Ultraman, Episodes 17, 18, & 19

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

Passport to Infinity

The plot of this episode is fairly straightforward: a pair of meteorites are found which cause a series of mysterious phenomena. When they are brought together they merge and grow into a giant monster. The military tries to fight it, but are helpless. Ultraman shows up and, after a challenging battle, destroys the menace.

Captain Atom
Captain Atom from Grant Morrison’s graphic novel, Multiversity.

It is just that the specific details of all those things are very weird. The meteorite monster possesses abilities to warp and twist space, with the suggestion that what we are perceiving is from a higher dimensional space. It is able to make people disappear, open portals to other realms, reverse gravity, swap the locations of one object for another…

Bullton

This monster is named “Bullton” or, in Japanese syllables Bu-ru-to-n. The thing you see in articles about Ultraman is that this kaiju is intended to be named after the French Surrealist Andre Breton. That would seem ridiculous if it weren’t for some many similar references and influences in this show. For instance there is a monster named Dada coming up soon. What I was most reminded of, during the sequences when the SSSP are in the distorted version of their headquarters, was Robert Heinlein’s 1941 short story “He Built a Crooked House,” where an architect builds a house based on a tesseract and gets trapped when it collapses into a 4-dimensional maze.

Hoshino in uniform

It is in this episode that Hoshino gets his promotion to full Science Patrol  member, complete with orange outfit and helmet. I wonder what the HR department at the SSSP feels about this.


Brother from Another Planet

Yikes! This episode starts with a Tokyo being struck by a chocking, radioactive fog that leaves the steets filled with gasping and unconscious people. It’s only hopeful optimism that would keep you from believing hundreds or thousands of people had just been killed. As the SSSP investigates they come across a weird alien who has come to make friends with his “brothers” on Earth. Oh and he has rescued some astronauts who got in trouble of their way to Saturn. Oh and he knows how to get rid of the deadly fog too.

Alien Zarab

Not only do they end up trusting Zarab, they even give him a room to stay in. Of course he’s actually a baddie, with the usual set of evil space alien powers such as teleportation, shape changing, and mind control. Hayata, after a bit of space walking (something that would have been in the news thanks to the Gemini program around the time this show was on), discovers the truth, that Zarab is galactic criminal who has made a career of conquering planets by turning their inhabitants against each other— but Zarab knows some things too, such as that Hayata is Ultraman!

Evil Twin Battle

After taking Hayata prisoner, Zarab masquerades as Ultraman to turn Earth against him. But I guess in all his galactic conquering, he never had to face a plucky young kid such as Hoshino, who manages to rescue Hayata. Ultraman goes up against his evil twin. Zarab in giant form puts up a decent fight, but shares the fate of most monsters, being pummeled, blasted, and incinerated by Earth’s defender.


Demons Rise Again

Digging up artifact

Failing marks in archeology and workplace safety for everybody in this episode. A 300,000,000 year old buried artifact is found at a construction site. So dig it up, cart it off on a truck and… everybody back to work! That’s not just bad practice for a discovery in the real world, but is bad here too, since, another artifact is indeed immediately dug up, though unnoticed this time, and taken to a land fill.

Ide and Hayata ponder

Back at HQ Ide corrects Arashi that 300,000,000 ago (or, being oddly specify, 300,005,000 years ago) predates dinosaurs and early hominids. Fuji interrupts the mansplaining, with a book stating that an advanced human civilization existed back then. The information content in this shows swings from being vaguely accurate to totally off-the-wall nuts faster than one can follow.

Monsters fight

All the mad science is interrupted when monsters break out of the two artifacts. Their rampage only halts when they encounter each other and start fighting. After deciding they can’t count on Aboras and Banila destroying each other, the SSSP try to do what they can, but only succeed in wounding Banila, allowing Aboras to finish him off. Ultraman then mops up, taking out the remaining kaiju. Not a bad strategy.

Ultraman, Episode 16: “Science Patrol Into Space”

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

This episode, while pretty weird, is not quite so surreal as Terrifying Cosmic Rays. It introduces a lot of Ultraman lore, giving it the feel of kids playing and making up new gadgets and superpowers as needed. The worldbuilding details of Ultraman interest me, so I like to make note of them.

Rocket Launch

The level of space technology in Ultraman is always a little fuzzy. A few episodes ago nuclear weapons were being sent to Jupiter. Now we have a mission to Venus, using a very realistic launch vehicle, much like something from the Apollo program. The problem is that its sole crew is Prof. Mori, the rocket’s inventor. This not how NASA tends go about these things. At least they have the SSSP keeping an eye the launch. We get to see the Sub VTOL’s launch from the front of the Patrol’s HQ building for the first time too.

It turns out that there was something of a mini-space race going on, with the team’s science advisor Prof Iwamoto also developing a new rocket. He felt both designs needed more testing, but Prof. Mori decided a 99% chance of success was good enough. We check in on him as he heads to Venus. Mori, wearing a nice suit and tie under his spacesuit, puts on a live TV demo of both his ship’s artificial gravity and of his ability to eat a dinner in space with knife and fork. This excites Ide to an disturbing degree, but maybe he is just that impressed by the artificial gravity — which is a much greater development than a big rocket. At least they acknowledge the existence of the gravity system, which is more than a lot of sci-fi shows do. Of course Ide himself seems to have just invented the Pan-Space Interpreter, a Universal Translator. That’s an even better invention than artificial gravity, in my opinion.

Alien Baltan

With it they discover that the Alien Baltan are back, having survived Ultraman’s attempt at genocide. The Baltan suit has gotten a nice upgrade too, including three different colored flashing lights. Despite finding a new planet (called Planet R and existing… somewhere in the Solar System) they are up to no good and have intercepted the Venus mission. Prof. Iwamoto is able to upgrade the Jet VTOL (turns out he designed it) to have space flight capabilities so they can save Mori. It’s a big day for inventions, since Ide also unpacks a new weapon, the Mars-133, ray gun with, we assume, even greater power than the Spider Shot.

It’s all a Baltan trick. They’ve already taken over Prof Mori’s mind and are using him as decoy while they attack the Earth. Ide and Fuji are left behind to hold off a swarm of Baltan —this episode conveniently forgetting the previously established facts that the SSSP is an international organization with many branches. Ide freaks out at first, but then remembers the super-weapon he just invented.

Mars-133

Mori has been rescued from his ship, but since he’s actually controlled by the Baltan, they end up crashed on an unknown planet, Planet R we can assume. The Baltan grows to giant form, and Hayata follows suit, becoming Ultraman (somehow doing so from within the VTOL and without Cap noticing it). The Baltan have developed a defense against the Specium Beam though — and are very pleased with themselves about it too. The Baltan are jerks, remember. But Ultraman has a new weapon of his own: the Ultra-Slash!

Ultra-Slash

The Baltan swarm on Earth continue their attack, destroying an oil refinery that suspiciously looks a lot like the one in “Oil S.O.S.” After getting the news from Planet R, they decide to abandon the swarm attacks, and merge into a giant form. The Baltan continue to operate in a way that suggests space, scale, and even individuality mean something different to them. Ultraman, still on Planet R, demonstrates his second new superpower of this episode: planetary teleportation!

Ultra Teleport

The Baltan can ‘port around too though, and have already worked out a shield that defends against the Ultra-Slash. They chuckle to themselves about that too. Cue third new Ultra-power: Ultra-Discernment, an eye beam that takes out the Baltan shield. Another Ultra-Slash and it’s all over. Note that, despite all this fighting, and the energy drain of teleporting across space, Ultraman’s Color Timer never even flashes. It seems like everybody has already gotten tired of that trope.

Hayata’s Soul is Missing

Back on Planet R we learn a new, very interesting fact: Hayata’s body remains behind when Ultraman appears. So his consciousness does leave it and enter the Ultra form. It’s not a physical transformation. Looking back, this makes sense for maybe… a third of the previous episodes. Remember when Hayata has done things like becoming Ultraman while plummeting through the air? Everybody gets rescued when Prof Iwamoto arrives on his spacecraft, which is definitely not based on NASA style tech.

Phoenix Space Craft

A continuity glitch, probably due to episodes being shown in a different order than written, is that Hoshino appears in an SSSP uniform, though he does not actually become a member of the team until a couple episodes from now.