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Sunday, July 12, 2015

From Beyond Television: The Return of Ultraman Episode #9



Directed by Ishiro Honda

Intending to spend time with Aki and her little brother Jiro on his birthday, Goh is assigned to fly to New York to pick up a new weapon created by the MAT branch there, a Monster Sonar Scanner. MAT member Minami disobeys orders and secretly takes Goh's place. Flying back from New York, Minami encounters a typhoon, causing his MAT Arrow to crash on an island where he's rescued by some scientific researchers. The team of scientists explain they've been there investigating possible monster activity and this new sonar device will prove useful. A search of the island reveals a hibernating rock creature living within a cave. Minami suddenly falls ill so Goh, feeling responsible, must get a serum to him in time before he expires from any one of three possible fates--tetanus, an unstable island, or a giant, rampaging monster.

This episode is a nice, compact, mini-adventure from famous GODZILLA director, Ishiro Honda. It's nothing overly spectacular, but it makes use of its limited format and screen time by providing a good bit of exposition with a handful of cliffhanger scenarios. One of these is the expansion of the relationship with Goh and Aki, and also her little brother, Jiro. RETURN OF ULTRAMAN was sort of the bridge between the story-focused ULTRASEVEN and the superhero theatrics of ULTRAMAN ACE, KAMEN RIDER and others. It blended the two and frequently blended them beautifully. It's one of, if not the single reason this series remains so memorable among fans of the genre.

There had been a subtle hint of a possible romance in the previous ULTRASEVEN, towards the end of the series, but it remained largely ambiguous. RETURN OF ULTRAMAN introduced a fairly blatant, burgeoning relationship between Hedeki Goh and Aki Sakata (played by the adorable Rumi Sakakibara). Kids didn't care about mushy stuff mixing with their monsters, so it's never allowed to turn into a full-on romance, but it's there, adding an emotional layer of identification this genre isn't known for.

Masaki Inoue made his screenwriting debut with this episode, only penning one other towards the end of the series with the 49th installment. Inoue was likely best known for being the primary writer on the wildly popular 70s show, the KAMEN RIDER series and its spin-offs.

Aside from the light touches of love blooming, Inoue crams more than enough action elements to keep kids and the youngsters of the grown up sort entertained for 25 minutes. You have Minami getting seriously ill on the island (this one is poorly written as Minami seems gravely sick one moment then fine the next); MAT having no available aircraft for Goh to rescue him (this affords us a look into MAT's hangar deck), so Goh jumps in there to get his hands dirty to get one of the Arrow's operational for flight; and there's the plot device of an earthquake (or some other cataclysm) that's used to bring an end to the free-for-all.

The featured monster is this rock-like creature named Dangar (played by Toya Takanobu). Designed by Ikeya Senkatsu, this beast, with his mace-like, single-clawed hands, has no beam or flame attacks. Dangar does have monster dreadlocks around its head that act as some sort of power source. Once U-Jack rips them off during the rambunctious final battle, Dangar is easily put away. To add a bit of spice to this impressively choreographed fight, earthquakes and explosions erupt around the combatants amidst volleys of judo throws, flying kicks, and Karate chops.

This was Ishiro Honda's fourth of five U-Jack episodes he directed. Honda got the series off with a big bang in the opening two-parter, a weak showing with episode seven, a stronger entry with this installment, and he returned to close out the series with episode 51. 

WEAPONS: MAT Arrow #1, #2, MAT Gyro

To be continued in Episode 10: DINOSAUR EXPLOSION DIRECTIVE!!!

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