How did TV pop culture survive before the internet? Kids growing up in the mid-’70s struggled since all the information about cool TV shows wasn’t tucked away in the town library. Kids lived off rumors and lame reports in TV Guide. Information about international TV shows were even more hard to find. Case in point was the highly popular Ultraman series that ran on UHF stations. This was a fantastic Japanese TV series about a giant alien in silver and red who defended the Earth from other giant aliens. It was made by people who worked on Godzilla so it featured the Surgeon General’s recommended daily allowance of men in rubber monsters battling. Being an elementary school kid in the South during the ’70s really cut into having a complete picture of Japanese TV shows for the ’60s. Once the 39 episodes had played through a couple times, Ultraman took the skies. We had no idea that the Ultra series hadn’t stopped production across the Pacific. We didn’t even have a clue that Ultraman was the follow up to Ultra Q. Little did we also know that was a sequel series that was hidden away in Japan. UltraSeven: The Complete Series contains the precious episodes that were denied to a generation of kids 36 years ago.
The finale of Ultraman had the silver protector leave the Earth to return home. Could there really be more? As long as their are model cities to stomp, the planet will be a magnet for giant monsters. The Ultra Guard is an elite unit of the Terrestrial Defense Force. They have the most cutting edge of technology, vehicles and weapons for batting intergalactic threats. What original six Ultra Guard members don’t know is that their seventh members is their best weapon. Dan Moroboshi is an alien who can transform into a red and silver protector. He gets known as UltraSeven. Unlike Ultraman who merged with an earthling for his human identity, UltraSeven merely has a human disguise. He also didn’t have a set time limit for how long he could fight monsters. Not that he wanted to have an hour long Ric Flair title match with the critters from outer space. He was out to nip these monsters in the bud.
UltraSeven is a bit more serious than Ultraman in tone. There seems to be less kids involved in the action. Actor Sandayū Dokumamushi was a comic relief character in the previous series. But on his new team, he’s as straight as a cop on Dragnet. The show isn’t completely uptight. This isn’t The Wire with Omar in a rubber monster costume. But the actors play things with an earnest nature. This isn’t camp. The best episodes resemble the finer of the Godzilla movies. The guest monsters keep the action interesting instead of redundant. If UltraSeven gets injured during a fight, Dan carries the injury into his human form. What also helps make the show feel more adult is that the DVDs contain the original Japanese soundtrack with new English subtitles. The lack of a dub track keeps the lips in synch so there’s no unintentional humor. This also means that you can’t passively watch the show. You need to keep your eyes on the screen to follow the story.
Why didn’t UltraSeven come to America in a package with Ultraman? There’s probably some foolish reason. The series shift in tone might have been perceived as a bit too much for the younger viewers that adored Ultraman. The show didn’t arrive in America until it ran on TNT in 1994. Somehow this event didn’t go over too well. Perhaps the original audience was too busy being active adults? Maybe the cyber buzz couldn’t build because the internet was still in its bulletin board infancy? What really matters now is UltraSeven can follow Ultraman in the DVD player. There was something beyond Ultra.
The video is 1.33:1. The transfers aren’t too bad for 45 year old show. You’ll get to marvel at the models and rubbersuits. The audio is mono Japanese. The episodes are subtitled in English. These are not the TNT dubs that were also heavily edited. So even if you saw it back in ’94, it’s going to be a different experience for you.
A Booklet features an extensive essay on the show by August Ragone (author of Eiji Suburaya: Master of Monsters. This explains a lot about the history of the show. He also takes time to discuss the lost episode that UltraSeven‘s studio won’t release after its original airing.
UltraSeven: The Complete Series is a worthy successor to Ultraman. It has everything you like about the first show except the kiddie attitude. Even after all these years, there’s something great about two giant monsters smashing a model train set.
Shout! Factory presents UltraSeven: The Complete Series. Starring: Shōji Nakayama, Sandayū Dokumamushi and Yuriko Hishimi. Boxset Contents: 48 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: December 11, 2012. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Gamera, Godzilla, monsters, ultraman