Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ultraman

Ultraman with Chest Bulb ThingAs you might have inferred from my current user photo, I have recently been on a bit of an Ultraman kick. I have no idea what drove me to start Googling around on Ultraman and seeing what was out there a couple of weeks ago, but I've been a total blast revisiting one of my favorite T.V. shows from my childhood.

Waaayy back when I was a kid, my family would spend most Thanksgiving holidays at my grandmother's house in the unfortunately-named burg of Beaver, Pennsylvania. Back in those unimaginably quaint pre-cable T.V. days, the Greater Pittsburgh area didn't offer an awful lot of choice in the UHF band, so WOR TV-9 out of New York City was beamed in to give residents a bit more of a viewing selection than just the three networks.

Normally, this quirk of programming wouldn't have meant anything to me at all, save that from 1976 to 1985, WOR had a tradition of showing nothing but Godzilla movies from morning to evening on the day after Thanksgiving (Turkey Day itself was filled out by sundry King Kong flicks). To a 7-9 year old kid, this was even better than saturday morning cartoons: watching 400 foot tall radioactive dinosaurs knocking each other around like professional wrestlers was more than enough to drive me to wild heights of glee.

God bless WOR TV-9
However, being that there was only one T.V. in the household, and that my monster movie marathon was always on at the same time as the day's lineup of college football, my relatives would always reach wild depths of exasperation with me and wage lengthy battles over who got to watch what.

Anyway, from these humble beginnings came my childhood love of nearly all movies in this ilk, no matter how stupid or hokey (not to mention the attendant hilariously wound-up Crazy Eddie commercials). Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered one day that a half-hour T.V. show featuring a whole new cast of monsters and badly-dubbed heroes was available for viewing on WXON (Channel 20) in Detroit. And this came my introduction to Ultraman.

The Science Patrol In Action!The story of the original Ultraman series (not to be confused with the seemingly several dozen other series that followed) goes like this: this guy Hyata (seen standing to the right) is a member of the Science Patrol, who function kind of like the X-Files unit of the Japanese CIA, if you will. Members of this team wore these really awful loud orange suits with red ties, button-down lapels, and modded white motorcycle helmets. They also used ray guns and flew around in a kinda hybrid airplane/rocketship that launched from the top of their headquarters building (which itself was the size of a city hospital).

I should also add, by the way, that this series also had one of the fuckin' grooviest theme songs ever.

Anyway, back to the story: while flying about in outer space looking for UFOs, Hyata's rocketship collided with that of Ultraman (an advanced superbeing from neubula M78). The collision between the ships kills poor Hyata and Ultraman, feeling really bad about this, decides to make amends by resurrecting the Science Patrol officer and lending him his life force (in effect, becoming a kind of symbiote with him). Ultraman technically ceases to exist as he inhabits Hyata's body, but he can re-emerge to save the day whenever Hyata whips out his Beta Capsule in times of dire need. I realize this sounds kinda wrong, but just bear with me, here.

Now, there was a catch to this deal: Ultraman, being an alien being, doesn't adapt too well to the Earth's atmosphere and as a result can only fight giant monsters for a few minutes before he starts to freak out. Well, O.K., he doesn't so much "flip out" as a little light indicator on his chest starts flashing insistently which means "uh oh, hurry it up, pal" and lends an element of danger into his fights with other guys in rubber suits.

Ultraman Getting Ready To Kick Some AssOf course, Hyata and Ultraman being one and the same has to remain a secret. Thus, Hyata becomes a kind of Clark Kent figure at times, having to slip away from the other members of the Science Patrol in order to turn into Ultraman and kick some monster ass before all of the balsa wood sets could be completely flattened by the "guest" monster.

It wasn't long before WXON added another monster-themed show directly after Ultraman, and that was Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot, which may have shared a lot of very similar elements to its setup, but never was as outright cool as Ultraman (though it had its moments here and there).

As a final note: people currently living in Florida and complaining about the amount of hurricanes blowing through over the last two or three years are a bunch of pansy whiners. Going by the established histories set forth in Godzilla, Johnny Sokko, Ultraman and Gamera, it's glaringly obvious that during the 1960s, the major cities, industrial centers, and military forces of Japan were ravaged every week by enormous, ravenous monsters from the depths of the Pacific (or deep space in some cases). Despite these contant incursions, however, the citizens of Japan seemed to do pretty well for themselves, all things considered. As usual, we Americans have no idea just how good we have it here.

1 comment:

Baburu said...

ALL RIGHT!!! Always good to see more ultraman. Love that photo of Ultraman fighting Gomorea in Osaka!