If you're in trouble, call Judge Daryl Loomis. He probably can't help, but he will show up in a rubber suit.
"Schuwa!"—Ultraman, when he starts flying.
No matter how cheesy, the second incarnation of Ultraman was supremely popular in its native Japan and captured the hearts of many bored children on this side of the Pacific. While it won't win awards for writing, acting, effects, or anything else, the series is still charming family entertainment three decades after its finale.
Facts of the Case
When the Science Patrol is in trouble, Hayata (Susumu Kurobe) uses the Beta Capsule to summon Ultraman, an alien from the planet Nebula M78, who shows up to take care of business. Our red-and-silver-suited hero was called to Earth 39 times; here is the list of those adventures.
Few shows can match the level of cheesiness that Ultraman delivers. Some say that's a good thing, but I say those people don't know how to have a good time. Sure, the monsters are guys in rubber suits and the "high-tech" vehicles the Science Patrol travels in are very clearly toys on wires, but the creators don't try to hide any of it and that's part of the fun of this show. For all of the patently ridiculous things that occur in the various plots, it all fits together very well.
While every episode follows the same basic path, the creators' ability to keep the monsters fresh is somewhat amazing. In each installment, we are given the initial situation that draws the Science Patrol to help. They do pretty well at first with their crazy gizmos, but soon find themselves overwhelmed by a monster. They try to stop it, but fail. So call Ultraman, who opens up a can on these rubber baddies before heading back to space. The simplistic setup gives way to plenty of very cool monsters. Though they may be obvious rubber suits, they run the gambit from dinosaurs to hairy-backed fish to freaked-out Rastafarians. There are enough differences, and such little overlap in the monsters' appearances, that I marvel at the creativity on display, especially on the clear shoestring budget they had. The whole thing seems so shoddy until you consider the huge creative and time investment that went into their conception, creating the costumes, and building the tiny sets for them to destroy, all for what amounts to maybe ten minutes of screen time.
I love the series. It brings forth a wash of nostalgia, memories of Saturday morning cartoons, exasperated parents wondering why I watch this crap, and waiting anxiously for the Mecha-Godzilla movie that was about to come on. Loving Ultraman also means accepting its faults, which are myriad—bad acting, hokey dialog, even worse dubbing. There's very little to call "good" in the show, yet that makes it all the more charming and lovable.
Mill Creek presents the 39 episodes Ultraman: The Complete Series over four discs in paper sleeves shoved inside a standard case. The packaging is functional, if unattractive, but they could have done a lot more. The episodes are presented in full-frame and look fair. The colors are somewhat washed out and there's grain present most of the time, but the transfers fare pretty well, considering the show is four decades old. The mono audio tracks are both clear, but neither stands out as particularly good. We get both the English dub track, which was the way stateside folks first saw it, but we also get the original Japanese track. It's nice to hear the way the episodes were first presented, but it does not make the show any better. Personally, I prefer the English track while running the subtitles to see the wild difference between the two tracks.
The slight offering of extras appears on the final disc. The only one of any substance is a half-hour interview session with a few of the people who voiced the English dub. Rather than commenting on what they did for Ultraman, they retrospect their entire careers. What do you get when you throw a bunch of theater people into a room together and let them freely talk? A conversation that interests only them. Otherwise, all we have his the original English title sequence and an encyclopedia of the monsters that Ultraman fights. The series has a strong cult following and deserves much more than this.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You already know on a basic level if you'll like Ultraman, even if you've never seen it. If you hate Godzilla and his kin of rubber-suited creatures, there's nothing in this series that will change your mind. Additionally, even if you are already a fan, thirty-nine consecutive episodes is not a very enjoyable experience. Because each episode is almost exactly the same, they are best viewed one or two installments at a time. More than that quickly becomes tedious and frustrating.
I'm pretty hard pressed to say anything truly negative about Ultraman. I know it's badly written, cheaply produced, and exceptionally cheesy, but I don't care. I do wish more had been done to improve the technical qualities of the discs and the extras are second-rate, but I'm just happy to have Ultraman: The Complete Series in my collection.
My God, I think Science Patrol is in peril! Case dismissed, now go Ultraman,
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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