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.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Play Report 07: The Water Gym

Continuing my playthrough of Pokémon Sword & Shield. My focus is on the narrative experience of the game, more than the mechanics of play, though I will include some introduction to what the world of Pokémon is all about.

Pokémon 101

The roads and other routes of a Pokémon region are dotted with other trainers, opponents controlled by the game. A classic feature of every game is that if you make eye contact with another trainer, you must have a Pokémon battle with them. They are thus both an obstacle to overcome and a resource. You gain experience from fighting them — and money if you win. In early games, money was in short supply so it was important to manage trainer fights carefully for financial reasons. If you lost a battle, you gave up half your cash to them! In more recent games such as Sword & Shield it is very easy to earn money and you usually have more than you can spend.

The next stage of my Pokémon journey takes me to port town of Hulbury. There’s another journey through the Galar countryside, with new pokémon to catch and more trainers to battle. While the other trainers are always of a certain type — a school kid, a pokémon breeder, a mountaineer, etc — each is has individual name and always have some sort of comment, quip, or even a bit of their philosophy about pokémon to impart.

Along this route is the region’s pokémon nursery. This is a place where you can leave a couple of your pokémon for awhile and when you return later, if they have been comparable in certain ways, a pokémon egg might have appeared. It’s a running joke in the games that nobody mentions details about where these eggs come from, they just mysteriously appear. The rules for pokémon breeding are very complex but, while vital for competitive battling, they don’t matter for the game’s narrative experience. It’s an example for the deeper levels of game play explore or just skip depending on your preferences and interests.

A couple story events do take place before Hulburry. Firstly, I walk into the middle of an encounter between two Team Yell members and someone who appears to be a nurse or medical technician. They want to steal this guy’s bike — and use it to chase trainers so that they’ll be too tired for the Gym Challemge. I have to fight them in a pair of battles, but they are easy to defeat. In thanks, the nurse decides to give me the bike. Bikes are one of the reoccurring features in Pokémon games. They allow you to travel around much faster and, in this game, you eventually get an upgrade which allows the bike to cross water. Previous games would introduce puzzles where you needed a pokémon with a specific ability to carry you across water, to move heavy stones, cut through tall grass, or overcome other physical obstacles. Players over the years generally have found that annoying and, starting with Pokémon Sun & Moon, that aspect of the game has been phased out. Here in Sword & Shield it’s gone entirely.

After getting my bike, I soon meet up with Hop once again — and he’s ready for another battle as part of our training. In matches with Hop, and other main characters, my opponent responds to what goes on during the battle. Hop will playful boast or trash talk if he’s winning, or will praise me if I use a good type-match against him, such as when I use a water move on his fire-type pokémon. Hop doesn’t like to loose, but he remains a good sport about it, and considers it an incentive to try harder next time.

Hulbury is another richly depicted town, a port by the ocean, with boats and fishermen. There’s lots to people to talk to and many small quests to find items and hidden treasures. For the narrative, the most important encounter is when I spot Chairman Rose. He’s trying to be incognito in a hat, sunglasses, and other tourist garb, but everybody still immediately recognized him. He is accompanied by his personal assistant Oleana. She immediately gives the vibe of being the person keeping Rose focused and on schedule. Could her authority go even beyond that, to being the real power behind the throne? The arrogant Bede is also around. Rose has to be reminded of his name, despite his being Rose’s endorsed challenger for the competition. The Chairman actually seems more interested in me and wonders what I and Hop have that led Leon to endorse us. Rose would like me to join him at his favorite seafood restaurant — if we succeed in winning at the next gym.

I have to find the Water Pokémon Gym Leader Nessa first, as she’s busy with her doing non-pokémon activities. People I pass in town recognize me as a trainer in town for the Challenge. I find her down by her lighthouse on the shore. It seems Hop and I are quite the topic of conversation among the Gym Leaders.

Our match is at another of the large stadiums. Before the actual battle at with the gym leader there’s always a puzzle of some sort. Here is a series of switches that need to be thrown in the correct order to get through a watery maze. Three assistants to Nessa must also be beaten. If you can handle them okay it’s a sign that your team of Pokémon has probably gotten strong enough to proceed. When I’m finally facing Nessa, the crowd cheers and reacts to the back and forth of the match. Defeating the Water Gym is no big deal. Besides having a full compliment of six pokémon, I have the advantage of knowing Nessa is going to use water-type pokémon, so I assembled my team with that in mind.

Outside the stadium Oleana is there to remind me about my appointment with Chairman Rose. It’s important we make it since Rose is, according to her, the sort of person who gets downhearted is he can’t take care of things right away. At the restaurant we are joined by Sonia, who is an old acquaintance of Rose and Oleana. They end up absorbed in a discussion of the Darkest Day legends, Dynamaxing, and the Power Points that allow the phenomenon. Rose wants her to investigate the sealed Vaults in the city of Hammerlock for clues that might be there. After all that, Rose’s schedule doesn’t have any more time to talk with me directly. In any case Hop and I need to get to back to Motostoke to face the Fire Gym Leader.