A SPECIAL EFFECTS FANTASY: The ULTRAMAN Master Post

U40ULTRAMAN premiered fifty years ago on this day. I decided to spend three months watching all 39 episodes of it, and then spent another three months writing about those episodes and posting them on this site. Just to make navigation a little easier, here are links to all the posts in the proper episode order. If you want to read them in the order they were posted (because I watched and wrote about them in a non-linear fashion, as I am wont to do), just use the tag. I’m also watching and writing about ULTRAMAN‘s predecessor, ULTRA Q (which celebrated its own fiftieth anniversary in January).

You can watch all these shows on Shout Factory’s streaming site. And, hey, you can now watch the current entry in the series, ULTRAMAN ORB, on Crunchyroll.

HERE HE COMES, OUR ULTRAMAN: AN INTRODUCTION (3/7/16)
Episode 1: Ultra Operation No. 1 (4/6/16)
Episode 2: Defeat The Invaders!  (3/14/16)
Episode 3: Sally Forth, Science Patrol! (4/8/16)
Episode 4: 5 Seconds Before The Big Explosion! (5/13/16)
Episode 5: Treasure Of The Miloganda (5/20/16)
Episode 6: The Coast Guard Command (5/2/16)
Episode 7: The Blue Stone Of Baradhi (3/23/16)
Episode 8: The Lawless Monster Zone (3/11/16)
Episode 9: Operation: Lightning Speed (4/22/16)
Episode 10: The Mysterious Dinosaur Base (4/4/16)
Episode 11: The Ruffian From Outer Space (3/30/16)
Episode 12: The Cries Of The Mummy (5/9/16)
Episode 13: Oil S.O.S. (3/25/16)
Episode 14: The Pearl Oyster Protection Directive (3/25/16)
Episode 15: The Terrifying Cosmic Rays (4/25/16)
Episode 16: The Science Patrol To Outer Space (3/28/16)
Episode 17: Passport To Infinity (3/16/16)
Episode 18: The Brother From Another Planet (4/18/16)
Episode 19: The Demons Once More (5/18/16)
Episode 20: Terror On Route 87 (5/25/16)
Episode 21: Break Through The Smoke (4/20/16)
Episode 22: The Underground Destruction Work (5/23/16)
Episode 23: My Home Is Earth (3/9/16)
Episode 24: The Undersea Science Base (5/6/16)
Episode 25: Mystery Comet Tsuifon (4/1/16)
Episodes 26-27: Monster Majesty Parts 1 & 2 (5/11/16)
Episode 28: Human Specimens 5 & 6 (3/28/16)
Episode 29: A Challenge To The Underground (4/15/16)
Episode 30: The Snowy Mountain Of Illusions (5/4/16)
Episode 31: Who Has Come? (4/29/16)
Episode 32: The Endless Counterattack (5/16/16)
Episode 33: The Forbidden Words (3/18/16)
Episode 34: Gift From The Sky (4/27/16)
Episode 35: The Monster Graveyard (4/11/16)
Episode 36: Don’t Shoot, Arashi! (5/27/16)
Episode 37: The Little Hero (3/21/16)
Episode 38: The Spaceship Rescue Command (5/30/16)
Episode 39: Farewell, Ultraman! (4/13/16)

Advertisements

ULTRAMAN episode 38, “The Spaceship Rescue Command”

U38

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Photothermal Monster Kiyla

As the last episode of the show I watched (but not the actual final episode of the show), I guess it’s fitting that it ended up going where no other episode really has – outer space, the final frontier as some other show I don’t remember put it. It’s a full-on space adventure too, kind of an otherworldly analogue to “The Lawless Monster Zone“, complete with a fight between two strange beasts – when they’re on the rocky planet (how I love those), they even mute the colour scheme in a way that brings to mind older sci-fi B-movies like Angry Red Planet. For a show like this, it’s hard to say if the monsters are appropriately “alien”, considering the strangeness that has come before – but I guess a giant cockroach that plays dead and shoots a blinding light from its eyes (the second episode about a monster with a blinding light I watched in the same night) is a little different from the norm, while the second is more of a poor, flat-footed jobber who is killed unceremoniously (the Science Patrol’s weaponry never uses the same monster-killing special effects twice!) By all means, this episode is fairly standard – still, the series has had many homages or genre tints over the course of the previous 37 episodes – comedy, fable, jungle adventure, child’s fantasy, siege thriller, ghost story, and others – this one still feels like it’s crossing off one last necessary accomplishment before wrapping up, and in that way fills its niche handily.

***

And that’s that. Thanks to all of you who have been following along these past few months, and if you haven’t – click that tag and start reading! While this series is done, there’s still plenty of Ultra Q left to watch, so look for more of those in the future, alongside my Pokémon articles, and who knows what else might start popping up in the future.

Until next time, SHUWATCH!

ULTRAMAN episode 36, “Don’t Shoot, Arashi!”

U36

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: the Transformation Monster Zaragas

Here’s another character piece, this time for Arashi, who hasn’t had that many episodes all to himself. Although he isn’t portrayed as being hair-trigger or anything, being the expert marksman means Arashi’s deal is shooting things – and so the episode’s all about a situation where he is forbidden to shoot a thing, and the physical and ethical challenges that come with that. The militaristic nature of the Science Patrol kind of weaves in and out in the series, but here it’s played up to the hilt – is Arashi willing to commit multiple acts of insubordination to solve this week’s monster problem, even if it costs him his badge? The extra difficulty in the story is that the orders imposed on them are logically sound due to the nature of the monster (one of the more inexplicable things to appear on the show – I mean, it just shows up and has a grudge against the sci-fi children’s playhouse for no reason), even if it means letting a monster rampage – of course, Ultraman can never really have an impossible situation as long as the titular character exists, but for Arashi it is a no-win situation for most of the story. It’s a very unique kind of tension here, more of human one, and one that allows Arashi to show his priorities under pressure.

ULTRAMAN episode 20, “Terror on Route 87”

U20

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Plateau Dragon Hydra

Plenty of other episodes have been about the expanding modern world leading to that week’s monster problems, and this one falls into that category in a different way. Rather than having a clash between nature and urban expansion, we have more of a supernatural angle (with some nature connections in the setting, probably just to provide the contrast) connected to very specific human problems – in this case, the human cost of an increasingly motorist-dominated society – and it’s always more interesting when the topic is more specific. More of a straight ahead morality tale, most of the episode is spent setting up and dealing with the giant monster attack, but they manage to keep the theme in mind, both by listing general stats (the number of drivers in Tokyo), and even throwing in a scene of someone who seemingly values their car more than their safety. These ideas are really more strewn throughout in pieces, a concession to the show’s primary purpose as a monster fight delivery system, but they’re still there. The monsters rarely have “motivations”, so to speak, but seeing one with a grudge against vehicles was interesting, with several scenes of the thing smashing up highways (some new kinds of miniature landscapes to be demolished) – it’s a fun change of pace to have the thing target its rage at something in particular.

ULTRAMAN episode 22, “The Underground Destruction Work”

U22

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Underground Monster Telesdon

This one is short on explanation, but bombards you with so many events and weird images (and the presence of impersonation and mind control, checking off all those boxes) it can’t help but feel like the most paranoid episode in the series. It’s not that it’s particularly hard to figure out what’s going on, but the stream of things going wrong and not making sense (emphasized with some freeze frames, another one-off editing trick) at the very least gives the impression of disorientation, and they even manage to keep it going when anything approaching subtlety is shattered by the appearance of the monster. I was definitely not expecting the old “barely-lit-dark-room-where-a-character-strapped-to-a-table-is-interrogated-by-sinister-enemies” to be trotted out in this show, and the muted colours and sounds and camera angles they use play the scene effectively – pretty ably assisted by the creepy reveal of the underground people’s lack of eyes. It’s not Gilliam, but it’s still pretty cool for an old kids’ show.

I also found the underground people’s plan to use Hayata/Ultraman to their advantage endearing, in that it seems to come from a fundamental misunderstanding of how Ultraman operates that actually seems believable. Sure, they know that Hayata turns into Ultraman, but how would they also know that Ultraman is technically a separate being, so their mind control methods were never going to work? It’s a mistake they could easily make, so in this case the bad guys knowing Hayata’s secret is a little more interesting an idea than when it’s been used in other episodes.

ULTRAMAN episode 5, “Treasure of the Miloganda”

U05

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Bizarre Plant Greenmons

Even very early on, the series brings in some creative, one-off visual tricks: in this episode, we have unique transitions, and even a scene filmed in black-and-white, with a single colour object. The simplicity of the show and its format gave them a lot of leeway when it comes to things like that, and you can see that they wanted to give the audience some new, unexpected things even while the plots remained mostly similar.

The monster in this episode is very reminiscent of some of the cheapest of the 1950s creature features – a generally featureless blob, more or else a Vaseline-slathered gym mat; and that’s surprising, given how creative and detailed pretty much every other creature on the show was before and after this particular episode. Was this a bottle episode, or was it just a “yeah, that’s fine, whatever” situation? The monster did have two cool touches to it: I always like weird lifecycle ideas for organisms, so it has that going for it – and its death, transformed into a mountain of ashes and slowly blown away by the wind was a different, interesting visual.

This episode also featured a lot of interaction between Arashi and Ide – I’ve mentioned before that Ide is given the most complex characterization on the show, and his relationship with Arashi is a part of that, too. Arashi is not treated super-seriously either, despite being the marksman, but he is played as the slightly more serious older brother figure to Ide, and the one who gets involved with his antics more often than not – this one in particular has a couple of running jokes about that. So, while Arashi doesn’t get all the interesting moments that Ide does, playing those two off each other does give them both more dimensions.

ULTRAMAN episode 19, “The Demons Once More”

U19

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Blue Foam Monster Aboras & The Red Flame Monster Banila

Ancient societies are pretty good at containing powerful entities, something the people in their future seem incapable of (despite years of advances, like wrenches and tarps) – but never seem to be able to just get rid of them for good, something the people in their future ARE capable of more often than not. Funny how that works out.

As in many episodes, this episode’s explanations jumps headfirst into ludicrous, non-verifiable theories out there (of course, an advanced civilization could exist 300 million years ago and we just don’t know about it, makes perfect sense), to the degree where Mu is name dropped as if its existence is just common knowledge. But just like the episode where they mention the Loch Ness Monster, I’m willing to buy that in this series’ universe, it’s perfectly believable that Mu is not just assumed to be real, but probably was. That certainly aren’t any more ridiculous than two monsters being turned into goo, kept in capsules for millions of years, and then coming back to wreck a stadium.

This episode is also very allusion-heavy – the plot where two prehistoric monsters are unleashed and are destined to battle to the death is very reminiscent of Godzilla Raids Again; and the colours of the two monsters put them into the old red oni/blue oni mould, bringing in imagery from Japanese folklore as well.