My Ultraman review series continues with episodes 2-5! If you haven’t already, be sure to read the intro section that goes over the first episode! Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, we can dive into the outrageous adventures of Ultraman and his little orange buddies at the Science Patrol! In this batch of episodes, they tangle with a Creature from the Black Lagoon look-alike, a bloodthirsty flower, an electricity-slurping dino-freak… and one of Ultraman’s creepiest, most iconic villains!
Squeeze into your orange lycra, grab a couple million volts to munch on and fire up one of your many jets, it’s time to blast off with Ultraman and his Ultrafriends and Ultrafoes!
Shoot the Invaders!
Alternatively known as Blast the Invaders!, this is the episode where we meet Baltan. Creepy, creepy motherfucking Baltan. Good god, guys.
Yeah I know grayish bug-man there isn’t exactly the stuff of nightmares if you’re over five, but it’s what he does and how he does it that makes him so deliciously unsettling. We’ll get to that in a sec though! As the Ultraman formula dictates, we need to start with the Science Patrol approaching some problem or mystery!
Despite the seemingly rigid formula, this episode starts wildly differently than its predecessor. Ito’s got a black eye and is talking straight to us, Zack Morrising the shit out of the fourth wall!
Fuji gets a tastily sarcastic zinger in (“Everybody thinks it looks really terrible, doesn’t it?”), waltzing straight through the fourth wall Ito goofily knocked over. Spoiler alert (and spoiler alerts for…every aspect of this show, eventually), this ends up being an unexpected and well executed shaggy dog story. This episode is (ostensibly) the story of how Ito got his black eye!
Before it can get unnerving, we’re treated to some sweet and subtle world building and goofball comedy. Ito yelling at sheep to try and sleep is funny, but just the nature of their sleeping arrangements is charming:
Their slumber (or attempts at it) is interrupted by an urgent call: a UFO has been spotted at the nearby science institute! Arashi, always jonesin’ for some action, hops into the Chevy Corvair to investigate and Hoshino secretly tags along! We get a really cool, dramatic shot when Arashi heads in to the institute:
Basically the show is subconsciously warning you that the goofy hijinks are over and shit is about to get weird and scary. GUESS WHAT ARASHI FINDS THE SECOND HE WALKS IN?
Arashi immediately surmises that this whole situation is legit fucked and tells Hoshino to call in for back up right the hell now. Arashi tries his best, but quickly gets Baltan’d after warning Hoshino:
After Arashi gets got, we see that awesome effect of two Baltans walking “into” each other to become one again, and it really never stops being awesome. The Baltan suits look great… as long as you don’t pay much attention to them from the waist down.
You see it, right? The head is alien and insectoid with its big glowing eyes, the hands are impossibly huge and inhuman lobster claws, the torso is a grotesque, segmented exoskeleton, and the legs are… painted leggings. I don’t point that out to dump on the show or the creature design, but because Ultraman was made on tight TV budgets with tight TV schedules and little quirks like this are a result of that.
The topper though, what absolutely seals Baltan’s creepy deal, is his ominous, otherworldly laugh. ENJOY!
YUP. Even the YouTube commenters weigh in on how damn eerie Baltan’s villainous chortling is:
Well… maybe not that last one. But yeah man, Baltan does evil, then laughs like a horrifying creep-ass about it. It’s great. Hayata storms in with army backup, tries to tango with Baltan, and Balty just disappears when Hayata zaps him.
No, the Ghostbusters comparisons will never, ever stop. Take it up with Dan Aykroyd!
We get a really cool moment with Captain Mura. He’s attending a special leadership conference to work out how to deal with Baltan. He’s the only one to suggest trying to communicate with it, and basically gets laughed out of the room for bringing it up… but they still go with his idea! The suggested alternative was nuking Balto‘s ship, because the panel apparently consists of ardent ID4 fans.
To my knowledge we don’t get a lot (or any?) more scenes like this going forward in the series. There are plenty of heated conversations about how to kill or drive off a monster, but not on how humanity might deal with and possibly even co-exist with a new type of lifeform. Awesomely enough, we do get an episode that digs into a similarly tough dilemma a little later.
Night falls and Hayata taps Ito to try and communicate with Baltan at the Institute. Ito’s childlike, made-up “space language” is an immediate bust, Baltans get the drop on him and drag him up to the roof. A brain-washed Arashi addresses them.
Baltarashi explains that the Baltans are an alien race who accidentally destroyed their own homeworld by experimenting with nukes. They’ve been “borrowing” tech from the Institute to repair their invisible starship (the ship being invisible is at the perfect intersection of budget conscious and paranoia-inducing), but have decided they’ll call Earth home from now on. Why Earth? Because according to all 60 billion bacteria-sized Baltans: “None of us like Mars, we don’t want to stay there!”
Unfortunately, the Baltans have no plans to peacefully integrate into human society, and instead plan to enslave our little butts off. Before Hayata and Ito can do anything about it, Baltan GROWS GINORMOUS AND SLAPS THE SHIT OUT OF HAYATA.
Baltan and the army start blasting each other a new one while Hayata tries to recover the Beta Capsule: in all the commotion it got knocked down to a precarious ledge on the building! Already we’re getting that Capsule drama! This episode is where I really started to love the strangely endearing lumpiness of the head on Ultraman Suit A. It just looks more like the face of a (weird) living thing!
Ultraman takes to the sky to catch up with Baltan, who is going on a rampage of fly-by shootings. We get an odd, mostly pointless side-plot with Captain Mura right around now. He speculates that an element called “specium” would probably be enough to stop Baltan, but it’s only found in outer space. Good thing that’s what Ultraman’s hand-beams are made of! Problem solved before it ever was a problem!
We get some great action here: the aerial chase ends in a Gamera: Guardian of the Universe-style catch ‘n’ clash, Baltan keeps blasting shit indiscriminately, and Ultraman karate chops one of Baltan’s lobster claws off!(!!!)
Baltan’s wanton dickheadery forces Ultraman to get serious. In short order he lasers the ever-loving fuck out of Baltan:
Then does the same to his entire species and the ship they rode in on:
The episode has inklings of different messages: we should be cautious but open-minded when we make first contact with alien life, nuclear weapons are not to be toyed with… but there’s really only one thing I learned. Don’t fuck with Ultraman. EVER.
This episode doesn’t do everything perfectly (mostly the pointless specium subplot), but it does such a damn good job of juggling so many disparate elements I don’t really mind. We get a mix of top-notch, all ages appropriate horror, corny but chuckle-worthy comedy, and we get a very different type of climax: a kaiju chase/shoot-out instead of a more typical monster wrestling match. Throw in the introduction of a classic villain and you’ve got an episode for the ages. Probably my favorite of this first chunk of the series.
Charge Forth, Science Patrol!
Also goes by Science Patrol, Move Out!. In this episode we get to spend some time with cool kids Fuji and Hoshino, and the Science Patrol deals with a more straight-forward rampaging giant compared to the last episode’s terrifying space invaders.
Fuji and Hoshino are working an appropriately low-key case: they’re investigating weird noises coming from a well near a hydroelectric plant. It isn’t long before Hoshino finds himself in the well.
His lack of respect for the grotesque horrors that lurk at the bottoms of wells pays off though! Because goddamn it there was totally a grotesque horror lurking down there.
After Hoshino makes eye-contact with Neronga, there’s an earthquake! Fuji hurries down to try and help Hoshino, and we’re treated to some bitchin’ lightning effects, cave-in effects, monster roars, monster semi-transparency, and monster rampagery! This episode cuts to the chase like its life depends on it.
The miniature for the hydroelectric plant looks great, as does Neronga’s Predator-style semi-invisibility. The rest of the Science Patrol gets anxious when Fuji and Hoshino (still cave-bound) don’t report in, so they rush out to their last known location. F & H are tough and resourceful though, they manage to swim their way out of the caves.
Fuji, Hoshino and the rest of the Science Patrol regroup, and they try to make sense of reports of a vanishing monster and the power outages that accompany it… and then their power goes out!
Neronga barging in on the SP’s powwow is depicted with an even cooler composite shot than last time. A translucent monster, miniature power station, and live actors all share the screen seamlessly:
Once Neronga starts macking on electricity he becomes fully visible, so Arashi goes in guns a-blazin’!
And so we discover that poor Arashi was Worfing when Worf was still in space diapers. Neronga roars (roar partly courtesy of Baragon and Godzilla!) and goes back to mowing on electricity. Back at HQ the SPs deduce that they can plot Neronga’s next move based on the location of nearby power plants and stations. Ito cleverly suggests they starve the monster by shutting down the power plants, but Arashi shoots it down: the general public would fucking freak and the Science Patrol itself would be useless without power. It’s a quick moment, but I’m really glad they bring up the simple, realistic solution and explain why they need to ditch it and set up a kick-ass monster fight instead.
Neronga’s next target is the biggest power station yet, so the Science Patrol scrambles to the scene. In the confusion, Hoshino hijacks their experimental new weapon the
BFG9000 nuclear gun and stows away on their jet.
While the Science Patrol make their way to the power station, the JSDF deploys a parade of increasingly insane artillery:
It’s a laser tank (like the Godzilla series’ famous Masers) and it has a name, but I can’t remember it and it is frustratingly difficult to find detailed Ultraman info online. I love you forever and ever Dinosaur Tank, but I now also resent you a little because you’re pretty much the only thing that comes up when I tried to find info on the wild-ass laser tanks in Ultraman.
Who am I kidding? I can’t stay mad at you, Dinosaur Tank.
When everybody arrives on the scene there’s no immediate sign of Neronga, so shit gets tense. In another surprising Predator parallel, the paranoia gets to everybody and they pointlessly blow the shit out of empty air:
Sadly, Ito never makes jokes about his girlfriend’s huge vagina.
Neronga’s ghostly form does show up, so naturally our intrepid heroes wail on it, and naturally it gets WAY pissed.
Neronga’s rampage is a little sloppy and shaky visually, but it’s still a lot of fun. Nerry himself is a re-purposed Baragon suit, the distinctive ridged back gives it away. His flip-up horns/antennae (horntennae?) are a great touch and really drive home the “electricity monster” premise.
Before Ultraman swoops in to save the day, Hoshino squeezes off a potshot on Neronga and blows out his fucking eyeball in a smoking, gory mess.
Of course, the show is called “Ultraman” and not “Hoshino Smokes Everybody by Himself like a Badass Psycho,” so the nuke gun immediately runs out of juice, Hoshino conks out like a nerd when he tries to run away, and gangster-ass Hayata sprints straight into certain death.
It’s a kick-ass hero moment for Hayata, we get a snazzy new angle on his transformation, and most importantly it is MONSTER FIGHT TIME. Neronga’s lasers are POINTLESS and STUPID against Ultraman’s bitchin’ space bod, so UM Irish whips his silly ass into a nearby powergrid. The narrator warns us of Ultraman’s color timer/warning light, so UM busts out the serious shit:
My screen caps aren’t the clearest (I’m snapping them through VLC while watching the Golden Media Group DVD set), so if those pics don’t convey it Ultraman just grabbed Neronga by the horn and kneed him in the jaw so hard the fucking thing snapped off. This show rules. The fight music is super fun and keeps you pumped up as UM pulls another outrageous maneuver on Neronga:
Does spinning your opponent before hucking them make a difference in combat? Probably not. Does that make it any less radical? FUCK NO. GUESS WHAT? LASERS, YA FREAK BITCH!
And that’s pretty much the episode! Ito shoots a suspicious line to Hayata when he conveniently shows up post kaiju rumble, but nobody really gives a crap. We’re all just happy the problem is solved and we can go home like a big happy (crazy, super-sciencing) family!
Compared to the first two episodes it feels a little plain jane. It’s not flashy or super clever, but it gives our Science Patrollers lots of neat investigating to do with some seriously dope action and tight plotting. When you think of a kaiju movie boiled down to 25 minutes, you think of something like this. It’s by-the-book, but when it’s done this well that’s not a bad thing.
Five Seconds Before the Explosion!
This episode takes a straight-forward kaiju attack and gives it a nuclear twist!… but not quite in the way we’re used to. We also see what happens when Science Patrol members try to take a vacation! Can you possibly guess how these two stories overlap?!?!?!?!
The majority of this episode is just what you’d expect: an idyllic seaside resort getting ransacked by a radioactive reptile. But before we can get to that, we have some surprisingly grim exposition first. A (hilarious looking) spaceship carrying six nuclear bombs has inexplicably exploded, scattering its volatile payload into the ocean near Japan.
So four of the nukes fell into the sea without exploding and were recovered, one went off mid-ocean creating some great-looking tidal waves:
Leaving one H-bomb MIA. It’s theorized that ocean currents could be carrying it towards population centers. Naturally the Science Patrol are tapped by the authorities to help secure the errant doomsday device, so it’s all hands on deck as– wait no, Fuji gets to go on vacation.
This is probably the first obvious example of batshit insane kid logic steering the plot of an episode, and it definitely won’t be the last. I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand I’m always up for whimsical goofiness, but on the other I’m less into it if it’s directly at odds with the drama and stakes of a story. There are weird, fine (arbitrary?) lines here (or in my brain) that are partially being crossed, I guess? I don’t know. You can treat your monster of the week as a goofy semi-threat (even when it smashes buildings and such), but my brain won’t fully accept that for a goddamn H-bomb.
Anyway, Fuji playfully teases Ito that she’s taking a secret date on vacation with her (sexual tension! It’s cool! It’d be neat to see more in the future), but it’s just ol’ Hoshino. Everybody gets a good laugh as Fuji and Hosh.0 take off on their very sibling-like vacation.
That’s Ragon, and he trashes a big cargo ship. The scene reminds me of the intro to War of the Gargantuas in a really good way. Ragon himself also brings the Creature from the Black Lagoon to mind, and I like to think that was Tsuburaya intentionally giving a hat tip to that iconic monster. Especially since the original Ragons that appeared in Ultra Q were man-sized mer-monsters.
Complete with rage issues! (big ups to my buddy Jeff Klein for showing me this!)
It also also could be a stealth nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon, a similarly named freaky fish-fella! Ragon is a straight-forward beast with a classic design because he comes with a twist!
The nuke is stuck to his weird Kermit-style neck-frill! Luckily for us but unluckily for Fuji and The Hosh, Ragon is headed straight for the resort they’re chillaxing at! Speaking of, Fuji and Hoshino are playing badminton while a twerpy kid named Michiko tags along.
Fuji plays badminton in her uniform, which raised a weird number of questions for me. What is her deal? Does she have parents, or is she old enough to live on her own? Is she raising Hoshino (even in just an unofficial, cool older friend/sibling capacity)? I like Fuji a lot, but her home life (or lack thereof) totally mystifies me.
All this spaghetti and badminton is interrupted by Ragon, giving us that classic composite shot from earlier:
The first leg of Ragon’s rampage made me super aware of his Neronga-style big weird red lips and how much we see the roof of his mouth:
Fuji and Hoshino rush back in to rescue Michiko, who is mid-food coma. With Ragon creeping on Michiko, the episode gives a sly wink to another classic movie monster, this time borrowing from a certain famous royal primate:
I really dig all the different monster shout-outs they managed to pack into one episode without derailing their original story. Hoshino continues to prove he is a baby bad-ass by stabbing the shit out of Ragon’s hand, and the three of them bail before Ragon can do anything about it.
Arashi of course can’t just wail on Ragon like he wants to, because he might set off a fucking H-bomb.
As Ragon breath-blasts Arashi’s jet and chases the kiddos, the nuke tumbles partway down his bod before getting caught on more scales. There really doesn’t seem to be any good solution to this problem. So back at HQ, Ito suggests a bad solution!
The bad suggestion (BTW feel free to use that as a band name) is another piece of wacky kid/cartoon-logic: Ragon is a raging beast, so let’s play him music to calm him down! And they do! They call up the coast guard to send ships out blasting some sweet tuneage for Ragon to be soothed by.
My first thought was “Oh shit he loves the music so much it’s making him do the batuisi, which will send the bomb flying!” But when he starts yanking trees up out of the dirt, we realize the music is actually pissing him off even more than he already was (the end result is the same, so…)! I was initially annoyed at an over-reliance on Looney Tunes logic, but the show cleverly subverts it the second time around. Captain Mura and Ito conclude that Ragon’s hatred of music must stem from his extensive radioactive mutation. It also implies that on some level, the Science Patrol is aware of the man-sized Ragon encounter that occurred in Ultra Q, which is a neat little bit of universe-building.
So the Science Patrol tried to subdue the kaiju, it failed, and now Hayata’s on the scene ensuring Fuji, Michiko, Hoshino and Arashi all get to safety. Hmmm, it’s almost as if we’re building to something and following some sort of formula…
With all seeming hopeless, we get a really sweet and earnest moment with Ito, who genuinely wishes (prays?) for Ultraman to come save the day and his friends.
Guess who fucking shows up!?!
Ultraman comes out swingin’, which is great, except said swingin’ sends the H-bomb flying. UM catches it like a champ, but you can’t really monster fight one-handed, and that bomb is like Bruce Springsteen: fucking born to run.
The bomb’s okay for now, but UM knows this mess has gone fully off the rails and needs to stop at all costs. This of course means it’s hand-laser murder-time. Ultraman’s kaiju kills have all been entertaining, but this has to be one of the funniest:
That delayed reaction! More dance moves from Ragon! That wonderful dummy! It’s so delightfully strange that it satisfyingly punctuates this episode’s tension with hilarious weirdness. Izumi Umenosuke is the name of the madman in the Ragon suit, and as far as I can tell his only other credit is a later Ultraman episode. I can only hope his performance as Magular is as unique and entertaining as his Ragon.
But hey, there’s still a FUCKING ATOMIC BOMB to deal with, and it’s seconds away from exploding! If you watched the clip above, you see that Ultraman doesn’t hesitate for even a second: dude grabs it and Iron Giants it off into the stratosphere.
It really looks like Ultraman jumped on a grenade for mankind. Of course that’s not the case, but we don’t get much of an explanation! Hayata just shows up and reassures everybody that Ultraman is okay. Something as simple as a quick shot of UM throwing the bomb into empty space before it went off would have satisfied me, but we get a kind of weak and confusing death fake-out instead. Hayata saves it with a way cool delivery of the episode’s final line though: “He’s invincible… I know he is.”
Secret of Miroganda
The previous episode (Five Seconds Before the Explosion!) tried to find the slapstick wackiness in H-bombs, and this one aims to find the Cronenberg-style grotesque body horror in… flowers.
The episode starts off eerily, with a late night car crash caused by strange green goo:
The dude stumbles out of his car and freaks out when he sees that huge weird-ass Lovecraftian green thing. It jizzes Ecto-Cooler all over him, and that’s when shit gets really bad:
It’s a cool, creepy, simple, and wordless intro that sets the tone for another spooky Ultra-adventure. The next day the police call the Science Patrol to help with the investigation, because holy shit how would anyone guess green plant goo is going around melting people.
It’s the mid-60s, Troll 2 doesn’t even exist yet.
It’s funny to see the wacky and fantastic Science Patrollers investigating something as mundane as a car crash alongside real-life cops and detectives. For our dose of jet-age futurism, Arashi and Ito are sent to investigate the super-scientific lair of the recently deceased botanist Dr. Yamada.
Ito and Arashi are given a tour of Yamada’s impressive laboratory/green house, and Ito goes full Andy Dwyer and loses his shit over Yamada’s ginormous carrot (ladies).
Doc Yamada was studying ways to grow turbo-plants to help end world hunger (bro that don’t work) and the very exotic and very rare Miroganda flower. And-and-and said flower was MIA after the murder!
The clues are rolling in, so the SPers call in their buddy Dr. Iwamoto, played by Akihiko Hirata!
Iwamoto analyzes a goo sample from the car crash and discovers three odd facts about it:
- It contains chlorophyll: plant goo
- It contains animal goo: animal goo
- It is radioactiver than a Chernobyl Mai Tai: nuke goo
This screams “giant plant monster” immediately in giant flashing neon lights, and Arashi spells it out as a personal theory of his in case anyone didn’t pick up on it. His “eureka” moment is punch-uated with a ridonkulous punch-n-pratfall:
It’s so stupid and over-the-top that it blows right past “unfunny” and circles right back around to hilarious. The episode had been steadily building up an atmosphere of dread with its killer on the loose plot and ever-rising body count, making this corny pratfall a well-timed release valve of comic relief. Masaya Nihei (Ito) has a knack for physical comedy and Arashi’s rushed, earnest apology (combined with a smash cut to the visual gag above) caps it off nicely. It’s so dumb it’s perfect.
The dude in the car wreck and Dr. Yamada were both part of the same expedition to bring back a live Miroganda flower sample, so the SPer’s decide to seek out one of the remaining living members: photojournalist Setsuko Hamaguchi.
She relays the story of them finding the Miroganda plant with a very cool Schindler’s List-style black & white except-for-one-thing flashback:
After this we get a Japan-only scene of the SPs patrolling Hamaguchi’s house, keeping an eye out for murderous plants. ARASHI GETS GOT!
Miroganda (or “Greenmons” as they call its monstrous form in Japan) does a surprisingly great job of blending in next to the stairs and getting the jump on Arashi: I actually ran this back and watched it a second time because it faked me out too. Arashi calls out for help, and the rest of the SPs are quick on the scene packing heat.
The Japan-only part seems to end once they free Arashi from getting murder-humped by Greenmons but before they blow the compost out of it with lasers. It’s a shame because Arashi getting partially engulfed in monster is a nice bit of tension and definitely keeps this episode in the Kid’s Horror genre.
The SPs really wailed on Greenmons… knocking him into a body of water. He’s a plant, guys.
Greenmons is back and pissed all the way off! It’s a spectacular entrance for a kaiju that I’m ultimately a little wishy-washy on. It’s big and ugly and lumpy in a confusing, amorphous way that works really well for the episode’s mystery and horror moments, but sometimes we catch it at an odd or unflattering angle and it suddenly looks like a big green carpet thrown over an actor.
Arashi does the Arashi thing of charging in guns blazing, only to get KO’d by Greenmons’ Surge mist. Hayata rushes in to pull Arashi’s bod to safety while Ito, Mura, and the JSDF provide cover fire. It’s a nice hero moment for (non-Ultra’d) Hayata, and it gives him one of his best opportunities to transform. Bonus, Ultraman really kicks this fight off right:
After that righteous opening salvo, UM and Greenmons size each other up, circling one another in an impressive wide shot:
Greenmons really only has that one (weird) trick up his leafy sleeve (sleaf?), so naturally he spews Mountain Dew Baja Blast all over Ultraman. While it’s an insta-KO for us puny hu-mons, Ultraman can just barely keep his shit together after getting bukkaked with mulch.
Greenmons’ fatal flatulence runs UM’s color timer down to blinking, so it’s time to quit putzing around and bust out the ol’ hand lasers:
The ashes make one last pitiful woo-woo sound as the wind starts to blow it away, and we pan over to the Science Patrol to see that everybody feels a little fucked up about this one:
It reminds me of the finale in the original Japanese version of Rodan. No victorious cheers, no moralizing, just the quiet, uncomfortable realization that we had to kill off a one-of-a-kind lifeform. The unspoken wish that things could have turned out differently. It’s tricky to pull this off well, especially in rampaging monster stories, but I think Secret of Miroganda manages to hit it (or at least come very close). The episode gets a little lost in over-explaining/re-explaining a (relatively) simple premise, but the eerie build-up and uneasy resolution are worth it.
So that’s our first big batch of episodes! With these first four Ultrastories, the show confidently finds its footing as it explores the possibilities of its formula. Right away we get an entertaining mix of comedy, mystery, action, horror, and best of all, a crazy cavalcade of killer kaiju! It’s really cool seeing how far they can stretch the formula in different directions with such varying stories, concepts, and tones. Case in point, the next batch of episodes kicks off with a diamond heist and a chocolate-scarfing super-fish from Brazil! Until then, stay Ultra, Science Patrollers!