Monday, February 4, 2013

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven episode #14



An Anglo assassin has been snuffing out various foreigners in Japan. It's learned that all the victims were secretly part of the Washington Terrestial Defense Force Scientific Team. After an observation rocket studying the "dark planet" of Pedan was mistaken for a pending invasion, the aliens intend to counterattack. One of the most important of these undercover Science Team members with a target on them is Dorothy Anderson, a young woman who knows all the information regarding the Pedan civilization. Commander Morabe orders Captain Kiriyama to send Moroboshi, Furuhashi and Soga to escort Dorothy Anderson to an important conference at the Rokko Defense Center before she, too can be assassinated. On the way to the conference, the Ultra Guard are intercepted by Melvin Webb the assassin, who turns out to not be what he was first perceived.

Tokyo is given a break as monster destruction central for this two parter. The bulk of the action takes place in and around the city of Kobe. This mixture of spy movie tropes and kaiju action is a unique marriage of styles that unveils a tightly efficient, and immersive experience that is yet another breakthrough for the ULTRASEVEN series.

There's an irregular amount of Anglo's on hand here and the script predominantly panders to the spy genre till the end of the show. Prior to that, we bear witness to assassinations, bomb detonations, an undersea battle, mistaken identity, the introduction of the Ultra Guards undersea vessels and a nifty "secret highway Route 9" traveled exclusively by the Terrestrial Defense Force members. It even spits out from a hidden door built into a mountain similar to the bat cave.

The finale wherein the mysterious objects that destroyed the American sub form into King Joe, a giant robot near the Rokko Defense Center, is a highlight. It's also the first time Ultraseven is given a serious throttling by an enemy on this series. His most oft used weapon, the Eye Slugger, just bounces off the enormous robot. The episode ends on a classic cliffhanger note leaving the audience in suspense as to how it's going to end.

In addition, there's some great photographic touches and camera angles in this episode; the image of a burning sea vessel visible in a man's sunglasses being an example. This two parter also marks a new opening title sequence that emulates the one from the original ULTRAMAN series released the previous year. There's a lot of action, intrigue and engrossing ideas in this episode making it one of the best, most lively of the entire 49 episode run of ULTRASEVEN.

WEAPONS: Hydro-ranger (hi-tech Ultra Garrison submarine)

To be continued in Episode Fifteen: INVASION FROM OUTER SPACE PART 2!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #13

Episode Thirteen: THE MAN FROM V3 **1/2


Captain Kurata, aboard the V3 space station, reports that they are under attack from an enemy ship. Kurata manages to escape during the skirmish, although the chase leads the aliens to Earth. Agents Amagi and Furuhashi intervene, but are shot down and captured by the aliens. Low on fuel to exit the Earth's atmosphere, the aliens create duplicates of the two men and order them to return to home base and steal the fuel from the Ultra Hawks.

Plot wise, there's not much going on here in ULTRASEVEN's 13th show. Still, it's one of the most action packed of the series, and that will be enough for many viewers. It's yet another script that features aliens resorting to creating doubles of Earthmen to use as vassals for their plans. Of course, this plot device never works since one of Dan's abilities is clairvoyance.

There's also no concrete plan laid out by the aliens. While it's refreshing for a detour away from the typical 'Invasion of Earth' storyline (episode six brilliantly detoured from the norm), the aliens are simply attempting to re-fuel to escape the Earth. Why they attacked the V3 space station is unknown. Without a purpose, the use of these aliens serves as simply to have an antagonistic threat to build around an appearance by Ultraseven. 


There's also a weak attempt at pathos in making the connection between Capt. Kiriyama and Capt. Kurata when the Ultra Guard commander learns of his friends alleged death in space. More successful is a rift that occurs between the two friends over how to barter the exchange of the two Ultra Guard captives. This is familiar territory to American programmers such as the original STAR TREK and also the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

This episode also features the longest monster battle up to this point, which will please kids and grown up kaiju fans. Ultraseven is also visually seen going giant as opposed to Dan applying the Ultra Eye, then cutting to an enormous Seven. The Iros Seijin is a curious looking critter, which is kind of redundant when it comes to Japanese Tokusatsu shows. It has no legs and when its odd looking arms are outstretched, it resembles a fang-toothed butterfly. There are two battles going on during the finale -- the monster fight and an aerial fight between the Ultra Guards forces and the UFO.

All in all, it's not a bad show and action fanatics will surely enjoy this one. The series was about to debut the first of three two part episodes.


WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk #1 #2 and #3, Station Hawk (Space Station V3 ship)

To be continued in Episode Fourteen: INVASION FROM OUTER SPACE PART 1!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #12 (Banned episode)



A number of young ladies have fallen ill and all seem to be wearing peculiar looking metallic watches. An all male group of space vampires from the planet Spehlia (like Spee-lia) are on Earth seeking the blood of young girls. They use these watches as a means of draining the blood from their victims in a bid to save their race after some unspecified space war. After a small boy puts on his sisters watch, the blood encapsulated within turns out to be of even better interest to the aliens. Turning their attention towards children, the otherworldly bloodsuckers devise methods to entice kids into their grasp.


This, the twelfth episode of the ULTRASEVEN series, is the one that's banned in Japan for certain aspects of its content. Outside of a few disturbing scenes where the space vampires ponder the killing of children, there's really nothing else that would be deemed morally corrupt, at least to North American eyes. Still, there's something here that the Japanese found offensive enough to keep this bizarre 25 minute episode locked away in the vaults indefinitely. It's not even a very good episode, and one that sports a fairly unspectacular looking monster.

The real uproar is over the references to A-Bomb survivors via the irradiated, scarred giant alien seen in the episode. To the Japanese of the time period, this was found to be offensive to those who died, and continued to suffer from the after effects of WW2 with the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The aliens (who take on a human guise, but appear free of body hair and spots of burn scars in their alien form) are portrayed as villainous and likely this too was found to be in bad taste; that these skin-scarred creatures, the result of bomb effects from another planet, would be evil beings.

The monster battle itself is nothing to write home about, although there's some experimentation with editing and freeze-frame techniques that adds a modicum of flavor to it. This is one thing that can be said of the overall bizarre qualities of the ULTRASEVEN series is that there was a willingness to do something different than the average 'Alien Invasion of Earth' shtick.

The sequence where the ghoulish blood-drinkers from beyond devise their plan of sucking the kiddie population dry is bordering on adult material, although the envelope is never given the chance to be pushed to its limit. About the time dozens upon dozens of screaming tykes enter the 'Draw a rocket and win a free watch' contest, the alien beast abruptly shows up, which more or less makes their whole plan inconsequential.

To American eyes, the notoriety concerning the burned aliens as offensive doesn't seem like it would be problematic; but then, the very real scenario of radiation poisoning is something that is still a sensitive issue with some Japanese social and political groups

It's far from a hallmark of the series, but it does present some interesting ideas. Sadly, these aren't explored to any great degree. The highlights are the unsettling scenes aboard the alien spacecraft (complete with creepy background heart-beats), the photography in these shots, and some of the peculiar human moments that border on avant garde. Akiko Fiji, Hiroko Sakurai from ULTRAMAN has a guest starring role in this episode.

***With this episode being banned in Japan, it's also missing from the ULTRASEVEN DVD set from Shout! Factory. Frustratingly, the producers of this DVD set decided to plaster 'The Complete Series' on this release. Considering other companies DO NOT state completeness on DVD releases for television series' when music rights issues, etc are problematic, it's odd Shout! Factory would be misleading in this way. Still, the booklet included discusses this episode and it isn't hard to come by and can be viewed on youtube, and other similar internet services if you look around long enough.***

MONSTERS: Spehlia alien

WEAPONS: Electro-H Gun (a special rifle that resembles a compact gatling gun and fires automatic rounds).

To be continued in Episode Thirteen: THE MAN FROM V3!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #11



"Dan Moroboshi was a hero to the whole Defense Force. We can't tell the other agents about his death at a time like this."

The Ultra Guard seek answers into the deaths of over two dozen people at Mt. Iwami. While there, Dan is apparently killed by an assassin using an unusual rifle. A man on horseback is seen escaping the scene. The remaining members of the team then investigate a creepy cave with monstrous sounds emanating from it. Meanwhile, Amagi learns that this rifle is some sort of lethal camera that traps the souls of its victims inside the gun while their body is lifeless in the real world. Back at the cave, a hairy ape-like creature appears stating to be from the planet Wild. Needing youths to survive, the alien barters for the return of the ingeniously evil rifle. Tricked by the Ultra squad, the being transforms into the metallic snake creature, Narse. The Ultra Hawk 1 engages the monster in an aerial fight till Dan's soul is returned allowing Ultraseven to save the day.

There's a lot to talk about regarding this episode and its curious blend of Cowboys & Aliens. Outside of being overly silly, confusing and extremely bizarre even by Japanese Tokusatsu standards, it also has some fascinating science fiction elements mixed with goofy monsters. 

The Narse creature (called Narcsis on these subs) looks similar to Manda, the snake creature that debuted in ATRAGON (1963), was featured in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) and also in the execrable GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). Like Manda, it resembles a Chinese dragon, only this interplanetary snake is made of metal. It's Mecha-Manda!

The creature has the ability to transform into a spaceship and also gives Ultraseven a slight bit of difficulty during the big fight at the end. Some plot elements are recycled from episode ten; ie the inter-dimensional concept and others would turn up in the banned twelfth episode -- the use of youths to resuscitate the populace of a dying planet.

The ape looking monster from the bizarrely named planet Wild is yet another hyperactive Seijin who talks with his hands, flailing his limbs like he's had a few too many candy bars. The Wild alien is an apt description of this creatures design. There is also an incredible amount of special effects in this episode including various opticals and mattes.

The theme of superstition runs through this programmer and apparently the connotations of Friday the 13th have no cultural bounds as the notorious date is discussed at one point between Sogo and Moroboshi. 

There's a major cliffhanger here, Dan's supposed death, which no doubt made many a kid cry back then. Once the "soul" function of the devilish photographic weapon is unraveled, Dan's not so dead after all. The camera rifle itself is far and away the most engaging aspect of this one, and a very memorable piece of  science fiction weaponry. It's too bad the entirety of the episode isn't as elaborate.

The one mis-step is the inclusion of a bunch of Japanese cowboys. One is even decked out in a sombrero and pancho! There's an attempt to paint one of the cowboys as something resembling a red herring, but this goes nowhere fast. The handful of scenes featuring these Japanese men and their wild west lifestyle add a surrealism to the sci-fi backdrop of this episode. It's yet another instance of complete and total peculiarity where Japanese fantasy is concerned. 


It's also worth mentioning agent Amagi who, thus far, hasn't really distinguished himself from the rest of the Ultra Guard. Here, he stands out as something of a Japanese version of James Bond's trusty weapons creator, Q. He is able to figure out the usage of this alien rifle and also learns how to reverse its effect on those shot with it. It took two viewings to fully appreciate the outright weirdness this 25 minutes of ULTRASEVEN brings to the table.

MONSTERS: Narse; Narcsis, Wild Seijin

WEAPONS: Rocket Rifles, Camera Rifle (fires a deadly beam of light that seemingly kills the victim, but sends their soul to a two dimensional universe); Electro-H Gun (a special rifle that looks like a compact gatling gun that fires automatic rounds).

To be continued in Episode Twelve: FROM ANOTHER PLANET WITH LOVE!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #10



Dubbed title: THE MAN NEXT DOOR

"Beware of your neighbors, everybody. Remember, our Earth is always in danger of being invaded. And if you should ever find some suspicious character, call the Ultra Guard. You never know what he's up to!"

Akira, a young boy with a broken leg, spies peculiar goings on at his neighbors house. He tries to tell his mother, but she doesn't believe him. With recurring strange phenomena, the Ultra Guard get involved. Upon visiting the little boy, Dan vanishes; seemingly sucked into another dimension. In this otherworldly place, Dan meets Icarus, an alien with plans of planetary conquest. Occupying the Fourth Dimension, Dan is powerless -- he cannot change into Ultraseven, nor use his monster capsules. Meanwhile, the Icarus seijin attacks the Earth in their enormous saucer.

Monster fans will rejoice with this tenth episode as it has a great deal of miniature destruction and lots of action. The rollicking 'Sons of Hercules' style Ultra theme song returns here, too, as does some choice jingoistic cues heard often throughout the series.

This episode starts off like it's going to be another horror themed program, but it quickly dives back into traditional kaiju conventions with a touch of THE TWILIGHT ZONE style science fiction elements. It's still fairly engaging since Moroboshi is trapped in the Fourth Dimension, helpless to aid the Ultra Garrison as the Icarus seijin attacks. His Ultra Eye does not work, yet when he comes to the realization the aliens machine is what connects this alternate reality with our own, his laser gun seems to function. 

That Moroboshi is trapped and unable to change into Ultraseven is a great cliffhanger, but the lazy method by which he re-enters our universe is simplistic in execution. Still, this is a kids show, after all.

The Icarus beast in its true form is a humanoid bat creature with an epidermal outer layer. It's a bizarre creation, which is saying a lot when it comes to Japanese monster suit designs for Tokusatsu TV shows. The monster does this rapid shaking of its arms, almost like it's having a fit of some kind. This creature, that can't seem to sit still for a second, has its own widespread energy beam that burns whatever it hits.

The battle is a decent one, although it's shot in a curious fashion. The camera placement is unusual and sometimes it deliriously fluctuates from upside down to right side up. The battle also features the aliens UFO in action. It likewise sprays a wide reaching beam of energy needles that fry everything in its path. The Ultra Hawks enters the fray and helps out during the fight. Seven's 'Eye Slugger' weapon doesn't have the same effect on this beast as it does all the others, strangely enough. The battle briefly continues in space as the Ultra Hawks chase the fleeing alien spacecraft as it leaves the Earth's orbit.

This is a really exciting show, and among the best the series has to offer up to this point. There's much to recommend here, even if most of it is of a quirky variety. The early scenes with the creepy neighbor are impressive and viewed from odd camera angles giving off an aura of the macabre. The photography, like in a lot of these episodes, is equally effective.

The set design for the Fourth Dimension is also creative even if it's basically a bunch of yellow balloons strewn around thick tendrils and bizarre tubular constructs. It definitely evokes an otherworldy quality that serves its purpose within the wacky world of Japanese Tokusatsu. So far, ULTRASEVEN impresses with a good deal of lively, and engaging science fiction stories.

Of minor interest, there's approximately two seconds of dialog missing at 00:07:36.


WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk #1 and #2

To be continued in Episode Eleven: FLY TO DEVIL'S MOUNTAIN!!!
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