Monday, October 10, 2011

ULTRAMAN MONDAYS: Charge Forth, Science Patrol

Every Monday I review an episode from the classic Ultraman television series.

Episode 03: "Charge Forth, Science Patrol" (catch up on past episodes)
Original Air Date: July 31, 1966

Featured Monster:  Neronga


The construction of a new power plant at Mount Iwami awakens a roaring, invisible creature that feeds on electricity. The Science Patrol and Ultraman must stop the monster before it brings down Japan's power grid.


This week's episode of Ultraman is nowhere near as interesting as last week's "Shoot the Invader," but what it lacks in story it makes up for in explosions and brutal monsters mashing. In fact, this week's monster battle is an unforgettable for two reasons. First, this episode marks the first time Ultraman's Color Timer weakness is canonized. Second, this may be the first time a monster gets so savagely beat up that I feel sorry for it.

A monster's eye view.
The episode begins with Science Patrol member Akiko Fuji investigating an old well nearby a power station on Mount Iwami. Strange noises have been emitting from the well, and the Science Patrol doesn't seem to have anything better to do than waste resources investigating weird sounds. With that being said, I'd wager that they didn't classify "Operation Well" as a priority mission since they only send Akiko, the token female member of the team. Tagging along with her is Hoshina, a random little boy who often accompanies the Science Patrol on their adventures. Now, in the English dub it's suggested that Hosino is Akiko's brother, but in the Japanese dub he's just some little kid. A little kid that a high-tech, high-profile super-science section of the Japanese government lets tag along on dangerous missions involving monsters and aliens. Is he on some kind of extended field trip with school? Where are his parents? Where are Japan's child protection laws, for that matter?

As usual, Hoshino does something incredibly stupid; he climbs down into the well and runs into a giant monstrous eye. The monster behind the eye is enraged and rises up out of the ground -- but we can't see it. The giant creature is - DUN DUN DUUUUUN! -  invisible. The only thing we can see is the path of destruction in its wake and the giant footprints in the ground that appear to materialize out of thin air. Meanwhile, the beast's emergence from beneath the earth causes a collapse in the well that traps Hoshino and Akiko inside.

Blue Blazers = Serious Business.
At Science Patrol HQ, the team is monitoring power drainage from Mount Iwami when they get news that an earthquake has collapsed the area where Akiko and Hoshino are investigating. Fearing their colleagues dead, they fly to the site and encounter the destruction left by the monster. They also find Akiko and Hoshino alive after they found a tunnel out of the cave and to the ocean. All together, they witnesses a large invisible force begin to tear up the power station. As the sparks fly,  the invisible creature flickers into view.

Why So Serious?
Meet Neronga. A re-dressing of the Baragon costume from Toho's Frankenstein Conquers the World, Neronga is a sometimes-quadruped with a large horn at the end of its face. He also has yellow plates down its back and two smaller antenna/antlers that rotate from laying against the head to a position sticking straight in order to discharge an electrical attack. It's hard to recognize Neronga as the old Baragon costume because Neronga is sporting a new head with a very ghastly mouth overflowing with teeth. Check out those lips. Looks like Neronga lets a blind French prostitute apply his lipstick before leaving the house.

The inspiration for Elton John's song "Electricity"
The Science Patrol proves wholly ineffective in stopping the beast. Neronga even manages to take now Arashi with a well-timed electrical bitch slap. As quickly as he arrived, Neronga disappears back invisibility and slinks away. Based on their brief observations from this fight, the Science Patrol concludes that Neronga is an ancient Japanese monster that had once been defeated by a samurai in the Edo period and imprisoned in the well. It had been feeding off the electricity from the power plant and growing to colossal size. The monster is only visible, however, after it has fed on electricity. Either the Science Patrol is good and making lucky guesses, or someone slipped them a copy of the script. There's no way they could figure this much out about Neronga so quickly. But this episode is all about getting the exposition out of the way so we can get back to the monster mashing.

Yo dawg, I heard you liked boats
Science Patrol narrows down Neronga's next meal ticket - the closest intact power plant --  so they rush to protect it. They can't shut down the power and deprive the nearby citities of electricity, so they have to wait until the monster attacks to evacuate the employees. And attack he does!

All your power stations are belong to Neronga
Neronga tears the ever-loving hell out of the facility in his quest for delicious electricity. So where's Ultraman? Beats me. Hayata, Ultraman's human alter ego, sure takes his sweet time deciding to activate the Beta capsule so he can turn into the cosmic hero. Even Hoshido gets in a shot before Ultraman hits the scene.

Again, who the hell is looking after this kid? Will someone get him some pants, please?
Going off on a bend that would make Captain Ahab proud, Hoshido scoops up one of the Science Patrol laser cannons and gets some revenge on Neronga for trapping him and Akiko underground. Now here's where things start to get surprisingly violent. The blast actually sets Neronga's face on fire. You literally see Neronga's right eye burst into flames. For a moment, the suit is on fire.

Holy smoking eye sockets, Ultraman!
Rarely have any of the creatures on Ultraman actually been physically damaged by the Science Patrol or Ultraman. Sure, they get pummeled and shot with beams, only to later explore, but we've yet to see anyone inflict an actual wound. Well, Neronga's day isn't about to get much better.

Ultra Head Lock
The fighting that takes up the rest of the episode isn't the most exciting to watch. Yes, there are a lot of explosions, but there's also a lot of fumbled grappling and tossing. On the other hand, this battle is an important one in Ultraman history because it is the first time that we're treated to the voice over explaining Ultraman's Color Timer warning. Ultraman's solar energy is quickly depleted on Earth, so when the light on his chest begins to blink he must revert back to Hayata before the timer stops. If the timer stops, Ultraman dies. Usually, Ultraman's Color Timer starts to blink only a few seconds into his fight. He's about as fuel efficient as a 2011 Bugatti Veyron with a hole in the tank. Nevertheless, the blinking of the Color Timer is always a clue that the battle is about to kick into high gear. Ultraman needs to finish things pronto!

Sweet Chin Music
After delivering a series of crushing blows to Neronga, Ultraman takes Neronga by the bottom lip, grasps his horn, and smashes Neronga's face over his knee, snapping off the horn which is vital to Neronga's electric attack. Half-blind and inhumanely de-horned, Neronga flails around wildly on the ground until Ultraman picks him up and hurls him a few feet away. Neronga twitches and lays lifeless, but Ultraman's not done yet. Unleashing his Specium Ray, Ultraman blows up Neronga's motionless carcass in a shower of foam rubber.

Let's fly off into the sunset and celebrate the brutal death of one of life's rarest creatures
All Neronga wanted to do was eat. Did he deserve to be so brutally maimed and murdered by a space cop in silver latex? Last week, Ultraman gave the much more sinister Baltan Seijin an opportunity to explain what it wanted before killing it, but I guess Neronga gets no love at all. The Japanese prove that they don't play games when you mess with their infrastructure, and Ultraman proves he can be a cold-stone killer when he wants to. 

What am I supposed to make of this show's monster fights? The first episode was cheesy, the second episode was exciting and inventive, and this week's episode was surprisingly graphic. I don't know what to make of Ultraman yet, but I'm excited for next Monday's new installment: "Five Seconds Before the Explosion"

Don't forget to visit the MONSTER DATABASE for detailed profiles on all the creatures we encounter on Ultraman and the other movies I review.

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