Monday, October 17, 2011

ULTRAMAN MONDAYS: Five Seconds Before the Explosion

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

Episode 04: "Five Seconds Before the Explosion" (catch up on past episodes)
Original Air Date: August 7, 1966

Featured Monster:  Ragon


A nuclear bomb lost at sea is found attached to the body of a giant, angry sea monster who goes on a rampage outside the Mamiyama Hotel where Fuji and Hoshino are vacationing. Ultraman must stop the mutated monster without detonating the devastating device.


I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Finally, we get to an episode of Ultraman that combines the two things I hate most: cheap monster suits and kid sidekicks. It's an episode so boring that even my DVD player didn't want me to see it. On my Ultraman DVDs, "Five Seconds Before the Explosion" suffered from some serious skippage, so there won't be many screencaps. Honestly, you won't be missing much.

The episode begins with Fuji, the token female on the Science Patrol, taking leave to go on a vacation at the seaside Mamiyama Hotel. Her male colleagues at the Science Patrol give her a hard time about going alone before she explains that she'll have a companion. Scandalous! Who could this young man be? Oh, it's just Hoshino, the annoying little boy in short pants that the Science Patrol inexplicably permits to tag along on their adventures. Adventures, by the way, that put the little shit in constant danger. Now they're going to let him go off -- unsupervised -- on a vacation with an adult woman? High School teachers have done less with their students to get suspected of sexual abuse. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

While Fuji is away, the Science Patrol turns their attention to more serious matters. They must track down a lost nuclear bomb after a rocket carrying six nuclear bombs to Jupiter crashed into the ocean. All of the unexploded bombs have been recovered, but one is still unaccounted for. It soon surfaces as stuck to the skin of a giant monster bearing a resemblance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The creature is clearly pissed off. It destroys a large freighter ship and then proceeds inland to attack the hotel where Fuji is staying. While the Science Patrol is surprised by the giant size of the monster, they talk about the creature as if its existence is as common as the domestic dog. They even know its name -- Ragon -- and that it loves music. You'd think that Science Patrol had been creeping Ragon's Facebook profile or something. Where are they getting this information?

Some herp, but less derp in black and white
Although it's never explained in the episode, Ragon is actually a species of human-sized creature from the show Ultra Q, which preceded Ultraman. In Ultra Q, the Ragon were encountered when one of the species came on land to retrieve a Ragon egg. During this encounter, the investigators learned that Ragon could be soothed and lured with music. When the Science Patrol speaks of familiarity about the Ragon and its love of music, Ultraman is establishing itself firmly in continuity with Ultra Q. Viewers that only know Ultraman, however, are left to assume that the Science Patrol is drawing up battle plans based on facts they've pulled straight out of their asses.

If you think fish stink, wait until you smell their breath
The Ragon suit looks flimsy and boring, with an opening and closing mouth that reveals holes in the back of its throat -- what I assume are either sight or ventilation holes for the poor suit actor toiling away in this abomination of green latex and floppy plastic frills. The monster tromps around a poorly designed miniature forest or is rear-projected into the background. The only thing that makes the Ragon character a threat is that its exposure to nuclear radiation has transformed it from a pathetic human-sized creature into a pathetic 40-meter tall creature with atomic breath. If it weren't for the bomb attached to Ragon, Ultraman could have made filet of fish out of him in the opening minutes of the episode. Then again, when Ultraman does confront Ragon, it doesn't take much for him to remove the nuclear explosive. That nuclear bomb is pretty hardy too. For all the worries about it exploding, it gets kicked around a lot before the detonation sequence is initiated.

Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care (that you look shitty)
This week's monster is wholly uninteresting and the fights are uninspiring, but whenever Ragon and Ultraman are not on screen we're forced to watch a boring subplot with Fuji and Hoshino getting into danger. Even worse, Fuji and Hoshino get pressured into taking care of a young girl named Michiko who rivals even Hoshinio in obnoxiousness and uselessness. Why oh why did Fuji and Hoshino rush back into the hotel to save the sleeping Michiko when Ragon attacked?

The only good part of the episode is the conclusion when Ultraman destroys Ragon. Why don't we just watch that? Let the dry-humping monster fight ensue!

In the end, I was completely disappointed by this week's episode of Utlraman. I can take a shitty costume, and I can take annoying kid sidekicks, but I can't take both together. Let's hope that next week's episode sees Hoshinio getting squashed in the first minute.

Even though this episode's fishy monster clearly stunk, don't forget that underwater the fish never stink.

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