Short comments and observations on this classic 1960’s Japanese tokusatsu, or “special effects” series. Assume some Spoilers for each episode.
Garamon Strikes Back
Ultra Q has not been widely viewed in the United States, even by monster movie fans. In 1967 CBS licensed the series, and even produced an English dub, but did not pursue it further. In Japan though the series was foundational to the science fiction and special effects genre, like Star Trek had been in America and Dr. Who in England. Several monsters from the show have become stars themselves, appearing in other programs and continuing to be popular toys. One of these is Garamon, also know as Pigmon from when it became part of the Ultraman monster menagerie. So Garamon returns for an episode that follows up the earlier “Garadama.” There is also another new element: an enemy with a human face — or at least the appearance of one. We meet the specific extraterrestrials that are using the Garamon creatures to attack Earth. At least that is what we can only assume they are doing, as they no interest in communicating their goals and motivations. Space aliens concealing themselves among humans, hidden flying saucers, and remotely controlled monsters reoccur in the genre throughout the decades.
The 1/8 Solution
When Ultra Q was being developed, and still with the working title of Unbalance, it wasn’t intended to be so focused on “kaiju” — mysterious creatures. Early testing showed that people liked giant monsters quite a lot, so they became the central feature of the series. This episode though seems like a script from the earlier vision of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits like series. Through most of the episode you’re thinking: hmm, an Ultra Q without giant monsters — but then at the end it turns out there are, after a sort. Seeing ordinary humans clomping around a typical Godzilla-scale miniature city is a weird bit of cognitive dissonance. Another aspect of the crazy world Ultra Q puts us in (“experiencing a parting of mind and body” as the show’s introduction puts it) is that you can’t make predictions about what its reality will consist of. If we were watching an episode of I Love Lucy and she was shrunken down to doll-size, we’d be expecting it to turn out to be a dream. In Ultra Q you never have that reassurance…
The Rainbow’s Egg
If you are transporting enriched uranium, I don’t know which is the most irresponsible: using an ordinary moving truck without additional security or military escort, or not preparing for the possible appearance of a giant monster with a molecular destruction beam known to be digging through the earth searching for radioactive food. This episode once again shows us a monster in the opening credits, giving the audience what the came for. There is also a rich mix of folklore, super science, charming kiddies, mass devastation, and a weapon nearly as apocalyptically destructive as the Oxygen Destroyer from the 1954 Godzilla, but without the angst.
Challenge from the Year 2020
An episode exploring the dangers of toxic social media and of the rich and powerful exploiting people’s fears and insecurities to entrench their privilege and… Oh, sorry… that’s not this particular nightmare of the 1966’s future. This episode is almost at a Philip K. Dick level of reality warping, with an alien invasion following the plot of a science fiction novel written by a scientist whose research discovered too much. What is the the X-Channel Light, and does it bring life, death, or visions of a future where our super-advanced descendants have warped themselves into bizarre horrors on a mad quest for immortality? And once you’ve been transmitted through the X-Channel, can we trust that you are ever truly “you” again? Probably the scariest Ultra Q yet, with a suit performance that highlights how weird body language is what it takes to make a truly creepy monster. Also a guest appearance by Japanese Lt. Columbo.