Let’s get Ultra, fools! I have no concept of how long it’s gonna take, but I’m determined to review every last episode of this show and after a couple months off I’m jazzed to dive back in.
This month we get some of the (intentionally) funniest monster action I’ve ever seen, our creepiest antagonist since Baltan, and a fresh, funky formula shake-up! Pour yourself a nice tall glass of oil because shit’s gettin’ ULTRA in here!
The Ruffian from Outer Space
It’s also known as “The Rascal from Outer Space” or “The Rambunctious One from Space” and those titles are a little more evocative of the story we end up getting. Ruffian/Rascal starts with clever twists on a light-hearted what-if/fantasy premise and ends with some of the funniest, slapstick-iest kaiju combat I’ve ever seen.
The episode opens with Hoshino grab-assing with some other kids in a pretty gnarly looking industrial area. I always like kaiju stories that include some grounded, slice-of-life character scenes. Seeing kids putz around in an ugly vacant lot really puts me in the headspace of pre-90s summer vacation, when parents let their kids roam as long as they were back when the streetlights came on. It shows not only that kids are a little tougher than we give them credit for, but that they’re capable of finding or making their own fun in any environment. I only got a taste of that in my own life (at some point as a pre-teen Super Nintendo got way more interesting than sticks and bugs and stuff), but it still creates a cozy, nostalgic feeling my in brain-guts.
Yep, just good, clean fun in a good, dirty abandoned lot…
Thankfully Hoshino ends this body horror when he spots a weird sparkle zipping through the sky! The kids can’t decide if it’s a meteorite or a UFO, but they all set off to find its landing point in their improvised playground.
The kids give no shits about a multi-colored space rock and just toss it on the ground like it’s fucking garbage.
After a few seconds as a bunch of scattered marbles, it pops back into its original form. The kids astonishingly all write it off as a figment of their imaginations and go back to dicking around in an industrial waste field. Hoshino off-handedly says that it’d be cooler if it turned into a racecar (inadvertantly inventing a hugely popular toyline and terrible movie series?)… and then it (more or less) does!
The kids suss out that the rock turns into whatever a person is thinking of, and this kiddo thinks hard as hell about an extravagant birthday cake:
They take turns getting the rock to turn into stuff (the next kid wants a piano!) and some shady ass creeper leers at them from a distance:
Thankfully it is an episode of Ultraman, so Hoshino just takes the rock to the Science Patrol without any fuss.
Arashi takes it to the Science Patrol’s frequent collaborator and recurring secondary character, Dr. Iwamoto (played by Akihiko Hirata… best known for Dr. SUPER-PIMP Serizawa in the original Gojira) over at the Science Center. What follows is one of the best “doin’ science!” montages I’ve ever seen:
Playing with food coloring=super-science!
The Science Center’s top eggheads hold a press conference to announce their findings (almost none!) and a certain cane-carrying creeper is in attendance. But he bides his time! The scientists announce that the rock is a living mineral with a chemical composition unlike anything found on Earth. Other than that, it’s exactly what the kids said: a rock that turns into whatever you’re thinking of! They even let some schmuck reporter test it out!
It’s a funny switch-a-roo gag, but I don’t really understand why the rock-bride turned into a grumpy dude? The way the story leads into this joke, I was expecting us to see this goober reporter accidentally making out with a colorful rock. Either way we got a good G-rated sex joke, which I never expected out of Ultraman.
Anyway, our cane-creeper was up to some shifty bullshit (surprise!) and planted a bug in the room. Even though he’s a fucking slimeball, his plan is really cool and clever. After he plants the bug, he gets into his parked car and walkie-talkies his “wishes” to the rock. No blushing brides for this shithead, first he gets the rock to goop out of its container:
Then he tells the goop to turn into a missile and fly out of the building to him!
We never really find out who this guy is or what’s up with him, but he’s clearly a fucking go-getter. Just like the cake, the missile transformation is pulled off with some really slick animation, and in general this episode looks great: lots of dynamic camera work, snappy montages and interesting photography. You know what else looks great? ACTION (Jackson)! Arashi spots our villain trying to get away in his sedan, so Arashi does the Arashi thing and starts shootin’ shit!
All right, Arashi shot the switch for the gate to shut, case closed right? FUCK NO ROCK ‘N” ROLLLLLL
Our douche guy jumps out of the car with the “missile” right before he makes like an octogenarian at a farmer’s market and in the chaos Arashi loses track of him. The car careening towards hapless scientists and barreling through the front of the building isn’t achieved perfectly (the car slows down for a second before cutting away from the POV shot and the mini-backdrop inside the building shakes because the car hits it), but it’s one of those cases were the concept is so shocking and exciting that it’s completely satisfying anyway.
Now I’m not sure if this is a funky translation or if I just missed something, but our cackling dickhead tells the rock he “want[s] something destroyed”: hinting at some kind of motivation or goal! But this wish conjures up (the roughly man-sized) Gyango, who just ends up running around scaring people and being a butthole.
Gyango is one of the weirdest critters we’ve seen yet (which even this early in the series is saying a lot), and I dig his funky aesthetic. He’s an altered Bemular suit, dressed up with non-vestigial arms, little metal claws, glowing eyes, weird body-art, and big metallic rotating ears/antlers/antennae.
Gyango harasses two different bellboys and crashes a swimsuit photoshoot. It’s all well-paced and legitimately chuckle-inducing physical comedy, and after each spook-em-up we get a crazy shot of the human villain guffawing like a fucking nutcase in front of an artsy orange back-drop:
After yukking it up at Gyango’s shenanigans, our previously slick con-man takes a hard left into dipshit country and wishes for Gyango to be huge… while they’re both still in the hotel. I bet you can guess how well that works out for our human villain:
The Science Patrol is ON IT in no time, because they’re pros. Tsuburaya and co. show off with a really cool, flashy jet launch sequence too:
Our heroes track down the dipshit idiot behind everything, and Hayata pieces together what the hell happened/is happening: dum-dum here wished for a kaiju to appear for no particular reason, catastrophically got exactly what he wanted, and got knocked the fuck out for his trouble.
The kicker is that getting K-O’d sort of “locked in” his last wish, hence why super-Gyango is still out there going apeshit on the city instead of, you know, going back to being a small colorful rock.
Of course the Science Patrol won’t let this guy potentially bleed out in a ruined hotel, so they rush him to the hospital… it doesn’t hurt that waking him up might also be the only way to get rid of Gyango. The self-defense force is bringing some sick hardware to the party, and we’re now fully switched from fun Twilight Zone-y fantasy story to comedy kaiju rumble!
The JSDF’s laser tanks are mostly an annoyance for Gyango, until they explode one of his rotating “ears”: then he freaks out and goes kick-crazy!
This worm’s-eye view of the action is really exciting and would feel right at home in a more serious kaiju story. It also helps paint a really clear picture of Gyango’s shitty bully personality: he can dish it out but he can’t take it. Suit actor Teruo Aragaki breathes bratty life into Gyango with some really evocative, anthropomorphic body language that fits the light tone of the episode perfectly. You even feel bad for him when he doubles over and covers his eyes in pain and fright after the Science Patrol bombs him!
EXCEPT YOU SHOULDN’T BECAUSE IT WAS A BULLSHIT FAKEOUT GYANGO YOU FUCKIN’ DICK
Hayata survives the crash (of course) and does a cool under water Ultra transformation!
Hayata/Ultraman have made peace with the fact that they’re going to have to fight horseshit with horseshit, gifting us one of the legit funniest battles in monster fiction. No joke Ultraman has to tickle Gyango to break out of the butt-pin I showed at the top of the review:
Gyango tricks Ultraman into dashing into the water, Ultraman retaliates by splashing Gyango like crazy, Ultraman gives Gyango a swift kick in the ass, Gyango fake-begs for mercy, Ultraman leapfrogs over Gyango… it’s non-stop delightful. The best part though… well, just see for yourself!
THAT IS THE BEST, FUNNIEST SUCKER PUNCH I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. It stole the title from the previous champ (the gleefully stupid and criminally under-appreciated!), Jingle All the Way. It’s perfect: Ultraman’s shoulder taps are in time with the music, Gyango’s perfectly dumb flat pug-mug sells his astonishment. I truly, literally laughed out loud the first time I saw it. I always have to run it back and watch it a couple times before I move on. It keeps getting funnier every single time I see it!
Our moron human villain wakes up, realizes he’s put thousands of people in mortal danger for literally no reason at all and wishes Gyango away immediately:
With Gyango gyone-go, Hayata cheekily tells his fellow SPers that he’ll talk to Ultraman about getting rid of the pesky wishing stone. Fuji tries to follow him, so Hayata makes sure to hustle out of HQ and lock the door behind him. It’s a fittingly cute ending to what is by far the funniest Ultraman episode yet.
It has some hiccups (particularly the motive-less, inscrutable human antagonist), but The Ruffian from Outer Space’s clever premise and focus on (surprisingly well-executed, timeless) comedy make it stand out. Oddball stories like this are a testament to the strengths of TV as a medium for kaiju fiction. Short weekly productions allow Tsuburaya and co. to be way more flexible and experimental than they could with feature-length studio films, and I’m very glad for that.
Cry of the Mummy
After the outright comedy of The Ruffian from Outer Space, Ultraman pivots again into spooky sci-fi horror with Cry of the Mummy (or alternately, The Cries of the Mummy). As a fan of monsters in general (including Universal’s classic pantheon of man-sized horrors), it’s really refreshing to see a unique take on mummy mythos that also stays true to the character’s horror roots. Everybody jokes that mummies aren’t scary and I don’t think there’s any reason for that to be an etched-in-stone immutable fact. Anything can be scary if you try, and Cry of the Mummy’s first half nails it.
We open with the Science Patrol overseeing an archeological dig where scientists have just unearthed a 10,000 year old mummy!
The specimen is mysteriously inhuman and incredibly well-preserved, so Dr. Iwamoto takes it to the Science Center to try and unlock its secrets. The Science Patrol have agreed to help guard it, given that it’s a priceless archaeological find.
Iwamoto runs some weird electrical tests on the (odd but awesome looking) mummy before turning in for the evening. After Iwamoto bails, an unseen force pulls the levers on the equipment, the machines kick on and bombard the mummy with electricity and… well, take a wild guess:
The night watchman leaves the thoroughly creeped out scientist he’s chatting with to go check out the commotion…
The scientist gets nervous after a while and tries to check on the night watchman, leading to the tense and eerie reveal at the top of the stairs:
So yeah, it’s a pretty big change in tone from Gyango making a bellhop drop a pie, even before I realized that the night watchman and the scientist were FUCKING DEAD. The Science Center reports it to Ito the next day, who is thoroughly creeped out by their story.
Arashi tries to gently goof on Ito and simultaneously reassure him that the mummy has to have been stolen, not missing (Monster Squad has a nearly identical conversation!). Ito’s not convinced, especially because two more people have been murdered outside the sewers nearby.
The whole Science Patrol crew rushes out to investigate, and Captain Mura pointedly asks Iwamoto how he brought the mummy back to life in the first place. Turns out the mummy wasn’t truly dead, just in a state of super long-term hibernation. Because of this incredible discovery, Iwamoto urges the assembled SPers and self-defense forces to try and take the mummy alive if at all possible: it very likely holds the secret to (some version of) eternal life.
The excitement cranks up as the combined forces of the self-defense soldiers and Science Patrollers search the sewers for the mummy and try to battle the creature that’s not truly alive or dead. Great, moody locations and sweeping cinematography drive home the spooky, serious vibe of the episode.
The mummy eventually gets surrounded by his pursuers, but that isn’t nearly enough to stop his rampage.
The mummy is so huge and so powerful that he can just throw entire groups of guys like it’s nothing. Then shit gets desperate and the shooting starts…
Mummy starts just dropping dudes left and right with his eye lasers, and finally Mura sends Arashi in to do his Arashi thing:
The mummy collapses, and the horror’s over right? Everything’s cool now? Ultraman gets the day off?
Just like the previous episode started with a what-if fantasy story and transitioned into a monster comedy, Cry of the Mummy starts as straight-up horror and switches gears into traditional kaiju action-adventure. I’ll keep an eye out for this in future episodes and see if it recurs enough to officially become part of the Ultraman Formula™. I hope it does.
Anyway that big, weird, awesome horsie dragon with wings on his neck is Dodongo!
NOT to be confused with the ever-changing but always triceratops-ish (and smoke/bomb-averse) enemy from the Legend of Zelda games.
With his dying breath, the mummy awakens the massive monster (so it’s THE titular Cry of the Mummy!), who’s now hellbent on avenging his fallen master.
The mine miniature (and its real-life counterpart) looks terrific and the ensuing chaos montage is a blast.
Dodongo’s an ambitious creature design that mostly works. He’s the series’ first two-person suit, which is a super sick concept I’m geeked to see more of (we will in the next ep!). Dodongo’s vocalizations are Mothra noises pitched up, and his head is a modified version of Pagos’ from Ultra Q:
Dodongo’s got an ornate, Chinese dragon-y motif going on that I dig. It mixes well with his horse-ish frame. The suit moves well too, especially considering its complexity and some of the wild action they’re about to pull off with it. The main downside is that Dodongo has lots of loose, floppy elements that make him look flimsy or rubbery when he really starts jukin’ around.
The Science Patrollers try to take out Dodongo via jet, but his eye-lasers keep them from mounting much of an offensive. Arashi figures their best bet is to try and attack from the ground, and Ito’s got a hot new piece of experimental tech that’ll make it possible.
Arashi suits up with the new doo-dad, locks and loads his supergun, and confidently strides out into the line of fire to tear shit up.
Arashi really gets to shine in this episode with several kick-ass moments. He blusters and bristles a lot in other episodes, but scenes like these go to show he’s got the skills to back it all up. But oh yeah, after Arashi blows out Dodongo’s right eye, he fires back with his left!
The electronic barrier works! It saves Arashi’s ass! It’s a really cool optical effect, and it should look very familiar to avid video game players out there:
With Arashi boldly leading the attack, the other SPers try to zap out Dodongo’s other eye:
Dodongo KO’s Arashi before he can knock out the monster’s other eye, so Ito steps up and finishes the job!
Dodonogo does not handle his newfound blindness very well, and starts violently thrashing around like… like a giant monster that has just been blinded. Other than the blind monster-thrashing, the Science Patrol’s laser-guided eye-gouge plan works really well. Like, they’ve kicked a ton of ass before Ultraman has even shown up. They should try this with every monster, right? I’m sure there’s a way to explain why they don’t do it every episode (hell, most monsters can cover their eyes or are otherwise mobile enough to not get forced lasik surgery from the SPs), but damn, if I were on the Patrol that’d be my go-to Plan A!
But yeah, with Dodongo still stomping around in blind hysteria, Mura (knowingly?????) tells Hayata to go “distract” the monster. We know what that means!
Ultraman flies in and rather than his trademark (fucking awesome) soaring, back-breaking double-kick, he lands on Dodongo’s back and starts riding him like a bucking bronco!
After that dope headlock, Dodongo launches UM, and we get a rare shot from Ultraman’s POV as he aims his Specium Beam:
Dodongo doesn’t explode when he gets hit with the hand-lasers like a lot of kaiju do. Dodongo’s death is quieter and sadder: the creature collapses, struggles for a bit, then passes away. The music swells, and it’s clear that this just isn’t a proud victory. Human lives were lost, and so was the secret of immortality. It reminds me of the ending to an earlier episode, Secret of Miroganda, but this time the stakes are higher and the loss is greater.
Ultraman flies off and shoots a big laser SpaghettiO out of his hands. I was baffled by this for a good split-second before I realized they were finally showing us how Ultraman changes back into Hayata. COOL!
The Science Patrollers check on Arashi (“He’s as strong as an ox, nothing can hurt him badly”) and Iwamoto laments not just the loss of the mummy and Dodongo, but his own ignorance. The monsters were perfectly harmless in hibernation and disturbing their tomb (regardless of intent) caused so much havok. It’s a thoughtful, downbeat ending that skillfully avoids being mawkish or maudlin. Ito spots Hayata on the cliffs having a good long think about everything and “Standing how Ultraman would stand.”
It’s a great way to wrap up the episode and develop Ultraman/Hayata just the littlest bit. The second half of the episode is good, but that first half is excellent. It’s so good it’s one of those cases were I almost wish they could skip the Ultraman part of the Ultraman Formula™ and just give us a full half-hour of that story. To a lesser extent I felt that way about the previous episode (but there’s no way in Hell I’d give up the Gyango fight for ANYTHING), and it’s something that happens a couple times in Ultraman X, too (the Pygmon and the alien rugby match episodes immediately come to mind). It’s not a dig against the kaiju action, it’s a compliment to the pre-kaiju adventure!
In the Ruffian from Outer Space review I mentioned that Gyango is a pretty funky kaiju, but he’s practically another Godzilla look-alike (ex. 1, 2, 3) compared to the fuckin’ freaked-out critter at the heart of Oil S.O.S!
That walking fever dream is Pestar, an oil-eating beast (“Pe” for petroleum, “star” for starfish!) that we’ll see more of in a little bit. Oil S.O.S. gets right into it, so I’ll do the same!
Now we’re talkin’, right?! The narrator lets us know that freak accidents have been happening around the world wherever oil is shipped, processed, or stored. Got it? Good! Here’s a drunk guy!
Drunk guy spots weird lights in the water and when he staggers out in front of a truck to warn them, (surprise!) they don’t take him super seriously.
We get our first look at the totally bonkers Pestar here, a creature brought to life by a pair of suit actors in one suit. It’s an ambitious technique that I’m always excited to see more of. Pestar blows up the truck, drags it into the bay, and then disappears as mysteriously as it arrived. So who ya gonna call?
Ito and Arashi do flyby surveillance while Mura and Hayata work the crowd. I always like when these guys get to do some detective work, and this scene opens with a really bitchin’ composite shot of Mura watching the other SPers zoom by overhead.
The local cops have the drunk dockworker from last night in custody, and he’s angrily standing by his story. The cops are quick to blame last night’s disaster on an errant cig from him. Hayata tries to give the dockworker a fair listen, but thinks Hayata’s just being condescending. It’s an interesting, salty twist on the old genre trope of “kindly local eccentric gets scoffed at by authorities.” Hayata and Mura are well aware of the recent oil catastrophes around the world and have a hunch that they’re linked to the dockworker’s story. It’s moot in a couple minutes though!
It’s an incredible explosion, and we get a full, daylight eyeful of the colossal culprit!
His big pair of kiwi-starfish bodies are weird enough in their own right, but the fact that they connect in the middle with a hideous little bat-face elevates Pestar to a whole shocking new level of strange. He also makes modified Mothra sounds! I won’t be forgetting this oil-guzzling goon any time soon, and the same goes for Ultra-creators! Menjura (from Ultraman Tiga) and Antimatter (from Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie) are both inspired by this gas-hole:
After he sinks the ship, Pestar slips back under the waves and our heroes regroup to cook up a plan.
The good Dr. Iwamoto is in the house and he hypothesizes that Pestar is eating oil to survive. Specifically, dude-man gobbles up the bacteria that live in the oil. Mura speculates that the massive, nearby oil refinery will be the creature’s next buffet. They put forth that the two huge torsos contain twin stomachs, and Arashi’s like “if they’re full of oil then let’s just blow this bitch up!”
Hayata’s like “Dude no… come on, man,” because blowing the shit out of an oil-filled thing in an oil field would be very, very bad.
Mura cooks up a clever plan that they almost pull off instead. It starts with choppers, oil drums, and some terrific miniature work:
Pestar takes the bait! Our heroes engage him by jet and manage to fuck him up a bit, but he slips away and heads to shore. He’s a tricky little shit, and that’s especially evident when he jump-scares Ito and fucks up everything!
Ito is spooked so bad he slips and launches a missile at one of Pestar’s bod-tummies, and it makes him barf fire!… Into the oil field they were trying to protect! Pestar makes landfall at the oil refinery and Mura is pissed at Ito for goofing up. He’s harsh with Ito, but he’s also quick to kill any blame-gaming before it starts: he tells the team that they’re all responsible for this mistake and it’s their job to dive right back in and fix this shitshow. Mura’s a good leader.
Pestar gets a pyro-riffic chaos montage as he goes absolutely apeshit on the oil field. I think Pestar’s parents let him play with matches or something when he was a kaiju-kid:
The Science Patrollers actually manage to hit Pestar with so much firepower that he goes down! Here’s that big formula-flip I mentioned at the top of the review! Instead of fighting a monster, the climax of this episode is fighting a fire! I love seeing our heroes helping real people in a real(ish) situation as a break from their usual high-flying, sci-fi ass-kickery.
When they land and meet with the refinery managers, Mura takes responsibility for the mistake that drove Pestar to the refinery, and Ito can’t take the guilt any more. Dude breaks off from the group and sprints into the fiery chaos in an effort to put out the entire fire alone and “redeem” himself.
They put you right in the middle of the chaos with a whole slew of dynamic camera techniques, in particular some really exciting pans and zooms through the fantastic oil refinery miniatures. Hayata and Arashi race into the inferno to try and rescue Ito while Mura and Fuji help with evacuation and fire-fighting efforts.
ULTRA RESCUE GOOOOOO! Ultraman looks completely fucking awesome navigating the fiery oil field, helped along by smart, low-angle camera work and some incredible mini-sets.
As much as they’ve shaken up the formula for an Ultraman climax, they can’t fully get away from UM offing a slobbering murder-monster, so Pestar’s shambling corpse stirs just enough to get lasered back to hell:
With Pestar truly, fully dead, Ultraman can get to work putting out this crazy oil fire! The exciting question is: how will he do it? Create tidal waves by splashing around in the bay? Smother it with fistfuls of gravel from a nearby rock quarry? Pick up a nearby water tower and smash it open?
Save your Oozinator jokes you pervs! Ultraman’s a hero and his liquid eruptions mostly look like water!
Jokes aside it’s a cool hero moment for Ultraman. I love seeing him do heroic things besides killing monsters, and this whole fire-rescue schtick reminds me of the part in Coast Guard Orders where he lifts a cop car to safety.
Ultraman’s color timer starts beeping just as he finishes putting out the last fire. Satisfied with his handiwork, Ultraman soars back off into space, and the Science Patrollers all circle back to the now-safe Ito.
Ito still feels like garbage, convinced that he’s failed the team and doesn’t deserve to be a Science Patroller. Mura talks sense into the distraught Ito, who hears it, smiles with relief, then promptly passes back out.
It’s a light, funny ending that complements the last episode’s somber conclusion well. In addition to the crazy-weird monster, formula-flip, and seeing the Science Patrol tackle a realistic crisis in the second half, I love that this episode gives us a little peek into how the Science Patrollers (and especially Captain Mura) work together as a unit.
Great batch of episodes this month! This is going to be a long project, but episodes like these keep me excited to keep chipping away at it: the show continues to innovate and impress. Happy Kaijuly folks! I hope yours was Ultra!