Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #17


Episode Seventeen: UNDERGROUND: GO! GO! GO! (also listed as DOWN UNDER THE GROUND) ***

Dubbed title: CAVE-IN

A cave-in traps Jiro, a miner, 3,000 feet below the Earth's surface. The Ultra Guard is asked to help in learning of the cause of the disruption inside the cave. Referred to as the "Miracle Man", the Ultra Garrison learn that Jiro had previously survived a fall from a 700 foot cliff! Moroboshi senses something unusual while in the cave. Upon descending further, Dan learns just who Jiro is -- he's his other self; the human form Ultraseven rescued from the mountain fall before he copied his human form. Using a drilling attack vehicle called the Magma-lizer, the Ultra Guard dig through the rock to find Jiro before the confined area fills up with gas. Trapped beneath the Earth, the Ultra Guard discover an advanced civilization buried inside the rocks below.

This is the second robotic enemy, an entire city of them in fact. These robots are slow moving and make these curious turkey gobble sounds in what I assume is their form of communication. Moroboshi is captured for study and has his Ultra Eye briefly swiped from his person. He uses his telepathic abilities (Force Powers for you STAR WARS folk) to procure it to transform into Ultraseven and rescue Jiro before he dies from asphyxiation. 

There's no major monster battle, nor does Seven go Giant. The hero from another world is only onscreen for a minute or so, but the storyline is so good, brimming with grand themes, it's saddening when it's over. This would make a great full length feature.

It's a shame though, that the connection between Jiro and Moroboshi isn't elaborated on in greater detail. As it is, it's just simply glossed over; but then this episode already throws far too many ideas at the viewer that cannot sustain a 25 minute running time. However, we at least learn where the original form for U7 came from. As opposed to possessing the actual body, the friendly alien made a copy of it. In fact, there's lots of body copying going on in this series.

With this show taking place underground, images of RODAN may begin dancing in your head, but there's no giant man-eating insects found here. Instead, there's a fascinating, if brief introduction of a city beneath the Earth. 

This underground city is at the center of a questionable moment during the end when the Ultra Guard set bombs to destroy this bizarre robotic civilization. They never once make an attempt to communicate with the robotic denizens, and are only too quick to blow the place up. It's totally uncharacteristic of the Terrestrial Defense Force to do this. These aliens from inner Earth never present themselves as enemies, the TDF just treats them as such. This plot point (likely inserted to get the show over with) is the other thing that mars an otherwise nifty action-suspense programmer.

In addition, this episode introduces a new mech -- the Magmalizer, a tank-like vehicle with an enormous drill at the front capable of digging through solid rock. It also has a red-hued laser and comes equipped with bombs.

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk #3, Magmalizer

To be continued in Episode Eighteen: ESCAPE SPACE X!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #16


Dubbed title: THE EYES HAVE IT

"I swear on my honor as a fellow alien!"

 After going missing for three months while en route to study the planet Annon, Cherry Blossom 9 suddenly reappears and initiates contact with the Terrestrial Defense Force. Landing near Mt. Hades, Moroboshi, Anne and Amagi are sent to investigate. Upon their arrival at the landing site, they witness the craft explode. Afterward, Dan hears something, but the others hear nothing at all. A strange eye is watching him from inside the mountain wall. Meanwhile, a little boy named Hiroshi finds a stone in the shape of a creature around Mt. Hades. Some bullies try to take it away from him, but a giant eye embedded in a tree emits a sonic power to allow the boy to escape. Later that night, the boy is told by a disembodied voice to return the stone to the mountain. Promising to make the boy strong enough to beat his bullies, the kid returns the stone to the mountaintop.

The eyes definitely do not have it on this mostly pointless episode. It's one of a few 'random events' programmers when the scriptwriters were either unable, or weren't interested in covering up plot holes or telling a feasible story. However, there's some great ideas here that aren't realized even to a moderate extent.

The bullying of the little boy is possibly this episodes best attribute and it's the only one given a modicum of attention. This plot point would be better served in Ishiro Honda's superb, if divisive ALL MONSTERS ATTACK! from 1970, or, as it's also known as, GODZILLA'S REVENGE. This plot point of the bullied, lonely little boy is worked out for the best at the end, and it would seem this episode was speaking on bullying while being masked as a monster show. 

Children have long been a staple of Japanese Kaiju product, and having been used for truly horrifying purposes in episode nine (among others), it's a breath of fresh air to see them in more kid friendly surroundings.

While there's no explanation given as to why the boy has to return the rock to the mountain (since it was already there in the first place), the fact that this "eye creature" seduces the kid with promises it has no intentions of keeping has darker connotations than what the 25 minute running time will allow.

While the various shots of the eyes appearing in trees, rocks and shadow encrusted walls provide some surreal and creepy imagery, the reasoning behind "the eyes" isn't sufficiently justified.

The finale of this episode also presents yet another misunderstanding between aliens and humans. This plot device was just covered in episodes 14 and 15, and also in previous shows, so its usage here is getting a bit monotonous. Yes, monotonous could perfectly apply to any of the hundreds of Tokusatsu shows, but without superheroes and monsters, you've got nothing where these things are concerned. 

The monster design of the Annonian Rock Beast is also a disappointment and seems like it was slapped together. However, the actual form of one of the Annonian aliens is never seen outside of the surreal eyeballs that pop up here and there. Still, this episode has some nice touches, but not enough to put in the company of the best the series has to offer. Ultraseven fares much better, though.

Seven uses some different powers during the end fight with the Annonian monster. One is a shield and the other is a ring beam -- a series of circular lasers that are emitted from his arms once their outstretched and cusped together. This is also the first nighttime battle of the series. About 90 percent of this show takes place at night, as well.

MONSTERS: Annonian alien
WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued in Episode Seventeen: UNDERGROUND: GO! GO! GO!!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #15



After the Pedan's robot monster retreats, Captain Kiriyama plans to ready the Ultra Guard forces for their next attack. In the meantime, Dr. Tsuchida tries to find a way to defeat the robotic beast, the Secret Service agent Melvin Webb searches for the real Dorothy Anderson and the Ultra Guard strengthen the Defense Center for an impending alien assault. Meanwhile, Moroboshi meets with one of the Pedan spies (a Dorothy double) and brokers a deal to cease hostilities between the two planets. However, the Pedans have no intentions for peace. They launch a wave of assault ships to conquer the Earth as well as sending their invincible robot for a second attack.

With the basic premise already set into place in the first part, this second chapter is mostly all action. The monster battle alone takes up over half of the running time. The battle between Ultraseven and King Joe is the longest, and among the most exciting kaiju fights of the series so far. It takes place in a shipping harbor and both combatants literally trash the place by either blowing up the ships or using them as weapons. The model ships and buildings in the Kobe harbor are remarkably accomplished, especially on a television budget.

Furthermore, the script manages to wedge in a couple of cliffhangers into all the explosions and giant aliens tossing each other around. The biggest and most crucial to the storyline is immediately after Dan brokers a treaty with the Pedan's who promise to return Dorothy Anderson to them. Only when they do, the Ultra Guard discover that her memory has been erased. Linda Hardisty, the gorgeous actress playing this character, appears to be speaking her lines in Japanese, too. She's one of many Anglo actors that have dotted numerous Japanese science fiction productions as well as one of several non Japanese performers spread throughout ULTRASEVEN's 49 episode run.

Anyway, Dorothy's the key to destroy King Joe, the gigantic Pedan robot monster. Of course, with such limited air time, she recovers her memory quickly and both she and Dr. Tsuchida come up with an explosive using something known in the Japanese science fiction universe as Rayton 30. While all that is going on, the Pedan attack fleet inches closer to Earth.

There's a subtext here regarding diplomatic relations between planets, but this merely serves as a crutch for the onslaught of near endless action. The only downside in this second part is that the American Secret Service agent, Melvin Webb, has next to nothing to do here. Whereas Part 1 had a heavy dose of spy elements, this one is pure kaiju territory, so the Webb character is shoved into the background for the most part. But then one watches these Japanese monster shows to see giant creatures battling amidst explosions of meticulously constructed miniatures. On that note, this action packed episode delivers the goods. ULTRASEVEN's first of three two parters is a winner.

MONSTERS: King Joe, Pedan alien
WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued in Episode Sixteen: SHINING EYES IN THE DARKNESS!!!

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