Random Musings: Saving the world with Ultraman

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Ultraman complete series DVD

“Using the Beta Capsule, Hayata becomes Ultraman.”

So there I was at the store, thumbing through some DVDs. And what, to my wondering eyes, should appear but Ultraman. The complete series.

Better yet, it was on sale.

This Japanese series originally aired in 1966-1967, but I first encountered it in 1975. It aired on weekday afternoons and was a “don’t miss” show.

Ultraman concerned the activities of the Science Patrol, a high-tech police force that protected the Earth from various threats, whether invaders from the stars or creatures from right here on Earth. In the premiere episode, Ultraman (Bin Furuya), himself a “giant superhero from Nebula M78”, pursues a particular monster to Earth; and when his ship collides with Science Patrolman Hayata’s (Susumu Kurobe) ship, he merges his essence with that of Hayata to save Hayata’s life. From then on, Hayata needs only use a device called a “Beta Capsule” to transform himself into Ultraman.

Ultraman

Ultraman prepares for action.

This idea, of course, has been used many times. Billy Batson became the original Captain Marvel when he uttered the name of the wizard, Shazam (though it wasn’t always clear whether Billy and Captain Marvel were two separate people or whether Captain Marvel was essentially Billy as an adult (and with super powers)).

In the Marvel Comics Captain Marvel series (a title Marvel grabbed when DC let the rights lapse, which is why the DC character is still called Captain Marvel, but any book he stars in is called Shazam, or some variation of that), Rick Jones and Captain Mar-Vell were linked by the “nega-bands” they wore on their wrists. They’d change places (the one on Earth going in to the “Negative Zone”) when one or the other slammed the bands together.

And then there was Peter David’s excellent Supergirl series, in which the Matrix Supergirl merged her essence with a dying young woman named Linda Danvers.

In a 2013 interview at Monsterpalooza, which can be viewed on YouTube, Susumu Kurobe revealed that Hayata was his first TV role. He’d previously worked in films. Both he and Bin Furuya revealed that they’d been ordered to play their respective roles, though the latter, while initially refusing, said, “when I think about the fans, I think I did something I can be pretty proud of.”

So far I’ve watched a few episodes of Ultraman. I’m looking forward to watching the rest. And yes, sometimes I could see the zippers on the Ultraman and monster costumes, but so what?

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

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