Not too long before Christmas I found a pretty good deal on eBay for a set of the complete original Ultraman television series on DVD. I think I paid about 10 bucks for the set and the shipping. Not too shabby for a 4 dvd set that contains 39 episodes and a few extras. I watched Ultraman when I was a kid (my mom says I would run around and say "UTCHAMAN!" all the time), but I hadn't seen the show in years. How would it hold up after all these years?
Pretty darn well. It's a campy, Japanese sci-fi series from the late 60's, so you can't expect it to be Shakespeare. However, I was impressed with some of the ideas and themes presented in the series. Even some of the effects weren't too bad either. The main thing is that this show was and is a lot of fun. It's exciting, funny, scary, and sometimes even sad. I've read a lot of reviews where folks say that the show is too formulaic. I disagree. I was expecting that going in, but saw that a lot of the times the writers of the show tried deliberately to shake things up episode to episode. Sure, every episode had Ultraman fighting a giant monster, but you know that going in. That's like watching football-- you know it's going to be a bunch of guys knocking the crap out of each other to get a ball to either end of a field. It's the how that matters.
The American version of the show was dumbed down greatly. I recommend that you watch the Japanese version if you really want to enjoy the series. The Japanese gave kids a bit more credit than we do as far as being able to handle complex concepts like death and betrayal.
So enough about the feel of the show... what the heck is Ultraman???
Ultraman is set in the near future from the time it was made(the show mentions at one point that it is set in 1990's). The Science Special Search Party ( called the Science Patrol for short) is Earth's first line of defense against aliens and monsters. In the first episode Science Patrol Deputy Captain Shin Hayata heads out to investigate a UFO sighting over Japan. When Hayata's ship collides with a ship piloted by an alien law enforcement agent called Ultraman, the alien binds his soul to the soul of the injured captain and the two form a symbiotic relationship. When danger rears its head, Hayata uses the Beta Capsule to call Ultraman to aid humanity. Danger usually comes in the form of a guy in a floppy, rubber suit. Did I mention that Ultraman is a giant? Well he is. Now you know.
The rest is just figuring out how to fit a monster into the story and how to have Ultraman kick its butt before the end of the episode. Ultraman's a pretty tough dude, but he can only be active for about 3 minutes in Earth's atmosphere. You have to limit your superheroes somehow, or they get boring fast.
So how is the DVD set?
Pretty darn good. It's from Mill Creek, the guys who make those collossal 50 dvd genre sets you see on Amazon and other online dealers, so don't expect this to be Criterion Collection quality. That said, these DVD's aren't bad quality at all. I was impressed with how clear the image and sound were. Each DVD has both the English and Japanese versions. The subtitles are great--very clear and very true to the nature of Japanese storytelling. There was only one episode that had any problems, and it was because the subtitles were a bit off from the soundtrack-- even then it didn't really destroy the watching experience.
The last DVD has three special features: An interview with the American voiceover cast, a kaiju encyclopedia, and the American opening credits. The interview is pretty long, but it's very interesting. It's weird seeing these older folks who have done voiceover work for almost every kids' show you ever saw growing up in the 70's and 80's talking about behind the scenes stuff. The kaiju encyclopedia ("kaiju" is a Japanese word that means "mysterious beast" ) is pretty neat. It just gives character files for each monster that appears in the entire series. The American opening is really weird, because the episodes on the DVD set all feature the Japanese opening, and it is strikingly different.
Overall, this DVD set is well worth the price and well worth your time watching it. Nothing beats grabbing a good snack, a cold drink, and kicking back to watch hours and hours of dudes in rubber suits tearing up miniature cities. That, and you won't find the line "Aim for the anus!" anywhere else in kids' programming.
If you want a cheap copy of this set, check out Overstock.com. Their set is $7.99 with only a couple of bucks shipping. You can't beat that with a stick!!!
So on to the second part of this far too long blog:
I have been hunting for this figure for quite some time. I happened to find it on eBay a little while back, and it arrived today in the mail. It's an Ultraman "sofubi" figure. Sofubi are soft, rotocast vinyl figures made by Japanese companies to represent movie, television, comic book, and video game characters. They are hollow, but usually feature really nice sculpts and paint jobs-- usually much better than anything produced in the states. They usually run about 8-10 bucks in Japan, but getting them here in the States will usually run you a few more bucks. It's not unusual to pay 20 bucks for a newer sofubi from an online seller in the States. I lucked up and found someone who had listed one without pictures on his eBay listing. Ebay buyers get skittish when they don't see pics. I did some research before buying and found out it was the figure I was looking for, so I wound up paying about 5 bucks less than any of the other Ultraman figures on eBay at the time.
The figure stands around 6 inches tall and features 3 points of articulation. His shoulders and his waist are cut joints. This is pretty normal for sofubi-- they're more for display than anything else.
The sculpt is extraordinary. Much like my Jet Jaguar figure, this Ultraman looks just like a guy in a suit. All of the folds and creases in his outfit are perfectly translated here. Even little details like the eye holes in the costume's mask are faithfully reproduced here. This is the newest release of the figure and features the closed fists. The version that was available before this one had loose, open hands. I kinda like this one better, because he and Jet Jaguar can give each other respect knuckles.
He has a really nice paint job with the only real area at issue being the minor slop around the left eye (I can fix with with a swipe of a paintbrush-- no biggie).
Overall a very, very nice figure who looks fantastic next to my other kaiju figures. I am quite pleased with my purchase!
I don't have any recommendations as to where to find an Ultraman figure like this one, because most of the online dealers are either sold out, or the toys cost way too much. Your best bet would be to lurk eBay and keep an eye out for a good deal!