Hey! I’m not dead!
Where are the last two months’ reviews? I’ll tell you: fuckin’ nowhere! Life is hard. Many, many things are total dogshit when it comes to life in 2020, but one of like four things that isn’t a complete, blood-shitting, teeth-grinding nightmare is being a kaiju fan! Holy shit there is so much going on and coming up! It even occasionally makes me hope that our inevitable extinction level event (be it a global ecological catastrophe, World War III, or uh tainted Moon water?) will hold off until…. maybe like 2022 or ’23 (tops).
For October I was considering doing a mini episode round-up of Ultraman Z, the current and absolutely excellent installment of the long-running Ultraman series. Buuuut October also saw the birth of a cool new kaiju art challenge, Titanotober! But it’s also been forever since I reviewed Ultraman ’66 episodes. But also also but I’ve been wanting to review Gamera vs. Guiron for like, the last year or so.
In classic Matt fashion I couldn’t figure out which one to commit to. Throw in long hours at work, maintaining inter-personal relationships (that is, largely failing at maintaining said relationships), the chores and daily duties of everyday life, plus the twin siren songs of Animal Crossing AND Super Mario 3D All-Stars and you have a Voltron of responsibilities and distractions that’s better at eradicating free time better than actual Voltron is at killing off space monsters!
So what? So this time I’m doing something a little different and dipping into a little bit of everything that’s swirling around in the kaijuverse… ESPECIALLY GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT HOLY FUCKING SHIT YOU SEEN THIS?!?!?!
If you haven’t, check it out! Then slap the “read more of Matt’s bullshit” button! If you want. You do you. Self care, etc. XOXOXOX
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and I cannot possibly fucking stress this enough
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Are you fucking kidding me?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?! JJ?! He back?! Our perfect, shining boy?! The Waluigi of the Godzilla franchise?! Plus probably-Rodan, almost-certainly-Anguirus, oh-my-god-I-think-that’s-Gabara, and a buttload more?! I just… wow. One of the funniest parts of this teaser dropping is that earlier that very same day I was bitching about how some of the Godzilla promo art was giving me bad vibes about this project. Over on the Monsters Conquer the World Discord, I was speculating and wildly jumping to conclusions based on these two images:
99% of my trepidation was about the first image, since the second one is doesn’t really give you much detail to work off of. I was a real ray of sunshine about it too 🤣 :
Tsuburaya Productions’ official YouTube channel has been uploading subtitled episodes of their latest Ultra-offering, Ultraman Z every week! It FUCKING ROCKS! The robot up above is Sevenger, and is one of the my favorite parts of the show. Sevenger originated in a single episode of Ultraman Leo back in 1975. Here’s how he looked back then:
The suit’s a lot nicer in Ultraman Z, but the design? The aesthetic, the vibe? The character and personality? All translated perfectly! In that second shot he’s battling Neronga, who you might recognize from episode 3 of the original 1966 Ultraman!
Just like Sevenger, Neronga gets the royal treatment–a slick modern suit that perfectly captures the old school charm of the original! But Ultraman Z isn’t content to just rehash old creatures and concepts! It rolls in plenty of new critters and ideas, creating an Ultra-show that’s simultaneously fresh AND familiar. All-time classic creatures like Red King and Kanegon aren’t just dredged up for familiarity’s sake, but to expand on them as characters and tell exciting new stories with them! Sevenger up there isn’t just around for an episode or two, he’s a recurring “character” (character is in quotes because he’s really just a mech piloted by a person… technically I should call him an “it”, but my god look how much personality he has!!) and is part of the monster defense team right from the start! (In Z the monster-fighting organization is called STORAGE [Special Tactical Operations Regimental Airborne and Ground Equipment])
So in Ultraman Z, our heroic giant of light has a huge ally right out the gate! He gains two more over the course of the show, and eventually ol’ Sevenger even gets to retire. If you want to know if the show gets you invested in the characters, I was genuinely sad about a goofy old jalopy robot “retiring.” This huge, very good boy absolutely deserves the rest… but I miss him! Giving the resident Ultra reliable backup in the form of multiple giant robots is a series first in Z (Ultraseven had the Capsule Monsters, but they’re their own, pilot-less, sentient beings who showed up MUCH less often than Sevenger and pals–I think Ultraman Mebius’ Maquette Monsters worked similarly?), and it’s an astonishingly smart, simple move. It gives our non-Ultra heroes a lot more to do, effectively casts STORAGE as a monster-fighting organization that held its own well before Z even showed up, gives the monster of the week a jobber to beat up on to demonstrate his/her/their powers while keeping Z fresh for the final fight, gives us more huge lovable heroes to cheer for, and creates tons of dramatic, tag-match situations! Will Z bail out our intrepid robo-pilot Yoko?? Can our brave mechwarrior save Z’s big silver bacon?! It’s a genius addition to the Ultra-formula and I hope it’s something they continue doing in future shows. Maybe even mix it up by having defense teams mind-control captured kaiju, or even raise and train friendly ones?? (sooort of like how the hero of Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle had a trio of monsters he controlled, Pokemon-style).
As far as production value and story goes, Ultraman Z isn’t all that different from the other recent Ultra shows I’ve watched from start to finish: UItraman X, Ultraman Orb, and Ultraman Geed. Prior to Z I thought Ultraman X was the best entry show for Ultra newbies who want something with modern pacing and production value, but there’s a little something extra with Z that really pops and I can’t quite put my finger on it! I want to say it might be my own recency bias, but Orb and Geed, terrific as they were, didn’t feel like this on my initial viewing….
Z isn’t perfect though: like Orb and Geed before him, Z has to fuse together with multiple previous Ultramen (or just like, their fighting spirit or essence, I guess?) to fully activate himself and fight. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it can make Z’s transformation sequences long and clunky–especially since Z has to tap into THREE different past Ultras, whereas Orb and Geed only needed two.
The other sticking point for me with all these fusion Ultras is that in a way it makes them feel less special or powerful? The base/un-fused Ultras bring a little of their own chutzpah to the fight, but they can’t function without borrowing power from other Ultras that came before them. It’s sort of like they don’t quite have their own identity? Even as I write and think about it, I realize that’s not really true though–Orb, Geed and Z all have distinct vibes and personalities that don’t owe much to the Ultras they borrow power from. I think fusion characters are just a new concept for me and I’m still getting used to it–anime/Steven Universe fans had this shit figured out years ago, but I’m still catching up. 🙂
The flipside of the Ultra mash-ups is one of the things I love the most about Ultraman Z–honoring and cleverly leveraging the long and rich legacy of the Ultraman franchise! Z’s fusions are a quick and effective way to incorporate Ultras from shows gone by, both famous favorites and obscure oddballs. In an indirect way, the show has planted the seeds of relationships with these Ultras, so when they make a guest appearance in an episode it feels FUCKING EPIC whether you’ve seen the show they starred in originally or not. I have mixed feelings on fusion Ultras, but the idea has more pros than cons. That said… Ultraman X doesn’t do the fusion stuff, so if you’re turned off by combo-Ultras, X still might be the best entry point if you want a modern Ultra show to dive into first.
I guess it’s also worth pointing out that Ultraman Z (so far) will have (at least) one more clip show episode than X, Orb or Geed did. Those three all had two clip shows, one about halfway through and one shortly before the series finale. If I’ve learned anything from the fan backlash to Godzilla’s Revenge and Gamera Super Monster it’s that most folks aren’t super hot for clip shows (even though both of those movies abso-fucking-lutely rule). I agree that clip shows certainly can be bad, but they don’t seem to bother me in kaiju media? Like, fuck yeah I wanna relive my favorite monster mashes!! But I get it, you want to see something new, you want the story to move forward. You don’t want the season 2 finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation to be a wet fart of a clip show heavily featuring the worst character to ever stink up the main cast for that one unfortunate season.
What can I say, I grade kaiju stock footage on a generous curve! I’m also going easy on Tsuburaya because, you know, they’re doing their best to put on a flashy, spectacular superhero show during a deadly, worldwide health crisis. Plus-plus-plus… Z’s clipshows aren’t just “hey remember this fight from earlier this season? And remember this other fight from earlier this season?” They’ve used these episodes to introduce and explore concepts and events from the greater Ultra universe with clips from other series, as well as spotlight Z’s supporting cast–letting secondary characters narrate segments and put in their own two cents. The third clip show includes a segment focused on Beliarok. Beliarok is a bitchy, talking sword with a mind of its own INFUSED WITH THE SOUL OF BELIAL, THE EVIL, FALLEN ULTRAMAN
Ultraman Z absolutely fucking shreds and is completely insane in the best possible way. I wish I could have gotten ahead of the ball on this and recommended it sooner, as there are only a few episodes left. I tweet along with the show when I watch each week’s episode, like in this thread. But you know what I am (a little) more ahead of the ball on? MOTHER👏FUCKING👏GRIDMAN👏BAYBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
What the donk is Gridman? Gridman is an Ultraman-style show by Tsuburaya Productions that ran from 1993 to 1994–you might have seen the special effects scenes chopped up, remixed and redubbed into Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad during the Power Rangers craze in the mid-90s. Or if you’re an animayor (a mayor of anime) you might have seen the recent animated reboot SSSS.Gridman. If you have no idea what any of those things are, all you really need to know is that Gridman answers two incredibly vital questions as satisfyingly as possible:
- What if Ultraman was a Tron?
- What if vaporwave was a Japanese giant hero show?
The answer to both is Gridman, and my babies, it fucking rules. English subbed episodes are going up on Tsuburaya Productions’ official YouTube every week, and as of this writing they’re only a couple episodes in! If you’re weirdly nostalgic for 90s computer bullshit like I am AND you like kaiju stuff, you are gonna flip a shit for this. I did a tweet-along thread for the first episode, which you can check out here if you’re looking for some more in-depth thoughts and screengrabs:
IT GOOD. Having watched a whopping two episodes so far (as of this posting) I don’t want to make grand sweeping statements about the show, but I really like what I’ve seen so far. Gridman and his enemies are intangible programs and viruses that “live” in virtual reality (or like a pre-internet pseudo-internet? Or actually physically inside computers? It was the early 90s, we barely knew what a computer was), a pretty stark contrast to Ultraman and his skyscraper-sized foes. Naturally the stakes are smaller–but no less exciting and suspenseful! In the pilot episode, Gridman didn’t save the city from certain doom, but he did drive off the virus that shut down vital hospital equipment, threatening to kill a little boy that was on life support. The stakes are smaller, but they feel more personal, immediate, relatable… even intimate. Gridman’s enemies can’t directly burn down high-rises or stomp on suburbs, but as sentient, malevolent Y2k bugs, they can certainly fuck shit up in surprising, unpredictable and almost-equally lethal ways!
Like all Ultra shows (or at least all the ones I’ve seen) it’s a total joy to look at. Gridman himself looks awesome with nice chunky armored sections, a face/helmet that reminds me of medieval European knights, a color scheme that pops, and all the sleek, futuristic coolness you expect from a Tsuburaya-made giant hero. Gilarus (his inaugural opponent) is a beefy, imposing mess of crystalline spikes that simultaneously invokes Spacegodzilla, Krystalak, Nidoqueen/Nidoking, Magular…. he’s a classically styled kaiju! But when Gridman wails on him hard enough, some crystals break away revealing glowy, high-tech cyberguts! YESS. The computer world is a quasi-city of circuit boards and day-glo grids, which will always ALWAYS remind me of the part in Escape from New York where they couldn’t afford CGI and just faked it with painted models and blacklights:
It’s a cheap, charming workaround that is a lo-fi delight for the eye! Speaking of great-looking stuff that delights the eye….
One of my favorite kaiju artists (@lisanaffziger) created Titatanotober! It’s a monster/kaiju-themed month-long art challenge similar to Monster March, Kaijune, and Kaijuly (if you know of more monster art challenges, please let me know!)! Art challenges like this are one of my absolute favorite parts of the kaiju fan community, and Titanotober is even more special because it gives some lesser-known, lesser-loved creatures some much deserved time in the spotlight! I always want to participate in these, but uh, I’ll refer you to the slew of time management problems I listed in the intro. 😅 HOWEVER!
I was able to slam out a few kaiju portrait sketches! These four handsome gents are all different versions of Gomora that have popped up over the years! Gomora is so goddamn cool he absolutely deserved his spot as Day 1 in Titanotober and I couldn’t resist making a run at Cyber-, Mecha-, and Skull Gomora. I’ve been wanting to get into digital art, but putting pencil to paper, just doodling and sketching for fun for the first time in a long time? It felt great! I hope to putz around with fixing up/inking/coloring these digitally in the near future (Gomora Classic’s horns are definitely too small, while Cyber and Mecha Gomora will CERTAINLY benefit from me using the mirror tool 😅). I was able to knock out a handful more too! I did all portraits because I love drawing faces, thought that would be a fun unifying theme, and I liked the idea of focusing on these guys’ ugly (OR BEAUTIFUL!) mugs.
Day 4 was supposed to be Gwoemul from The Host but the whole “portrait only!” thing doesn’t really work when you can’t get a handle on how your subject’s face works. 🤣 At the end of my third attempt, the closest I got basically just looked like a half-assed picture of a fish head with like, big meaty hands coming out of his mouth. Which actually would be a decent depiction of the monster if the drawing was good enough, but it really just looked like a jumble of nonsense. I wasn’t the only one stumped by Gweoemul!
Pushing yourself to make art everyday is a fun, exciting challenge, but the other half of an art challenge is seeing all the awesome stuff artists from all over the world have cooked up! If you search for #titanotober and/or #titanotober2020 on Twitter you’ll find a whole universe of killer kaiju creations! Here are some random favorites of mine!
If you dig these, definitely jump on Tweeter and wander around the #Titanotober hashtags! It’s always a treat seeing these weird and wonderful creatures in any context, but it gets even more exciting when these beasties are filtered through the aesthetic sensibilities of talented folks from all walks of life! Titanotober might not have the name recognition of Monster March or Kaijuly/Kaijune (YET!), but I’d certainly say it was a roaring success.
So yeah, maybe we still don’t have a trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong, and we don’t know hardly anything about Shin Ultraman, and for the time being Godzilla Singular Point is a distant dream… but they’re all on the horizon! All of those are poised to materialize within a year (or so)! While we wait, Marvel’s Rise of Ultraman comic is three issues in and is already fantastic–like Ultraman Z, it pulls from the franchise’s deep, storied history, and reassembles it into something familiar but fresh!
Also in the world of big-monster comics, Kaijumax is winding down its fifth season. From the very first issue, Kaijumax established itself as one of the absolute smartest, coolest, funniest, and most poignant pieces of kaiju storytelling out there. Period. I cannot recommend this comic highly enough, folks.
Kaichu–the kaiju dating sim game that is a real thing and not something I made up as a joke–got funded a while back (fuck yeah I threw some money at that adorable insanity!) and development is trucking along! Not sure when it’s supposed to drop, but that’s an awesome, hilarious, and SUPER unique piece of kaiju content that’s coming up!
Personally hand-picked this exact Tweet from the Kaichu devs for no specific reason 😉
Ever since Tsuburaya finally defeated Chaiyo in court, we’re getting more and more Ultra content here in the west, including a mobile game in the near-ish future! As someone still discovering the wonderful world of Ultraman, it’s really a blessing to have decades of top-notch “new” kaiju media to dive into, Scrooge McDuck-style. It’s such a deep treasure trove of monstery goodness that I want to shout-out a couple blogs I’ve recently fallen in love with.
First is Ultopia (https://tokusatsujapan.com/). Ultopia is written by a Japanese Ultra fan (in English) and takes eye-opening deep dives behind the scenes of creating classic Ultra shows (often zeroing in on the design process for individual monsters). It’s a terrific resource, as the author has access to a wealth of Japanese-only info on the show: behind the scenes books, magazines, TV specials and more that haven’t been (and might not ever be) translated into English. They’re also just cool, funny, insightful and absolutely worth following on Tweetzone.co.uk: @kaiju_tokusatsu.
Ultopia turned me on to Tohl Narita, a monster maestro I’ve never discussed here on MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD but I absolutely should have! Tohl was the lead kaiju and hero designer for the first few Ultra shows! Kind of a big fucking deal, considering how beloved and iconic these creatures are. Bebopping around Ultopia is a great crash course on his incredible body of work, and I was particularly fascinated by his three self-imposed rules for monster design:
- Kaijus are not spooks. Therefore, never making spooks with two heads or with many limbs [I think in this case “spooks” might be referring to Yokai? And/or horror-based supernatural creatures?]
- Stop thinking of kaijus as real-life creatures living on the earth simply turned into giants
- Never design anything like distorted bodies. Never do anything like showing the brain or exposing the organs or bleeding
Some of those rules get bent from time to time (Jamila!…), but it’s easy to see how they shaped the design sensibilities for Ultraman’s rogues gallery. Three little rules that kept Ultraman’s beastly baddies unique, fresh, and firmly rooted in sci-fi and fantasy.
The other blog I want to shout-out is Easter’s Kaiju Kompendium (https://kaijukompendium.design.blog/). Easter has taken on the Herculean task of reviewing each and every Ultra monster in chronological order!
As of now they’ve reviewed everything from Ultra Q’s mega menagerie up through Ultraman Leo’s cavalcade of killer creatures (with a few batches of oddballs like Chaiyo’s off-brand kaiju and the violent varmints of Mirrorman). While not always as in-depth as Ultopia, the blog has a bit more of a personal touch which makes for an incredibly charming monster round-up. Plus plenty more Tohl Narita appreciation!
There aren’t many pictures of the man himself, but you can find plenty of Narita’s incredible art online!
Easter is another cool cat you can (and if you’re reading this probably should) follow on Twitster.org: @Cactus_Hell. Both of these blogs are a total delight to just pull up and scroll through, especially when the gnashing nightmare world of 2020 gets to be too much.
It’s… a really different time to be a kaiju fan. Even when I started this blog in 2014, things were a lot less active for our favorite genre. The last couple years have been an embarrassment of riches–I feel like a kid in a candy store. This post can’t realistically hope to cover everything that’s popping off all over the kaiju-sphere (apparently the Netflix Pacific Rim anime isn’t dead?!?! Godziban is a delightfully weird little [untranslated] childrens’ puppet show starring Godzilla monsters and you can just watch that shit on YouTube whenever you want?!?!?!?), but it’s a lot of fun to step back and take stock of how good we have it right now (as kaiju fans specifically, almost everything else still sucks shit in 2020). Hopefully this put something new on your radar, or maybe there’s something I missed that I should check out? Let me know in the comments!