Ultraman, Episodes 13 & 14

Some quick thoughts as I watch through this classic Japanese Special Effects TV series.

Oil SOS

Pestar

This episode stands out for its extra-strange monster design, an attempt to portray what is essentially a giant sea star with a bat head. Unfortunately, in my opinion it doesn’t work. The bizarre shape, which is difficult for the brain to quite grasp, only highlights the human bodies of the two suit performers. Pestar itself is just another in the series of giant animals seeking their natural food source — oil in this case.

The main focus of this episode is really Ide, who is too quick on the trigger and messes up the SSSP’s plans to deal with the monster. He takes it hard, blaming himself for the resulting conflagration as Pestar attacks an oil storage facility. To me it seems there’s something of a disconnect between the scripted scenes and what happens during the special effects sequences (the two types of production typically being handled by two independent teams). In the scenes with actors and dialogue there’s a lot of talk of containing the fires caused by Pestar, and attempting to save the facility. In the effects shots though, oil tanks are going off in huge fiery blasts one after another. There’s clearly no way that humans are going to put this hellscape inferno out.

That doesn’t slow Ide from trying to make up for his mistake — pitifully, his whole plan amounts to running out and grabbing a firehose to extinguish the fire by himself. I wonder why Ide was put in this position by the script. The aggressive and trigger-happy Arashi would have fit the part better.

Of course the big question, as in many episodes, is why Hayata waits until the last minute to become Ultraman, particular since, as is revealed, he can create a jet of water in addition to his Specium Beam. A vast amount of damage would have been prevented if he’d acted earlier. I’m wondering if inside Hayata’s brain there is a constant battle between his human consciousness and the alien Ultra-mind he coexists with. Maybe he’s always trying to invoke Ultraman, but the alien says “I’m here to fight monsters and even that only when you humans can’t do the job. I couldn’t care less if your cities and industries go up in flames. Not my problem…”

The Pearl Defense Directive

It is an understatement to say you never know where at episode of an Ultra show is going to start. In this case it’s with Ide and Fuji out shopping. Specifically Fuji dragging Ide into a jewelry shop where she gazes lovingly at all the pearls. You see it was payday at the SSSP, reminding us that being on the Science Patrol is a job. Did we ever see Scully and Mulder picking up a check on an episode of X-Files?

No pearls for Fuji-kun on her salary though, especially as we find out the price is much higher than normal do the pearl supply being low. Not only is that weird, but this starts to happen:

Pearl Salesman

For the next few scenes the episode becomes obsessed with mirrors and reflections:

Reflection 01
Reflection 02
Reflection 03

It’s enough to almost miss the oddness of the SSSP members just walking down a bustling street in downtown Tokyo. There is some uncertainty and even contradictions about exactly when this series is set, in what year it takes place. There is some advanced technology, and interplanetary exploration is a thing. Here, at least for this episode, there’s no doubt that this is contemporary Japan (circa mid 1960’s), the world the audience of the show experienced every day.

The mirror motif continues into the next scene where some unfortunate truckers, transporting a load of pearls, confirm Fuji’s suspicion that a monster is behind the pearls shortage. And if the strange visuals so far haven’t left us uneasy enough, we are given some gruesome closeups of the dead drivers’ faces.

Map Monsters

A monster is on the prowl, so the SSSP is on the job. This is the pearl-devouring Gamakugira, who at first seems one of the dumbest, most absurd kaiju so far — until it sinks in that it’s a classic “map monster” from old sea charts, drawn by someone who had only heard somebody relating a story about maybe seeing a whale. Once again, this show demonstrates it knows what it is doing in monster design.

Fuji is more determined than anyone to bring this monster down, driven by her womanly fury at the wanton destruction of pearls — something she insists no man would ever understand. The team then goes all out with both their aircraft (the first time we’ve seen them in the sky together, maybe?). Missiles, napalm bombs, and an electrified net are all tried to stop Gamakugira before it can reach a major city. Of course what would be really useful would be a 50 meter tall superpowered giant…

Fortunately (?) Hayata crashes yet again, separating himself from the others. Before he transforms he orders the others to summon a special missile: the Light Jet Engine Bullet. This weapon has the function of striking a monster and lifting it into the air like a rocket booster! How can you not then think “Why don’t they use that every episode!” It’s about the most useful anti-kaiju weapon of all time. Hayata transforms and collides with the boosted Gamakugira in midair, destroying it, but honestly that seems overkill. With monster gone, pearls become so affordable that even Fuji can buy them.

New Ultra Costume

This episode also introduces a new Ultraman costume, one with a helmet that looks considerably less like it was made from silver painted paper-machete.

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