Ultraman, Episodes 20 & 21

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

Terror on Route 87

Up until now both Ultra Q and Ultraman, as bizarre as they get, have been strictly science fiction, with nothing overtly supernatural. This time we do get an actual ghost — though maybe a sci-fi justification could be concocted…

Ghost Boy

While investigating strange happenings at a mountain zoo and amusement park, the team discovers that a boy, killed by a hit-and-run, was obsessed with a monster he’d designed for a contest, though he insisted it was real. This boy, Akira, looks just like a child who had mysteriously appeared to Fuji to warn of a soon to awaken monster.

Hydra drawing

This monster is referred to as a “Hydra.” That’s interesting to a monster nerd such as myself for two reasons. First, the thing is clearly not a hydra. It’s a griffon. But I’m sure writers and artists in the West get Japanese mythical beings mixed up all the time. Second, in Japanese, they pronounce the word as hee-doh-rah. And that sounds very much like the classic Godzilla monster King Ghidorah, revealing the origins of that kaiju’s name. Ghidorah of course is a multi-headed dragon, unlike the star monster in this episode, which as I said, is inarguably a griffon.

Hydra awakes

The boy’s prophecy comes true and Hydra awakens. There are some moody night shots, the darkness as usual improving the drama and effectiveness of the monster suit. It starts attacking cars, seemingly to be after revenge for the thing that killed Akira, or maybe as Hayata and Arashi, speculate the boy’s soul has entered it.

The SSSP attack with both aircraft — and the Sub VTOL crashes, though Hayata was not the pilot this time. In fact, he’s injured. Hmm, I wonder what that will mean for Ultraman? With his partner getting first aid, Arashi comes up with a brave, if risky plan: He drives a gasoline truck at the Hydra, knowing it is going after vehicles, jumps out at the last minute, then ignites the truck with a blast from the Spider Shot. Cool idea, though while slightly wounding the Hydra, it mostly angers it.

Ultraman pecked

Hayata slips away from the medics and calls up Ultraman — who seems a little weakened in the injured arm, though not too much. The show continues to be fundamentally contradictory about what actually happens when the Beta Capsule is used and whether Hayata and Ultraman are physically separate beings. Ultraman seems vulnerable to pecking, but gets the upper hand in the fight. He’s about to do his usual monster-murder when Fuji points out a ghostly Akira on the monsters back. Ultraman allows it fly away.

Akira and Hydra

It turns out the hit-and-run driver had just turned himself in. With justice served, the monster’s rage was soothed. The team speculates that the Hydra was an ancient protector of children. I wonder if the anger of the other children who were Akita’s friends had, unconsciously, created a psychic projection of the boy as well as directing the monster. That’s the kind of non-supernatural justification that would fit in better with this world, rather than the actual existence of ghosts.

Breach the Wall of Smoke

In weird mystery shows, such as the X-Files, when there is an unusual incident under investigation, it is a given that the most bizarre, outlandish explanation will turn out to be the correct one, how ever much Scully might object. You’d think that in the world of Ultraman, in the Zone of Unbalance, these professional monster-hunters would always begin with then assumption that a sighting of a monster (or at least of glowing giant eyes) indicates, well, the presence of a monster. The SSSP’s dismal of this reported sighting may just be an elaborate justification for allowing Fuji to go off on a mission by herself — though in a world as dangerous as this, I don’t see it a good idea for any team member to go solo. But of course Hoshino sneaks onboard the Sub VTOL and so she isn’t on her own after all.

And it is a poison gas spewing monster after all. I’d guess the inspiration for this episode are the incidents where volcano activity creates a cloud of often invisible gas that can cause tragic disasters and leave entire valleys death zones. A couple episodes ago the SSSP helmets were described as protection against everything short of the vacuum of space, but this time they are no help to Fuji and Hoshino. Fortunately Hoshino revives enough to be directed how to fly the VTOL out of danger. Good for him, though it’s too bad Fuji didn’t get an episode to show off too, as she deserves.

My favorite scene in the whole episode is Ide, with lab coat and Bunsen burners, doing Science!

The Monster Kemular is a tough one, with armor plates, poison breath, and an energy beam on its tail. It also has the show’s frequently used conceit that “every monster must have a weakness.” In this case it’s a vulnerable organ on its lower back. Since Kemular is kind of toad-like, I wonder if they are drawing on legends form Europe about toads (often thought poisonous, like Kemular) having precious gems on the their heads? Once Hayata’s jet is, of course, destroyed, he changes to Ultraman (another example of him doing it midair). But even he can’t take the monster alone and it leads to one of the rare times Ultraman and the SSSP must cooperate to win the day, with Ultraman exposing the vulnerable spot to Ide’s newly invested Mad Bazooka. Even that doesn’t destroy Kemular, just drives him back underground. That’s two episodes in a row where the kaiju-of-the-week actually survives.

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