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Thursday, April 24, 2014

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Leo Episode #4



When we last left Ultraman Leo, his color timer had run out after a seemingly fatal blow from Turuk sent the L-77 savior into the sea. Believing Gen Otori to be dead, Dan Moroboshi ponders what to do next. Amazingly, Gen is found alive some time later. Dan castigates Gen, ordering him to remain in his human guise till he's mastered his triple attack regardless of when Turuk appears again. Unfortunately for MAC and Japan, the monster returns sooner rather than later.

Picking up where the last episode left off, Ultraman Leo, and his human alter ego Gen Otori, are presumed to be dead. There's a reprise of the sorrow felt by Captain Moroboshi, but this time, it's over the loss of Gen, his Ultra acolyte. His lamentation is short-lived, though, as writer Taguchi Shigemitsu seemingly didn't have enough time to come up with a plausible reason for Gen surviving after his color timer expired. Instead of an explanation, he just turns up alive and he's rescued. 

In pretty good shape after the pounding he took from Turuk, Gen is only too happy to get back to Karate training despite throwing some serious temper tantrums this fourth go round. Dan reaches down deep to attain the most guttural voice possible to let Gen know he means business this time about the training. Speaking of which, Gen's training sequence makes absolutely no sense. He basically does what Gordon Liu did in 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978), but with far less expertise. He just punches at the water and that's it. He throws a huge fit when he fails to master "splitting the waterfall". For whatever reason, the secret to acing this skill lies in striking at some flower petals that fall down behind the cascade. All we know is Gen yells out, "I know the secret!" But nobody fills us in on what the secret actually is. Similar flowers are inside MAC headquarters, but again, Shigemitsu makes no connection between the two, nor sufficiently explains why this water chopping skill is able to turn Leo's arms into literal Karate choppers. 

Now the master, Leo suddenly gets the glow, and Turuk's sword strikes do no damage. Leo takes it to the hyperactive space creature with a string of throws and suplexes, and quickly finishes him with his new technique that allows his hands to slice through flesh. This is twice in a row that monsters have met a gory demise.

The balance of action and exposition of episode three is missing here. Four is fragmented, and feels sloppy despite its near non-stop monster scenes. For instance, the opening recap features shots not in episode three. One of these clips shows one of Turuk's blades come into closeup, yet it looks nothing like the monsters actual sword arms. At another point, the back of the Turuk monster suit is clearly open during the finale. The camera is at his front, but the suit actor energetically twists to the left and right, and the open back is briefly visible.

The lack of variety, and focus on city destruction was likely a move to appease the kids, but having Alien Turuk attack the city three times (if you include the tail-end that carries over from the previous show) gets tedious. It all looks like the same set each time even though a few composite shots mix up the monotony. There's an attempt to expound on Dan to the point where the episode feels more about him than Gen -- which is a huge mistake. This episode would have been superb had the focus been on the disappearance/death of Leo, whereby Dan must go it alone. Instead, only the latter point is realized.

Koji Moritsugi plays Moroboshi much like he did in ULTRASEVEN, but the friendly demeanor is all but evaporated. If not for Gen, one gets the impression he'd lose the will to live. He's dour the entire time, and never smiles. Up to this point, he's a far more interesting character than his impulsive disciple. Adding a layer of concern for his character, Dan uses his mind control ability for the second time in an effort to hold Turuk at bay -- this move exasperates his life force each time he uses it. 

Initially the Captain of MAC was to have been named Kawakami Tetsutaro, but it was eventually changed to Moroboshi of ULTRASEVEN.

The confusion as to what to do with this story continues during Dan's second air assault on Turuk. In it, he lures the monster onto some power lines. Electrocuting him doesn't work the way Dan had hoped. Turuk gets a charge out of the experience, and ends up using his sword extensions to absorb electric current when he returns to destroy the city at the end. Curiously, the beast never does anything with this new electrified ability when confronted by U-Leo at the end. Another missed opportunity.

The days of having actual storylines in Ultra shows was well past by 1974. The superhero shenanigans had taken over. There would be an occasional idea here and there, but everything gets drowned out in the 'Monster of the Week' mentality. There was really no reason for this being a two-parter outside of the cliffhanger of Leo in trouble, leaving the audience wondering how the spaceman would come back. And that's the one major area the second half fails in. We don't know how he survived, he just does.

ULTRAMAN LEO was considered a ratings failure compared with the previous series'. However, these first four episodes performed the best. From here on out, the series would struggle to maintain a 10-13% share of the viewing audience in Japan during its April 1974-March 1975 run.

As for episode 4, it's totally unnecessary as the second half of a two part story. Why the focus wasn't on Gen/Leo's supposed death is anyone's guess. That would have made for a much better conclusion than simply retreading the same thing already covered in ep. 3. The atmosphere of darkness is great, but that will be lifted soon (for a good stretch of episodes). Monster fans will be satisfied with the destruction scenes, even if it, too, offers little deviation from the first portion of this two part arc.

WEAPONS: MAC-2, 3; MAC Attack Jeep

To be continued in Episode #5: DON'T CRY! YOU ARE A MAN!!!


Dick said...

These have really been great posts Brian. Thanks a bunch for all you work on this as I've really been enjoying them(and learning a lot !).

I've been working my way thru the Shout Factory ULTRA Q set(I watch an episode in the mornings before work) and then I want start on Johnny Sokko. Great stuff !


venoms5 said...

You're welcome, Dick. It's been a blast putting them together. Check out the FB page sometime. I've been posting tons of behind the scenes photos, stills, some of them rare.

I've been watching ULTRA Q, as well. Some great episodes in there, and some nice effects work.

Dick said...

I've been checking out your FB everyday.

venoms5 said...

Ah, gotcha. I'm hoping to have a few more Ultra reviews posted before it's over if I can squeeze them in. :p

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