Reviewing more Ultraman episodes after a couple months of movie reviews (especially new zillion-dollar Hollywood movies) has weirdly started to feel like coming home. One of the benefits of Ultraman being a steadily episodic TV series instead of a more disjointed film series like Godzilla or Gamera is its charming and consistent human cast. I wasn’t so sure about these orange-clad action-scientists early on, but now I tune in for them almost (almost) as much as I do for the giant monster smackdowns!
This month’s duo of episodes load us up with demons, ghosts, and blood feuds that span time and the very barrier between life and death! If you haven’t read any of my Ultraman episode reviews, you’ll probably want to start from the beginning, or maybe just refresh yourself on the most recent round of reviews. Grab your time capsule and look both ways before crossing Route 87, because it’s time to get ULTRA!
The Demons Once More
This episode is also known as “Demons Rise Again”! Either one sounds metal as fuck, so it’s worth pointing out that in this case I think they mean demon in the traditional Japanese yokai or oni sense, rather than the Western/Christian, rock’n rollin’, D&D-playing sense. So less this:
And more this:
Our story begins at a construction site where excavators have unearthed something weird. This construction crew is pretty genre savvy too, because they do not hesitate to call in the Science Patrol.
The Science Patrol has brought along their associate Dr. Fukuyama, a “space scientist” who checks the tube for radioactivity. The presence of prehistoric fossils leads them to deduce that the tube is incredibly ancient. Based on its general design they hypothesize that it’s some kind of time capsule from an advanced, pre-human civilization. They bust it open and find a strangely pristine sheet of reflective metal and a tube of blue goo.
Ito notices that the capsule is broken and points out that potentially some of its contents are missing. Considering it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 900,000 years old, everybody is excited that any of amount of the capsule is intact enough to study. This is enough to ease Ito’s mind, but the camera dramatically pans over to the other side of the dig site… where a similar container full of red ooze is unknowingly dug up and dropped into a dump truck!
Back at headquarters the Science Patrollers discuss the exciting new find. Arashi isn’t sold on it being a harmless time capsule: if these people were so advanced, who’s to say it isn’t some kind of bomb? (We find out later that he wasn’t too far off!) Ito gets all dreamy and philosophical, fully convinced that not only is it a time capsule, but it is humankind’s “inheritance” from their long lost progenitors.
Dr. Fukuyama calls in Ito to help translate the metal “scroll”, inspiring Ito to gloat to Arashi: “A person has to have a high intellect for this job!” This infuriates Arashi and Captain Mura gently chides Ito for teasing his teammate: “Ito, that’s not the way one’s expected to act in the Patrol.” It should come across as weird childish mugging, but everybody nails this goofy exchange just right. Especially Hayata who just kind of giggles in the background and Cap who dons the Dad-pants with natural ease.
Hayata goes with Ito to Fukuyama’s lab to try and decipher the code on the sheet of metal. Ito, still riding high from getting picked to do smart-guy stuff, tries to look like hot shit by asking if they had tried holding the sheet close to a light source. He fumbles it like a goober and drops the sheet next a lamp, which reflects the symbols onto a nearby wall:
It was an accident spawned from Ito’s buffoonery, but it’s just the breakthrough they needed! Ito’s ego will have to get deflated later, because shit’s going down at the dump!
Banila’s mushroom cloud reveal is sick. This beastie is played by Yasuhiro Tajiri, a name I’m not familiar with, and whose only other credit (I could find easily) is for a show called Kaiju Oji (so I mean, it does sound relevant to my interests). Banila’s roar will be familiar since it’s Anguirus’ roar sped up! Banila’s a bit of a funky looking fella, with a piggish snout and sort of a Predator-ish mouth that opens horizontally and vertically. It’s an ambitious feature that Tsuburaya doesn’t 100% achieve, but it’s interesting to look at anyway. After this episode, Banila’s suit got repurposed and modified into Imola, the villain of Kaiju Booska. Kaiju Booska is a kid’s monster sitcom that Tsuburaya debuted just a few months after Ultraman.
Back in Fukuyama’s lab, progress continues on decoding the message on the sheet of metal. Fukuyama says the writing is similar to the language of the Mu Empire (which is… low-key batshit, right? That’s like having a live Bigfoot exhibit in the background of a zoo scene and acting like it’s totally normal). Fukuyama is confident they’ll fully decode the sheet before much longer, so Ito and Hayata stay put and wait for his team to complete their translation. Fukuyama’s team are also goofing around with their tube of blue goo:
Of course someone spots Banila and calls him in to the SPs, who dispatch Arashi to investigate. Ito wants to go too, but he was such a brat earlier about his “high intellect” that Cap and Hayata tell him he has to hang around Fukuyama’s lab and wait for them to decode the sheet. Arashi intercepts Banila on the edge of town and unsurprisingly has a way way cooler time than Ito.
Eventually Arashi needs help driving Banila away, so Cap relents and calls in Ito and Hayata to provide additional air support. You can only punish somebody for being a know-it-all for so long during a semi-apocalyptic kaiju attack.
While Cap, Ito, and Arashi dogfight Banila well into the morning, Fukuyama and his fellow scientists are making breakthroughs!
Aboras is here! I love this monster design. Sure it’s 90% Red King (née Corn Godzilla), but well, that’s probably part of why I love it so much! They took Red King’s corncobby bod, painted it blue, slapped a buck wild new head on it, and gave it Baragon’s roar! And it works! The Aboras suit even got turned back into Red King after this episode! IMDB credits both Haruyoshi Nakamura and Kunio Suzuki with playing Aboras, so I’m not sure if that’s a goof or if certain actors played the creature in certain scenes. Both actors have extensive credits as Ultra kaiju, though this episode’s story doesn’t leave much room for monster emoting.
Aboras has a real strange special ability.
It’s a breath weapon that looks perfectly normal (well, kaiju-normal) at first, but when it hits a building, shit gets kooky. It’s like soap bubbles? Like dish detergent all foamed up? And it sort of melts buildings? I think the idea is that Aboras is supposed to be spewing a thick, viscous and incredibly powerful acid, but the teeny budget and production time afforded to a mid-60s TV show just isn’t enough to capture this ambitious idea. I’d love to see a monster pull it off more effectively!
JSDF jets scream in to help with the aerial assault against Banila, giving the SPs a chance to regroup. Aboras stomps into town and Dr. Fukuyama’s best solution is to, no shit, “let them fight.”
Cap reasonably worries that Aboras and Banila might team up against humanity, but with the two creatures converging at the nearby stadium there aren’t really any other viable options.
Fukuyama tags along with the SPs and they dash through the stands, dodging the brawling beasts, taking potshots at them, and trying to come up with some quicker solution for their double-monster dilemma.
It’s a fun, frantic fight, and Ultraman hasn’t even shown up yet! Fukuyama tells the SPs to aim for the monsters’ eyes, and Arashi takes that to 11 by shooting a mini-missile right into Banila’s fucking eyeball!
This gives Aboras the perfect opening to FUCKING MELT Banila!
So with Banila dead the day is OH YEAH THERE’S A WHOLE OTHER MONSTER LEFT. Oh and Ito and Arashi’s guns just ran out of juice! Gee, that sounds like a perfect opportunity for somebody 😉😉😉
Ultraman and Aboras tango on the field, but it isn’t long before the beefy blue beast is able to pin Ultraman and uh… shoot his goo all over him.
Ultraman’s color timer starts blinkin’, so he steps up his game by launching Aboras straight through the scoreboard!
A few hand-lasers later and that’s all she wrote! No literally, the episode ends comically abruptly!
The unused concepts for this episode are almost as interesting as the final product! One early version had the two monsters teaming up against Ultraman! An earlier version of Aboras kept his liquidy origins, but had him controlled by people from the 19th century and able to hide inside a water bottle. Tsuburaya held onto that idea for a proposed capsule monster, but ultimately the concept went unused. Maybe the general idea inspired the capsule monsters of Ultraseven?
It’s a solid episode overall! I always love seeing a monster-on-monster battle in an Ultra show, though it does have the unfortunate side effect of steamrolling over the cool ancient time capsule story. We never learn much about the civilization that subdued these monsters, or even about the monsters themselves! Why were they here? Were there only the two? Ultimately we don’t need to know anything more: it’s a complete story unto itself. That said, I know I wouldn’t mind a follow-up episode!
Terror on Route 87
Despite being called “Terror on Route 87”, this episode starts in a zoo instead of on the open road!
We’ll get to why the episode isn’t called Terror at the Zoo with the Glowing Mountain soon enough! The mountain lights up, lightning strikes, and it makes the animals all go a little apeshit. This checks off enough Freaky Bullshit boxes for the zoo’s night guard to call in the Science Patrol, who roll up promptly the next morning!
Cap, Arashi, and Hayata interview the night guard and ask if the glow he saw could have been an effect of the moon, as it was particularly large and bright last night. I really like seeing the SPs do even this little bit of skeptically-minded detective work before just jumping straight to “it must have been a monster!” The night guard insists that the mountain itself was lighting up and freaking the animals out, not the moon. Back at HQ, Fuji gets an unexpected visitor!
He’s just some melancholy rando kid, which is bizarre: the general public can’t just wander into Science Patrol HQ, there’s a security team to prevent exactly this from happening. Fuji stays friendly and cool and asks if she can help him. He cryptically says that he’s expecting “Hydra the dragon” to show up soon at the same zoo the SPs are checking out. Fuji asks what he means, and the kid tells her that Hydra is coming to ensure that “the innocents wouldn’t get hurt.”
The kid bails without another word and Fuji tries to run after him. Ito strolls through the door just seconds after the boy left, but somehow didn’t see the kid on his way in. A little wigged out, Ito calls down to the security desk and they have no idea who Ito is talking about.
Fuji calls this weirdness in to Cap, Hayata, and Arashi, and sure enough the night guard takes them to see the zoo’s Hydra!
The guard informs them that the statue was the result of a nationwide contest that let kids draw up their own vision for the zoo’s statue. One lucky winner was picked and their dream became a (massive) reality! Hayata asks the guard to pull up the winner’s contact information so Fuji and Ito can go look into it. More bitchin’ detective work! Hayata’s lead takes them to an orphanage and the caretaker confirms that yes, their little Akira won the design contest with a drawing of his favorite monster, a winged creature he named Hydra.
Everyone at the orphanage loved Akira, and it seemed like he’d be adopted by a loving family any day now… but that’s all past tense, because he was struck and killed by a truck out on Route 87 not too long ago. It’s a sad story to be sure, but it turns into a motherfucking ghost story as soon as Fuji glimpses a photo of the deceased young artist!
ULTRAMAN JUST DROPPED SOME STRAIGHT UP LARGE MARGE SHIT ON US OUTTA NOWHERE!! I am a grown assed man and LM still oogs my shit out, so yeah, this was EFFECTIVE. Of course Akira’s a sad ghost instead of a cackling spookster like Marge. Either way, the surprisingly strong Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure vibes continue with the very next scene, where the SPs are chilling near the now-eerie Hydra statue at night:
Things seem quiet at the zoo that night, but suddenly the mountain starts glowing again! Lightning crashes, tremors shake the Earth, and HOLY FUCKING SHIT AKIRA’S IMAGINARY, MONSTROUS AVENGER ERUPTS FROM THE MOUNTAIN
I goofed on Hydra for actually being a griffin instead of a hydra, but who cares, he looks rad as fuck! Or at least he does at night–he’ll look a little goofier during the day. Of course we get major Rodan and Gappa vibes from his design. He’s even played by Rodan! Well, Teruo Aragaki, who played the flying fiend in Destroy All Monsters. Aragaki’s probably a familiar name if you’ve been reading my Ultraman reviews: dude plays a whopping 16 different kajiu throughout the series!
Including a bunch of my all-time fave critters!
Hydra wrecks that fun little chairlift from earlier, tanks some laser bolts from the SPers on duty, fires back himself, then streaks off into darkness!
It’s a kick-ass but brief nighttime engagement that forces the Science Patrol to retreat and regroup at HQ. Interestingly, Hydra hasn’t really done anything that terrible yet. Crushing the chairlift was likely an unfortunate accident (cue Ishiro Honda’s “born too tall, too strong, too heavy” kaiju-tragedy quote), and other than that he was just defending himself! That all changes the next morning though!
Hydra’s going fucking biggity-bonkers on Route 87, so every member of the Science Patrol (minus Hoshino, I guess?) suits up to take the fight to Hydra.
Hayata and Arashi basically piece together the big picture of what’s happening here (in case anybody in the audience hadn’t yet). Hydra, whether it was directly created by Akira or is some kind of entity that bonded with the kid (or the kid’s restless spirit), is wreaking vengeance on what it thinks is responsible for Akira’s death: any and all random cars on Route 87.
Cap awesomely tells Hayata and Arashi to focus up: “More observation and less philosophy.” It’s a fair point: there are millions of cars on the road in Japan, and they’re now all targets of an enraged, flying murder monster. The Japanese government sends out an emergency broadcast over the radio for motorists to abandon their cars and seek shelter, but naturally there are plenty of folks who are like “lol no.”
The Science Patrollers dogfight Hydra in their jets, and it is dope.
The SPs put up a valiant fight, but the Sub VTOL (piloted by Arashi and Hayata) loses a high altitude game of chicken against Hydra. They’re lucky to survive the crash landing, but Hayata doesn’t come out unscathed.
Hayata’s so scathed he’s actually in and out of consciousness for a bit, and doesn’t fully come to until he wakes up at the first aid tent that emergency responders have set up. Arashi is happily relieved to see Hayata conscious again, but all Hayata cares about is Hydra’s whereabouts and who, if anyone, is left fighting it.
Hayata’s half-conscious determination steels Arashi’s resolve! Once he sees a medic helping Hayata, Arashi bolts and commandeers an oil truck, leading Hydra away from a highway full of civilian cars.
Of course Hydra can’t say no to Arashi’s delicious little yellow truck, and Arashi bails at the last possible second!
Right around here is when Arashi’s plan switches from an almost uncharacteristic level of subtle trickery to his old standby of BLOW THAT SHIT UP THEN RUN LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER
As soon as Hayata gets an opening, he bolts out of the first aid tent and Ultras out, busted arm and all!
Ultraman flies in to tango with Hydra, but Hydra lashes out with lightning speed and unbridled ferocity.
Hydra manages to peck Ultraman right in the forehead, which drops him like a big ol’ red and silver sack of potatoes! Ultraman is a gangster though, so he’s not down for long. He readies his signature Specium Beam (hand lasers), lines up his shot… but then notices something incredible.
It’s Akira! The ghostly form of Akira is riding the wrathful griffin off into the stratosphere, away form Ultraman, away from Route 87, and ultimately away from our plane of existence. Ultraman holds his fire out of stunned awe. That shot of Akira on Hydra’s back should be a bit of a goofer, an awkwardly funny visual, but it’s fucking not. It’s an emotional payoff to the episode and it hits home perfectly. Ultraman’s quiet shock sells it, and the sequence puts a nice, neat bow on Akira and Hydra’s sad story. They’ve found each other and Akira’s wandering spirit will finally find peace in the next life.
The SPs regroup at the zoo by Hydra’s statue. Cap speculates that maybe Hydra’s become sort of a patron saint of children killed by cars, safely ferrying them from their tragic deaths to a brighter afterlife. It’s a bittersweet thought, but it seems to comfort his fellow Science Patrollers. It also puts a hopeful spin on what would have otherwise been a pretty down ending.
I love this episode. It balances a tragic but spooky ghost story with a fucking dope monster (complete with killer intro sequence) and a unique, daring ending. For my money this is one of the boldest stories Ultraman has attempted to tell, and it tells it well. It’s maybe not as moving as “My Home is Earth” or “The Little Hero”, but it’s not far behind either of those classics. Be careful out there on Route 87.
That’s it for this month! I also wanted to review episode 21, “Break through the Smoke”, but May zoomed by me faster than an inattentive driver on Route 87! I’m already on track for a more traditionally substantial review for next month (I’m finally watching Gamera Super Monster!), but if you’re jonesing for more commentary on an Ultra show right away I hope you’ll join me this Saturday for an Ultraseven viewing party/mini-marathon!
Ultraseventh Heaven opens its kaiju-blood splattered, not-so pearly gates this Saturday at 2PM (Eastern time) right here: https://www.rabb.it/MonstersConquerTheWorld. Whether you drop by or not, thanks for reading, and remember to stay ULTRA!