After crashing on Earth, the heroic patrolman from planet M78 revives the fallen member of the Science Patrol, after an accident kills him which enables the special Science Patrol officer to transform into the being, in order to combat the deadly alien monster he was pursuing that’s hiding out on Earth.
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For a debut episode, this one offers some rather enjoyable elements which help to give the series some guiding points. As such, we are introduced to Ultraman and his origins, as well as the framework of what’s going to be present during the series. We learn that Ultraman is a space patrolman from the planet M78 beyond the 40th Galaxy, he had Bemular captured and was attempting to transport him to a base on another planet that acted as a prison for the creature, only for it to escape and land on Earth. In pursuit, Ultraman unknowingly crashes into Hayata attempting to follow Bemular as well, and in an act of remorse and debt, Ultraman gives him a Beta Capsule allowing him to turn into Ultraman whenever the need arises. These elements would be a large part of the series for years to come and give this a solid groundwork to build off of.
Frankly, that simplicity is what works in the episodes’ favor. Not overdoing it and wallowing in various side-tangents of taking up too much time on plot-points not needed would’ve gotten in the way here as this one introduces the alien, the hero and then tries to deal with the creature in a series of scenes that point out an increasingly obvious formula as the series went on. After the monster appears, the Science Patrol arrives with a plan to deal with it and they get close but can’t succeed, finally forcing Ultraman in to finish the job. This promises a strong, fast-paced story with a few minor bits of character development thrown about to enhance the simplistic storyline, and which allows us to get a quick glimpse of the agency and their inner workings. They look like a team that has been around together and work as a nice unit that has some experience, which adds immensely to the ease of the episode’s viewing.
The main issue with the story is that it never really develops anything on the members of the Science Patrol. All we get are the names of everyone, from Hayata, Fuji, Arashi, Ito and Captain Mura and yet barely anything remotely close to characterization is attempted on anybody. The closest we get is that Fuji works at the radio desk with the ability to head into the field only when called upon to do so, and that’s not exactly all that impressive. Granted it helps to showcase how the team has worked together before as everyone seems dutiful of observing Mura’s orders but the idea that Hayata spends so long without reporting in when he’s completely fine seems like a minor misstep in his character, as he’s gone for nearly twelve hours and then casually pops up as if he’s fine. We do get to know more about Ito, Arashi and get introduced to Hoshino in later episodes, but even something with the characters would’ve been nice. Beyond that one minor complaint, the story here is quite fun.
There’s a surprisingly strong amount of special effects packed within this. Not only do we get the two orbs for the space-ships of Ultraman and Bemular (Red and Blue, respectively) but we also have a brief space battle between them to start off before diving into the scenes on Earth. The Science Patrol is shown to have a vast array of gadgets to combat the monsters, from a special Vertical Take-Off and Lander (VTOL) jet and a submarine, the S-16 which are both capable enough models that have the requisite air of cheese to them that makes for a stellar introduction into the series. They look convincing in their execution as the wires aren’t that noticeable, especially with the movement to be found for the S-16, as it charges through the sweeping underwater canyons which never really has the wonky movement that comes from wire-controlled objects. The VTOL looks great and the weaponry is quite impressive, overall leaving this one quite enjoyable with the mechanical creations.
Moreover, there’s a lot to like with the different tactics used throughout the episode. This really reads as pretty experimental in places where it offers a lot more than expected for a small-screen show. Starting with the space-battle that shows the two colored orbs ducking and diving through space, to the shots of the different machines landing in the middle of the woods to look at the situation at hand. Also impressive is the shot of the bubbling lake surface that shows the bubbling smoke emerging off the water just before the Blue Orb lands and submerges, while the soundstage work showing the S-16 against Bemular is some of the finest underwater footage ever created under Tsuburaya’s eye. The miniatures are kept to a minimum with a few small structures around the lake that crops up for the final battle.
The rest of the episode’s special effects are rather hit-or-miss. Ultraman himself isn’t that impressive but certainly has his moments. The silver-and-red design on the costume looks great and has a distinct look, while the bulbous head with the giant eyes and distinctive ridges truly looks otherworldly and helps to see his space origins. However, the spandex used to create it doesn’t allow for much stretching and moving around, leaving Bin Furuya in the Ultraman costume to noticeably bend over and crouch for much of his appearance waiting for Bemular to launch his attacks. Basically, he’s quite stiff and doesn’t really let him do much which is a disappointment. That carries over to the monster Bemular, who is quite the underwhelming first creature that will supposedly start a kaiju craze. Essentially a slender, walking tree-trunk, the costume barely hides performer Teruo Aragaki inside and just looks clumsy which doesn’t start this on a strong note. The face could’ve looked great but overall it has a derpy look with the over-sized tongue that adds a comical look to him. Neither of these is really high marks for the series.
It’s really hard to rate the actors here since we actually don’t know much about the characters at all. Hayata, Captain Mura and Fuji are the only ones that are named in the episode, and we don’t really learn much about them at all. Captain Mura is obviously the calm, level-headed leader of the expedition leading everyone into the fray and displays a nice amount of rational thought taking the word of the police officer by erring on the side of caution to search the woods for Hayata after the accident. Fuji is the radio officer who can also function as a driver by taking a jet and heading off after Hayata when he contacts her. However, that’s the extent of the information about everyone, which should come into form at a later date.
There are two last big factors that need to be brought up. The first is the utterly infectious musical score that really leaves a big impression here by giving a lot of nostalgic charm. The opening theme is utterly catchy and infectious, setting the right tone for kids to get excited about the weekly adventures to come with a bouncy, upbeat score. The later music adds a triumphant air to the whole affair as the battling has a spectacular air to it while the remaining tracks add a child-friendly rapport to the episode and the series as a whole. Lastly, it has to be said, the battle is a little clunky and clumsy with the two basically clubbing at each other with some pushing and shoving thrown in to break it out. Considering the great battles Tsuburaya had accomplished in the Godzilla series at that time, the fighting is a tad awkward and goofy, yet there is the odd fact in that, being the first episode and getting your feet under you, it’s not entirely bad. Otherwise, there’s not much else to this one.
Remembering this is a debut episode, some of the minor flaws to this one can be overcome quite easily and it stands up rightfully as the start of the legend. This is decidedly worthwhile for all fans of giant monster movies or fans of the creative side of things, while those not wanting to go into the depths of the genre will not be won over by this one.
This review was originally published on Don’s World of Horror and Exploitation and is gratefully reprinted with their cooperation.