Holy balls it’s been over a year since I’ve done an Ultraman round-up?! Happy to say the wait is finally over! I’ve got a pair of Ultra-sodes ready and rarin’ to be recapped, reviewed and reminisced over! This time we got a smoke monster (eat your heart out Lost!) and we got a burrowing worm monster!
Whether you’re new to Ultramania or it’s just, you know, been over a year since I’ve reviewed this stuff, you can start from the beginning here or brush up on the last pair of episodes here!
The more Ultraman I see the more I dig it. And not just the original series (which I recently finished for the first time)! I’ve made some headway into the next series, Ultraseven… and I’ve watched all of Ultraman X, Ultraman Orb, Ultraman Geed, and both seasons of Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle! Plus we watched Ultraman the Next on the Kaijuly movie marathon stream, and guess what? That shit ruled too. Basically, if you enjoy Godzilla, Gamera, et al. enough to read this site and/or listen to our podcast, you GOTTA give Ultraman a shot. I am like, eternally grateful it was forced on me that one fateful G-Fest. Let’s jump into these episodes!
Break through the Smoke
This episode is also called “Breach the Wall of Smoke.” I’ll say it right at the top, this is one of those straight-forward Ultra eps: monster shows up, Science Patrol investigates, then through teamwork and with a little (heh, big actually, because he’s, you know, huge) help from Ultraman, said monster is vanquished. It’s not a bad thing by any means–it’s actually kind of nice to have a sort of “status quo” episode like this now and then. It’s sort of a breather between the last episode’s ghostly tragedy and the next episode’s paranoia-soaked head trip.
And as usual, even with a more formulaic episode like this they make sure to play around with the formula, mainly by giving Fuji a chance to take charge. This episode kicks off with a schoolboy reciting poetry in a beautiful meadow, which actually ties in with a main idea later in the episode. The premise is that this is a “fairy tale” sort of nonsense case that Arashi and Ito don’t take very seriously, and a kid romping in an idyllic meadow is a very fairy tale-ish way to bring us into the story.
The kid unwisely handles a dead bird and takes it to some local adults for some explanation of the mass bird-er (bird murder). They speculate it might be volcanic gas and call it a day. Time for some picnicking broads to roll the dice in these beautiful but maybe deadly hills!
It’s fun to see the monster so early in the episode! He’s played by Kunio Suzuki, who we’ve already seen play Aboras in “The Demons Once More.” He’s going to go on to play a bunch of CLASSIC Ultra monsters like Gomora, Dada, Red King II, Seabozu and next episode’s baddie Telesdon!
Other Kemular fun facts: his roar was later reused for Hedorah! His weird back-flap wing-things were reused for the back of the Zetton suit! And he appears as an easter egg in Terror of Mechagodzilla: Dr. Mafune’s dino-drawings depict him and Telesdon!
The picknickers call in their monster sighting, and other strange phenomena are reported in the area: dead fish washing up, trees changing color. Seems like a big deal… but Ito and Arashi write it all off as kid’s stuff? Even though they fight a crazy supernatural monster every week? Arashi says it’s work “strictly for a girl,” which, yay the 60s, but Fuji says (I’m paraphrasing) “fuckin’ fine with me, I’ll go check it out now myself, chodes.”
The reason for it is a groaner, but it’s cool to see Fuji spearhead a mission solo. Well, that was the idea initially: Hoshino’s stowed away on the Sub VTOL with her!
I like Hoshino, but at this point the show is starting to phase him out. We hadn’t seen him for a few episodes, and he’s not in the next one either. A few thoughts ran through my head initially: maybe they just ran out of ideas for him after they made him a junior officer? Maybe they had trouble contriving ways for a kiddo to end up in the crossfire of alien invaders and rampaging kaiju? Then I thought: “I’m writing this on a computer connected to the internet, maybe I should fucking look it up?” Turns out after they shot episode 25, Akihide Tsuzawa (the actor who played Hoshino) fucked up his leg BIG TIME in a skiing accident, putting him out of commission for three months. Then he decided to go to school full time instead of continuing acting. This interview has that story, plus some fun nugz from his time as an extra in Mothra, his Ultra Q episode, Ultraman set stories, and more! With Hoshino on the verge of making his last appearance in the series, it’s great that he gets some cool moments in this episode.
One of Hoshino’s cool moments is NOT when he says that he thought Fuji wouldn’t care about him stowing away because “she’s a girl.” Fuji is tough but fair and tells Hosh that not only will he follow her orders, he’ll report back to Mura about his little joyride when they get back. Hoshino immediately goes back to being cool: “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” he tells her.
Just as Fuji lands the Sub VTOL, some doucher in a tux rolls up and tell them their investigation is stupid. After 20+ episodes of wacky monster attacks, this comes across so strangely. At least in tux-douche’s case, he’s trying to keep attendance up at the resort he works for, Ito and Arashi being like “yeah right” still makes way less sense.
Tux-douche might look familiar: he’s played by Chikao Ōtsuka, who also appeared in Ultra Q and had a small role (maybe the same role?!) in “Five Seconds Before the Explosion.” It’s more likely you’re familiar with his (non-dubbed) voice: he’s done shit tons of voice work for anime and video games, right up until his death in 2015. He was a long-running Dr. Eggman for the Sonic games, Captain Hook in the Kingdom Hearts games, Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid 4, Lupin the 3rd, seriously, a LOT of voice work. Now I feel bad for addressing him as tux-douche.
Talented, Hard Working, Dearly Departed Tux-douche says the recent spate of earthquakes aren’t that unusual, and the glowing monster eyes spotted in the fog were just refracted sunlight and active imaginations. Fuji’s got her sleuthing hat on though, and follows up with the local seismologist, who says the earthquakes have been INSANELY frequent and NOT normal. The Fujster calls it all in and el Capitan tells her to head on back to HQ. Good job Fuj. Guess this will be a short, uneventful episo-oohhh shit!
Kemular’s poo gas knocks Fuji and Hoshino out cold. The Science Patrollers back at HQ flip their wigs when they lose contact with Fuji and rush to her aid…. and also promptly get caught in Kemular’s poo gas. They make an emergency landing and a treacherous crawl to the source of the poison smog.
The SPers get a visual on Kemular and LIGHT ‘EM THE FUCK UP!
Kemular fires back, scaring everybody off by yartzing up big gouts of toxic fog! You know, real harmless, fairy tale bullshit!
The SPs retreat and Hoshino comes around… with Kemular bearing down on their stranded jet! He can’t get Fuji conscious, so it’s up to Hoshino to get ’em the fuck out of there. Luckily Cap comes through on the radio and talks him through it. Hosh is quietly freaked out and sweating bullets, but he does it!
Hoshman gets the Sub VTOL out of there JUST as Kemular blasts lighting bolts out of his tail. Kemular is bad news. This is evidenced by the buckwild rampage he goes on immediately after Hoshino bails. But the Science Patrollers can’t just rush in! The JSDF gets first crack at Kemmy:
Heyyy, all right JSDF! Damn guys, you really–
People goof on the tropey nature of scenes like this, but I love seeing monsters lay waste to modern military might! Obviously it establishes just how dangerous and powerful the monster is, but it also gives the monster a chance to show off and flex whatever special abilities they have. Kemular lights up the tanks with his zappy tail, then chases off the ground troops with his dookie breath:
These scenes are also just visually spectacular, allowing the special effects team to really show off. In particular, Kemular vs. the artillery looks INCREDIBLE. Specifically, the gorgeous visual alchemy that happens when Kemular’s smoke, the artillery’s pyrotechnics, and Kemular’s mouth lighting up for another smoke burst all mix together.
While Kemular rolls over the JSDF, Ito’s in the lab cooking up some way to stop ol’ Kemmarino. Hoshino pipes up about finding and exploiting some kind of weak point on Kemmerlemmer, because gang, literature, film, and TV invented video game boss fights before we even had video games.
Kemmy takes his victory lap, laying waste to errr’thing as he makes his way to a nearby neighborhood.
It’s great, kinetic, rock ’em sock ’em action, and I’m starting to understand why Kemular was popular enough to cameo in Terror of Mechagodzilla! It’s a little TOO much kinetic, rock ’em sock ’em action as far as the Science Patrol is concerned, so they swoop in and start blowing the the fuck out him! Hayata divebombs him in the VTOL while the rest of the crew is on the ground wailing on him with blazin’ lazers.
Things certainly take a turn when Kemmy opens up his wing-flaps, frying Hayata’s VTOL! He doesn’t let up on on the Science Patrollers on the ground either:
Blown up VTOL? More like a PERFECT segue for Hayata go full Ultraman!
The fight is a blast, natch. Ultraman kicks Kemular in the fucking face immediately after landing–it’s not quite as great as the ol’ flying back-breaking double kick, but it’s still hilarious and radical. Ultraman goes for the Specium Beam finisher a little early, and Kemular just shrugs that shit off.
Ultraman changes tactics and just tries to wrassle the burly beast, buying time for Ito and Hoshino to run in and start setting up their brand new laser bazooka. It’s only got one shot, so they can’t risk missing, or even worse, nailing Ultraman and turning Earth’s greatest champion into a pile of smoking silver muck!
They nail it! Ito tries to take all the credit, Hoshino protests (UNDERSTANDABLY) and Kemular… well, Kemular doesn’t just instantly explode or flop over dead all at once.
It’s interesting that they went for a little bit of pathos at the last second… prior to these more drawn-out death throes, Kemmy’s never really played up as a sympathetic monster. Maybe it’s more of an “honoring a worthy opponent thing”? I like that. Anyway everybody visits Fuji in the hospital afterwards and they all have a good larff about it THE END
Overthrow the Surface
Also known as “The Underground Destruction Work” and “Surface Destruction Manuever,” this episode is a lot creepier and more psychedelic than “Break Through the Smoke.” I love episodes like this: they deftly add mystery and horror into the sci-fi superhero equation, directly calling back to Ultraman’s predecessor, the Outer Limits-y/X-Files-ish Ultra Q!
This episode starts innocently enough though! Anne Morhim, a Science Patroller from the Paris branch, is paying our team a visit on some secret biznass. She’s ominously tight-lipped from the get-go, and has to report straight to Captain Mura.
After the most fucking hardcore secret handshake of all time, Anne spills her beans: she’s here to escort Hayata to a big conference regarding the Science Patrol and something called the Space Army. I didn’t quite pick up if the Space Army is something that already exists, or if the conference is to discuss this upcoming organization–I like to think it’s sort of a predecessor to the Terrestrial Defense Force/Ultra Garrison: the big, super high tech, alien defense organization in Ultraseven.
It all seems super cool and chill! The SPs are psyched for their bud Hayata go off on an important PR mission and see him off accordingly.
So kind of a snoozer of an episode, right? Hayata just flies off and attends some discussion panels? Booooorin–OH SHIT CHAOS ENSUES IMMEDIATELY AFTER HE LEAVES. Satellites fail, undersea cables cut out, transmissions are scrambled, phone lines crap out, mass hysteria!
It’s some kind of weird magnetic field that’s fucking with global telecommunications and the source is traced back to…. Science Patrol HQ. Weirder still, when Ito and Arashi are on their way back to HQ from their investigating, Ito sees Anne walking around the city. WHAT THE FUCK GUYS
There’s no time to follow up on Ito’s alleged Anne sighting though! They’ve got to do a thorough scan of HQ and figure out what the hell is up with this fricking magnetic field.
The readings are so strong it buries the needle! They’re close on this one, I can feel it! They find the source of all the mayhem: an unassuming little gadget hidden in plain sight in one of the SP HQ labs!
After a detailed dissection, they come to some strange conclusions–some of the components are made of metals that are only found a hundred miles underground…
Ito reminds everyone that Anne is the only real suspect, but even Cap can’t buy that hypothesis! She was ok’d by the Paris branch! If they can’t trust their own, who the hell can they trust?! Arashi throws a curveball: it’s likely that these rare metals are also found in deep space, maybe it’s the handiwork of an otherworldly force? THE PLOT THICKENS BABAY. I love a spooky mystery, and that goes DOUBLE for one that trades in question-everyone-and-everything-style paranoia. Without any other solid leads, Arashi and Ito go into low orbit and see if they can find any clues pointing to alien interlopers.
Unfortunately their jaunt into space leaves them empty-handed, so Arashi and Ito dip back down into the atmosphere… when Ito spots a suspiciously familiar face again!
Either Ito’s got vision that makes birds of prey look like Mr. Magoo or Anne’s fucking with him. Maybe both? Ito convinces Arashi that they need to land as fast as possible and try to grab her. She’s a smooth criminal though and manages to zip off in her car when they get close. But it’s not a complete bust!
Even with Ito’s eyewitness account and this compelling evidence, he can’t convince the other SP’s that Anne’s the culprit! They split up to investigate some more, and we finally get to see what Hayata’s been up to. Things have been eerie and off-putting, but this is when shit takes a TURN:
UH YEAH. We go from mildly eerie sleuthing to an artsy, claustrophobic sleep paralysis night terror! GUH! Ultraman gets progressively awesomer at making bold visual choices like this. Even straight forward episodes like the last one usually have at least one surprisingly avant garde shot, but this whole sequence is killer. Speaking of scary shit, Ito finds Anne while he’s out on patrol…
YEAH SO REMEMBER THOSE OUTER LIMITS/X-FILES VIBES I WAS TALKING ABOUT?!!? We find out the terrifying way that Anne doesn’t wear sunglasses 24/7 because she’s a devout Corey Hart or ZZ Top fan, but because SHE AIN’T GOT NO FUCKING EYES, MAN. The effect is less convincing in subsequent close-ups (and even in the screengrab I took you can make out the seam on her right side), but imagine watching this shit as a kid on an old, small tube TV! Forget nightmare fuel, that’s fucking night terror nitrous! Which rules, honestly. It’s sci-fi horror noir! Anne knows she’s outgunned (for now….), so she bolts!
It’s Telesdon! Yay! He’s like a big pissy kaiju-ified earthworm and looks fucking radical making his nighttime debut in the middle of the city! He belts out Gyango’s old roar and his suit was recycled into Detton for Return of Ultraman (the series following Ultraseven).
The other SPs are on the scene in a heartbeat, divebombing Telly’s ass in a VTOL! Teflon Don responds in kind by FREAKING THE FUCK OUT AND TRASHING THE CITY
Pure, spectacular, white knuckle, action adventure chaos insanity and it all just POPS in the dead of night! Thank you Ultraman! If the upcoming Shin Ultraman can tap into this kind of delightful, high-flying mayhem, we will be in for a FUCKING TREAT, pals. We dip out of the urban warzone to see what the fuck is up with Hayata’s sepia tone nightmare. Turns out these creepazoids have been living in a secret society miles beneath the Earth’s crust for eons, they’re sick of of being planetwide basement dwellers, they’re going to overthrow us surface-folks…. and they know Hayata is Ultraman!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
These doucheberries are gonna hypnotize Hayata and use a brainwashed Ultraman as their super-slave to take over the world!
It works! Hayata is hypnotized… but they didn’t count on the indomitable spirit of Ultraman! Hayata turns into Ultraman all right… right in the middle of their lair, blasting out of the ground triumphantly and (presumably) caving it all in on top of them. FUCK YOU, C.H.U.D.S!
And he does exactly that! It’s a fun brawl to be sure, but it’s hard to top this episode’s rad paranoia-sci-fi-noir story and Telesdon’s big city rampage.
It’s a nice, physical, kinetic rumble with lots of grappling, flips, and strikes, but for my money the big highlight is the buckwild fireman’s carry side slam Ultraman nonchalantly busts out and TRASHES ASS with:
You can’t recover from that kind of devastation and Telly Savalas fucking knows it. Eyelights? OUT.
With that, Hayata can finally return to SP HQ where all his worried friends are waiting!
Cool, real, eyeball-having Anne shows up too!
Her and Hayata got hijacked by subterranean agents almost immediately after they took off originally. After all they’ve been through, they’re going to take one more crack at that whole “attend the Space Army conference” thing. Luckily for our heroes, it’s A LOT more chill this time.
Bingo-bango, two more episodes on the books! Break Through the Smoke is rock-solid, but Overthrow the Surface just might be a classic! I’m still getting my groove back re: writing reviews, but man it is a pleasure chewing on some Ultra episodes. We’re a little over the halfway mark! It’s a helluva fun journey and we’ve still got plenty of incredible adventures to cover. The next episode in particular is one of my all-time favorites. I love the variety of stories you get with Ultraman. Later Ultra shows seem to deal almost exclusively in space monsters, but in OG Ultraman we’ve had mummies, mad science experiments, imagination beings brought to life by freak atmospheric conditions, ghostly avengers, and Telesdon up there’s a fuckin’ C.H.U.D.! It feels like anything’s possible in the world of Ultraman, and that’s maybe the best endorsement I can think of for a special effects fantasy series.
Interpol also has a cutaway drawing of Kemular up in the scene after Godzilla first confronts Titanosaurus in “Terror of MG.” The head is blocked out, but you can see his tail. It’s noticeable on the wall around the time Ichinose says “I’m sorry. I still trust in her.” It is a different drawing from the one Mafune has.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that set designer/production designer decided “yep, it’s been nearly a decade, time to throw these two not-quite iconic Ultra monsters into a Godzilla movie!” It’s a super fun Easter Egg, but like… why?
I have to wonder if Honda brought back some Tsuburaya crew members to work on “Terror of MG” because he had hopped ship and went to Tsuburaya to work on their television programs after Toho decided to be utter assholes regarding Eiji Tsuburaya and his death.
To my knowledge there are no actual answers… yet.
Are you gonna continue your Ultraman episode reviews?
I really want to, but I’m working through some pretty serious mental health issues AND in the process of buying/moving into a house so I’ve had to put blogging on a distant back burner. I actually have a big post brewing about the future of this site… and a Godzilla vs Kong review is tied up in that, plus a BUNCH of other stuff, including mini-reviews of a ton of shit, including several Ultraman series. I’m in a weird place mentally and will likely continue my reviewing/blogging hiatus for some time, with a hopeful pivot to writing (kaiju) fiction. I have a fiction idea I’m really excited about, and might elaborate in that big post I mentioned.