Sunday, February 8, 2015

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Ace Episode #2


Directed by Kazuo Mitsuda and Masanori Kakei

An enormous silver colored egg is found at a construction site. With curiosity getting the best of him, a worker is absorbed into the huge egg shortly before it submerges below ground. TAC investigates, but finds no traces of the construction worker, or the egg. Later, a golden egg-shaped flying object is detected. Hokuto intercepts it, seemingly destroying the UFO. Later on during a party for Hokuto and Minami, the golden egg reappears in the city nestling atop a building. Shortly thereafter, the silver egg reemerges and combines to form a super egg with the golden one. TAC discovers that a similar occurrence is described in an ancient Egyptian text about a giant creature named Chameleking hatched from a golden and silver egg that attacked Atlantis. It is surmised the Yapool aliens are attempting to recreate this ancient scenario on Earth.

ACE episode two is a fantastic action episode accompanied by a good small screen script from Shozo Uehara. As streamlined as it is, the plot is akin to the sort of Atlantean folklore that dominated Shusuke Kaneko's GAMERA trilogy from the 1990s. Undersea and ancient civilizations also made their way into some of Toho's finer (and not so fine) monster pictures during the Showa and Heisei Eras. The script also does something unusual for the Ultraverse at this point. In previous series', the identity of the M78 alien and his human host was a well-kept secret, despite it being suspicious that the hero always seemed to disappear when Ultra-whoever showed up. It got predictable fast and made the various Earth protection agencies seem dense, but became part of the charm of the series just the same. ACE pushes this to its limits since it takes two people to transform into the alien; and this conversion occurs out in the open. At the end of this episode, Captain Goro (whose TAC Arrow was about to crash till Ace saved him) swears he saw Hokuto turn into Ultraman and asks if he is in fact the alien savior. Oddly, Minami's name is never mentioned. Still, it's refreshing to see this, and especially so early in the series.

Takamine Keiji (Seiji Hokuto) is very different from the actors who essayed the Ultra hero roles before him. Susumu Kurobe (ULTRAMAN) and Koji Moritsugu (ULTRASEVEN) were both playing their characters as strong, mature men devoted to their jobs. Jiro Dan (THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN) took the role in more rebellious territory. Takamine's approach is more child-like, maybe even naive. He's a bread delivery man of all things. Much like Hideki Goh (Jiro Dan) before him, Hokuto evolves as the story progresses. As for Ace's other half, Hoshi Mitsuko does fine with what she's given to do. She's likable, and comes off more focused than her male counterpart.

Scriptwriter Uehara was the main writer on THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN, penning 20 of them. For ACE, Uehara only put his name to seven scripts. He began his career at Tsuburaya on the show that started it all, ULTRA Q (1965-1966).

The model work in this episode is good, and the way the miniatures are photographed doesn't flaunt the obviousness of the models. A standout is an airplane model that's obliterated upon contact with the alien egg and an impressive composite shot of actor, suit actor, and model work onscreen together (see above pic). Lots of explosions and a nice cityscape complement the ensuing action. One thing ACE does differently is that so much of the action takes place on miniature city sets as opposed to the mountainous terrain that often dominated past shows. It's another way ACE keeps its standard monster plots interesting by catering to the little kid in us who enjoy these things by giving the combatants no shortage of buildings to trample.

The battle between U-Ace and Chameleking is well choreographed and edited. Ace's penchant for somersaults continues although acrobatics and martial arts would get more mileage out of ULTRAMAN LEO (1974-1975) a few years later. Ace looks powerful in his sophomore outing having the upper hand much of the time. Ace also has a preference for brutalizing his foes before blowing them to smithereens, or even burning them to death! This is the first of many Super-Beasts who die spectacularly. In this case, Ace rips Chameleking's wings off before sending chunks of the Atlantean home-wrecker from one end of Japan to the other.

Chameleking is another Akihiko Iguchi design (Toru Kawai inside the suit), and a more lithe, muscular appearance then the bulkier style often seen for the monsters. This Super-Beast has wings, although we never see him fly. It does use them to momentarily blind Ace with wind gusts. The only other weapon afforded Chameleking is a poison gas it emits from its mouth. Unlike Verokron in episode one, Chameleking isn't afforded as much time for city renovation. 

New weapons are introduced, some of which come from TAC's armaments specialist, Yoichi Kaji. His latest is the 5-0 Laser Rifle, 50 times more powerful than the average laser, and possessing the power to burn through enormous objects such as the mysterious golden egg. Hokuto uses a mortar weapon during a ground offensive, and the enormous airship, the TAC Falcon makes its debut.

The threat by the Yapool is unique among Ultra shows in that it's a recurring threat as opposed to a different tale attached to a monster each time. Their devilish presence is minimal here, but increases greatly in other episodes yielding some grim surprises. 'Surpass the Choju!' is as entertaining and well directed as formula monster programming can get.
MONSTERS: Chameleking; Yapool alien (dimensional image)
WEAPONS: TAC Falcon; TAC Arrow; 5-0 Laser Rifle; TAC Mortar; TAC Panther; TAC Gun

To be continued in Episode Three: BURN! CHOJU HELL!!!

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