Monday, November 21, 2011

ULTRAMAN MONDAYS: Monster Lawless Zone

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

Episode 08: "Monster Lawless Zone" (catch up on past episodes) 
Original Air Date: September 04, 1966

Featured Monsters: Red King, Pigmon, Magular, Chandrah, and Suflan


The Science Patrol attempt to rescue four lost meteorologists on an island but find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a feral land of ferocious monsters and deadly plants. 


This is the Ultraman episode I've been waiting for. It has almost everything I've been looking for in Ultra-entertainment: multiple monsters for the price of one, creative monster suits, bloody monster carnage, fire, little comic relief from Ide, and - best of all - no annoying Japanese kids! Except for the fact that the whole episode takes place on a boring, rock-filled island instead of a miniature Japanese city, "Monster Lawless Zone" may just be the best episode of Ultraman yet!

Let's get ready to rumble!
The episodes begin with a brief prologue explaining that four researchers were sent to Tatara Island to reopen an observatory that had been previously shut down when the island was rendered uninhabitable because of severe volcanic eruptions. A week after returning to Tatara, the scientists have gone missing. The Science Patrol is sent in to investigate, and it becomes clear why the researchers haven't been checking in. The whole damn island is infested with giant fucking monsters! The episode doesn't wait to throw us right into the action. Once the Science Patrol team arrives, we're introduced to two of the five (yes, five!) monsters of the week.

In the left corner, weighing in at 15,000 tons, is the bat-like creature Chandrah! His opponent, the beast with the biceps, weighing in at 20,000 tons, is the saurian-shaped Red King! Both creatures are engaged in a ferocious battle. Chandrah is already wounded and bleeding from the leg while Red King grapples with the bat-creature and hurls boulders at it.

I vant to suck your blood!
Chandrah draws second blood with a penetrating bite through Red King's scales. As far as violence goes in Ultraman, "Monster Lawless Zone" has thus far proven to be the most bloody. Red King pays back Chandrah tenfold by viciously tearing off Chandrah's right wing/arm. As Chandrah nurses a bloody stump and stumbles away in defeat, Red King showboats and hurls rocks at the retreating monster.
The budget for the new Tremors sequel really took a dive
At the same time, we're introduced to a third monster -- Magular -- which burrows up from the rocks to watch the battle ensure. If the monsters on Tatara Island are this big and violent, the Science Patrol shouldn't hold out too much hope of finding survivors from the research party. Cap, the leader of the Science Patrol, mentions that there are still plenty of caves for the humans to hide, so they can't risk engaging and enraging the monsters when there's still a slim chance the scientists may still be alive in hiding. Avoiding Red King, the Science Patrol parks their Jet VTOL on the island and splits up into teams to find the missing researchers.

This is another vine mess you've got yourself into, Ide
Ide, Arashi, and Fuji (who is finally allowed to leave the command center for a mission), head into the forests where they encounter Sulfan, a species of deadly plant. Ide and Fuji are captured by animated vines. Arashi torches the vines with his Spidergun to free his team members from the vegetation's deadly grasp. Not all the monsters on Tatara are nasty, however. Ide, Arashi, and Fuji discover that friendly, child-sized small monster called Pigmon has been secretly helping to lead them to the survivors by leaving a trail of the survivors' personal items and clothes.

I don't care if it's friendly. Kill it. Kill it with fire!
Pigmon is a creepy-looking little sucker. His body is sprouting in red, kelp-like leaves and his stubby arms end in long fingers that never, ever, stop twitching, Pigmon hops around on white chicken legs like a hyperactive toad. In the cute department, he's not ET. To track the short Pigmon through the tall grass and ground vegetation, Ide uses the a balloon gun -- the most ridiculous weapon yet -- to tag Pigmon so they can always see where he is.

Can't decide if he's in the mood to rock or roll.
While Ide, Arashi, and Fuji are having fun playing balloon tag in the forest with Pigmon, Cap and Hayata (who is secretly Ultraman) face certain death on the rocky slopes of the island. They run across the ornery monster Magular blocking their path, so they attempt to destroy it with Napalm Bombs. Suddenly, Magular swipes Hayata with his tail, sending Hayata tumbling down into a rocky ravine to what surely must be his death based on the depth of the fall and the number of spine-crunching times his body slams into the rocks. Is this the end of Ultraman?

We've replaced Hayata with a cash dummy. Let's see if anyone notices.
Despite the fall, Hayata manages to survive. He's not the only miraculous survivor on Tatara. Following Pigmon, Ide, Arashi, and Fuji find the lone survivor from the research team: Mr. Matsui. They revive Matsui, and he tells them that everyone else is dead, victims of Tatara island which is truly a monster lawless zone.

"Great, I'm being saved by the Clown Patrol"
And they aren't out of danger yet! Red King soon appears and makes his way towards Matsui and the Science Patrol. The team manages to get through the radio interference to request help from Cap and Hayata, but Hayata sends Cap ahead. While everyone else cowers, the brave and butt-ugly Pigmon stands up to Red King. This noble, diminutive creature summons up a courage and a strength that rivals that of bigger and more attractive monsters. He's a shining example of the power of heart, determination, and courage. Then he dies under an avalanche and is forgotten.

The Lonely Death of Pigmon
Waiting for Cap to arrive, the Science Patrol unleashes a barrage of laser fire on Red King, actually setting fire to his body, but Red King is too large to be significantly damaged. With Cap gone, Hayata is able to retrieve the Beta capsule that transforms him into his secret identity: the giant alien superhero Ultraman. In a flash, Ultraman arrives to save the day, although he's too late for Pigmon. But no one cares about Pigmon.

"Doctor, my joints feel on fire."
Red King is a great looking monster. With his pinhead, long neck, and bulging arms, he looks like a cross between the Michelin Man and a dinosaur circus freak. The actor in the suit gives Red King an incredible amount of personality and expressiveness. I can see why Red King has become one of the most popular monsters in the Ultra series. Unfortunately, this Red King is not even close to a match for Ultraman. Ultraman tosses Red King around like a wet rag doll.

"Why you little...."
Red King is punched, kicked, body slammed, choked, and slapped around without landing one blow on Ultraman. Even more insulting for Red King, Ultraman is able to completely defeat Red King before running low on energy like he does in battle against every other monster. After last week's battle with Antlar, in which Ultraman was unable to defeat the monster, it looks like Ultraman is overcompensating here by putting Red King through one hell of a kaiju ass-whooping.

Hey, I called time out!
With all the monsters dead or defeated, the Science Patrol and Mr. Matsui gather around the graves of the fallen scientists to pontificate on life. But wait a minute. I only see three grave markers there. Where's Pigmon's memorial? Pigmon literally saved Matsui's life. Those cold, heartless bastards.

Pigmon: Gone and completely forgotten
"Monster Lawless Zone" was a welcome surprise. With five creative monsters for the price of one, a straight-forward action plot, and a high-energy final battle, what more could I ask for? True, the episode would have been better had there been some miniatures to smash, but the unexpected level of monster mayhem in this week's episode more than makes up for the banal setting. "Monster Lawless Zone" is certainly one of the best and most legendary episodes of the original Ultraman series.

Can next week's episode even hope to compete? Come back next week for more monsters and sci-fi goofiness in another installment of ULTRAMAN MONDAYS!

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. Just finished watching and was really surprised by a few things: The monster fight at the top of the episode (dick monster rips the bat's wing off!!). The fact that Hayata is knocked-out cold for a lot of it was really refreshing. And so much brutal death through to the end. Geez! Plus big-diggy monster is just around to show that there are other monsters on the island (maybe he comes back in later episode?). Wow. Really sets a level of quality that I hope gets approached again in the series. Great blog! Very happy to find someone expressing their opinion about something this specific.