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Monday, August 25, 2014

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Leo Episode #5


On a lake field trip, the young Toru (along with his little sister Kaoru), who lost his father to the alien Turuk, finds it difficult to enjoy being on a picnic in the company of others whose parents are able to be with them. Seeing the sorrow in the little boy, Gen promises to act as his father, and this puts little Toru at ease. The happiness is short-lived, though, as Gen is called away to investigate an alien threat. Easily defeated in the encounter, Dan refuses to allow Gen to patrol again till he masters a special technique, even as the alien Kanedoras makes its way back to Earth for a second attack.

A big step up from episode four, the fifth program in the U-LEO series holds steady the serious tone embraced from the previous episodes, ending up the most sentimental one thus far. This is due to a child being the centerpiece; that child being Toru Umeda (Arai Tsunehiro). Introduced in the third episode, both he and his younger sister Kaoru (Tominaga Yoshiko) are orphaned after Alien Turuk slaughters their dad by cutting him in half right in front of them. Kaoru handles the loss much better than her brother, who is resentful towards virtually everyone. 

Gen, ever the tender-hearted man, takes up fatherhood for Toru, albeit briefly. When he has to quickly, if reluctantly leave Toru at the park to go into battle, Toru gets upset all over again. Like some other Ultra heroes Gen gets hit from all sides in this one. Toru hates him now, and MAC leader Dan Moroboshi is angered that he took so long to get back on duty, accusing him of possibly making more fatherless children because of his carelessness! What's of interest here is that both Gen's and Toru's paths are interconnected. Both have obstacles to overcome. 

Writer, novelist Shosuke Watarukai successfully squeezes this message of selflessness in the tight framework of a 25 minute show. It's even present during the monster battle between Leo and Kanedoras at the end. Leo puts his life in danger to protect the two children who are trapped in a car. While Kanedoras pounds into Leo's back with his horn, Toru's father comes to him in an Obi Wan Kenobi moment informing him he needs to stop feeling like he's been abandoned. Kaoru needs her big brother to look after her, and they need to stick together. The themes of strength through adversity, and overcoming odds is strong in this one; both are concepts branded into this series (for a time, anyways) from the beginning; even if it is often drowned out in monster fights and exploding miniatures. Watarukai worked on the previous Ultra series, ULTRAMAN TARO, and wrote a dozen episodes of U-LEO with this episode being his first.

Up to now, every episode has had a martial arts motif for Gen to train in some peculiar fashion -- learning a style in his human guise that will come in handy once he's gone giant as the acrobatic alien, Ultraman Leo. The martial arts training continues here with an elaborate contraption that resembles something you'd see in a Shaolin training sequence from a Hong Kong kung fu movie. Omura (Fujiki Yu) figures into this training by inadvertently aiding Gen to learn the fatality move that will prove beneficial during the upcoming fight with Kanedoras. 

Kanedoras is a flying alien creature that resembles Godzilla series antagonist, Gigan. The hands, feet, and back fins have a familiarity with the M Space Hunter Nebula alien chicken first seen in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN in 1972. The monsters head recalls Red King, a popular monster on the original ULTRAMAN series, but with a larger noggin. Kanedoras has a big horn on his head that he flings like a boomerang at the opposition in the same fashion as Ultraseven. The beast has a flame attack akin to Gamera's. Kanedoras roars like King Kong in his two Toho adventures.

The battle at the end is choreographed well, and, in a nice touch, integrates human peril into it. Tatsumi Nikamoto, underneath the Leo rubber suit, looks great as usual in pulling off his martial arts maneuvers while jumping, leaping, and flipping all over the set. There's another spectacular demise for the monster. It's safe to say Kanedoras suffers for his destructive art.

Ryu Manatsu continues his overly emotional, highly melodramatic acting style with a lot of yelling and sweating during his training sequences. You almost expect to hear Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' to start blaring on the soundtrack. Manatsu's performance is very reminiscent of Hideko Goh (Jiro Dan) in RETURN OF ULTRAMAN, but without the rebellious streak, and only a portion of Jiro's charisma. It's all a part of growing the character, but Manatsu brings the melodrama like nobody's business. 

As strong of an episode as this is, the ratings continued on a slow decline. Even from the shows premiere, U-LEO did roughly half the rating of the original ULTRAMAN (1966). The series would introduce a number of ideas to try to attract viewers; this would cause a noticeable difference in tone. The 'You can do anything you want if you try' attitude would slowly dissipate, taking a backseat to changes that eventually become drastic as the series forged ahead; but for now, the seriousness continues with the next episode.

MONSTERS: Kanedoras
WEAPONS: MAC Fighters #2, #3

To be continued in Episode 6: YOU'RE A MAN! FIRE UP!!!

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