I was a big fan of Ultraman when I was a kid. In the early ‘90s I discovered there was a new “Ultraman” show, but unfortunately I was more interested in acquiring episodes of the old show on VHS than I was episodes of the new one. Somewhat later I discovered that there have been many, many “Ultraman” series over the years, rivaling Doctor Who in its longevity. A brief search of the internet yields the following results (but I’ve probably missed a few).

Ultra-Man 1966-67
Ultra-Seven 1967-68
Ultra Fight 1970-71
Return of… 1971-72
Ultraman Ace 1972-73
Ultraman Taro 1973-74
Ultraman Leo 1974-75
Ultraman 80 1980-81
Ultimate Hero 1995
Ultraman Tiga 1996-97
Ultraman Dyna 1997-98
Ultraman Gaia 1998-99
Ultraman Cosmos 2001-02
Ultraman Nexus 2004-05
Ultraman Max 2005-06
Ultraman Mebius 2006-07

Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster 2007-08
Ultraman Retsuden 2011+

We’ve been discussing other tokusatsu series in this forum lately, and because those series were produced later than Ultraman, I expected them to be technically better, but I ended up being somewhat disappointed in Super Robot Red Baron and Iron King. I enjoyed them, but I didn’t like them as much as I hoped to. Now I’ve started watching Ultraseven, and it’s everything I hoped it would be.

As the liner noteson the DVD set point out, “the difference in the overall quality in production between Ultraman and Ultraseven was marked, and made the show memorable 45 years later. According to Wikipedia, “Such is his popularity that Ultra Seven (or simply 'Seven') has appeared or at least made cameos in nearly every Ultra Series following his own and has had far more exposure than even the original Ultraman (though the original Ultraman is without a doubt the face of the Ultras).”

My wife and I disagree about the relative merits of Ultraseven in comparison to SRRB/IK. I would like to start the discussion with a look at the opening title sequence and music, then open the floor for rebutal.

The title sequence of Ultraman, as you will recall, looks as if it had been spelled out in a can of paint, slowly stirred, then run backwards. Ultraseven looks more like it had been spelled out in brightly colored confetti, placed atop one of those old electric football games, shaken apart, then run backwards. Whereas the soundtrack of Ultraman is jazzy, that of Ultraseven shows more of a classical influence.

Here is the English translation of the lyrics…

Seven… Seven… Seven… Seven…

Seven! Seven! Seven!
Seven! Seven! Seven!

A distant star was once his home
Ultra Seven! Fighter Seven!
Ultra Seven! Seven! Seven!

Onward to the edge of the galaxy
Use your Ultra-Eye and… STRIKE!
Seven! Seven! Seven!
Seven! Seven! Seven!

Dan Moroboshi is his borrowed name
Ultra Seven! Hero Seven!
Ultra Seven! Seven! Seven!

Defeat the great fire-breathing monster
Use yout Ultra-Beam and STRIKE!

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Oh! I almost forgot: I wanted to share the English translation of the Ultraman Orb theme song. I’ll do that at the end of this post. First, I want to mention the two episodes we watched last night, “Trouble! Mama’s Here!” and “The Dark King’s Blessing.”

Episode 11 begins with Gai and Naomi sharing a Japanese bath. Unexpectedly, she asks him is he will be her boyfriend. It soon becomes clear that she is asking him to pretend to be her boyfriend for the benefit of her mother who is coming for a visit. Soon, the three of them are having dinner in a high-rise restaurant when suddenly Jugglus Juggler joins them. Naomi’s mother is something of a flake, and soon she is flirting with both of them.

At this point I need to mention that the SSP encountered a ghost in episode six, “The Forbidden Forest.” In episode 11, she manifests as a giant, peering into the restaurant from outside seeking help from the “giant of light.” Later, Naomi’s mother pays a visit to the SSP offices. Their logo is in English, the letters “SSP” surrounded by the slogan “Something Search People.” From outside we hear the mother’s voice: “What is this broken English?” Then she enters an, in English, corrects, “Search for Something People,” and asks (in Japanese again), “What did I send you to college for?” (I guess the SSP are older than teenagers, as I said yesterday.)

Jugglus Juggler has finally accumulated enough cards to free Maga-Orochi, the Great King Devil Beast. Ultraman Belial was once a force for good but became a force of evil, yet it was his power which imprisoned Maga-Orochi centuries ago. There are dark-nature cards and light-nature cards, and Juggler uses Belial’s dark-natured card to free it. He then discards the powercard. The Great King Devil Beast is huge, easily the most dangerous beast I have ever seen on an Ultraman show. Eventually, Gai uses all six of his powercards and he is still unable to defeat the monster.

That’s the end of part one.

As part two opens, the SSP (and Naomi’s mother) are searching the Forbidden Forest for the ghost, but she is nowhere to be found. The soon stumble across (literally) her smashed memorial stone. Reasoning that if they repair it she will reappear, they set about reassembling the pieces. Meanwhile, Naomi’s mother plants some “rare seeds” she bought in town. When the SSP completes repairing the memorial stone, the ghost still does not reappear. Over the tops of the trees they can see that Maga-Orochi is moving closer, but they cannot distract Naomi’s mother from watering the seed she has just planted. Suddenly, the seedling begins to glow and the ghost emerges from that.

They make their way to the city where they find Gai suffering defeat. The ghost knows he is Ultraman Orb, and tells him the only way to defeat the Great King Devil Beast is to use the power of Belial’s card. He tries several times, but his ring device rejects the dark-nature card. Finally he gets it to work and becomes Ultraman Orb Burnmite, who first attacks by bursting into flame. Eventually, he manifests the Strobium Cutter, a kind of energy buzzsaw. He uses it to cut off Maga-Orochi’s tail, then he beats him with it.

For as long as I’ve been watching this show, Gai Kurenai has reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who. In one scene, he whipped out a pair of reading glasses and put them on, and I was again struct by a sense of familiarity. “Who does he remind me of?” I queried aloud. “David Tennent,” Tracy matter-of-factly replied. Yes, that’s it! Gai Kurenai looks very much like a Japanese David Tennent. Apparently Tracy saw it, too.

Something else I forgot to mention is that every episode ends with an “Ultra Hero Special Study” and a “Today’s Monster” feature (both “hosted” Gai Kurenai), plus a preview of the next episode. (The “Ultra Hero Special Study” takes a look at all the previous Ultramen one at a time and tells us something about each one.) And now, without further ado, here are the theme song lyrics.

ULTRAMAN ORB LYRICS (ENGLISH TRANSLATION):

The power of our hopes
Will bring us to the ends of the sky.
The planet of light.
Ultraman Orb!

Violence will not help
You find the answer.
The wind cuts through the sentiments in my heart.
Light from the shadows shines in

Solitude towards the
Sparkling stars.
Wounds don't heal at
The end of a fight.

The ends of the sky
Offer us hope
Which will guide us
In the darkness.

Strongly believe in
The protector of our hearts
From the planet of light
Ultraman Orb!

The power of light resides in his chest.
Who does it exist for?
That vow pierces through
The thick obscuring clouds.

Extend your crossed hands to
Shake off the hesitation.
After experiencing your pain
I will certainly forgive you.

The ends of the skies
Connect our hopes together.
We will continue on our path
Even after failure.

Let's call together the being
Who protects our bonds.
From the planet of light
Ultraman Orb!

The ends of the sky
Offer us hope.
Which will guide us
In the darkness.

Strongly believe in
The protector of our hearts.
From the planet of light
Ultraman Orb!

EPISODE 13: “Cleanup of the Heart”

“Gai helps the Something Search People clean their office, as they all look back on recent adventures.”

A clip show summarizing the series so far. After the point, the opening theme music changes somewhat. For some reason, this change really upsets Tracy. The organization Naomi’s uncle works for is the VTL, the Versatile Tactile Leader.

EPISODE 14: “Justice Out of Control”
EPISODE 15: “Never Say Never”

“Galactron is intent on resetting Earth’s ecosphere, judging it to be the cause of humanity’s volatility. It looks like Gai’s only chance to stop the rampaging robot might be to use the Belial card again.”

A giant robot lands on Earth and immediately goes dormant. They argue about what to call it. Jetta wants to name it based on the Italian word for “savior,” and Shin wants to name it something else. In it’s dormant state, the robot flashes a ray at them which calms them down. Namomi names it “Galactron” which is an amalgam of the two names. She touches it and forms some sort of band (like Rose Tyler and the Dalek). When the robot awakens, it takes Naomi inside itself and speaks with her voice. It has spent the past 24 hours examining the world’s population and has determined the only way to save the planet is to wipe out humanity. Orb fights it but is defeated. Although we watched this on New Year’s Day and had the first new episode of Doctor Who in a long time waiting, we had to watch part two.

Seeing no other option, Gai decides he must once again call on the power of Ultraman Belial (actually, a combination of Ultraman Belial and Ultraman Zoffy, the champions of Dark and Light, respectively). What I didn’t realize from before is that Gai has no control when he calls on the light of Ultraman Belial. Belial defeats Galactron, but severely injures Naomi in the process. After he returns to human form, he is overcome by guilt and the story is continued into the next part anyway.

In the “Ultra Hero Special Study” section, we learn that Ultra-Seven (the most popular of all the Ultraman) is Ultraman Zero’s father.

EPISODE 16: “An Unforgettable Place”

“Gai is at his lowest point yet after the last battle, which is an opportunity that Juggler just can’t pass up.”

Naomi’s flaky mother comes to visit her in the hospital. Gai has disappeared. Hundreds of years in the past, Gai’s girlfriend, Natasha, was killed in the same battle which cost him his ability to transform under his own power. (We have seen this scene repeated numerous times throughout the series so far.) Natasha appears to him in a vision. He closes his eyes, and when he reopens them, Natasha has become Naomi. The story begun in episode #14 is still not complete.

Gai is battling the darkness in himself, which he thinks is from using Belial. I'm not sure if he is really having random fights with Juggler or if he is using Juggler to sort out his mental struggles with the darkness and guilt. He has focused on the ghost telling him chaos comes from using Belial's dark power. He has forgotten the part of her wisdom that we all have light and dark within ourselves.

I'm having a hard time with a villain called "Juggler". He sounds as though he should be fighting Silver Age Green Arrow. 

Well, there's this guy (Oddball, from the first Hawkeye limited series).

Here’s some more backstory that hasn’t been relevant up until now. First of all, Gai’s lost love, Natasha, wasn’t killed “hundreds of years ago” as I said last week, but rather “dozens,” because she turns out to be Naomi’s grandmother. Ever since Naomi was a little girl, she has had dreams of a “giant of light” and has had a particular melody stuck in her head. It is that same melody that Gai-san plays on his harmonica-thingy as he wanders about. Naomi has a set of Russian nesting dolls which she got from her grandmother which she keeps for good luck. They are shown from time to time. When Gai tried to open the last one, she stopped him, explaining that it’s like Pandora’s box and has hope inside. How she knows it’s the last one without opening it I have no idea (perhaps it doesn’t rattle), but the smallest of my childhood “nest of jolly snowmen” was solid.

EPISODE 17: “The Holy Sword, Restored”

“Gai is afraid of what damage he might do the next time he uses Belial’s card to transform. Can Naomi give him the strength to overcome the darkness?”

Gai visits Naomi in the hospital, but he is almost too overcome with guilt to stay. Luckily, he is on hand when Juggler attacks. Gai fends him off, but Juggler’s sword slices through Naomi’s nesting dolls, right through to the very last one. Inside is a picture of Natasha, who Gai then learns is Naomi’s grandmother.  (I’m not quite certain when she had kids because she was killed at such a young age or who the father was. Has she already had a daughter (Naomi’s mother) at the time she knew Gai? Or was she not killed in the attack shown so many times in flashback? I don’t know. Anyway, Gai asks Naomi to promise that she will sing the song the next time she sees Ultraman Orb.

The kaiju of the week shows up and even the Belial Thunderbreaster cannot defeat him. Then Naomi remembers to sing the song that gives him hope. At that point, Gai/Orb is able to tap inner reserves of strnght to call forth his own giant of light, Ultaman Orb Orb Origin, which he has been unable to access for so long. He also has access to a new weapon, Orbcaliber, a giant sword of light with something that looks and acts like a “Simon” game attached above the hilt.

He calls Orb Origin by suggestively jamming the sword into the ring he carries. Ultraman Orb appears and they fight. (I can see how a game using the trading cards would go: “I attack with my Orbcaliber sword!” “I counter with my Zepperion Shield!” And so on.) They are pretty much evenly matched until Orb moves the dial surrounding the “Simon” part of the sword and presses the “trigger.” Blinking and beeping, the already formidable swaord transforms into Orb Supreme-caliber! After that he quickly dispatches the kaiju. Naomi doesn’t blame Orb (or, by extension, Gai) for her injuries because he was being controlled by Belial just as she was being controlled by the giant robot who had absorbed her. Now Orb/Gai has another weapon to add to his arsenal.

NEXT: "Hard-Boiled Liver"

EPISODE 18: “Hard-Boiled Liver”

“Naoi’s uncle, Shibukawa Ittetsu, is having trouble with his daughter Tetsuko. When she gets caught up in the plot of a criminal alien, the time comes for Shibukawa to show her what an officer of VTL is made of.”

Each of the regular cast has been getting a “focus” episode. This is the uncle’s.

EPISODE 19: “The Demon Inside of Me”

“Naomi begins to question her life after being invited to an old friend’s bachelorette party, and her doubts may have bigger consequences than she could imagine.”

The episode begins with a news report of young women leaving their shoes as an offering at a particular shrine in the belief that it will bring them romance. The SSP discuss the story and discuss that’s it’s not the kind of thing for their website. Later, after a bad experience at a bachelorette party, Naomi finds herself in the rain with a broken heel. She just so happens to be right in front of the shrine, so she leaves her broken shoes there. This offering conjures up a giant samurai clad in red armor. (The special effects are quite impressive; he appears from within a cloud of black smoke and leaves a smoke trail wherever he walks.) Not only is this an unusual foe for Ultraman Orb to fight, he is defeated in a unique way: Naomi talks him into leaving.

EPISODE 20: “Revenge’s Trigger”

“The last surviving member of the Planetary Invasion Coalition is out to get Juggler, and standing in his way is… Naomi?”

Naomi and Juggler are both characters of mixed darkness and light. Juggler appeals to Naomi with a sob story, but he’s just using her.

At the end, after Orb has defeated his enemy, Juggler tells Naomi he was using her. I don't believe he was. I think he was genuinely listening to her. She has a way of soothing others. She has redeemed Orb and the trapped samurai warrior. Juggler and Gai were teammates once. I think Juggler will be redeemed at the end of this series.

EPISODE 21: “The Girl with the Blue Ribbon”

“The Hyper Zetton Deathscythe used by an alien who had kidnapped Naomi reappears to menace the city. What is its connection to a mysterious girl who appears every time it’s seen?”

A mysterious girl is seen every time a particular kaiju appears. The SSP track her to a kindly elderly couple who found her on the street and adopted her. She has no memory of her past, and is a repository for the monster’s consciousness. Or something. I forgot what I was going to say about this episode. Maybe Tracy can add something.

No? Okay, we’ll move on then.

EPISODE 22: “The Unmarked Café”

“The SSP investigate a café located in a neighborhood unmarked on any map.”

An off-beat episode. It reminds me more of Ultra-Q than Ultra-Man. It is about a coffee bar for aliens. Apparently it has been around for some time, given that some of the pictures on the wall are aliens from the very first Ultraman series. The bar itself is in another dimension, but normal humans accidentally wander in every once in a while. Now that Ultraman Orb has driven most of the hostile aliens away from Earth, the bar has to close up shop.

I’ll let Tracy tell you about the kaiju of the week.

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