Museum of the Slightly Curious

Quick Thought: Ultraseven

I just finished watching the second Ultraman series, Ultraseven, and felt I should say at least a little something about it. The goal of my posts is to mostly write about the things I like or find interesting in shows, rather than go negative, so I’ll just mention a few of the issues I had with this series. Overall I was kind of lukewarm about it through most of the run, though I did start to enjoy it more as the later episodes got stranger and more unpredictable.

Predictably was the main problem. Since every episode was about some race of space alien trying to invade Earth, the only potential surprises came from finding out what crazy scheme that week’s bad guys would try to pull off. I wondered a lot about what was so great about Earth that everybody in the galaxy was so keen to come here. There certainly were some very imaginative ideas for these invasions — stealing entire city blocks, making giant robots out of old battleships, microscopic vampire insects, and so on.

The show was clearly taking inspiration from Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, but for all that I admire Tohl Narita’s monster designs, the Ultrahawk aircraft never achieve the personality of the Thunderbirds, which is a problem given how much screen time is devoted to the ships flying around and attacking the alien spacecraft.

My understanding is that Ultraseven was a big hit when in it debuted in 1967 and remains one of the most popular shows in the franchise. I can see they were going for a more straightforward and serious tone than the previous series, yet that often led to some cognitive dissidence with fundamental elements of the premise, such as the bizarre aliens, the crazy schemes, and of course the presence of a size-changing, red-costumed superhero, whose origin, goals, and true nature are never questioned.

I know the different Ultra series all have their own styles and ways to the arrange and present the core concepts they all share, so I’m curious to see where The Return of Ultraman takes things.

For an episode by episode review of Ultraseven, I recommend checking out the write-ups at Scrapbook Infinity.

Quick Thoughts on Godzilla: Singular Point

No specific spoilers, but overall discussion of the series and its narrative approach.

This week I finished watching the Netflix co-produced Godzilla: Singular Point anime. I’m not going to write too much about the episodes right now, though I might later on, particularly if I give it re-watch. What I want to address are some of the reactions I’ve read from other viewers, particularly ones who did not enjoy it. I see three common criticisms. My goal is not to say those criticisms are wrong, just to examine some thoughts they inspire.

Not enough Godzilla

This is a perennial issue in Godzilla media. It denotes a fundamental division among monster movie viewers, that I’m not going to go into right now. In this case, it is understandable that viewers might feel dissatisfied, misled by the title of the series. Godzilla: Singular Point is not the most accurate name for the series. It makes me think back to an opposite situation. When I was quite young I started watching the movie titled, in the USA adapted version, Monster Zero. I knew it was a Japanese sci-fi monster movie, but did not know it was going to be a Godzilla film. After all, it did not say “Godzilla” in the title. I was astonished and delighted when Godzilla did in fact show up. For this series, it is hard to blame the creators for putting the name prominently, even if ultimately it is not a story about Godzilla, but a story that happens to have Godzilla in it. It is an apocalyptic science fiction story, with the threatening Catastrophe embodied in kaiju, and with Godzilla as the apotheosis of that embodiment.

Technobabble

There are certainly a lot of mind-bending ideas in the show: mathematical concepts about trans-temporal molecular structures, divergent space-time geometries, programs that run backwards through time, and so on. Several characters are genius-level intellects that discuss and theorize amongst themselves without giving us, the audience, much context for what they are talking about. While watching the show I wondered how much of all this actually made sense — and if it really mattered if it did or not. Was the show even intending all the theoretical math to fit together into a coherent whole, a puzzle that, by the last episode, would answer every question? I don’t think that was the goal. Much of it, to me, was meant to signify that these were some super-smart characters trying to deal with a conundrum and paradox filled situation as a world-threatening crisis spiraled ever more out of control. It is the slow construction, layer by layer, of a world in which the final resolution seems like something that could happen. If you wanted to, you could look up and more deeply explore the concepts that fly past. A glossary of the show’s mathematics would be useful. One thing that I found refreshing is that the script did not fall back on the usually clichés of science-sounding jargon.

Characters

Whether one likes the characters in Godzilla: Singular Point is a matter of taste. A major criticism that does come up is that the characters don’t develop, they don’t change, learn about themselves, or experience what my playwright wife would call a “perception shift.” They are static. A lot of television writing in America, particularly for the serial dramas that fill the streaming services, is very character oriented. It is all about their “arcs” and relationships. Characters are even conceived and designed to support fan speculation about how they might change, fall, or be redeemed over the course of a series — and of course for how characters might be “shipped” in viewers imaginations or fan-fiction. We’ve come to expect that as the way a story is constructed. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Character does not have to be the most important part of a narrative. Godzilla: Singular Point, like a lot of classic science fiction, makes elements such character, emotion complexity, personal journies, secondary or even tertiary after other story components such as plot or extrapolation of concepts.

I like it when a show tries to do something different, even when it the experiment isn’t 100% successful. I found myself enjoying Godzilla: Singular Point and was pleasantly surprised at how unconventional and experimental it was. At the same time I can see that it doesn’t provide what some viewers are looking for, particularly in a show with “Godzilla” in the title.