The Return of Ultraman: Episodes 1-4

Some quick thoughts from watching through this Ultraman TV series from 1971.

“Return” is definitely the key word for this series. Return of orange jumpsuits, return of the Color Timer, the Specium Beam, and monsters, monsters, monsters. There is not even, at first, any indication that this Ultraman is not the exact same entity as before. My understanding is that the earliest plan for the show was to make it a direct continuation of the first series, but circumstances led to variations on the old motifs and signifying details — as well as identifying this Ultra Being as Ultraman Jack.

There are some changes in this new setting. The SSSP has become the Monster Attack Squad, a more on-the-nose title for the organization. In the first four episodes there is no information yet if it is part of an international organization the way the groups in the previous two shows were.

The biggest change so far is the relationship between human and Ultra. In the original series, Ultraman was a strange, somewhat unnerving when you thought about it, fusion between Hayata and Ultraman. “Are you human or alien?” “I am both.” The relationship was left ambiguous. In Ultraseven things were much simpler. Seven was the alien, putting on a human disguise. Return takes things in another direction. Go is human, retaining all his human mind and personality, though his body has been enhanced and strengthened. Rather than relying on the Beta Capsule, Go instead summons the full power of Ultraman down to him (if it is for a worthy cause) as if from Heaven.

This greater connection with humanity carries through into these first four episodes. Go has human friends and family. Stories have been as much about his struggles to balance his human feeling and responsibilities with his duty as a member of MAT and as Ultraman. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Marvel comics when Stan Lee and others were emphasizing the mortality and the feet-of-clay aspects of their superheroes…

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.