Hello, Ultraman Connection Faithful, and welcome back to the Ultraseven Watch Club! I’m EJ Couloucoundis, editor-in-chief of Ultraman Connection.
And I’m Sarah Last, staff writer and content creator for Ultraman Connection!
Sarah, I know we’ve talked about the last stretch of episodes being this legendary block of stories that can’t be topped, but this one is also pretty special, mostly because it is almost the exact plot of the movie Rear Window, except with aliens and children. I’m speaking, of course, of Ultraseven episode 10, “The Suspicious Neighbor.”
A lot of the most iconic episodes from Ultraseven cement themselves in the viewers’ imagination because of how chillingly they recreate and analyze real-world conflicts, which would typically be considered beyond the scope of a kid’s superhero show. But the series also excels at just being really, really, weird at times, and some of my favorite episodes are the ones that go full-tilt into nutty, psychedelic science fiction concepts.
This episode is a great example of what I mean.
It’s SO weird!
Something we haven’t really talked about much is how much of a role the score of Ultraseven plays in establishing the mood. “The Suspicious Neighbor” makes this clear right away by starting with a horror movie horns sting over… an establishing shot of a river. Terrifying! Followed by three sudden zooms into something even scarier: A CHILD!
Sarah, I might have screamed right at the start of this. Not out of fear, mind you, but laughter — there’s something hilariously over-the-top about how this episode begins.
This episode is… a trip, in many different ways. Just like “Android Directive Zero” last week, there’s a deliberately madcap sort of tone to this plot.
Aside from the melodramatic camera zooms though, the concerns of Akira, our kid-perspective character this episode, seem fairly ordinary at first. He’s stuck in his room with a broken foot, and finds himself interested in the odd neighbor who only recently moved in next door— Hey, wait a second, this is sounding really familiar.
Cue the Alfred Hitchcock Presents music.
It’s funny how many horror movie tricks this episode uses, honestly. The appearance of Akira’s sister in a sudden cut and the strange dutch angle — everything around Akira is flashing warning signs of “not to be trusted.”
Until, of course, Anne steps to the front of the frame, and things balance out. It’s amazing how many people Anne had a connection to in Ultraseven. Nine times out of ten when a civilian was involved, it was because Anne was either friends or related to her. It gave her a good reason to be involved in as many storylines as possible, so I don’t have any complaints, but it does seem odd in a vacuum.
We get hints about the lives of the other Ultra Guard members as the show continues, but Anne really feels like a person who has interests, friends and a life outside of just being a member of the team, especially at this point relatively early on.
It also makes her a really fun foil to Dan. She’s the reasonable, rational one. A “straight man”, er, woman who reacts in ways that we can relate to when faced with strange occurrences. Like, say a bird being frozen dead in midair for no explainable reason.
Dan, on the other hand? When he’s faced with bizarre and improbable circumstances, he does exactly what you would expect a totally normal human being to do as well. He urgently reports things to his captain… and then chucks himself out of a window.
That moment absolutely stopped me dead on first watch, and it stops me dead every time I see it, just because it’s such a bizarre reaction. I know we’ve talked a lot across this series about how alien Dan and his actions are, but this moment really does kind of take the cake.
Of course, this time he has made a mistake, as his impromptu base jump ends with him vanishing before he touches the ground, right in front of the eyes of Anne, Akira, and Akira’s sister.
Vanishing… into the ballooniverse.
Seriously, this alternate dimension is very silly and I love it so much.
Forget Hitchcock references, someone on this show’s production really must have loved Jack Kirby comic art!
This also illustrates (ha!) something I love about tokusatsu shows of this time period, though. Before the days of CGI, any effects had to be done with optical camera tricks, or painstakingly-hand-drawn and edited additions to the physical film. If you need to portray a weird, brain-scrambling alternate dimension that our hero has been suddenly thrown into, the production crew needed something that is instantly recognizable and effective, and also cheap or quick enough that it can fit into the filming schedule of a weekly show! So the solution is very simple: throw balloons everywhere on a blank, white soundstage, add strange stone-looking tendrils and use optical filters to give everything a woozy-looking tilt.
The very fact that it doesn’t look like anything we might recognize from our own world just makes the jarring drop Dan took into the “fourth dimension” even more effective.
I actually put a lot of time into trying to figure out what the materials used in this space were. I’m pretty sure that the columns are wrapped in soundproof foam, but I can’t figure out what the strange spinal shape in the center is.
The shapes don’t really matter though, the creepy neighbor teleporting into the space along with a bunch of glowing, beeping machinery is! What a creep this guy is! He introduces himself to Dan as Alien Icarus from Planet 17, and that Dan has fallen into his trap.
Bud, what were you going to do if Dan didn’t come to visit? What were you going to do if he didn’t jump out a window???
We joked already about Dan being a sucker for pretty women and multiple invading aliens trying to use that as part of their plot to take over the world. I guess Dan being a guy who just throws himself into obvious traps is a similarly well-known fact by this point.
I have to say, it’s endlessly entertaining to see just how inexperienced Dan is at this whole Ultraman thing at the start of his career. He’s rightfully earned his reputation in the franchise as time goes on… but man, his first attempts here are rough. For example, in this episode after the Alien Icarus gloats about trapping Dan in this dimension, Dan tries to use his Ultra Eye and Capsule Monsters, but to no effect!
He then immediately keels over unconscious on the floor.
I truly love Seven, I think he’s one of the greatest warriors in the entire Ultraman Series. At the same time, I don’t know how we have all collectively blanked out how odd Dan’s energy can be in moments like this.
With Dan out of action, the Icarus begins assaulting Earth with his saucer, annihilating an industrial zone with some of Tsuburaya’s patented special effects that make it look… honestly, uncomfortably realistic.
It just wouldn’t be a proper alien attack without an oil refinery exploding, would it?
The series of explosions and fires is enough to get the attention of the rest of the Ultra Guard, though, and they immediately ride out to launch a counterattack. The dramatic miniature shots and extensive showcase of these launch sequences then is juxtaposed with… Dan, still lying on the ground unconscious.
Dan. Dan, buddy, c’mon.
He’s out for a significant portion of the episode! And even when he gets up, he’s still out of action — he has no idea what to do to get out of here!
Help actually comes from Akira and Anne, as the saucer returns to the four-dimensional space Dan is trapped in. As the space is actually occupying the same physical space as Akira’s house, Dan can communicate with them due to the saucer somehow causing a crack in the space. Following their voices, Dan is able to find the control machine for the dimension, breaks it, and immediately returns to realspace.
Honestly, the scene is pretty nerve-wracking to watch, with everyone helplessly trying to call out to Dan. Dan himself doesn’t even know if breaking the control machine will work, and everyone seems convinced that he will be trapped in the fourth-dimension permanently if he destroys it. But nobody else seems to have any better ideas, and the Ultra Guard is busy trying to prevent the rest of Japan from burning down in the meantime!
And then Dan’s plan works anyways, miraculously. I laughed out loud when the Alien Icarus just stares dead-pan at him when they both materialize in the “normal” three-dimensional universe, and admits that he underestimated him. Now the game is up, and Alien Icarus is forced to fight on equal ground against Ultraseven!
Is it just me, or is Alien Icarus’ design here… kind of adorable? Look at those big, floppy ears!
He is adorable! Icarus has shown up for decades since this episode, and in many of his New Generation appearances, he is given a sort of slow voice that only further enhances the effect. This guy feels like he should be a kid’s best friend, not a world-invading nightmare beast.
And, as befitting of his appearance, the second Seven shows up, this guy is toast. He rushes at Seven and immediately falls rearend-over-teakettle. Absolute goon. Now, his spaceship? That thing is scary, vaporizing the countryside as Seven jumps to cover in a really cool effect. Thankfully, the Ultra Guard is on the case for that.
This final “showdown” against Icarus I think is supposed to be pretty anticlimactic. Seven easily trounces him, and Icarus doesn’t even get the dignity of a good explosion at the end! He just ignobly trips down into a ravine and then is left for dead. I guess they wanted to show that once Seven was able to fight with his full strength back on Earth, Icarus really stood no chance. The camera even does some wild tricks as Seven somersaults around the battlefield, so maybe Icarus was just as disoriented in “three-dimensional” space as Dan was in their base of operations in “fourth-dimensional” space.
This is the first time that Ultraseven really tries a fakeout sort of ending, only for the next scene to show the Ultra Guard pursuing the saucer and destroying it. It’s almost a little bit of a weird choice to make, as right up to the end I was expecting Icarus to jump out again to finally get destroyed. Nope! The kind-of-adorable bat Kaiju is gone, and the threat to Earth is safe. Just in case, though, if YOU see an invader, call the authorities.
Say, EJ do you have the hotline number to call the Ultra Guard? Seems like it might come in handy.
Unfortunately, I think it went defunct a year later. I do have the MAT hotline, but…
Anyway, that’s all for this week, folks. Come back next week when we take a look at an episode that always makes me smile: Ultraseven Episode 11, “Fly to Demon Mountain.” See you then!