Judge Brett Cullum hasn't had this much fun with a man in a rubber suit since...oh, never mind.
Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's…ULTRAMAN
Fighting for truth, justice, and the Japanese way…Ultraman was an ultraphenomenon from 1966 to 1998, and he remains the Pacific Rim's own version of Superman (all several hundred incarnations of the hero). He was faster than a locomotive, and could leap tall buildings easily since he was as tall as them when in "ultra" form. If you're a fan of Toho Studios Productions, you'll love Ultraman: Series One, Volume One. Every week Ultraman fights a new "man in a monster suit" out to destroy the sacred islands of Japan. It's ultracheesy, but also ultrafun.
Facts of the Case
Sometime in the future, the Earth is protected by a group of scientists who patrol the planet in rocket ships. Science Patrol Agent Shin Hayata is mortally wounded by what appears to be a crash into two glowing balls that came from outer space. The blue ball turns in to a lizard like monster named Bemler, and the red one contains an intergalactic police man who fuses with Hayata and gives him a glowing stick that will turn him in to Ultraman. He's going to need to grow to 200 feet to fight all the monsters that pop up routinely over the next twenty episodes. There's a simple formula to every show: a monster shows up, Ultraman fights it, and everybody applauds.
Ultraman has many amazing powers, including the Specium ray, Ultra-slash, electrical immunity, a temporal stasis beam, remote disintegration, spatial warp, shield wall, telekinesis, flight, teleportation, shooting water, size change, and enhanced vision. You'd think he'd be invincible, but he does have one weakness. He can only appear on Earth for three minutes because of the solar differences from his home planet. He has an indicator on his chest that blinks when time is running short. Funny how none of his enemies seem to figure this out easily.
It's like mini Godzilla movies in short twenty minute bursts, and that's what makes Ultraman: Series One, Volume One such a blast. Toho Studios were the undisputed masters of the big monster genre, and Ultraman was a wildly popular series in Japan and the United States. In Japan, Ultraman proved to be a marketing force with toys and statues all over the place. In the US the series got a nice dub from the ADR cast of Speed Racer, and was popular with kids who liked lizard monsters and big robots.
There's nothing to analyze here, because Ultraman: Series One, Volume One simply delivers the first twenty episodes of the thirty-nine episode run of the show (the special that launched the series is missing as well). Due to some licensing struggles, BCI Eclipse could not work directly with Tsuburaya studios to produce this set. The extras suffer a little because of this, but they do an awesome job with the transfer. The colors are bright and psychedelic with a nice sheen to them. The sound is clear enough, and for the first time you can choose either the English dub or the original Japanese track. It really doesn't matter much which way you decide to enjoy the show, because the English translations were faithful to the original scripts. The extras include a horribly muddled interview with the dub team recorded years ago on primitive equipment. I could barely understand what the voice actors were saying, and there is no subtitles. The monster encyclopedia contains handy text descriptions of each monster Ultraman fights. The essay in the booklet is okay for what it is, but nothing too insightful. The main thing is you get the episodes looking shiny and new in a cool package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a few problems to be found even if they are small ones. Ultraman holds up well even today, but the formula of the shows grows tiresome if you attempt a marathon viewing. The series is best appreciated in short bursts rather than extended viewings. If you don't like Mothra movies or Japanese monsters, then you won't find much to enjoy. I also found myself wishing we had interviews with Ultraman's creative team. And why split the series in two sets? Why can't I own the whole first series in one shot?
Ultraman: Series One, Volume One is a blast of Japanese science fiction that should please anybody who loves the big monsters of the Pacific Rim. It has a '60s psychedelic feel, and a distinct Japanese flavor that makes it giddy fun. BCI Eclipse has done a fine job with the transfers, even if the extras are lacking due to the studio rights struggle. I say grab this one, order some Ultraman toys from Japan, and prepare to have a blast with a great hero of Asia.
Guilty pleasure for the whole family, Ultraman: Series One, Volume One should keep you smiling for many Saturday mornings to come. It's ultragroovy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
• Interview with the English Dub Team
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