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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Science Fiction > Horror > Camp > Giant Monsters > Superhero > Japan > TV > Ultraman – Series One, Volume One

Ultraman – Series One, Volume One


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Episodes: B



One of the most important live-action series of the 1960s is one of the most influential of all time, but has not been seen often since its late 1970s syndication in the U.S. despite its importance.  A combination of the best the British TV producer Gerry Anderson was doing with his SuperMarionation shows like Thunderbirds and the immensely successful Japanese giant monster cycle spearheaded by the phenomenal success of Godzilla, the original Ultraman is a show with a much larger following in the U.S. alone than anyone realizes.


The story follows The Science Patrol, an important Japanese institution on the frontline of discovering the latest breakthroughs and threats to the country.  One day, when a mysterious space ship is traveling the land.  The particularly alert and ambitious Hayata tails the ship, which leads to an accident that kills him.  However, the ship from Nebula M-78 contains a superior alien force who accepts full responsibility for the accident to the extent that he sacrifices his life to Hayata so he can live.  Furthermore, when the threat becomes too deadly and dangerous he will be able to turn himself into this noble alien and become known as the powerful, skillful, kinetic fighter Ultraman.


He does this by pressing a giant space capsule (looking like a large fountain pen, sort of) to transform and his ability to use or not use it adds to some scenes of suspense.  When full size, the only catch is that Ultraman gets his power from the sun (like Superman) but runs out of strength quickly in earth’s atmosphere, so an alarm goes off in his chest (like Iron Man) and he needs to break free and reenergize to defeat any alien or prehistoric threat he takes on.  The show has one of Godzilla’s producers to the point the original Godzilla costume (not so cleverly disguised with a gill of some sort) even takes on the hero in an episode.  The result was the first Japanese export to be a big international hit and a series that became the foundation for Japanese action TV and Animé as we know it.  Often imitated and even revived, it has never been topped, though the remarkable Shaw Brothers Super Inframan (reviewed elsewhere on this site) was the ultimate response to the show and giant monster mania a few years after the wild Destroy All Monsters.


BCI Eclipse has issued the first 20 shows (first half of the series) on three DVDs in convenient slender cases, but to have the show finally arrive on DVD is one of the big pop culture events of the year that is guaranteed to only pick up in sales, discussion and set off a new series of fans to join the ones who miss the show badly.  Like the giant monster films that inspired it, the costumes and fake cities are as gloriously phony and fun as ever, but take on a new fun and greatness in the face of the deluge of terrible-upon-arrival digital video effects just about everyone is sick and tired of.  The show has a real energy and joy to it that the best such shows have and to say it also emulated some of the original Avengers series in its style (and not just the 1960s in general) is valid.  This is the show’s 40th Anniversary and it is nice to see a somewhat lost classic finally getting its due.


The 1.33 X 1 image is a mixed bag of good color, classic giant rubber suits, interesting color and prints that lack some detail variously throughout.  I had hoped for a bit more detail than we got here, but these are still very watchable and these should do fine until HD versions arrive.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono comes for the first time here with the original Japanese audio and the classic, beloved original English dub with the same voice cast that dubbed the original (and only) animated Speed Racer.  The combination is fine for its age, but BCI Eclipse is doing HD-DVD and this series should be one of its top candidates.  Also be sure to catch the optional English subtitles, since they are different from the English dub and very, very interesting alternatives to the dialogue.


Extras include a nice full color, illustrated booklet with excellent essay and episode guide for this set, stills section explaining all the monsters, the shorter and quicker U.S. opening credits which make for an interesting comparison to the longer Japanese ones and a great interview piece with voice actors Peter Fernandez, Corrine Orr (Trixie from Speed Racer, she is charming and is also heard in the U.S. theme song from the series) and the late Earl Hammond.  They talk about Speed Racer and this series, which will make fans of both very happy.  Even the box is nicely designed, so overall, BCI Eclipse can cal this one another winner.  For fans of the series, especially those who have not seen the show in the 1970s (unless they got the VHS and more recently overpaid for the few copies that got made), Ultraman could not return fast enough.  We look forward to the concluding set for the original series soon, but pick this one up ASAP!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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