This month’s pair of titanic tales gives us sea monster shenanigans, the subversive power of kids’ imaginations, Ultraman’s new face, the show’s most cheekily meta conversation yet, ULTRAMAN SPEAKS, and more! This show keeps getting radder and radder, so chow on a fistful of pearls, finish your chalk drawings, and click on through to get UIltra as hell, buddy.
Pearl Oyster Defense Order
This episode is also known as “The Pearl Defense Directive” and “The Pearl Oyster Protection Directive,” which all mean about the same thing: our heroes gotta defend some pearls!
It’s a straight forward title for a straight forward conflict, but the episode still manages to toy with the Ultraman formula™. We kick off with Fuji and Ito enjoying some downtime in the city. It’s a fun little character moment that’s spiced up with some creative cinematography (like a shot where Fuji and Ito are framed in a mirror that shows us both sides of the conversation at once).
Pearls are expensive anyway, but lately prices have shot up. Fuji and Ito chat up the dude at the counter and find out that even though there hasn’t been any extreme weather or fuckery with the tides, pearl oysters are going missing en masse. Ito chalks it up to price gouging bullshit and sarcastically suggests a giant monster is eating all the pearls.
Fuji races back to HQ to research Ito’s joke theory, and we cut to a pair of schmucks carting a truckload of pearl oysters to their new farm. Pearl oysters have been disappearing from their old harvest sites, and it’s been happening all over the world!
After dispensing that handy exposition, we get funny double takes from both characters:
They’re flipping a shit because these two dildos are the first people to spot this episode’s mighty monster, Gamakujira!
Gamakujira’s name comes from the Japanese word for toad (or frog?) “gama” combined with the Japanese word for whale “kujira.” And that’s super-duper accurate, he’s a big toadish-whaley thing! Mixed feelings on his design and suit overall. His face is great (especially his big, glowing, silvery, pearly eyes) and has tons of personality, but it’s also got a distractingly cartoonish quality to it. He’s got a heavy, sloppy mass to him that instantly invokes bullfrogs and other flabby amphibians, but sometimes that mass just looks like a suit that was a size or two too big for the suit actor (veteran suit actor and series stalwart Teruo Aragaki), especially when he’s in positions that make the kaiju’s skin fold over.
We’ll see the best and hilariously worst this creature design has to offer later in the episode (including a couple radical special abilities)! Ultimately I think it’s a solid beast, but one of those monsters that really works from certain angles and doesn’t quite cut it from others. The suit was at least good enough to get recycled into a later episode’s kaiju, Skydon!
Okay, tangent over! So our truck schmucks have met Gamakujira, let’s see how this situation resolves!
There’s only one team you can call to handle a monstrous, murderous pearl pilferer! The
Ghostbusters the other Ghostbusters the other other Ghostbusters The X-Files The Bureau Underground Science Patrol!
This is an episode that jumps right to the Science Patrol knowing the kaiju’s name and MO, which I’m cool with, but I’d love if they gave us a little insight into whatever source they have on this stuff. Their global monster database or whatever they use.
Ultimately I’m A-OK with them knowing a few factoids about the monster going into the fight, because in those cases the big mystery to solve ends up being “how do we stop this thing” rather than “what is this thing?” I think that’s a more exciting mystery to solve, especially when you only have >25 minutes to establish and solve said mystery. Speaking of mysteries, here’s the answer to “how does a ginormous frog-whale eat enough tiny-ass pearls to sustain itself?!”
Look at how his eyes “roll back” in that second picture. Dude is really enjoying himself eating pearls. Not for long though! The Science Patrollers come screaming in with their jet and explosively cock-block his orgasmic feeding frenzy!
Things are already looking good for the SPers! Gamakujira is fucking off into the ocean…
But before our heroes can start making plans for happy hour, Gamakujira reminds us how he got the “kujira” part of his name!
Getting hosed mid-flight with a high-power geyser of water fucks up things bad enough to force an emergency landing… on a rocky islet only a couple hundred yards away from the rampaging monster that they’re currently beefing with. So you know, not ideal. It IS good for us giggling little shits though, because it leads to some fun tension, some arty establishing shots, and a CRAZY-cool composite shot:
Night falls and the SPs huddle around a campfire until they can make their next move. It’s all very dramatic looking, and even gets a little creepy when they hear Gamakujira’s guts churning in the middle of the night. Arashi compares it to cows chewing their cud, which instantly made my brain start brewing up a farmboy backstory for Arashi.
Fuji eventually flips a shit and starts literally begging for Gamakujira to save her a pearl. Ito tries to get her to chill and, you know, not ask favors of the dangerous aberration of nature they have to destroy. Fuji reels around and intensely tells Ito “You do not understand a woman’s emotions!” It’s a funny moment, but it’s pretty fuckin’ weird too.
Gamakujira swims off the next morning, and our heroes take to the skies to tail him. It’s a little strange: they were stranded on the island because three coils were burned out by “heat rays” Gamakujira emits (?? this is never mentioned again??) and Fuji was radioing to HQ for help… now everything’s fine the next day? I thought this was maybe just some weirdness created in the English dub, but the subtitled Japanese version has the some narrative hiccup. Maybe we just don’t see reinforcements arrive and help get them up and running again?
There are a couple other interesting differences between the Japanese and English language version: the JP version doesn’t have Arashi’s cow-cud analogy, which I think is a missed opportunity. The explanation was helpful for me understanding what the fuck Gamakujira was doing AND it fuels my new bullshit Arashi-cowboy head canon. The JP version also frames Fuji’s freak out as “please don’t take something beautiful like pearls away from the world,” instead of “just give me one before you turn them into poop!”
We got dudes in the main jet, plus Hayata’s cruising in the little flying wing style jet from the first episode! TAG TEAM BABY
They expertly divebomb the shit out of Gamakujira, dodge his deadly blowholery, then they nail him with Jaws-style tracking floaties!
The floaties help them bombard the submerged monster, but they blow up after a few bombings, forcing our heroes to get even more creative.
The SPs scoop up Gamakujira in their physics-defying plane-net and fry the crap out of him! Surprise, it’s an electrified metal net!
It’s a crazy, exciting concept that reminds me of the military’s plan to stop Godzilla with electrified metal nets in Mothra vs. Godzilla. Despite standing rigidly still in the net as it screams through the sky and gets millions of volts of electricity through his body, Gamakujira does not care for this at all. He gets to thrashin’, so Hayata does his Launchpad McQuack thing and gets to crashin’!
With Hayata down and Gamakujira free (horribly, horribly free!), he crashes a sexy beach party to steal the ladies’… goin’-to-the-beach pearls? The 60s!
The Science Patrollers split up to find Hayata and get this whole frog-whale issue under control. Guess what, they have another wacky plan complete with specialized tech up their sleeves, and spoiler alert: there’s another one after this! First up are pearl bombs:
They make a delightful clattering noise when they hit and bounce off the rocky shore, and of course Gamakujira can’t resist delicious food falling from the sky.
But even blowing up his insides doesn’t finish off Gammy-2-Jammy. He’s pretty gangster for a schlubby pearl-eating frog-whale! Fuji finds Hayata, he tells her not to worry about him and to go call in an emergency request for HQ to deliver a “small jet engine.” Jet engine jamboree is PLAN F by my count, which is bonkers. You’ll recall that plans A-E did not involve Ultraman in any way, and he only intervenes in the middle of Plan F!
Jokes aside, I like when they play around the show’s formula, and this is no exception. The Science Patrollers really get a chance to shine, rolling out all kinds of fanciful gadgets and imaginative plans. It gives you an idea of what pre-Ultraman Science Patrolling might have been like, which I dig. So what’s Hayata’s big rocket plan?
The concept is cuckoo-bananas on its own, but its’ even funnier because they re-purpose the wacky, super stiff prop from earlier. And let’s be real, this should have been enough. Gamakujira’s not some bad-ass heavy hitter like Red King or Zetton, nor is he a cunning strategist like Baltan: he’s just some dipshit that galumphed out of the ocean one day and started eating pearls! That said… I respect the hell out of his gumption! Hayata finally turns into Ultraman to seal the deal and make sure that Gamakujira fucks off forever.
So after everything they’ve thrown at Gamakujira, what final touch is Ultraman here to provide? Maybe nuke the beast out of the sky with his hand laser? Steer the creature to a remote location where he can’t cause trouble? Chuck him into space? Nah fuck all that, MACH 7 INCENDIARY HEADBUTT GOOOOOO!
WHOOO! FINALLY! It’s a satisfyingly comical defeat of a kaiju that just didn’t know when to quit… but I still got just the tiniest bit sad when I processed it all as the episode wound down. Gamakujira wasn’t evil, just hungry. It was a big destructive animal (and did kill at least two innocent people), but it was doing what it had to to keep from starving to death. The Science Patrol’s ingenious strategies and exotic tools kind of seem like pointless torture if you think about it this way: Gamakujira got shot, bombed, electrocuted, and fed bombs before the terrified aquatic animal got a booster rocket shoved up his ass and flew halfway to the goddamn moon… mixed feelings here.
That weird twinge of sympathy aside, this is a fun, if sloppy episode. Gamakujira tanking the Science Patrol’s progressively more ridiculous attacks steadily ramps up the excitement until we reach the dizzying heights of the ludicrous finale: the smartly-paced spectacle outshines any storytelling or visual stumbles. The episode ends with Fuji going on a shopping spree with Ito now that the price of pearls has stabilized. Bumping off Gamakujira is the big victory, but getting Fuji’s ravenous lust for pearls under control is just as much of a relief.
The Space Ray of Terror
This episode’s also known as “Terrifying Cosmic Rays,” and I’d argue both titles are pretty misleading. There are rays from space, but they never create terror.
The episode kicks off with a Japan-only scene of kids admiring drawings “they” did of their favorite monsters.
That plain-looking white monster in the middle is one child’s creation, Gavadon. The other kids fucking hate it for no discernible reason.
The kid who drew Gavadon… I’ll dub him Gavadon Gary (I didn’t catch the kiddos’ names and IMDB doesn’t have much helpful info) heads to his favorite local hangout, the nearby industrial pipe
Being a kid in mid-60s urban Japan seems borderline dystopian in the coolest ways. I’m part of one of the last generations of Americans that widely had a (partially) free-range childhood, but in the suburbs that just meant running over to a friends house and playing “guns” in their backyard until the streetlights came on. I point out this cultural snapshot because it’s super interesting and cool to me, but I might stop calling it out every time I see it.
Gavadon Gary gets a pipe to himself and starts drawing a bigger picture of his Original Character Do Not Steal. GG’s friends roll up and one of them snatches GG’s crayon and draws a longer tail on Gavadon to make him “more vicious.” The kids all bail shortly after to avoid the wrath of the pipe yard’s grumpy old owner. THEN COSMIC RADIATION BLASTS THE DRAWING A NANOSECOND AFTER THEY’RE GONE
The Science Patrol gets a call from the Space Ray Lab about it, and the kids get a space ray day off school (I thought we had it good in Michigan with snow days!)! Of course the kiddos make a beeline for their beloved pipeyard, but when they check on their Gavadon drawing, it’s gone!
In his first stage, Gavadon is the strange, squeaking, grunting spongy mass you see above. His color and texture reminds me of the foam that carpet padding is made of, and his big empty eye sockets weird me out. He kind of bounce-crawls along until a familiarly bad-ass jet screams out of the stratosphere:
The SPs bomb the piss out of Gavadon, and Ito theorizes that Gavvy’s tail is a weak spot based on the monster’s body language. He’s (sort of) right!
It’s a clever nod to the other kid tacking a longer tail onto Gavadon and it’s a cool misdirect for the SPs! Gavadon keeps on trucking, and the Science Patrol and JSDF are not fucking around:
Gavvy comes to a stop as the sun starts to set, puzzling Science Patrollers and the military alike. The SPs are strategically staked out around the creature’s perimeter and can’t help but be a little pissed at a kaiju that has the gall to grab a power nap mid-battle. The whole scene is the type of weird, wacky fun that makes me love kaiju fiction, and there are a couple really beautiful shots that capture the surreal fantasy of giant monster stories:
Gavadon gets up and running (squeak-waddling) once again, hobbles down the street for a sec, then fades out of reality, and blinks back into existence in the night sky as a star.
I know I just got done gushing about the awe and wonder that kaiju stories are uniquely well-suited at conveying, but this is a bunch more of that. It’s almost like the happy, upbeat opposite of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. We’re dealing with weird, reality-bending forces that are beyond human comprehension, but instead of being horrific and insanity-inducing, they’re charming and heartwarming.
The Science Patrollers are naturally super-duper baffled by this whole encounter and are happy to receive some very helpful intel shortly after. We (and they!) find out that similar incidents occurred in Washington DC, New York City, and Mumbai (Bombay at the time the episode was aired). It’s fun to have the monster action centered in the show’s homeland, but I really love little efforts like this to make certain threats and plotlines global. According to the technobabble the SPers receive, the storm of space rays that have been hitting the Earth contain unusual “light factions.” These “light factions” have a strange reaction with our usual sunlight that turn “2D objects into solids.” It’s some seriously wacky psuedo-science, but considering the premise of the episode is “a drawing comes to life” it’s as grounded as it needs to be.
The SPs deduce that Gavadon might be a kid’s drawing come to life (really makes you wonder what the hell went down in DC, NYC, and Mumbai [God help them if it was an “American Vandal” type situation]), and speak of the devil (🤘🤘🤘) we cut to the kids congratulating Gavadon Gary on his creation coming to life and wreaking the mildest version of havoc. GG gives them credit too and they all agree to help design Gavadon 2.0.
The owner chases the kiddos off, giving us a glimpse of the dope new Gavadon before his big debut the next day. Back at Science Patrol HQ, Ito sparks one of the most meta conversations they’ve had on the show. Ito posits that if the thing just wants to sleep all day, why bother it? If anything, attacking it will just provoke it to attack and cause way more damage. Mura is not into this idea, but Arashi back-handedly supports it: “Couldn’t Ito, just this once, be right?”
The Science Patrollers are in an odd situation here: they’ve never had to deal with such a peaceful, pacifist monster before. Of course being a kids’ superhero show they’re not going to really deep dive into the ethics of monster fighting and the true nature of good and evil, but I like that they at least bring it up. There’s an interesting follow-up conversation they have later that I’ll dig into a little more. Right now though, GAVADON LIVES!
The drawing coming to three dimensional life delights the (ballsy, insane?) children and scares the shit out of the (reasonable, sane?) old fart that owns the pipe yard. When the kids sing “We made a monster” in a ring-around-the-rosie around the terrified old man it does feel like a horror story for a second.
Gavadon coming to throbbing, unnatural life is accompanied by an eerie thumping heartbeat that sounds a lot like the sound effect they used for Frankenstein’s heart in Frankenstein Conquers the World! With a dimetrodon sail, huge white humanoid teeth, diamond shaped protrusions down his back, and a big bony ridge on his face, Gavadon 2.0 looks fucking radical… but just like last time all he wants to do is sleep around town 😉
Gavvy’s eyelids are articulated well and suit actor Aragaki (two episodes in a row!) gives the suit a nice “breathing” motion when he sleeps. Gavadon’s pretty cool, but even as a snoozer he ends up causing trouble: nearby residents either evacuate or lock themselves inside their homes (understandably) which makes the surrounding city (and the industries within) grind to a complete halt. Even doing nothing at all Gavadon’s a menace, making this the rare Ultraman episode that really brings Ishiro Honda’s famous quote to mind:
Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy
Mura almost seems relieved that they have no choice but to engage Gavadon in combat, but Ito has another smart-assy solution. Since their working theory is that Gavadon is spawned from a drawing, why not just go erase the drawing before sunlight and uh “light factions” can hit it in the morning? This time Arashi gets heated and shoots it down, his argument basically amounting to “Well that would be a shitty way to win,” which is a hilariously meta answer that doesn’t make a ton of sense in-universe. Mura at least points out that it’s a good idea but ultimately decides “we’ll do it the usual way we always have.”
It’s a goofy cop-out and I wish they would have went farther in one direction or the other. Either a more substantial reason why they can’t just go erase the drawing (maybe in light of kids constantly trespassing the old man’s locked the place down?, maybe it’d take too long to find the ONE drawing?), or an even more blatant lampshade hanging (“erasing the drawing would be so boring! Everybody knows monster fights are more fun!”). But like before, I’m glad they address it. Speaking of addressing things, the kids go give the Gavadon drawing a night-time pep talk to be more exciting the next day!
So we come up on the next day, with a newly-inspired Gavadon ready to wreak havoc! To shake the heavens to their very foundations! To turn our insignificant civilization upside down and–
It’s a great gag. Gavadon either doesn’t comprehend human speech (extremely likely but not particularly comical) or understood the kids’ spiel just fine but gives absolutely zero shits (less likely but way funnier). Gavvy, napping or no, keeps turning up in and near urban areas, so the JSDF and Science Patrol are on his ass pretty quickly. Tanks are already blowing the bejeezus out of Gavadon when the Science Patrollers notice a bunch of dumbshit kids that are practically in the crossfire.
Everybody rushes down the reservoir to get the kids the fuck out of there, gifting us a funny dub line delivery and an extended pratfall from Hayata:
Hayata is fucking over it and wastes no time Ultraing out.
The remaining SPs round up the protesting kids and get them to safety while Ultraman gets bizzay. After last episode’s delightfully wacky airborne non-fight, it’s good to see Ultraman really tangle with a kaiju again. The fight itself is over pretty quick and isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s like a mini greatest hits reel of some of the best, most iconic kaiju combat super-moves . The kids screaming for Ultraman to fuck off is also a really unique wrinkle in an otherwise familiar and short battle. Ultraman gets right down to business with a mighty tail grab ‘n pull:
This segues fluidly into a BIG OL’ TAILSPIN
Which naturally leads to Gavadon getting launched face-first into a nearby hillside. It’s awesome to us, but the Gavadon-loving kids are apoplectic. As a fellow monster lover, I’m inclined to agree with them, but how are they not at all jazzed to see Ultra-fucking-man? Do kids in this universe think Ultraman is uncool?
The kids scream for Ultraman to not hurt Gavadon… and he doesn’t get the message right away:
In rapid succession we got:
- Big throw
- Judo slam
Those are three of my all-time favorite monster wrestling stock moves, so getting ’em all back to back is a treat. But there’s one more big move before the fight wraps!
Ultraman looks about ready to Undertaker/Mankind Hell in a Cell Gavadon, but he finally hears the kids freaking out and understands their cries for mercy.
Gavadon’s not a bad dude, but he’s too outrageous and disruptive to peacefully coexist with us on Earth. Ultraman/Hayata mulls this over, and comes up with the closest thing to a compromise he can. Not a hilariously violent, over the top execution for Gavadon (like usual), but a removal from our world all together. Still rocking that impressive-ass overhead press, Ultraman blasts off into deep space with Gavadon in tow, leaving nothing for the Earthlings to do but watch in quiet awe.
Oh and sadness. Lots of sadness.
Gavadon Gary and his friends get together that night, but instead of grab-assing at the pipeyard, they continue their sadness near the reservoir where Gavadon got air-lifted to Heaven.
They miss their weird gigantic pet, but
God’s Ultraman’s voice booms down to them from the night sky:
DON’T CRY CHILDREN. YOU CAN SEE GAVADON ONCE A YEAR ON THIS NIGHT AMONG THE STARS IN THE SKY.
Ultraman sounds a little like Kang and Kodos, but his intentions are pure. The kids get one last glimpse of Gavadon before he disappears like the non-holiday, kaiju version of Frosty the Snowman:
It’s a gently bittersweet note to end on, so we get one final scene that’s more of a cheeky “THE END??!?” ending. The narrator lets us know that the world’s greatest minds are getting a handle on the weird “light factions” and space radiation that were at the heart of this crazy monster adventure, but those rays could still be active! We’ll still have to keep an eye on the monsters that kids draw, and these kids have been bizzay:
So that’s it! Like I said, there were definitely Space Rays, but it’s a legit misnomer to call them “terrifying,” especially since Gavadon’s the tamest monster we’ve encountered on the show (other than sweet prince Pygmon). Akio Jissôji directed this episode as well, and like the last episode we get some gorgeous cinematography and effective emotional beats in a story that’s a little sloppy. Sloppy is definitely a price I’m willing to pay for super imaginative action, beautiful visuals, and fun characterization.
Gavadon, like Gamakujira, got repurposed into another later Ultra monster, ZAMBOLAR
That’s it for this month! I had more planned, but the month of Octoween is a notoriously full one for me, plus I ended up having a lot to say about these two episodes. I know at this rate it’s gonna take me a while to finish reviewing Ultraman, but I’ve been having a lot of fun taking a super-duper deep dive on every episode. It’s such a seminal show for the entire genre (and hell, Japanese sci-fi at large) that it just feels right. Thanks for reading and have an ULTRA Halloween!