Monday, July 23, 2012

ULTRAMAN MONDAYS: The Ruffian from Outer Space

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

Episode 11: "The Ruffian from Outer Space" (catch up on past episodes) 
aka. "The Rambunctious One from Space"

Original Air Date: September 25, 1966

Featured Monster: Gyango


In this comically surreal episode, a con artist terrorizes Japan with a monster he creates from a wish-fulfilling space rock that responds to people's thoughts.


It's been too long since our last installment of Ultraman Mondays, but after an extended leave of absence required by family commitments, I'm back to bring you my thoughts on the crazy world of spandex superheroics and giant monsters destroying cardboard cities.

And, wouldn't you know it, this week's episode starts off with Hoshino and his friends recreating The Human Centipede.

The Human Centipede Jr.
Fortunately, their vaguely homoerotic game is interrupted when Hoshino spots something sparkling in the sky. As a defacto junior member of the Science Patrol who routinely encounters UFOs and monsters, he goes to investigate. The only unusual thing he and his friends fine, though, is a strange stone.

Cue the music to 2001: A Space Odyssey
You'd think a kid like Hoshino, who has stared death directly in the face on countless adventures, would know not to mess around with weird shit from the sky that's probably alien, but when his friends discover that the stone will turn into anything they want -- at least for a short time -- as long as they wish for it, he doesn't dissuade them from standing around in a circle and making it turn into race cars, cakes, pianos, and all sorts of other piddle and crap. Good thing this stone didn't turn out to be the egg of some parasitic space squid or something like that.

All Hail Drum Cake! Death to the unbelievers!
To his credit, Hoshino eventually turns the stone over to the Science Patrol for tests. During a press conference held in what looks from the bareness of the room and uncomfortableness of the yellow and red plastic chairs to be a grade six classroom, we learn that the space rock is a mineral with biological qualities, a living stone that responds to people's wishes via telepathy. Despite later admitting that the stone could be a terrible weapon in the wrong hands, the scientist at the head of the press conference gives a random newspaper man the chance to come up to the front and try it out. Jesus Christ! Talk about a security risk! What if the guy wished for an atomic bomb or a new strain of anthrax? Good thing the only thing on his fucked up, sex-starved mind was a wife -- which he gets for a brief moment before she transforms into a man with a mustache (his father?). Oh man, you have issues. Let's not even start to think about what the lonely, bored men and women of The Science Patrol got up to with that stone late at night when everyone else had left the office. All I'm saying is I hope the next person to pick it up washed his hands!

He's got he whole world, in his hands
Predictably, not everyone wants to use the stone to create cakes and subservient wives. Some men have grander ambitions. One man at the press conference conspires to steal the stone by sticking a speaker to the bottom of his desk so he can communicate with the stone once he leaves. Although the lead scientist at the press conference clearly stated that the stone only responds telepathically to someone within two meters from the stone, our villain is able to tell the stone to turn into a rocket and blast out of the research via the speaker while he waits outside in the car. It seems pointless to start picking apart Ultraman for plot holes now, but the whole heist seems needlessly complicated.

And what does a nefarious villain do with a space rock that can literally turn into anything he wants?

 Well, since this is Ultraman, he conjures up Gyango: a ridiculous man-sized monster with a multicolored belly, metallic pincer hands, and rotating wind vanes protruding from its head like horns. Why? Boy, that beats me. The dude makes a big deal about how he'll be able to get millions of Yen with the stone, but without missing a beat he forgets that scheme and gets really excited about playing tricks on people. Thus ensues a bizarre montage of Gyango scaring workers at a hotel into pratfalls and dropping cakes on their own faces. My favorite part is when Gyango pops out of the pool when a photographer is taking shots of some synchronized swimmers. Who comes up with this stuff?

Lest you think this episode is going to play out like a kaiju episode of the three stooges, the criminal gets way too excited and wishes for a giant Gyango to appear, and he does: promptly destroying the ENTIRE FUCKING HOTEL FROM WITHIN in an instant. A lot of people just died.

In a major suspension of disbelief, the criminal ends up comatose despite being at the epicenter of the building's implosion. Since he's unconscious, Gyango won't be able to be called off until his conjurer wakes up. Again, I'm pretty sure that the scientist back in act two told us pretty specifically that the telepathic link only works within a two meter radius. They could just move the criminal far away, no? No? Well, they are called The Science Patrol, not The Logic Patrol after all.

Peekaboo on an apocalyptic scale
Anyways, the rest of the episode is pretty bonkers. Gyango goes on a rampage of destruction, but the actor in the suit gives the monster a lot of character. Acting like a childish cartoon come to life, Gyango toys with the heat rays mobilized to take him down, and he bounces around like a court jester to disarm his enemies. Taking the Science Patrol by surprise, he manages to knock Hayata into the water, setting up a pretty cool scene where Hayata transforms into Ultraman and erupts out of the drink. Kapoosh!

Mom! Gyango just farted on me!
The ensuing fight is surreal and playful. Ultraman hops over Gyango in a frog leap. Gyango sits on Ultraman. Ultraman tickles Gyango. Yeah. You read that right. Even Gyango ends up in the water at one point. While Ultramn fucks around, he seems oblivious to the fact that his colour timer is warning that he'll soon run out of energy and die. I can't tell if Ultraman is simply toying with Gyango or if he genuinely is unable to defeat the child-like beast. Either way, Ultraman comes off looking like quite the boob. Thankfully, the criminal eventually wakes up in his hospital bed. Saving Ultraman from any further indignity, he makes Gyango disappear.

Okay guys, wrap it up already.

Thus ends the saga of the Ruffian from Outer Space. The cheesy Gyango costume and fragile miniature cityscape plus the thin plot is pretty laughable, but mostly in a fun ironic way. I can't say I was exactly thrilled by anything in this episode aside from the completely whack-a-doodle design of Gyango and his unique physical personality. Certainly one of the most childish episodes in this  kid-centric series, "The Ruffian from Outer Space" is a prime example of Ultraman's capacity for insane kaiju insanity.

"It was such a wonderful dream. And you were there. And you, and you, and you!"
Ultraman Mondays are back! We're on a bi-weekly schedule now, so come back in two weeks for the next installment: "Cry of the Mummy".

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