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April 1, 2021

Static Age #15: Ultraseven (1967 – 1968) [Complete Series 03]

Ultraseven (1967 - 1968) BD box art

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to Ultraseven (1967 – 1968), ‘A powerful fighter defends earth from invasion’ as per the front cover tagline of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 03], which contains of all 49 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 Ultraseven’ article, an excellent introductory piece to the series, and several guides (hero, episode, kaiju, character, and key technology).


Unfortunately many of the show’s special effects won’t resonate too well with younger audiences that are more familiar with modern and excessive CGI that are generally more expensive and a mainstay of current mainstream cinema, but I come from a very different generation when things were much more simple (and quite possibly innocent too) and when Toho was telling us that this Japanese guy in a suit is an alien from outer space, we had no reason to doubt it.


Another peculiarity that might bother modern audiences is the technology and powers of Ultraseven that usually becomes available with no explanation and out of nowhere. Kids today will be confused, but for my generation the beeping sounds of random computer screens was all the futuristic technology we ever wanted, and it looked believable enough.


The special effects I most enjoyed were the toy-like miniatures, that somehow took me back to my childhood. I grew up in the 1980s and back then when we were kids, instead of wasting our times with soulless video games, we would play with all sorts of actual toys and create scenarios; they were damn good times!


Watching the series though it becomes apparent that Tsuburaya Productions Co. Ltd. upon request by the Tokyo Broadcasting System went for a more serious approach (compared to some comedic episodes of the previous two seasons), with intelligent scenarios that would appeal to adult viewers – and guess what, they were right to do so as the show became a megahit.


The debut episode ‘The Invisible Challenger’ deals with a series of sudden disappearances of unrelated citizens of Tokyo which call for the formation of the Ultra Guard team, which in turn has Dan Moroboshi (Koji Moritsugu) becoming Ultraseven, the mighty alien superhero. The almost ecological ‘The Green Terror’ has mysterious alien rocks landing in Tokyo and going as far as transforming a man into a the otherworldly plant monster Waiell. In ‘Secret of the Lake’ an alien object crashes on a mountain, releasing a black and white monster with claw-like eyes that make rounds as they slightly reach out of its head; it now has to face Ultraseven, as well as another seemingly good-hearted monster, the suit of which wouldn’t be accepted in the Carnival of Rio. In ‘Max, Respond!’, a mysterious woman is stealing the Ultra Eye spectacles, and what’s more the Godola insect-like monsters have a plan to conquer our planet. In the Rod Sterling-styled ‘Vanished Time’, time stops for a moment and brings Alien Vira to the spotlight, a monster that is interested in destroying the Ultra Guard. A mysterious shadow appears in ‘Dark Zone’ that turns out to be a familiar alien. ‘Space Prisoner 303’ is about a very evil and murderous alien with claws. In ‘The Marked Town’ some people of the city of Kitagawa start acting weird and occurrences of violence become commonplace (some of these scenes – such as the bitch-slapping one – are quite uncomfortable due to their harsh realism); what’s more Ultraseven cannot interfere, until it is revealed that Metron has polluted – the already cancerous? – cigarettes! ‘Operation Android Zero’ is about a mysterious woman and an older man that conspire with the aid of lethal toys. ‘The Suspicious Neighbor’ is a very David Lynch-like episode that takes us to the Fourth Dimension. ‘Fly to Devil Mountain’ is a Western-styled episode (complete with horse riding) about a mechanic golden dragon monster. ‘The Man who Came from V3’ is about the dangers of fuel-stealing! ‘The Ultra Guard Goes West: Part 1’ and ‘The Ultra Guard Goes West: Part 2’ are about a series of mysterious murders of foreign tourists and the eventual attack of the evil robot King Joe. ‘The Eye that Shines in the Darkness’ has a bullied kid finding a stone that helps him get through his troubles, but it also unleashes a monster. The spectacular ‘Underground Go! Go! Go!’ is about Miracle Man, a guy who survived a series of accidents. In ‘Escape Dimension X’ the Ultra Guard members are transferred to another dimension that resembles a jungle with several parasitic alien insects. ‘Project Blue’ deals with the threat of Alien Bado. In ‘Destroy Earthquake Epicenter X’, earthquakes generate one of the most impressive monsters of the series.Pursue the Undersea Base is a spectacular episode featuring the evil battleship robot Ironrocks that wreaks havoc by the docks. In the spectacular and quite eerie The Human Farm’, UFOs abduct women and implant them with parasites. In ‘Search for Tomorrow’ the Shadow aliens invade, and in the end they also unleash their monster Gublla that manages to fight even when its head gets decapitated by Ultraseven. ‘Return to the North!’ is a boring episode that takes the action to the arctic, but of course conciliation for the viewer comes in the form of a monster.Showdown at 140 Degrees Below Zero’ is also set in snow but is much more exciting. Somehow the titular Super Weapon R1’ manages to give birth to a super exciting bird-like monster that Ultraseven has to take down. ‘Operation Cyborg’ is a very psychedelic episode, although still monster-centric, as less care is given to the more casual human doings on screen. In ‘The 700 Kilometer Run’, Dan and his team from the Ultra Guard face a series of bombings, in a literally exploding episode that is unlike no other, and also widely satisfying. In ‘The Earthling All Alone’, an alien spy masquerading as an evil scientist, is also a monster that Ultraseven will have to face. ‘Glory for Whom?’ is a peculiar episode about a traitor within the forces of Ultra Guard, and unique and original as it is, it becomes one of the best episodes of the series. In ‘The Flower Where the Devil Dwells’ Ultraseven has to downside himself in order to get inside an ill woman, via her nose, and find Dallie, a spider-like monster. The Ultra Eye does not work in ‘The Strolling Planet’, so Ultraseven must get creative! ‘The Invading Dead’ are just what they sound like, alien zombies that even manage to shrink Ultraseven! Standing still and in trance, the habitants of The Vanishing City’ have to face the temporarily evil side of Ultraseven. ‘Terror on the Moon’ is about the results of a mysterious explosion.


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


The Alienist - Season 2 promotional picture
The 2nd (and final) season of The Alienist (2018 – 2020) is titled Angel of Darkness, and finds the protagonist group of the previous season namely the alienist Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), the illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) who has now left the police for a career as a private detective, returning in order to tackle a new series of murders, this time more gruesome than the last as the killer is targeting infants! More feminist than the previous entry and definitely more eerie, this 8-episode outing is a winner as the series went out with a bang.


Twin Peaks (2017) promotional logo
The sole season of Twin Peaks (2017), is mostly referred as the 3rd season because it is essentially a continuation of the same-titled series from the early 1990s (spotlighted in this column’s previous installment). This outing consists of 18 episodes (the first is of feature-length) and is about another murder that plagues the rural town of that is inhabited by the weirdest characters of Twin Peaks (most of the cast returns, including Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Kimmy Robertson, David Duchovny in drag, and series creator David Lynch; newcomers include Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and the legendary Robert Forster). Offering the sort of misogynist imagery in which a young girl in her underwear is punched in the face by a fully-dressed older man before she gets murdered, this makes for a very uncomfortable viewing. The question is “Is it future, or is it past?” and the answer is “Fire walk with me”, but Lynch is trying so desperately to be weird, that it is unauthentic and therefore borders on the ridiculous. Having said that, at least it seems that everybody in the production department seems to have put a lot of care into this, maybe more than its creator. During the end credits of most episodes a different modern band is featured and they offer some of the best music you’re ever likely to hear on television, so this works as a redeemer.


Appropriately taking its title from the pulp predecessors, the 1st season of Penny Dreadful (2014 – 2016) is set in Victorian London and teams up explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), gun expert Ethan Chandler (the show’s American casting touch Josh Hartnett), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and medium Vanessa Ives (the gorgeous-beyond-belief but also very peculiar Eva Green), in order to fight against a series of supernatural occurrences and their dark pasts. Many other interesting characters from the era also show up, such as Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney) and professor Van Helsing (David Warner), and creator John Logan’s show sounds like it could easily turn up into a mess, but it is an extraordinary work of horror and fantasy, very well-calculated and thrilling throughout. The all-star cast also includes Billie Piper.


Doctor Who - Season 8, featuring Peter Capaldi
The 8th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is introducing the classy Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, while the gorgeous Jenna Coleman returns as his sidekick Clara. In the feature-length ‘Deep Breath’ the duo has to deal with a dinosaur and a group of bad robots. ‘Into the Dalek’ finds the Doctor and Clara within an actual Dalek! ‘Robot of Sherwood’, the Doctor and Clara team up with Robin Hood (Tom Riley) in order to fight against an alien conspiracy. In the very creepy ‘Listen’, Doctor and Clara come face to face with ghosts from the future and the past that take them as far as the end of the universe. ‘Time Heist’ is featuring the arch-villain the Architect who plans to rob the universe’s most secure bank. ‘The Caretaker’ is introducing the outright creepy Skovox Blitzer. ‘Kill the Moon’ is a fascinating episode which brings Clara to the titular dilemma, posed when she realizes that that planet is in fact a giant egg, nesting ugly spiders. The title of ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is self-explanatory. In ‘Flatline’ the Tardis gets smaller, the Doctor is trapped inside, and Clara has to temporarily take his place against a graffiti killer! In ‘In the Forest of the Night’ civilization has a growing tree problem. In ‘Dark Water’ and its second part entitled ‘Death in Heaven’, Clara’s boyfriend (Samuel Anderson) dies, and she, along with the Doctor, try to bring him back from the Nethersphere, but in doing so they also release hordes of Cybermen.


And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…


The Bizarro Encyclopedia of Film Volume 1 (2019, Fungasm Press) by John Skipp and Heather Drain is featuring 26 lengthy articles on a wide range of cult films (the authors’ definition of the term is really broad). Both renowned writers offer knowledge and passion, resulting in a product that is both informative and entertaining. I finished the 400+ pages tome in one 10-hour go because I could simply not put the thing down. It comes highly recommended and I look forward to further volumes.


We live in wonderful times, since the invaluable The Rialto Report’s Ashley West and April Hall just co-wrote and published smut legend John Amero’s autobiography entitled American Exxxtasy: My 30-Year Search for a Happy Ending (2020, FAB Press). Expectedly, Amero’s story is awe-inducing, from his early work with the Findlays to producing one of the first hardcore features, and from gay pornography to primetime television. It comes highly recommended and I hope West and Hall assist even more people from the golden age of New York’s 42nd Street to tell their stories.


Elena Gorfinkel’s dissertation-turned-book lewd looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s (2017, University of Minnesota Press) is one of those wonderful academic books that although they always remain deep and analytical they also manage to somewhat be enjoyable as well; it is also a valuable addition to the understudied academic angle of the pre-hardcore exploitation nudies.


Speaking of these two last porno-centric books, I would also like to add that I just finished my binge through the entire catalog of episodes of the wonderful Porno Cultures podcast (which you can find on Spotify), a very informative (and often entertaining as well) academic show about all sorts of pornographic material, with a bold focus on queer writings and projections.

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