TV Review: Ultraman Mebius: Side Story (2008-2009)

Original Run: 2008 – 2009
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Keiichi Nanba, Motomu Kiyokawa, Shunji Igarashi, Makoto Miyoshi, Masaki Nishina, Ai Saikawa, Daisuke Watanabe, Kenta Uchino, Misato Hirata, Minoru Tanaka, Takeshi Kusao, Hiroya Ishimaru, Seizō Katō, Hisao Egawa, Daisuke Gōri, Ryōichi Tanaka, Hideyuki Hori, Hideyuki Tanaka, Jirō Dan, Kohji Moritsugu, Susumu Kurobe

Tsuburaya Productions, 5 Episodes, 13-26 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While these five episodes were originally released as three separate stories, for their American streaming release, they were bundled together as five 13 to 26 minute episodes under the name Ultraman Mebius: Side Stories.

The first episode was originally released as a 13 minute short called Ultraman Mebius: Hikari Saga, episodes two and three were a two-parter titled Ultraman Mebius: Armored Darkness, while the final two episodes were another two-parter, Ultraman Mebius: Ghost Reverse.

All three stories take place after the Ultraman Mebius television show and serve as the official conclusion to Mebius’ story, even though he’s appeared in other Ultraman films and shows since these were released. But in any event it’s the finale for the normal human characters that fans came to love in the Mebius show.

Overall, this was pretty cool to see, as it’s been a while since I watched Ultraman Mebius and this made me properly nostalgic for it. So I guess it really did its job in that regard. And frankly, I would have watched this just after I saw Mebius but it wasn’t available in the US until just recently.

This, like many Ultraman events, was full of multiple Ultramen and multiple villains, many of whom played a major part in the Mebius mythos over the show’s 50 episodes.

The special effects and tone are exactly what one should expect from an Ultraman special event of the time. It truly looked like an extension of the show and could honestly just be five episodes tacked on at the end and most people wouldn’t know the difference.

I thought that the effects were a wee bit better than the norm but this probably had a bigger budget per episode than the television show that had to be more frugal due to the scale of the production.

If you like Ultraman Mebius, I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t enjoy this, especially the Armored Darkness story.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the Ultraman Mebius show and other Ultraman movies and specials.

 

Book Review: ‘Ready Player One: A Novel’ by Ernest Cline

I have heard great things about this book for a few years now. I have meant to read it but life is a busy bitch most of the time. However, I definitely wanted to experience and know the book before the Steven Spielberg film adaptation of it hit theaters, which happens later this month.

I didn’t really know what to expect but I did know that the film primarily takes place in a virtual world and was littered with a shit ton of pop culture references, primarily from the 1980s. I grew up at the same time as the author (and the genius mastermind who built an empire in the book) and I knew that this would mostly likely jive with me.

It’s a book that really taps into the nostalgia of the 1980s and for someone who was there, it is really hard to avoid getting sucked into this tale. Cline wrote this with a lot of passion and it mirrors the passion I had, as well as my friends, back in the ’80s when we were experiencing all of these things first hand. Nostalgia alone can’t carry a story, however.

Although, with or without nostalgia as a real driving force in the creative direction of this book, the characters were all very good and you cared for them and their quest. Wade, the main character, really reflected a lot of myself and I’m sure Ernest Cline, in his love and appreciation for all of these pop culture things. He also reflected back who my friends were in childhood and in my teen years.

Wade’s friends were sort of a combination of typical ’80s kids mixed with the social norms of modern times, as nowadays, many people only know each other online and haven’t actually met in person. Not that that’s actually a bad thing but the book makes a point to remind us all to step outside of the OASIS (the virtual world) and to truly connect with people in the flesh. In fact, an important piece of advice is given to Wade at the end, and that is that true happiness can only be found “out there” (the real physical world).

Wade does find happiness but he finds much more than that too. He has to deal with tragedy, loss, a truly broken heart and the weight of the world being on his shoulders. While his goal is to win the contest within the story, his true goal is to save the digital world from a corporate giant who seeks to exploit it for profit and in effect, control everything in the real world due to how tied into the OASIS everyone has become.

There is a big ’80s pop culture boom going on, right now. Especially after the success of Stranger ThingsIt and other shows and films that sort of bring people back to that era from a childlike point of view. Ready Player One came out at the perfect time and maybe it will open the door to that cultural era for younger generations to appreciate.

I liked this book for a lot of reasons. But after reading it, I can’t really envision how this can even translate to screen. Sure, I’ve seen the trailers and they’ve got me pretty excited but this is such a unique story that I can’t imagine that adapting it won’t be an immense challenge, even for a legend like Steven Spielberg. I guess we’ll see in less than a month’s time how this pans out.

I’m not a big fan of dropping spoilers but sometimes it is unavoidable in a review. However, I’m not going to say how or when or why but this book has one of the most badass moments in literary history when Ultraman shows up to battle Mechagodzilla. I mean, holy f’n shit, that whole sequence in the book had me smiling like Aech after being exposed to Smylex hygiene products.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Just about every pop culture reference wedged between its covers.

TV Review: Ultraseven X (2007)

Original Run: October 5th, 2007 – December 21st, 2007 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Eriku Yoza, Saki Kagami, Tomohito Wakizaki, Anri Ban

Tsuburaya Productions, 12 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Ultraseven X was a bizarre Ultra television series, even for Ultra standards. It was also pretty dark compared to the two series before it, Ultraman Mebius and Ultraman Max. It wasn’t as dark as Ultraman Nexus, however.

Additionally, it is a really short series, at only twelve episodes. Plus, it just looks and feels cheap. While it is creatively ambitious and has a fresh concept that differentiates it from all the other series, it was lackluster and underwhelming.

The Ultraman franchise was riding high after Mebius and Max, if you ask me, and this took the wind out of the sails.

It is depressing to look at and full of crappy sets and special effects, taking a huge step down from what audiences were used to, at this point.

The only real positive is that this utilizes the Ultraseven character, one of the all-time fan favorites. However, it doesn’t bring back the original actor Kohji Moritsugu, except for a cameo in the last episode. Instead, Ultraseven revives a young man named Jin and uses him as his host.

The unfortunate reality of Ultraseven X is that it just doesn’t feel like a true Ultraman show. I know that some people liked the departure and the fresh take but it isn’t my cup of tea. I feel the same way about this show as I felt about Nexus. It is just too dark and too outside of the cozy box that is Ultraman.

Sometimes you can be too ambitious and this is a case of that. Not to say that risks shouldn’t be taken and that the format shouldn’t be experimented with. They experimented with Ultraman Ginga, after this series, and that paid off.

Rating: 5/10

TV Review: Ultraman Mebius (2006-2007)

Original Run: April 8th, 2006 – March 31st, 2007 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi, Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Shunji Igarashi, Masaki Nishina, Ai Saikawa, Daisuke Watanabe, Kenta Uchino, Misato Hirata, Minoru Tanaka

Tsuburaya Productions, 50 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Ultraman Mebius is one of my all-time favorite Ultraman series. It is also the one modern series that really reinvigorated my love of the franchise.

The great thing about this show is that it is truly a throwback to the old classic series from the Shōwa Era. This Ultraman looks a lot like the original with a few modern style flourishes added into the suit. It also featured a lot of classic monsters and revisited some classic concepts like using the ally capsule monsters to help in battle. Plus, I am a huge fan of the good kaiju Miclas and he has a big presence in the show.

Additionally, the cast was fantastic. Everyone fit their part and added a lot of character diversity to the group as far as contrasting personalities. Everyone just meshed so well and they all looked like they were having the time of their life making this series, which transcends the viewing experience and rubs off on the viewer.

The really cool thing about Ultraman Mebius is that it is the first show since Ultraman 80 to exist in the Shōwa Era universe. It is an actual continuation of those shows where the shows between 80 and Mebius kind of exist on their own in parallel universes without direct ties to the earlier series.

The cool thing about this existing in the Shōwa Era franchise, is that it opened the door for all the mega team-ups that would come later, featuring several Ultra Brothers fighting alongside each other. It also paved the way for lots of theatrical releases.

Ultraman Mebius is a fan favorite Ultraman series and it deserves its recognition. It took a formula that was getting stale and re-energized it for a new generation while earning the respect and admiration from the older generations who grew up loving these shows.

Rating: 8/10

 

TV Review: Ultraman Max (2005-2006)

Original Run: July 2nd, 2005 – April 1st, 2006 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kuniaki Haishima, Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Sota Aoyama, Hitomi Hasebe, Kai Shishido, Hikari Mitsushima

Tsuburaya Productions, 40 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Following the adult oriented and scarier Ultraman Nexus, Tsuburaya went back to their roots and gave us Ultraman Max. While it isn’t considered a great Ultraman series, it is one of my favorites.

Ultraman Max gave us a series that was much more like the formula of the earlier shows. We had a hero that worked for a bad ass defense force that also featured a lot of cool characters. The show also gave us a lot of the cooler old school Ultraman kaiju while introducing some new ones. It also had a couple really good stories featuring Pigmon, my favorite Ultraman kaiju of all-time.

The show was well-produced and the effects were a step up from what was seen before it. Visually, it was more refined and had a lighter and cleaner look than its predecessor Ultraman Nexus.

I’m not a huge fan of how Ultraman Max, as an Ultra Warrior looks. His suit was a bit too chunky and overly ornate but it at least didn’t hinder the action.

I really liked the Android character Elly. She was played by Hikari Mitsushima and she would go on to be in the live action Death Note televisions series and became the most well-known star to come out of this series. As a young girl, she was in Rebirth of Mothra II. She also crossed over into Kamen Rider territory with a brief role in Kamen Rider Den-O.

The defense force, in this series called DASH, had the coolest outfits in the Ultraman franchise. In fact, their jackets are some of the coolest ever.

Ultraman Max isn’t most fans’ favorites and it isn’t my favorite either but it is much better than a lot of Ultraman series. It moved the franchise back in the right direction, leading into the superior Ultraman Mebius.

Rating: 7/10

Book Review: ‘Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters’ by August Ragone

Eiji Tsuburaya might not be a big name to American film lovers but he is a special effects titan in Japan.

For those that don’t know the man, he was the one who created the special effects in the earlier Godzilla films. He was the man behind the monsters and also the miniatures and the elaborate sets.

He also worked on several spectacular war films for Toho when he was between Godzilla and other kaiju projects for them.

Tsuburaya took his experience at Toho and created his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions, where he gave the world Ultra Q and quickly after that Ultraman, which grew into a massive franchise with more monsters than even Godzilla could imagine.

Tsuburaya Productions also created a slew of other television shows and movies for Japanese kids. Some of his other works also spawned franchises. The character of Booska, a Tsuburaya creation, is essentially Japan’s equivalent to Mickey Mouse.

This book is nice and thick and pretty large. It is full of behind the scenes pictures of Eiji Tsuburaya on many of the sets where he created monsters and miniatures to do battle. The book is also a biography and it covers the life of the man and his work.

For kaiju fans, this book is definitely a must own. It has great information on the film and television projects that Tsuburaya worked on and it gives some insight as to why he made certain monsters the way he did.

This is one of the best things in my massive library and I can’t praise the book enough.

Rating: 10/10

TV Review: Ultraman Nexus (2004-2005)

Original Run: October 2nd, 2004 – June 25th, 2005 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kenji Kawai
Cast: Takuji Kawakubo, Yusuke Kirishima

Tsuburaya Productions, 37 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Ultraman Nexus was the first Ultraman series that I wasn’t wholeheartedly in love with. I guess that makes me the odd one out, as most people seem to really enjoy this series. Reason being, it is different than all the Ultraman series before it. This one was made to be more adult and it was the first really dark Ultraman show. At times, it had strong horror elements to it.

While I can understand Tsuburaya wanting to try something different, after the show had been around for almost 40 years but it just doesn’t feel right to me.

The special effects were unusually weird in some of the episodes. The big slime monster creature in the first few episodes was made up of bad CGI and not the standard rubber suit look that is customary with Ultraman monsters. It just felt out of place and there are other areas of the series where things just don’t seem to fit.

Nexus had a cool outfit though and he also fought a series of evil Ultramen that would pop up throughout the series. I will say, that as the series rolls on, it does improve. The battles between Nexus and whichever evil Ultraman he was pitted against were the biggest highlights of Ultraman Nexus.

The show is worth checking out if you are a hardcore Ultraman fan. While it is my least favorite that I have seen, many consider it the best. You can be the tie breaker.

Rating: 5/10

TV Review: Ultraman Gaia (1998-1999)

Original Run: September 5th, 1998 – August 28th, 1999 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi
Cast: Takeshi Yoshioka, Hassei Takano

Tsuburaya Productions, 51 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

ultraman-gaiaReview:

Ultraman Gaia was the first Heisei era Ultraman show that I watched. It was also the first Ultra series to feature two Ultramen heroes as main characters. Sure, there were team-ups and cameos in the past but Gaia gave us two Ultras who had very different and conflicting ideas on how to defend Earth.

Another thing that sets Gaia apart from other Ultraman series, is that it has a huge ensemble cast. It follows the trend of having a science-based defense force to protect Earth. However, where the defense force was usually comprised of a handful of people, Ultraman Gaia gives us a defense force with a lot more depth. It has several branches and small squads that specialize in different things. There’s an air force, a ground force, scientists and other small groups within the larger one. It is actually cool to see a defense force so vast, which makes it seem more capable of stopping the threats of evil aliens and giant monsters. The show also handles balancing these groups and characters out.

Gaia also gives us a ton of really cool kaiju. It recycles some classics but it also created some classic creatures for the new era. Also, the suits for the monsters have gotten more complex and impressive than they were in the original Shōwa era.

The dichotomy created between the two Ultramen was also a great addition to the show. It gave us something new and fresh without treading the same water as so many Ultra shows before it. It also gets philosophical and makes you question which Ultraman has the best method of dealing with the threats that appear throughout the series. While Ultraman Gaia is cool, Ultraman Agul, with his dark blue hues and pointy looking ears walks the line in a way that makes him the coolest anti-hero in the Ultraman mythos.

Ultraman Gaia isn’t my favorite Ultra series of the Heisei era but it is pretty solid and it took risks and changed the game for the Ultra franchise going forward.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: Ultraman 80 (1980-1981)

Original Run: April 2nd, 1980 – March 25th, 1981 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tōru Fuyuki
Cast: Hatsunori Hasegawa, Jin Nakayama, Eri Ishida, Sayoko Hagiwara

Tsuburaya Productions, 50 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

ultraman_80Review:

Ultraman 80 sort of gets lost in the shuffle of the Ultraman franchise. It was the last of the Shōwa era shows and also the last Ultra show for sixteen years until Ultraman Tiga kicked off the Heisei era. Also, it came out five years after the previous live action show, Ultraman Leo. Plus, kaiju films and television shows were in a steep decline.

It is a unique show for the Ultraman franchise, as it initially starts with the human alter ego of this Ultraman being a school teacher. The show initially follows the characters within the school, mainly the teacher and his young students.

After a dozen or so episodes, however, the show shifts back to its regular plot format and follows our hero as he joins an Earth defense force. It pretty much ignores the teacher storyline and leaves all of those characters’ lives unexplored until decades later when there was a cast reunion in an episode of Ultraman Mebius.

It is still kind of sad that you had to wait so long for a resolution of sorts for those characters. And honestly, I kind of enjoyed those earlier episodes of Ultraman 80 before it became a cookie cutter version of the formula the franchise relied on for so long. The change was refreshing and they took it away.

Ultraman 80 isn’t a great Ultraman show. It is fairly mediocre. It may have shined had they committed to the early changes. It had some cool kaiju monsters and revisited some of the classic ones but there wasn’t anything too memorable.

The show also introduced the female Ultra, Yullian. She was cool for the most part but 80 and Yullian weren’t as cool of a duo as Leo and Astra from the previous show, Ultraman Leo.

I do like Ultraman 80. I would say that it is the weakest of the Shōwa era shows, however. But it still maintains that awesome classic feel and is entertaining enough, if you are an Ultraman fan.

Rating: 6.5/10

TV Review: Ultraman Leo (1974-1975)

Original Run: April 12th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tōru Fuyuki, Makoto Kawaguchi
Cast: Ryu Manatsu, Kōji Moritsugu, Mieko Mita, Tomoko Ai

Tsuburaya Productions, 51 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

ultraman-leoReview:

While the character of Leo might not be as popular as the original Ultraman or Ultraseven, he is my favorite Ultraman of all-time. I also find the most enjoyment with his show, the self-titled Ultraman Leo.

What makes this show really cool, is that it starts with Ultraseven being crippled in a fight. Leo, an Ultraman from a different part of space than Seven, essentially replaces him as Earth’s protector. Seven becomes Leo’s teacher and trains him throughout the series to become the best Ultraman he can be. Seven’s human form, Dan Moroboshi, is played once again by Kōji Moritsugu.

Ultraman Leo is the first Ultra show that I watched outside of the original and Ultra Seven. At this point, the franchise had been around awhile and was pretty comfortable with itself. This was the seventh Ultra series and the sixth Ultraman series in the franchise.

This show featured some of the really cool classic monsters and it introduced a slew of new ones that were equally as cool. Like the previous shows, this version of Ultraman protected Earth from invasion by giant kaiju monsters and alien threats. It was also an incredibly physical series and featured fantastic fight scenes and stunts.

The character of Leo also fights and eventually teams up with his Ultra brother Astra. We also see Ultraman King introduced to the series’ mythos. He would become a powerful figure throughout many of the later series and films.

The thing that really sold me on Ultraman Leo was the pilot. That first episode is pretty incredible and it is the best pilot in the entire franchise. The seemingly unstoppable Seven gets beat by the swashbuckling Alien Magma and his cronies and Leo defends the crippled Seven. Leo proves himself to his future teacher before going on the long journey to becoming the valiant protector Earth needs.

It will take a lot for another Ultraman series to usurp Leo as my favorite. Granted, I’ve loved almost every incarnation of Ultraman that I have seen but there is just something special about the experience I had while watching Ultraman Leo for the first time.

Rating: 9.25/10