Monday, November 14, 2011

ULTRAMAN MONDAYS: The Blue Stone of Baraj

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

Episode 07: "The Blue Stone of Baraj" (catch up on past episodes) 

aka. "The Blue Stone of Baradhi"
 Original Air Date: August 28, 1966

Featured Monster: Antlar


The Science Patrol crash in the Middle East while investigating a meteor but must contend with a giant magnetic monster instead.


This week, Ultraman goes international. Stepping beyond the bounds of Japan, not only does "The Blue Stone of Baraj" take place in the Middle East but it also introduces a new Caucasian character: the nondescriptly named Jim from the Paris Headquarters of the international Science Patrol. Changing up the setting for this week's episode went a long way in giving new energy to the show's formula, which has already grown quite stale after only seven episodes.

While everyone else wears a look of dull surprise, Hayata thinks about strangling kittens.
The Tokyo branch of the Science Patrol is enlisted to aid in the investigation of a strange meteor that has crashed in the Middle East. The Paris headquarters sent its own investigators to the crash site, but they disappeared and there have been reports of strange occurrences in the area.

Hey kids, Geography!

Everyone but Fuji suits up for the trip. Even Jim from Paris HQ gets into uniform. Fuji is left behind without explanation, but it's a good thing too. She's conveniently around to save everyone's ass at the end of the episode, and boy will they need it.

"When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I thought it was just a metaphor."
 During the flight, the Science Patrol lose control of their jet VTOL when a cyclonic beam of shimmering light cuts through the clouds and into the sky. The energy is magnetic and threatens to pull the jet down, but Hayata manages to fly over the beam, but not without damaging the engine. Hayata can't prevent the jet VTOL from crashing into the Middle Eastern desert. Ide is injured and stays at the crash site in hopes of repairing the radio while the rest of the team heads out into the wastes to find the nearby village of Baraj.

It becomes immediately clear in this episode of Ultraman that simply setting the action out in the desert around various ruins and old Arabian temples and putting the Science Patrol out of their element does a lot to brush off the stale routine of the past seven episodes. Previous episodes have, more or less, taken place either in a city, around warehouses, or on the coast of Japan, so the desert is a welcome change of pace. The production value of the desert sets is not extravagant but detailed enough to convince us that we're not in Japan anymore, Toto. This week's monster is also a refreshing reprieve from the water-based kaiju of past weeks.

The ugliest Care Bear of them all
The Science Patrol doesn't get far; they're attacked by Antlar, a giant beetle with magnetic powers. Crawling up from the desert sand, the monster attacks the remains of the crashed VTOL and emits a magnetic rainbow beam that pulls the guns right out of the Science Patrol's hands. When Antlar recedes back into the sand, the Science Patrol make a run for the village of Baraj. Baraj, as it turns out, is mostly a ghost town. Those who do live their are elderly and listless and the most Japanese Arabs I've ever seen. No one speaks Japanese (or even badly dubbed English for that matter). No one that is, except for a lovely telepathic woman named Chartam.

If you could read my mind
Upon her arrival, Arashi promptly jizzes in his orange pants.

Chartam reveals she can read the Science Patrol's minds and, therefore, can speak Japanese. She explains that their town is protected from Antlar by the God of Noa. Unfortunately, the town has been so isolated and cut off by the monster that no new people have come to live in Baraj for decades, leaving behind only an aging population. When asked how the God of Noa protects Baraj, Chartam takes the team into a sacred temple to reveal a holy statue -- a stature of Ultraman!

Hey kids, Idolatry!
Chartam revers to the statue as the representation of the God of Noa who holds a powerful blue stone that protects the town from Antlar's devastation. Based on the statue's resemblance to Ultraman, the Science Patrol surmises that one of Ultraman's ancestors must have come to Earth 5, 000 years ago to protect the people of Baraj. The reveal is a nice way of giving Ultraman's race a sense of history and acknowledging a larger cosmic world beyond the scope of Earth, an important element that would be expanded on in later Ultraman series.

Ultraman always made sure to invite Antlar to his weekend rave parties.
  The history lesson is cut short when Antlar attacks! Trashing ancient ruins like he's got a prejudice against antiquity, Antlar provokes an old village woman into anger. She rushes out with a stick to, I guess, fight the giant monster, but she's pelted with debris. Hayata saves the woman and, slipping away from his team, takes the opportunity to transform into Ultraman. Flying into frame, he's hailed as a God, but his fight against Antlar is less than divine.

"Oh stop, that tickles."
Antlar proves difficult to catch as he burrows in and out of the sand in an attempt to trip up Ultraman. Like a bully on the beach, Antlar treats Ultraman like a 90-pound weakling by kicking sand in his face. By Ultraman standards, its a uniquely choreographed fight. Ultraman just can't get the upper-hand. Not even his powerful specium ray can penetrate Antlar's exoskeleton. Ultraman is still grappling with Antlar when his energy hits a dangerously low level. Ultraman is close to dying, and Antlar isn't anywhere near dead. If not for Cap, who runs to retrieve the magical blue stone from the temple, Ultraman surely would not have survived his battle with Antlar. Cap returns and throws the stone -- the ancient gift from the Goad of Noa -- right at Antlar. The stone explodes and Antlar dies in a shower of smoke and sparks. The beast Ultraman could not defeat is finally felled by a 5, 000 year old blue stone.

Ultraman stands pretty triumphantly for getting his ass kicked by a beetle
Not only did Ultraman almost die, but the Science Patrol is helpless to save the town of Baraj. The episode ends on a solemn note as Chartam explains that, even with Antlar dead, Baraj has been isolated and forgotten from the world for too long. The roads are gone, the silk trade is gone, and Baraj will never again be prosperous. In an uncharacteristically down-beat ending, the Science Patrol leaves Baraj to its historic fate without even completing the original mission to discover what happened to the investigators originally sent to locate the meteor. We don't even get the cathartic joy of seeing Ultraman beat the monster-of-the-week.

Another poorly rear-projected town is lost to the ravages of time
Despite Ultraman's technical loss to Antlar, and despite the bleak fate awaiting the forgotten town of Baraj, this week's episode of Ultraman has probably been the most enjoyable since "Shoot the Invader". By taking the Science Patrol out of their element, setting the action on an international scale, and playing out the Ultraman formula while still playing against expectation, I give "The Blue Stone of Baraj" a hearty recommendation for anyone looking to skip the lame duck episodes of Ultraman and focus instead on the show's best episodes.

1 comment:

  1. One of my personal favorite episodes, Antlar is definitely by far my favorite Ultra-kaiju.