I’ve mentioned Ultraman before on Monsters Conquer the World: it’s the groundbreaking, genre-defining superhero television series dreamed up by Godzilla special effects mastermind Eiji Tsuburaya. While Ultraman’s monster-battling antics achieved moderate success here in the States, it was a huge hit in other parts of the world, especially its home country of Japan. There Ultraman is a beloved character, pop culture icon, and merchandising juggernaut, and for good reason. Just like Star Trek or Doctor Who, the series has been running in some form or another since its debut in the 60s, constantly finding new generations of devoted fans. Basically, it’s ridiculous that I haven’t reviewed this yet.
And I’m still not reviewing it yet! I plan to before the end of the year, but for now I’m reviewing Ultraman’s mysterious, cheap-o, dirtbag cousin Redman. Ultraman spawned plenty of knock-offs, some made by Tsuburaya Productions themselves, but Redman is different. Simply put, there is a hilarious, accidental darkness inherent to Redman and his chintzy production values. Monster fans on both sides of the Pacific have found that the intended superheroics play out a lot more like giant monster snuff films. Take a deep breath, because this month I’m reviewing
Kaiju Cold Case FilesRedman!
First and foremost, as far as I can tell, Tsuburaya’s Redman has no connection whatsoever to the similarly named star of How High, Seed of Chucky, and Def Jam Fight for NY.
With that all cleared up, we can really dig into this other Redman. Awesomely enough, there’s an official trailer! Check it out!
Of course with its jazzy, spaghetti-western influenced theme music, the trailer doesn’t do much to convey Redman’s serial killer tendencies. It is immediately apparent however that this is a hyper-low budget production. Every episode looks like it was shot in Otisville Michigan in early November, with nary a miniature building in sight. If the description on the Youtube videos didn’t state that Redman is 42 meters tall, I would have assumed he was a man-sized superhero fighting man-sized monsters.
Redman was produced as a segment for a kid’s variety show in Japan, so each “episode” is about two and a half minutes long. 138 episodes were produced and aired from April to September of 1972. With such a brisk running time, there’s no time for superfluous luxuries like story, dialogue, or context, so each episode is just two and a half minutes of Redman beating the shit out of some unsuspecting monster(s).
Tsuburaya themselves unleashed this madness upon us, via their official Youtube page. They add an episode every weekday, but sadly only keep five episodes up at a time. No word yet on if they’ll re-release past episodes… and really, no word on much of anything. The mysterious nature of this whole thing is a big part of way Redman has captured the imaginations of so many people in the online kaiju/tokusatsu fan community.
Normally I like to talk a little bit about the cast and crew, the creative driving forces behind whatever I’m reviewing, but I’ve got nothing this time. Based on what I’ve seen so far (episodes 1-40 and episodes 51-62) I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire cast and crew consisted entirely of the suit actors on camera and one camera person. This really lends to the unsettling, snuff film atmosphere. The grainy film stock and clunky camera moves inadvertently make Redman feel less like Ultraman and more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The complete lack of dialogue or story ramps up the feeling of voyeuristic dread, hilariously pushing Redman straight into psycho slasher territory. Within seconds of his very first episode, our “hero” pointlessly knife-splodes a tree and then starts a brush fire.
Talk about a red(man) flag! This is also when we learn that the only words that will ever be spoken during the show are Redman’s proclamations of destruction. “Red Fight!” “Red Jump!” “Red Knife!” “Red Arrow!” he screams into nothingness, his voice tinged with eerie, ethereal reverb.
After his bizarre, plant-focused display of power, Redman takes on his first foe, the kaiju Darkron, who originates from the Tsuburaya show Mirrorman (this Mirrorman, not this one). All of Redman’s monster enemies come from past Tsuburaya productions… but they seem a little off. In the handy chart below, you’ll see the creatures as they debuted on the right, and how they appeared in Redman on the left.
These janky, shambling shadows of former kaiju are one of Redman’s more puzzling and disquieting elements. Reusing suits is a common practice, so why not just let the Redman crew play around with some retired Ultraman suits? Why make new, hilariously shitty ones? While it could definitely be that Tsuburaya wanted to preserve those suits for use in future Ultra series, I have an alternate/additional theory: maybe Redman served as Tsuburaya’s impromptu farm team? A way to train up-and-coming suit builders, fight choreographers, suit actors, and filmmakers, while *BONUS* creating new content.
Unsurprisingly, Redman defeats Darkron in the pilot episode, and despite his aggressively odd (and oddly aggressive) intro, at this point Redman just seems like a micro-budgeted Ultraman clone. Episode 3 is where we start to see the sinister side of this crimson-clad creep.
victimvillain is Ultraman kaiju Arstron (or sometimes Earthtron?), who draws Redman’s lethal ire for committing the heinous crime of quietly hiking a trail alone. No matter how much Arstron tries to run away, Redman silently pursues him like Jason fucking Voorhees. I’m sure everybody’s favorite pissed-off goalie would approve of Redman’s explosive knifery on poor ol’ Arstron.
With episode 4, things get a little weirder. Redman is introduced with a foreboding, horror movie-style musical sting, and once again, he is slasher-stalking Arstron. Who we just watched get stab-sploded to death in the last episode. No shit I’m not even ten minutes into this show and my mind starts swimming with the weird, metaphysical connotations this presents. Maybe Redman isn’t just a ruthless anti-hero or psycho killer. Maybe he’s some sort of king of the kaiju damned, lording over this bleak, blasted landscape? Maybe this dreary garbage world, populated only by confused, shabby kaiju and a silent, faux-Ultraman lunatic is actually giant monster purgatory? A hell dimension where rampaging monsters are killed and reanimated over and over again for eternity; truly Promethean retribution for the years they spent killing humans and razing cities.
Episode 7 so blatantly plays out like a horror movie it makes me wonder if it was intentional. This is the episode where everything clicked for me, and I’m not the only one. Here’s a ridiculously accurate fan comic that sums up the beginning of the episode:
That adorable goofball creature joyfully and harmlessly cavorting about in the woods is Alien Icarus, and he didn’t fucking deserve what happened to him. After this episode it is simply impossible to not root for the monsters. Redman completely reverses the roles of the giant superhero genre. Some Japanese fans don’t even consider Redman a hero show, they watch it as a suspense horror series.
It’s interesting watching the show develop: sometime around episode 30 the fights are noticeably more fun and dynamic, but even before that they continually toy with experimental camera moves, and get creative with how much they can squeeze into their two-and-a-half minute running time. Episode 8 starts in media res, with Dorako bravely fighting for his life.
It makes sense though: horror has always been a genre where young filmmakers can experiment with cinematic techniques. Unsurprisingly, Dorako meets a grisly end, despite his admirably fierce fighting spirit.
Episode 13 gives us our first multi-monster showdown with Jirass and Alien Baltan. They’re actually fighting each other at the start of the episode, but when Redman makes his entrance (complete with chilling music and a whip-pan to him watching creepily in the distance), they’re genre savvy enough to know they need to team up if they want to get out of this waking nightmare alive.
As Redman relentlessly hunts down the hapless monsters, we catch more glimpses of his barren, ugly world. In addition to dead forests and gravel pits, his domain includes abandoned farmland, vacant hillsides, cold mud pits, haunted beaches and dunes, and the ancient remnants of a garbage dump.
I don’t know what Redman’s diet consists of (I assume a strict regimen of unattended garbage and kaiju tears), butt around episode 21 or 22, it seemed to catch up with him:
He has conspicuous brown stains on his big red buttcrack for like the next two or three episodes. Of course they’re just mud stains (they’re also on his knees, and these episodes take place in or near the dreary mud pits of Redmanland), but in a way, wouldn’t it be pretty on-brand if Redman occasionally rage-sharted into his rubbery red pants? He’s a psychotic, wasteland-dwelling murder-hermit; I don’t imagine personal hygiene and laundry day are high priorities for him.
Other rad developments include the awesomely named dinosaurian beast Ghostron vomiting fireworks at Redman like Jubilee battling Magneto with a hangover:
Eleking blazin’ up:
Our first four-way:
And just every-fuckin’-thing about King Maimai is incredible:
I love all those one-off events and surprises, but my favorite on-going development is the addition of bad-ass “final girl” monsters. It’s a concept that continues Redman’s horror parallels perfectly. Monsters like Alien Mysteler and Sartan don’t get easily picked off, they throw shit right back in Redman’s frozen, creepily content-looking face. They’re not the machete-magnet horndog teens, they’re the long-term bad-asses like Ellen Ripley and Sidney Prescott. The bad bitches that make it back for the sequel!
Episode 36 is one of the earliest and most obvious examples of a heroic monster shaking up Redman’s killing spree. Redman starts terrorizing the bizarro monster Beacon when Sartan comes to the rescue, complete with hero music!
When the monsters start getting their own big damn heroes moments and said moments are reinforced by the soundtrack, it really seems like the creators are doing it on purpose. Not only does Sartan kick Redman off of Beacon, but he starts fucking trashing our leading lunatic:
Sartan’s bravery gives Beacon a priceless chance to escape, but these supposedly “evil” monsters have a habit of sticking together and trying their damnedest to help each other out, even wiener-y pushovers like Beacon. Sartan and Alien Mysteler of course get defeated, just like everyone does in this endless nightmare, but they come back for revenge often and rapidly–sometimes in back-to-back episodes. Here’s Alien Mysteler being a bad-ass across multiple episodes:
It all builds up to Sartan and Alien Mysteler joining forces in episode 56! Arston is there too, but he is a straight-up jabroni who gets knifed to death almost immediately. I didn’t just want Sartan and Mysteler to win, I felt like they deserved it. I mean I know the formula, I know what’s going to happen in every one of these episodes, but damn man, if anybody could stop Redman, it’d be those two dudes. I’m excited to eventually see the shows they originated from: if they’re half as rad as they were in Redman, it’ll be a treat to see their debuts.
I feel a little weird doing a review when I’m not able to watch the entire series, but I think 50+ episodes is enough to get a good grasp on the show. Of course, if anybody wants to buy me the complete laserdisc collection, I’d be happy to rapid-fire binge through the series that way:
I also wanted to get my review out while Redmania is still sweeping the online world of kaiju fans. It’s entirely possible that people will keep discovering and freaking out about the stark weirdness of Redman, especially with over 70 episodes left for Tsuburaya to unleash, but I didn’t want to risk it. Memes are fickle, fleeting little imps.
The horrified reactions have been just as entertaining as the show itself, with fans all over the world offering their take on Ultraman’s ghoulish counterpart:
One of my favorite fan creations is REDDO FIGHT ME, an in-character Tumblr where Redman hints at his demented, quasi-religious motivations, bitterly shuts down any pro-kaiju or pro-Ultraman sentiment, and pledges to “make Nebula M78 great again.”
So that’s Redman! Is he a hero? A serial killer? A demonic punisher of the damned? …Yes.
Whatever he is, and whether it’s on purpose or not, Redman’s exploits are comically chilling, and you better believe I’ll be tuning in to Tsuburaya’s Youtube channel to keep up with his never-ending bloodbath. I’ve come this far, it’d be madness to bail out now.
So be good, move in groups, and sleep with one eye open: you never know when you’ll hear that voice whisper “red fight” in your ear.