Back in the late sixties, while North Americans were enjoying William F. Dozier’s inspired camp version of Batman, Japan was enjoying the exploits of a much bigger superhero – Ultraman – in a show modestly entitled Ultraman – A Special Effects Fantasy Series! Though it was, basically, a man-in-a-rubber-suit monster series, it was fast-paced science fiction fun. After a false start elsewhere, Ultraman: The Complete Series has finally hit stores thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment.
The 50-foot alien was actually an intergalactic cop from the M78 Nebula who had chased an alien monster, Bemular, to Earth. In his pursuit, he accidentally causes a International Science Police Organization [Japan] aircraft to crash critically injuring the pilot, Shin Hayata [Susumu Kurobe]. To save Hayata, he merges with the pilot – providing him with a “Beta Capsule” that calls forth the alien form of Ultraman. Naturally, the superheroic Ultraman can fly, has physical fighting skills and can generate an energy beam [among other things] – but under the rays of Earth’s sun, he can only appear for a limited time before he weakens and dies.
Hayata, one of the five members of Science Special Search Party in Japan, was the good-looking, laconic type that we’ve seen in everything from westerns and detective films to samurai movies – and also the team’s second-in-command and duty officer. The other members of the team were the team commander, Captain Toshio “Cap” Muramatsu [Akiji Kobayashi]; Daisuke Arashi [Iyoshi Ishii], the team’s rotund tough-guy marksman; Mitsuhiro Ide [Masanari Nihei], the team’s science whiz/inventor, and Akiko Fuji [Hiroko Sakurai], the radio/communications officer – and most capable member of the team after Hayata. A young boy, Isamu Hoshino [Akihide Tsuzawa], is the team’s unofficial mascot and more enthusiastic than smart. Bin “Satoshi” Furuya played Ultraman.
Although the writing wasn’t necessarily brilliant, one thing the series didn’t lack was imagination. Over the course of its thirty-nine episodes [originally broadcast from 1966-69], the team faced aliens that spat energy [Ultra Operation 1 – subtitled Space Monster Bemular appears]; multiplied and possessed human bodies [Defeat the Invaders!], and mirrored Ultraman [The Brother From Another Planet]. Then there was the meteorite that made a con man’s wishes come true [The ruffian From Outer Space], the mysterious ray that brought a child’s sketch to horrific life [The Space Ray of Terror].
Because of the writers’ imaginations, it doesn’t matter, even now, that the miniatures couldn’t match the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The rubber suits don’t matter, and even the various cobbled together weapons don’t matter. Ultraman: A Special Effects Fantasy Series is, to this day, pure fun.
Note: As with the majority of Mill Creek releases, the package’s four discs are contained in black paper and cellophane envelopes.
Features: Interviews with the American Voice Cast; a Kaiju [Monster] Encyclopedia.
Grade: Ultraman: The Complete Series – B
Grade: Features – D+
Final Grade: B-