When I first started this watch of Ultraman, I did not intend to devote an entire blog post to each episode. While there continues to be a lot going on in every story, we have now at least set up the basics and I’m going to restrain myself to just a few main observations, much as I did for my earlier Ultra Q commentaries. I won’t try to summarize the events and plots, since, if you haven’t seen the individual episodes, you can look them up on places such as the Ultraman Wiki.
The Blue Stone of Baraji
I frequently see Ultraman described as being formulaic, that each episode is the same. True, there is the structure of a mystery or disaster that the SSSP investigate, which leads to a giant monster which Ultraman shows up to defeat in the last few minutes. But that “formula” makes up only a small portion of each episode. We’ve had alien invasions, folktales brought to life, revenge driven plants, kids chasing diamond smugglers — all in the first half-dozen episodes. And now we have a lost magical city, an homage to the many stories of fantastic ancient kingdoms inhabited by mysterious advanced civilizations possessing lost powers.
There are several important bits of world-building in this episode. First there is the guest from the Paris Headquarters of the SSSP. This is a reminder that our boys and gal in orange are part of a large international organization. There is also mention of an Turkish and Indian branch.
Next, this is the first episode were we see explicitly that the clownish Ide, besides being the team’s Jerry Lewis, is also supposed to be the smart guy, the tech expert. After the team crashes in the desert, Ide is injured. He still wants to come along on the mission, but Cap explains his skills would be better used repairing their radio. Ide’s function as engineer and all-around science guy continues to develop in future episodes, and we learn that he’s created a lot of the SSSP’s gadgets and weapons.
And then there is the disconcerting revelation that the lost kingdom of Baraji was founded millennia ago by “Noah” — only this Noah turns out to be an Ultraman, whom the Brajian’s considered a god! In the decades to come, the backstory of the Ultras gets elaborated in great detail, but this is the first suggestion of how much lore might actually be behind the initial premise of this series.
Another new development is that Ultraman has a hard time battling this week’s monster Antlar. It seems unaffected by his coup de grâce Specium Beam, and as the narrator relates the dangers of the Color Timer running, for the first time it seems like Ultraman might loose a fight. Fortunately the explosive blue stone left behind by Noah was just the contingency needed to save the day.
The Lawless Monster Zone
You want monsters? We got your monsters. There are five named kaiju in the episode. Two of the suits are reworkings of earlier monsters from Ultraman and Ultra Q, and one is the disturbing Garamond, also from Ultra Q, only now scaled down to human sized and renamed Pigmon. Pigmon reappears many times in future episodes and is one of the most emblematic monsters of the whole Ultra series. The fourth is Red King, who also goes on to fame in the series. A fifth monster, a carnivous plant also appears. Even it gets a name, Suflan.
This episode is also extremely violent. In most Godzilla films there is rarely any blood. Occasionally a creature will bleed, but its uncommon (unlike in Toei Studio’s rival monster franchise Gamera). So it is shocking how much gore we are starting to see in Ultraman, a children’s TV series. Monsters not only bleed in this episode, but limbs get ripped off. This intensity is part of what Red King is a memorable kaiju, due to his aggressive savagery.
One of the experiences of watching Ultraman as an adult is noting just how weird the monsters are. Just what was going on behind the design of something such as Pigmon? Many of the designs of Ultraman were done by Japanese artist and sculpture Tohl Narita. Much of what seems so bizarre and nightmarish in Ultraman is intended to be bizarre and nightmarish. It’s almost as if, say, the people who made the US GI Joe cartoon had hired Andy Warhol as their character designer. In future episodes we will start to see creatures directly inspired by surrealist art.
The episode shows just how messed up the world is in this age of Unbalance. There are simply islands full of rampaging giant monsters. This kind of crazy stuff seems to be going on all over the place! No wonder the world needs international Science Police. And needs Ultraman. Hayata at one point looses the Beta Capsule behind some rocks and has to struggle to reach it, but once he does it ends up being a routine day on the job. For all Red King’s fierceness, he’s no match for Ultraman, who tosses him around like a sack of potatoes and finishes him off before the Color Timer even starts blinking.