to this day. It’s one of those things whose more expected dinosaurian base is made more memorable because of the little weird touches—the dalmatian colouring, the rotating antlers, the extra long tail, the fact that it doesn’t have an actual face. Maybe it was also memorable for just how much blood it spurts when Ultraseven decapitates it? Once again, these early episodes demonstrate that even compared to the over-the-top violence of Ultraman, things have a chance of getting real messy here.
Episode 4, “Max, Respond!”
ALIENS!: The Anti-Gravity Alien Godola
This is a pretty standard episode in most respects, but one of the first where it’s clear that they had a unique visual in mind, in this case the image of a naval vessel floating around in space, and probably wrote a story around it, which will be recurring thing throughout the series. Not only do we get another example of gullible ol’ Dan having his Ultra Eye stolen in pretty much the exact same way he did in the last episode (but this time, he takes a wrench to the head!), this is also one of the first, but certainly not the last, episode in which aliens either control or disguise themselves as one of the Ultra Guard members in order to infiltrate their base (you also see a variation of that in both Episode 2 and 5, not covered here.) If all other ideas fail, they always have those tropes to fall back on, as well as the long-ish deployment sequences of the Ultra Hawk planes, a good piece of time-filler.
There are other things worth noting in this episode as well: the nonsensical impracticality of the Ultra Guard’s space helmets (it doesn’t even cover their chins!), the fact that the aliens’ plan is just meant to be a distraction predicated on the idea that the Ultra Guard won’t multitask a search-and-rescue operation, and the giant monster battle sequence, which contains one of this series’ jazzy scores, and ends with the alien trying to fly away and then getting shot in the butt and exploding. I would never put this one on a list of exceptional episodes, but it’s a good example of this series’ structure and style on a normal day.
Episode 6, “Dark Zone”
ALIENS!: The Wandering Alien Pegassa
This is the first episode to introduce some moral ambiguity into the series, making one of the more interesting plots. It begins with a nifty visual premise, with Anne finding a mysterious talking shadow hanging around in her (very ornately decorated) quarters, and gets into a conversation with it—the effect they use is old-fashioned, sure, but it’s still a neat hook. Of course, once the rest of the Ultra Guard receive a message from an extraterrestrial source, we can all figure out what the shadow is (despite the cryptic answers it continues to give), although the course of events are never exactly what you expect.
What I really like about this episode is that it basically comes down to a case of miscommunication—the technologically-advanced aliens live on a giant, space-faring city that is careening towards Earth, and are requesting that humanity change its planet’s orbit to get out of the way, because they assume any civilization would have figured out how to do that. The Ultra Guard try their hardest to explain that they can’t just move the planet, but the aliens refuse to listen—they aren’t necessarily evil, just arrogant. This continues when the Ultra Guard find the city in space, try to talk to them again and help them to evacuate, and then are forced to blow the whole thing to hell in order to save their planet. Which, you know, seems a bit overboard, but they were backed into a corner (it won’t be the last time the Ultra Guard resorts to extreme measures like this, but this at least has them show a little bit of regret.) After the shadow reveals itself to be a member of that blown-to-hell civilization (who doesn’t believe that their primitive civilization could destroy his city-planet), and that he was sent to blow up Earth if its inhabitants didn’t cooperate, the script makes the choice that Ultraseven foils his plans (and lets them animate the northern lights for a moment), but ultimately lets him get away—after all, he has nowhere to go. Ultimately, the point seems to be that the aliens were undone by their own overconfidence in technology, a lesson that could be easily applied to us as well. This is an early sign that, sometimes, there’s some real Sci-Fi ideas hidden beneath the rubber masks.