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.

Ultraman, Episode 15: “Terrifying Cosmic Rays”

Some thoughts as I watch through this classic Japanese Special Effects TV series. This episodes needs a whole post to itself. I’m also including more screenshots that usual to prove that I am not just making all this up.

In much of the world, Ultraman is a very well known series, and I have been reading about it for years before my current opportunity to watch through every episode. Reading about this show does not prepare you for what you are actually going to experience.

Detailed information about the production of Ultraman is hard to find in English. Fortunately, the Millcreek Blu-ray lists the screenwriter and director of each episode. I see that this episode is written by Mamoru Sasaki and directed by Akio Jissoji, the same team that created the visually offbeat previous episode, The Pearl Defense Directive. And after this one, we will need to be on the watch for these guys.

Children’s drawings

School kids are admiring drawings of their favorite monsters, which include a mix of kaiju from this show and from Ultra Q, strengthening the continuity between the series. Though are these monsters the kids have seen, just imagined, or… that they have watched on TV? How do they know about Red King aside from seeing him on an episode of Ultraman? My head is already spinning. Mushiba-kun’s original creation, Gavadon is included in the drawings, but gets ridiculed by his schoolmates. He tries practicing his draftmanship in a storage lot of stacks of cement pipes, which the kids have made their playground. It’s one of the most surreal locations this show has yet presented us.

Pipes
More pipes
Even more pipes

The other kids give Mushiba some notes on his design, even redrawing the tail, but it doesn’t help.

Gavadon A

That night a “strange fluctuation of cosmic rays” brings the scribble to life, creating a kaiju that exactly resembles Mushiba’s drawing. So now it’s a job for the SSSP, who attack with the jet VTOL. Ide correctly spots its weak point: the redrawn tail. This monster for once has no interest in fighting. It just wants to sleep until sunset, when it fades away, leaving only a flickering star in the sky.

And apparently that kind of thing was happening all over the Earth, with 2-dimensional images coming to life! Everyone is concerned that it will happen again the next day. Ide comes up with a plan: let’s just out-lazy it and let it sleep.

Ide and Cap

The kids meanwhile, thrilled at yesterday’s excitement, all contribute to upgrading the monster drawing to make it cooler and more fearsome. What comes into being the next morning (in a quite amazing process as the 2D drawing pulls itself into 3 dimensions) is a much more fully realized and scary kaiju. This new Gavadon still only wants to nap and all of Tokyo is shut down to let it sleep in peace and quiet for the day.

Gavadon BEven though that plan works, neither Cap or the government is satisfied. After all you can’t shut down a whole city just to avoid a disaster. The economic disruption of keeping everyone home from work is too great, and the call is made to end the shutdown and face the consequences and casualties.

Thank goodness this is just a fantasy show and nothing like that could ever happen in the real world.

Ide (he’s the smart one remember) has another idea: let’s just erase the freaking drawing! But of course that would be ridiculous. The kids are disappointed by the lazy day too. They implore their drawing to try harder at being a monster. The next morning everybody seems to get what they want with tanks, explosions, and the usual mayhem (everybody except Gavadon, who still just wants to snooze).

Hayata in the water

But the kids then get upset when they see their monster being hurt. Hayata, this time separated from the others by falling into a water reservoir, becomes Ultraman. They implore him to stop the fight! “Go home Ultraman!” they shout, and are heartbroken when Ultraman carries the beaten monster into space.

Gavadon in the stars

That night, as they sit dejected at the water’s edge that night — the voice of Ultraman speaks to them and shows them that their monstrous friend now lives in the sky as a constellation. I had by then lost count of the number of times during the episode I caught myself wondering if I was actually seeing this, or had drifted into a strange hallucination.

Next day the playground is full of children making chalk drawings of monsters that they hope will come to life too someday. The SSSP are not happy.