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June 2, 2020

Static Age #10: Ultraman (1966 – 1967) [Complete Series 02]

Ultraman (1966 - 1967) [Complete Series 02] BD box art.
This Static Age is focusing on Ultraman (1966 – 1967), ‘Protector of the universe’ as per the front cover tagline of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 02], which contains of all 39 episodes in their original Japanese (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) with optional English subtitles and a stunning 1080p High-Definition 1.33:1 transfer. The set also comes with a gorgeous booklet that is featuring the ‘The Birth of Ultraman’ and ‘Series History’ articles, both excellent introductory pieces to the series, and several guides (episode, monster, character, and key technology).

The show is about the titular giant alien that arrives on Earth from the Land of Light in Nebula M78 when he was hunting a monster. However, when Ultraman comes in contact with Science Special Search Party he comes to the understanding that he must stay on our planet in order to assist us with the threats of more giant monsters and the like. This is Tsuburaya Production’s first series in color and its remarkable success both in its homeland Japan and abroad in the U.S. spawned a franchise unlike no other, one that is churning up good product to this day.

It’s funny how the voice-over takes Ultraman’s side, sounding a bit like a speaker of a sports match that supports one of the competing teams. The episodes were shot in three blocks (each shooting block responsible for turning up with 13 episodes), and Ultraman had a slightly different costume for each block. ‘Ultra Operation No. 1’ is the origin story in which Ultraman arrives at Lake Ryugamori where he will also fight his first enemy, the monstrous Bemular. In ‘Shoot the Invader’, the Baltan monsters spread terror by freezing humans but as it is to be expected Ultraman is on the rescue. In ‘Science Patrol, Move Out’ the monster Neronga that was buried by a samurai in a well is apparently still alive and also has the power to make itself invisible! In ‘Five Seconds Before the Explosion’ an atomic bomb brings to life a mutated monster called Ragon, and now Ultraman must destroy it and also prevent the detonation of further atomic bombs.The Secret of the Miroganda’ is about the titular flower that is protected by the Greenmons monster which looks like a combination of a plant and a green blob. Guesra, the amphibious Brazilian monster attacks the coast of Tokyo in ‘The Coast Guard Command’. ‘The Blue Stone of Baradhi’ is featuring an overtly ambitious plot that takes its action from Turkey to France, only to settle in the titular ancient city where an Ultraman statue has kept the Antlar monster buried in the sand; that is until now, when the aforementioned monster that resembles a beetle with a mouth that looks like a vagina and is guarded by two claws, essentially creating an overall uncomfortable ‘vagina dentata’ situation. As its title suggests, ‘The Monster Anarchy Zone’ is about a mash-up of many monsters, the most terrifying of them being Red King. It is in this episode that the series, despite how children-friendly they are, started employing the occasional gore scene and the monsters bleed. ‘Lightning Operation’ is an unremarkable episode starring a Gabora monster. ‘The Mysterious Dinosaur Base’ is about a mad scientist (is there any other kind?) that fascinated with his experiments goes as far as to create dinosaurs; it is now up to Ultraman to put things back to order but he will also find time to detach part of a monster and to utilize it as a provocation in the style of Spanish bullfighters. In the comedic but thoroughly entertaining ‘The Rascal from Outer Space’ a shooting star stone that took liquid form managed to create the Gango monster. The first half of ‘Cry of the Mummy’ is fascinating because it is actually about a mummy-like monster, but the second half is introducing us to the ridiculous Dodongo creature that Ultraman gets to ride rodeo-style and the entire thing falls apart. ‘Oil S.O.S.’ is about the titular monster Pestar that consumes great amounts of – you guessed it – oil, and sets miniature facilities on fire; that is until Ultra man employs his (literally) handy Ultra Water Stream power and extinguishes the fires. ‘The Pearl Defense Directive’ is about the Gamakugira monster that has an appetite for expensive pearls. In ‘Terrifying Cosmic Rays’ the pathetic Gavadon monster comes to life thanks to a kid’s drawing. In the amazing ‘Science Patrol Into Space’ episode, a whole lot of Baltans (the awesome bipedal monsters with claws) attack and it is now up to Ultraman to save us, but he will need to employ his teleportation power, something that drains a lot of his life level as shown in the light on his chest. ‘Passport to Infinity’ is featuring the laughable Bullton monster. In ‘Brother from Another Planet’, the Zarab monsters transforms into an evil Ultraman (essentially the same suit, but with modified and differently colored eyes) who will of course fight the good Ultraman; the episode is particularly well-lit, especially during the foggy scenes in the shadows that play like a thriller. In ‘Demons Rise Again’ the Banila and Aboras monsters fight each other in a spectacular battle. ‘Terror on Route 87’ is suffering by the employment of some very awkward-looking stock footage with which the main actors interact sans proper eye-line matching. ‘Breach the Wall of Smoke’ is featuring some of the most spectacular scenes of (miniature) destruction in the series, courtesy of the turtle-like creature Kemular, or as is also known the Poison Gas Monster. ‘Overthrow the Surface’ is atmospheric and creepy, featuring the eerie Underground people that have no eyes and that unleash the Telesdon monster. ‘My Home is Earth’ is featuring the spectacular Jamila monster that throws flames from its mouth! The fascinating ‘The Undersea Science Center’ is featuring a shark-like monster (before they were cool) with a driller-like nose that can dig a hole in the ground and cause destruction as well; it is of course up to Ultraman to save the day again, but the episode is mostly memorable due to its brief but breathtaking underwater sequences. Three monsters, Guigass, Dorako, and Red King II show up in ‘The Mysterious Comet Tsuifon’ and it is up to Ultraman to bring things back to order. ‘The Monster Highness: (Part 1)’ and ‘The Monster Highness: (Part 2)’ feature the Gomora creature, not to be confused with the same-titled Italian gangster series.

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent shows…

Freud - Season 1 poster art.
Set in 1880 in Vienna, the 1st season of Netflix’s Freud (2020 – ongoing), a German/Austrian co-production, is about the titular psychoanalyst (played par excellence by Robert Finster) and his input in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders, among the ridicule of his profession by fellow doctors. In the meanwhile, a mysterious and beautiful woman Fleur Salome (the immensely gorgeous Ella Rumpf) as well as her personal demon Taltos (from the Hungarian mythology) will become Freud’s first real patient and by working in this case he will be shaped into the professional and human being that he was. These series don’t really know what they want to be, as sometimes they bear the sensibilities of a gothic melodrama and others opt for gross-out gore, and what’s more sometimes they go for a supernatural and dreamy approach, while others they opt for violent realism, but whatever they do, they do it great.

Based upon a graphic novel, Netflix’s Locke & Key (2020 – ongoing) is about the Locke siblings that after the mysterious murder of their father, they move with their mother to a secluded house, in which they discover a number of magical keys that help them enhance the dimensions of their lost one’s world. This modern gothic melodrama is never tiresome at only 10 episodes long, and it is also good proof that comic books are nowadays much more intelligent than the basic super-heroic and comedic stuff that my generation was reading back when we were kids. The series’ cutest aspect is the Savini Squad which is basically a group of nerdy filmmakers that try to make a splatter/monster movie and while doing so they also offer tons of geeky horror movie references; what’s more, Tom Savini himself also provides a cameo. The season finale is genuinely creepy.

Unorthodox (2020) art featuring Shira Haas as Esty.
Based upon a real story, Netflix’s limited series Unorthodox (2020), consists of four episodes (about an hour long each), and it is about the story of young bride Esty (Shira Haas, delivering what has to be the most powerful performance in a television series of the last decade – I simply can’t imagine how she copped with its demands) who flees from an arranged marriage (I consider those to be forced marriages in one way or another) and her strict and orthodox Jewish community in New York, in order to find a new life in Berlin (the city and its culture are portrayed very realistically here) as a pianist where her lesbian mother also lives. Stressful and stomach-churning, this is important story-telling and these excellent series should be seen by all, if only in order for such dreadful cultures to be exposed. If you thought only Christians and Muslims are bananas, wait until you see this.

The Mandalorian - Season 1
The 1st season of Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian (2019 – ongoing), created by Jon Favreau and consisting of 8 episodes, is about the titular helmet-wearing and cape-boasting pistolero (Pedro Pascal) who comes to the rescue of baby Yoda, and as a result the internet breaks down, overwhelmed in cuteness. Owing more to spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than anything George Lucas ever directed, this is featuring a version of the New Republic that resembles the old west, rather than the space opera aesthetics that the franchise had us used to. It is only occasionally exciting and visually pleasing, but most of the times it is tedious and boring.

The 6th season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – ongoing) finds the titular heroes where the last season left them, namely all around the galaxy looking for Phil Coulson (Clark Cregg) who this time returns as the mysterious Sarge and along with his team of aliens they have evil plans. The real villain of the season though is Izel (Karolina Wydra), who has already destroyed many planets and won’t hesitate to perform the dirty deeds again. The concept is tired at this stage, but the special effects keep getting better and better, and they do include anything imaginable, from spaceships to mummy-like baddies and from bat-like creatures to zombie-like abominations. The plot is all over the place, but strangely it works.

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