Friday, July 1, 2016

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Ace Episode #5


Directed by Tadashi Mabune

Random victims are being sucked down into the Earth with no trace left behind. TAC investigates but find no evidence the stories are true. The case is turned over to the police since the initial victims were women and all with blood type O. After a subway train is wrecked and its passengers killed, the culprit is revealed to be an enormous, carnivorous ant monster, the Aribunta. TAC's Duckbill underground burrowing tank is dispatched and, after a fierce battle with the Aribunta, is trapped 80 meters below the surface of the Earth and only a limited supply of air remaining. Ultraman Ace doesn't possess a burrowing ability, so Hokuto devises a plan to use Yuko as bait for the Aribunta. The plan works and as they are teleported into the bowels of the Earth, they change into Ace. Immediately after destroying the Aribunta, another enemy appears, Gironman. The alien being encases Ace within a spiked trap and states his plan to destroy Tokyo and build an underground kingdom. He sends another Aribunta topside to begin the destruction. Meanwhile, Ace sends out a distress signal. Zoffy answers and it becomes a 4-way wrestling match to save both TAC and Tokyo.

The first of six episodes directed by Tadashi Mabune returns to the action-centric arena of the first three episodes while tossing in some shocking moments of violence. Eco-horror was a worldwide industry epidemic in the 1970s. Toho's Godzilla series was awash in pollutants with GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971); and some of that grue found its way onto the giant monster small screen counterparts. Whereas Hedorah used its radioactive sludge to disintegrate humans, the Aribunta's primary weapon of death is just as horrifying.

A play on the African word for the devastating Army Ant, the Marabunta, the inter-dimensional Super-Beast Aribunta kills in an almost identical fashion to Hedorah, and a more exaggerated method to its Earthbound, Formicidae equivalent. Army Ants overwhelm their prey with numbers (oftentimes dismembering their food as they eat them), spraying them with a dissolving acid. Aribunta uses the same deadly spray. During one scene, the helpless humans aboard a train are massacred after Aribunta coats them in its acidic agent, dissolving their flesh, and leaving nothing but skeletons! Additionally, the monster has twin flamethrowers that spew from his wrists.

Shozo Uehara's script (second of seven in this series) is a basic SciFi Monster story but with some nice additions such as new weapons and powers for the title Ultra Brother and TAC mecha. We learn Ace cannot dive underground (he's also weak underwater); and Zoffy, the Captain of the Space Guard, makes his second appearance--this time in a fighting capacity after Ace finds himself in dire trouble. To call for help, Ace uses the Ultra Sign for the first time. Near death from the alien Gironman's spike trap, Zoffy arrives and gives Ace the Ultra Converter, a wrist bracelet that recharges an Ultra Brothers depleted energy, and keeps it charged so long as it is being worn.

The four-monster melee is more of a brawl with a lot of pounding, tossing, drop-kicking, but no acrobatics. If you're a fan of wrestling, you'll enjoy this scuffle--particularly the double team maneuver at the end of the battle. There's no gory finishing move, but with so much variety crammed into this program so early in the run you won't mind much. As with the previous episodes, the monsters are uniformly bizarre in the Ultra-tradition.

Aside from being mentioned, the Yapool are absent from this episode; yet Gironman enters our dimension (by "breaking" the sky) in the same fashion as the Yapool. Presumably Gironman has some relation to them. This underground humanoid monster intends to build a new city once his creatures, the Aribunta, have completed their urban renewal plan topside. His powers are teleportation, a spiked weapon that can electrify whatever it touches, and laser clusters emitted from his clawed appendages.

SPX director Takashi Ohira designs a nifty lair for Aribunta and Gironman. Keizo Murase (Murase Tsugizo), designer of many famous monsters of the big and small screens, fashioned the Gironman suit (using bath mats!) while Akihiko Iguchi built the insectoid suit for Aribunta. 

The TAC Duckbill makes its debut; an underground attack tank with a massive drill at the tip (a version of the Magmarizer of ULTRASEVEN). Coming complete with a variety of weapons, it provides this episode with one of two cliffhanger moments. It's amazing how much action can be crammed into 25 minutes.

Focusing far more on entertainment than building characters, episode 5 reverts back to that trend, bypassing the brief flirtation with exposition found in episode 4. This episode has a lot of variety in its sets and monster suit designs. In the next episode we get a look inside the Yapool's monster-maker laboratory. Just one of many episodes to feature additional Ultra Brothers, this is a fun, fast-moving program that fans of Tokusatsu will enjoy.

MONSTERS: Aribunta; Gironman; Ultraman Zoffy
WEAPONS: TAC Duckbill Tank; 5-0 Laser Rifle; TAC guns


From Beyond Television: Ultraman Ace Episode #4


Directed by Yamagiwa Eizo

On her day off, TAC Communications Officer Noriko Mikawa accepts an invitation for a high school reunion from an old schoolmate of hers, an eccentric horror comic book artist named Mushitaro Kuri. Mushitaro reveals he has kept a love letter she refused when they were in high school. Now accepting it, Mikawa opens the letter and finds, in addition to the letter, a drawing of a monster named Garan, a prehistoric creature from the Devonian Period. Time passes and Mikawa discovers that no one else is coming to this party. She also finds that she has been drugged. Tied up and held captive, Mushitaro reveals he has been given telepathy by "the Devil", and that she will marry him; if not, she will die. After a scuffle she manages to escape. Mushitaro uses his telepathic powers to bring Garan, his comic creation, to life to bring Mikawa back to him and destroy TAC.

ULTRAMAN ACE (temporarily) drops the kid-friendly nature, taking a detour into darker territory about a murderous artist who literally loves women to death. Curiously, the portions about the crazed comic book creator (played by Koji Shimizu) are engaging to the point that the monster segments feel intrusive. The previous three episodes contained substantial amounts of action, explosions and wanton destruction so it's unusual when the dramatic (in this case, horror) elements rob the show of its rubber suit bread and butter. 

The first of six episodes written by Ichikawa Morichi is far more subversive than your average kiddie-tainment. It's certainly a storyline suited for the likes of the adult-leaning ULTRASEVEN than the superhero antics of U-ACE. Ichikawa's disturbing tale of an obsessed kook who is given the power of bringing his creations to life is a bizarre mixture when the tone occasionally leaps into the typical monster scenario. The writer dives into even more cerebral areas during the last scene when Captain Goro states the Yapool didn't give Mushitaro the power to realize the demon--the power was always with him to forge demons of his own.

Koji Shimizu imbues Mushitaro Kuri with just the right amount of creepiness. There's a bit of Norman Bates in him; this is especially prominent when the captive Mikawa is shown what happens to women who don't love him back--the skeletal remains of a previous victim. He gets a generous amount of the 25+ minute running time all to himself--skulking around, ready to snap at any moment; promising to kill all the members of TAC; and threatening Mikawa with his bow and arrow!

The plot of a monster comic character, or some other monster drawing, coming to life to wreck havoc had been done before in the original ULTRAMAN, episode #15, 'Terrifying Cosmic Rays'. Unlike here, the set-up was different and much easier to digest for small fry consumption. For the purposes of this U-ACE program, the series will maintain a weirdly playful, if a more grim GAMERA-like marriage of monsters and morbidity for a spell before finding a balance.

If it weren't for this horror slant, episode 4 would have nothing going for it. The monster section about Garan is kind of confused since a much smaller version of the beast is laying dormant in an aquarium. Mushitaro's Garan is brought to life through his psycho-telepathic tendencies. Feeling a lot like an episode of OPERATION: MYSTERY with an ULTRAMAN scenario tacked on, if it weren't for the horror story this episode would rate 2 stars at best.

Prolific monster and mech designer Akihiko Iguchi (the designer of the original Mechagodzilla) reportedly adapted the Garan design from an original sketch by a 21 year old dental technician. The creature is a prehistoric origin, revamped by the Yapool for their Super-Beast purposes. Garan's weapons are a sort of tornado mist emitted from its mouth that absorbs whatever gets into its path. A large horn on the end of its snout contains a type of magnetic force; when it glows, it can either cause the TAC aircraft to lose all function or destroy them. Garan's roar is the same as Kemular from ULTRAMAN (1966) episode 21 'Breach the Wall of Smoke'. Series suit actor regular, Toru Kawai, is inside the Garan suit.

The big battle between Ace and Garan is a nice brawl with some high-flying moves by Ace. The Ace Vacuum is introduced, a weapon wherein Ace can absorb poisonous gas type weapons of Super-Beasts when his hands are cusped together. The Timer Shot does some serious damage, followed up with a blast from his Beam Lamp (in his forehead) brings Garan to a cruel end.

The next episode continues the gloom and doom streak with some rather horrifying monster action. As for episode 4, it's a weak entry that, ironically enough, is kept strong because of its human characters as opposed to its monsters.

MONSTERS: Garan; Yapool (Dimensional image)
WEAPONS: TAC Falcon; TAC Arrow #1, #2; TAC Bazooka; 5-0 Laser Rifle; TAC Gun

To be continued in Episode 5: GIANT ANT BEAST VS. THE ULTRA BROTHERS!!!

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