I finished ウルトラセブン (I was already near the end)!
I did switch to turning off the subtitles for the last few episodes, and it wasn’t too bad. The finale had some scenes I wish I got 100% of the nuance for, but I understood everything where it counted. The main consistent problem is that whenever the upper brass show up and talk alien-fighting strategy, I don’t follow at all what they’re saying, but I guess it’s not that important anyway!
What I thought of ウルトラセブン
Ultraseven’s great! It stands plenty tall with Ultraman and Ultra Q.
I haven’t actually watched very many other tokusatsu shows at all (yet), but what makes the Ultra series shows so great to me, is that they very frequently offer something unexpected, or unusually thoughtful, or interesting visually in any particular episode. I’ll talk about Kikaider later, but that’s a great example in contrast - pretty much every episode of Kikaider hits basically the exact same beats as any other, and it’s fine, but not great.
With these shows, Ultraseven included, you do reliably get the hero fighting a giant monster in the last ten minutes, but everything up to that point is free to do whatever, whether it’s an allegorical riff questioning the tragedy of all these monsters dying, a spy thriller, a Fantastic Voyage style shrink-down-and-go-inside-a-human-body story, a mad scientist, Ultraseven getting crucified, Moses turning out to have been an alien, or just a giant snail or something, you never quite know what you’re going to get.
One great memorable example of a stylistic flourish: in the finale of this show, Dan finally confesses to Anne that he’s an alien, and WHAM these glistening lights show up behind the actors and fill the whole frame like those emotion-glittering backgrounds in a shojo manga. Just a great little touch of added style that a show phoning it in wouldn’t provide.
In my book, a series where AT MINIMUM you get a guy fist-fighting a new giant monster every week, and on top of that some of the episodes are genuinely great? That’s a winner!
It very much reminds me of my love for silver-age Superman stories, which have a similar rate of “cheesy fun” : “genuine brilliance that catches you off guard because of all the cheesy fun.”
Also, I love all the special effects in these shows. They hit a great mark where of course you can tell how they’re done, but they’re effective enough that they work anyway? Like I’ve genuinely caught myself before thinking “wow! How’d they get Ultraman that small?” for a moment when seeing like, a picture of the costume next to humans… They truly make great use of miniature cars and rockets and things.
As for Ultraseven in particular, it felt like it pushed things just a little bit further, but was mostly similar. They dropped the most contrived part of Ultraman’s character, the timer that goes off when he’s running out of power (although in a weird twist they briefly brought it back one episode?). The Ultra Guard is more like directly space-defense-based than the Science Patrol in the last show, so a typical Ultraseven episode is say, they have to go into space to stop another alien invasion, compared to the typical Ultraman episode of “a giant monster showed somewhere I guess we should stop it.” I don’t love the more militarized aspect (there’s definitely compassion for the monsters, but Ultraseven still decapitates a ton of them, and you get the impression space is largely made up of various civilizations who all want to take over Earth), but I absolutely love whenever this show goes into space and has space sets, so I’m glad the premise allows for that more.
I don’t quite love the transformation sequence as much as Ultraman’s, and the crew seems underutilized (except to some extent Anne), and there’s one really mild thing that kinda bugged me: Ultraseven can be human-sized! I kinda like the idea of like, Ultraman’s just this giant dude and that’s just who he is. But Ultraseven can be any size, and the costume lost some aura for me when he’s just a regular-sized person running around with other people. Still, it lead to that Fantastic Voyage episode which I loved, so I can’t complain that much.
I always hope to see these series expand a bit more both on the characters (you never see them off-duty) and the lore (I’ve got the foggiest picture in the world of what planet Ultra is like or what the hell the universe is like with all these random aliens in it), but on the other hand maybe there’s some fun in not really answering any questions like that.
A few memorable episodes and monsters
I love sets like this other dimension in 怪しい隣人:
This guy from 魔の山へ飛べ is genuinely really creepy - the actor gesticulates very broadly, like an alien mimicking human gestures and failing. Also, this episode features a flying saucer that is ALSO A DRAGON.
I LOVE THIS CAR-EATING ROBOT in 勇気ある戦い.
This robot from 第四惑星の悪夢 is pretty great too!
Also, 700キロを突っ走れ! just straight up has a dinosaur that is also a tank:
Oh yeah, also, I’ve heard 円谷英二 (try guessing the reading of THAT family name…) was Catholic, and that may explain this from セブン暗殺計画:
The “stuff to watch while exercising” slot was originally a match made in heaven for subtitled anime, since I rarely sat down and watched that without getting distracted (and couldn’t watch it while reviewing since I’d have to constantly glance at the screen), and I never exercised without something to do at the same time, so it killed two birds with one stone.
So there’s a ton of anime lined up I could move on to now… buuuut right now I’m also trying to rebuild a routine at least resembling what I had before quarantine, and Ultra series shows have been a reliable draw for me, so I think I’m just going to move directly into the next, 帰ってきたウルトラマン, rather than switch to something else right now.
I also watched a movie: 哀しみのベラドンナ, because it was on Criterion Channel at the moment and I’d been meaning to watch it for a while. The English subtitles seemed to be baked into the video, which is too bad, as I would have liked to watch it without, but I guess there are worse problems to have. That led to an odd sort of half glancing at the subtitles, half trying to ignore them that I think counted for some listening practice since I was actively trying to pick out what was being said. It’s not too bad for that, as there’s a lot of relatively clear narration and some enka songs.
What did I think of 哀しみのベラドンナ
It’s VERY from the 1970s.
It reminded me of like… Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, or Witzend, where it’s like “let’s take a thin fantasy story, riff on it visually for a while and put in a lot a lot of adult sexually charged stuff” with an emphasis on the sexual part. Like it’s the kind of movie where Satan shows up and he overtly looks just like a penis. It’s the kind of “woman becomes a witch story” that’s less interested in her interiority and more just having her suffer and be tempted and get power and suffer again in a cycle.
It’s really not my thing! I didn’t enjoy the story very much at all, and the visuals weren’t as spectacular throughout as I’d have hoped, because animation is expensive so a lot of scenes outside the main sequences are really just still images.
But it is interesting, and the sequences that do go all-out are definitely impressive! I especially liked the black death sequence, which I was hoping to find and link but it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of clips of this movie out there… oh well.
I also listened to a couple more episodes of the プロレス聴こうぜ！podcast while on a walk (I’d already listened to the first four previously).
I heard about this from @fallynleaf a while back, and it’s pretty fun! It’s nice to hear from wrestlers in their own voices, and the main host バロン山崎 is NJPW’s narrator for like, show announcement’s and stuff, so he’s got a clear voice and a good forceful laugh (although I rarely catch what he’s laughing about).
Chris Charlton may have exaggerated its appropriateness for learners though, because the tinniness of the guests’ audio makes it very tough. I usually feel like I can tell the topic of what they’re talking about, but I can’t really follow exactly what they’re saying. The format seems to be a brief recap of NJPW current events and up-coming shows, a section of a pre-recorded interview with a wrestler guest that cycles each month, a discussion about a past NJPW they recommend you go watch, and sometimes a quiz.
This pair’s quiz had a format that I wish was on the JLPT (although it would be much much harder than the mock N1 listening questions I took…): “what finishing move is this non-fan describing?” basically.
Just from the description, I thought maybe it was a Destino, because the hint involved “people wearing suits” and she said something about 巻いて’ing at the end.
Then that wasn’t in the multiple choices but Sling Blade was, so I thought for sure it had to be that! (the suit-wearing person must be Dick Togo, it makes perfect sense!). Plus an additional hint was I think that it was a Tanahashi match, and he’s had plenty with Jay White.
Well, the answer turned out to be Goto’s 牛殺し, but the narrator said that didn’t make any sense and he thought for sure it was the Sling Blade so I feel like I won a moral victory I guess?