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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Ace Episode #8


Directed by Masanori Kakei

Last we left Ace, he is was in a bit of a jam with 3 monsters to fight all at once. The fighting field is leveled somewhat after Ace's reflexes results in the gruesome demise of one of the monsters. With his Color Timer blinking, Ace is forced to once more use the Ultra Barrier to temporarily encase his opponents in a state of suspended animation. After using the energy draining maneuver a second time, Yuko is nearly dead. Meanwhile, Yamanaka, against Captain Goro's orders, intends to avenge Maya's death by attacking Alien Metron Jr. while it's incapacitated within the barrier. Taking Konno with him, Yamanaka's impulsive actions frees the alien instead. At the same time, Gorath nears the Earth's atmosphere causing natural disasters to occur just as Maria II is ready to launch. Suddenly, both Alien Metron and Doragoris appear and attempt to destroy it. With Hokuto having taken the terminal Yuko out of the hospital, she manages enough energy to transform into Ace. With only half his energy, and Gorath blocking solar power from the sun, Ace and TAC join together to stop the cataclysmic threats to Earth's existence.

Ending on a fantastic note, the second two-parter thus far is a highlight that will be hard to top. Masanori Kakei's second time billed as a solo director (co-directing the first two episodes), his name is dotted periodically throughout the series--always in pairs--for a total of 14 episodes (including the last two). Possessing a good eye for action, Kakei keeps things moving at a breakneck pace and never lets the sloppiness in the script catch up to him. One of the most striking aspects of this 'part 2' is the level of brutality present in the script...

Much like the GAMERA movie series, there's this odd melding of extreme monster violence with the rubber suit action. It's a bizarre marriage; akin to watching episodes of THE MUPPET SHOW where Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy and the rest slaughter each other in spectacular displays of gory muppet mayhem. It makes for some striking imagery that, despite the obvious fakery, would never pass for a kid's show in America.

During the opening, we pick up right where the previous episode ended. Ace is in serious trouble. Another monster, Muruchi II, emerges from underground and joins Alien Metron II and Doragoris. Muruchi II is a younger offspring of Muruchi, a monster that appeared in the 33rd episode of THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN. A fish-type monster, his underground containment in that series episode is explained (also written by Uehara) but remains something of a question mark in his surprise showing in this ACE installment. It doesn't matter much as Muruchi's arrival is very brief. Ace dodges its attack, sending the fish monster right into Doragoris; who responds by throttling the creature before ripping its jaw off! The violent Doragoris isn't finished crudely carving Muruchi up; the moth monster then rips its leg off! This sort of gory action would have likely resorted in outraged parents in America but was prevalent in Japanese kids shows of that time period.

Apparently Muruchi was a scripting replacement for Seagoras (or Seagorath), the Tsunami Monster--a rhino-type aquatic beast that appeared in THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN two-parter from episodes 13 and 14. Incidentally, Uehara wrote those two as well.

The monster gore doesn't stop there. During the well choreographed, cliffhanger-packed finale, Ace has only half his power due to Yuko's weakened state. He still manages to showcase two new maneuvers--both of which are devastating in doling out monster carnage. After Gorath is obliterated by Maria II, Ace, in a weakened state, gets his energy replenished by the sun. Having been a punching bag for Alien Metron II over the course of two episodes, Ace has had enough and unleashes the Vertical Guillotine to quickly finish him off. This is similar to the finishing move on VOLTRON (1984-1985) only more gruesome since Ro-Beasts have no alien innards to spill out all over the countryside. 

Ace then turns his rage to the equally enraged Doragoris; bashing the monsters head against a rock then using the Ultra Punch to literally punch its guts out! Putting the Super-Beast out of its much deserved misery, Ace whips out the Ultra Blade and decapitates Doragoris samurai style. He finishes the job with his Metallium Ray, blowing the outsized moth to kingdom come. Brutal monster deaths have always been in these shows, but this level of sanguinary shenanigans is unusually excessive; yet add to the appeal.

As mentioned previously, writing duties were split between the two episodes--Shozo Uhehara picking up the pen for the second half. The balance of human drama and monster battles is virtually the same; only the former is arguably more poignant since Yuko has a near-death experience after using the Ace Barrier for the second time. 

Regarding the Ace Barrier, it was depicted by Ichikawa Morichi as a rip in space that holds the monster for a 24 hour period. It's visualized in Shozo Uehara's script as a type of bubble (akin to the method of transport for Godzilla and Rodan to Planet X in MONSTER ZERO [1965]) that holds the monsters in a temporarily frozen state. Which brings us to the furthering of Yamanaka's revenge....

Instead of making him pitiable, he comes off as intolerable. Disobeying orders, he intimidates one of his teammates to aid him in an attack on Alien Metron while it's encased in Ace's barrier.  His selfishness turns Yuko's self-sacrifice into a possibly vain act of martyrdom. What's worse is he gets barely a slap on the wrist for being inadvertently complicit in Earth's near destruction. Yuko's character shows there's hope for humanity by requesting Hokuto take her out of the hospital to fight whether she dies or not.

A really impressive duo of episodes, Tokusatsu fans will have a good time with these. Lacking the surrealism of ULTRASEVEN; or the bridging of the dramatic with the comic book of THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN, the heavier accent towards super heroics will appeal to a broader audience for this genre; that is, those who enjoy the wackier side of small screen entertainment as opposed to those with genuine affection for Japan's unique SciFi programming. Overly ambitious as it is, this sort of crescendo is normally reserved for a series finale. Not yet ten shows in, U-ACE goes from 0-60 in a matter of seconds... but can it maintain this speed for the remaining 44 episodes?

MONSTERS: Alien Metron II; Doragoris; Muruchi II
WEAPONS: TAC Space; Maria II (missile); TAC Guns

To be continued in Episode 9: 10,000 SUPER-BEASTS! THE YAPOOL'S SURPRISE ATTACK PLAN!!!


Dr. Theda said...

We do enjoy these posts, good sir.

venoms5 said...

Thanks. They're fun to write about!

yynderjohn said...

Where do you get these DVDs?! I saw the original Ultraman as a kid and wanted to follow up on the rest with my son!

venoms5 said...

The source of the screencaps of U-ACE comes from the Japanese DVDs. There's no English on them, unfortunately. However, you can a three disc set from Malaysia with English subs on them. Granted, the quality is slightly lesser than the Japanese releases. If you wish to compare quality, see the caps for the episodes I've reviewed for THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (1971). I don't have the Japanese discs for those, but only the Malay set.

As for the rest, the ULTRAMAN (1966) and ULTRAMAN LEO (1974) reviews are from the Japanese discs while the ULTRASEVEN (1967) write-ups come from the US set.

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