Hi, hi, hello, Ultraman Connection Watch Club, EJ Couloucoundis, Editor-in-Chief, yadda yadda yadda, who cares, the King Joe episodes of Ultraseven are here!
YES, oh man you have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this one! Oh right, I’m Sarah Last, staff writer and content creator at Ultraman Connection! And I am PUMPED to see Seven fight a giant robot this week!
Well, actually, there’s a lot more to this episode — two episodes, in fact — than just a fight against a giant mecha, and all of those elements together make this story such a famous stand-out within the series. For example, right here at the beginning, you know what I was reminded of when I watched for the first time?
This entire story starts out like a classic James Bond movie. Or perhaps Mission Impossible. But I love the feel of an intricate espionage plot we’re introduced to right away!
No kidding! If you showed me the first scene of this episode and hid the opening, I wouldn’t have believed it was an Ultraman Series episode at all. The scuba diver pulling himself onto land, taking off his mask to reveal — a white guy?!
I joke, but this is actually pretty huge! It was very uncommon for westerners, or anyone non-Japanese, to show up on Japanese television at the time. The Ultraman Series, even back in Ultra Q, tried to distinguish itself as a global setting, and we got occasional appearances from foreign actors back then and in Ultraman, but this episode is called “The Ultra Guard Goes West” for a reason. The choice to include foreigners here immediately adds legitimacy to the “globe-trotting” feel of the story.
And of course, the first thing we see this guy do after putting on his cool shades and throwing away his cigar, is walk in the opposite direction of an explosion. I wonder if this is where all those action movies got the idea from…?
That shot of his mirrored sunglasses reflecting the burning wreckage of the ship is SO cool, and the mysterious questions surrounding his arrival instantly hook the audience into the plot for this week. Who is he? Why did the boat explode? What is his mission, and where did he get that stylish white suit tailored to fit inside a wetsuit without a wrinkle?
Oh, that part doesn’t surprise me. Suits in the 1960s had so much starch in them that you could drop them in a volcano and they’d be fine.
Anyway, we cut to (presumably) Sunday church services letting out, and a pretty blonde woman walking down the street, followed by our mysterious super spy. The woman notices immediately, since this guy is taller than everyone else in the shot and also the only other non-Japanese person there, so she quickly jumps into a taxi and drives off, leaving her stalker(?) out of luck.
After that, the scene cuts to a man fresh off an airplane, holding some briefcases and waiting for a pickup of some sort. I wish I could tell you more about this new character, but there’s no time to learn anything, as he is immediately sniped from a car! We learn a moment later that he is a tourist from Canada, in our first appearance of any actual Ultraseven characters at the five-minute mark! Considering an episode tends to last anywhere from 23 to 25 minutes without ads, that’s a full 20 percent of the episode without our main cast, or anything that would indicate that this is an Ultraman Series production!
It really has its own unique feel. Even at this point in the franchise, where the themes of what Ultraman “is” were still evolving, it stands out from what audiences may have expected to see each week.
Captain Kiriyama notes this in-universe when his team raises their concern about the string of murders targeting foreign visitors to Japan. He points out that this is a job for the police, not the Ultra Guard. He has faith that the killer will be brought to justice, but thinks that the culprit is of a more mundane variety. At least, for now…
It’s actually interesting to see how passionate the rest of the Ultra Guard is about investigating these cases though. It’s easy sometimes to forget how young they’re supposed to be, since they come across as such competently skilled professionals in many episodes. But the Ultra Guard sort of represents the best of humanity, and their hopes and ambition for the future too. They all take the duty of protecting human lives seriously, even when there’s no aliens (immediately) involved.
More importantly, in my opinion, is Kiriyama’s perspective here. One thing that needs to be understood, at all times, is that defense teams are not cops. They’re not soldiers. They are the best of humanity generally, but at the same time, they’re almost a microcosm of the Ultras they fight alongside. If the tools and techniques used to protect mankind against threats beyond their comprehension are turned inwards, it becomes tyranny. The Ultra Guard has the same responsibilities to let humanity handle their own business as Ultraseven does here, and I think that’s integral to the series.
That’s a good point, and I think an important core of the classic Ultraman series is the way the defense team is always portrayed along those lines. There’s small differences between the different series: the SSSP is more of a scientific research outfit, while the Ultra Guard, MAT and TAC are more military focused, for example. But there’s always a very clear line that the defense teams never cross. They’re not weapons to be leveled against other human beings.
Side note, this makes a lot of plots in Ultraman Ace particularly dire because the defense team TAC starts running into plots which try to leverage that point against them. But it also goes to show that this idea of the defense teams only being intended for defense, to protect humanity from threats that are too dangerous or large-scale to handle through other mundane, public organizations, was well-established by that point.
I also agree that this is important to note, since in many ways it’s also a reflection of the relationship between each Ultraman hero in these classic shows, and humanity itself. There’s a reason after all that those Ultra heroes always choose to fight with the defense team each season in order to help in that specific mission.
Absolutely. I think the stories where the heroes have to toe the line between human politics and threats, and alien dangers, tend to be some of the best around. For example, Ultraman’s “My Home is Earth” is one of the most heart-wrenching stories of the entire Classic era, and easily in the top 10 episodes in the entire series to me.
Things don’t stay tied to Earth for very long in this episode, however. Kiriyama is soon pulled into a top-secret meeting with the Director, where he learns the truth behind the incidents! The victims were all members of the TDF’s own forces, and were convening in Japan for an even more surprising reason.
After an exploratory rocket returned from a mission to the newly discovered planet Pedan, the TDF also found evidence that the planet was inhabited by intelligent life. Unfortunately, the Pedan aliens mistook the observational mission as a prelude to an invasion and decided to strike first.
It’s almost like a Cold War drama of its own, and I’m sure that was the intention of the writers for this episode. Imagine a more “mundane” version of this story, with spy satellites and undercover agents instead, it’s not too much of a stretch!
There’s an immediate sense of fear that creeps in while Kiriyama is meeting with the upper brass here. Everyone at the table realizes that a mistake was made, even one relatively minor, but it can’t be taken back, and things are spiraling out of control. It’s very apropos to the actual Cold War at the time, and it’s fascinating to see how much of the worry in the western media is paralleled here.
Kiriyama is addressed to the important person that the Ultra Guard needs to protect: the pretty blonde from before, the “brain of the Washington base,” Dorothy Anderson. He’s also informed of the mysterious suited man who was following her, setting up some immediate stakes. The Ultra Guard has to get Dorothy to a meeting of minds on what to do about the Pedan situation, without her getting taken out like all the other disguised TDF members.
The mission is almost over before it even begins! The same mysterious suited man from before — now almost certainly an agent for the Pedan aliens — takes another shot at Dorothy before they can even get in the car! They’re only saved by a lucky miss in this case. It’s clear security is incredibly tight as the team passes multiple checkpoints on the road to the conference center, where the rest of the TDF officials will be meeting to decide how to deal with this new threat.
I don’t know exactly where this filming location is found in real life, but the producers and directors must’ve had an impressive budget for these two episodes. There’s lots of long exterior shots, and impressively sophisticated scientific research equipment shown off inside the base in the next scene.
As a whole, it feels like a real upgrade on the weekly budgeting for these episodes; maybe because it’s a two-parter, they were able to put double the money into developing the locations and props? After all, they save the money on having to make a new monster next week.
Dan successfully protects Dorothy, as we knew he would, and the group drives to the TDF Defense Center, succeeding in their mission. There’s a bit of weirdness on the way that I took as foreshadowing, however, when the guards watching the road don’t seem to recognize Dorothy; shouldn’t they have been expecting her…?
Well, just the team in the car saying “We’re the Ultra Guard” was good enough credentials for them to be let through, maybe these officers needed some more training in more ways than just that…
The other TDF experts at the base recognize Dorothy at least, they’re excited to have her expertise at hand to produce a strategy that will stop the Pedan aliens’ attack. It’s honestly very surprising, but welcome to see that the script doesn’t just make the central “brain” of this strategic plan a non-Japanese character, but also a woman!
Then again, it seems to be something the show overall is very aware of and tries to promote, since Anne is always shown as a serious member of the team with her own expertise in the medical field too.
It’s one of those little things that I really appreciate: There’s been a long history of women keeping important roles in all of these defense teams. It never feels like they’re there to fill a quota or anything. Anne isn’t just there as Dan’s love interest or anything, just like Akiko Fuji wasn’t there to be romanced either. They’re just part of the team. Heck, they don’t even come across as having to be “one of the guys,” either.
The best way to describe it is like… they don’t have to make excuses for why they’re included on the team. They’re not held up to a greater or more exclusive standard than any other team member.
As Dorothy makes herself home at the conference center, we learn that the rest of the TDF’s brains are en route through a (hopefully) safer route. That is, arriving in Japan on a nuclear submarine sent from Antarctica! I have to say, if you’re worried about secret alien agents infiltrating your plans and assassinating people, there’s probably no better way to travel than thousands of feet under water in a sealed metal tube.
Unfortunately for the people on board, the submarine turns out to be a death trap anyways. It comes under attack from a mysterious, and bizarrely-shaped set of UFO parts. They collide with the submarine, which immediately calls for backup from the Ultra Guard. Here we get to see another addition to their repertoire of cool-looking vehicles, the Hydranger, sent out to their rescue.
How did the Pedans find out about this secret transport, I wonder? We, as the viewers, only learned about it when the head of the Defense Institute told Dorothy about it. Curious…
Unfortunately, as cool as the Hydranger is, it’s far too late, as the four golden crafts surround the sub, called the Arthur, and destroy it, further reducing the number of minds that could conceive of a countermeasure to the Pedan threat. Damn, these guys are a little too thorough.
When Director Manabe said the Pedans swore revenge, he wasn’t kidding.
It’s after this moment that the Ultra Guard finally comes to the inescapable conclusion that there is a spy in the TDF. Dun dun DUUUUUUN.
Also, the guy in the sunglasses is there, and he’s coming for Dorothy!
And he’s got a FISHING ROD! Look out!
He’s reeling it in so… menacingly…
The Ultra Guard seems to catch a lucky break once again, as the fishing rod isn’t secretly a high-powered rifle, or tipped with toxic fishing hooks, or anything like that, it seems. He hooks Dorothy’s brooch off of her jacket, and she runs away just as the Pointer rolls up to apprehend Mr. Secret Alien Man.
Hmm, that raises some questions. What exactly was Dorothy doing out on the docks anyways? Wasn’t she supposed to be hiding from the aliens who wanted to assassinate her, back at the conference?
Things just keep getting fishier.
Wait, maybe that’s why the Sunglasses Man had the fishing rod!
No, that’s silly.
What’s far less silly is the entire Ultra Guard getting ready to whale on this guy as a group (even after Furuhashi gets judo-flipped onto his rear end), giving time for Dorothy to… escape?
Ohhhh, there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. You see, the Sunglass Man hasn’t been the threat; it was Dorothy all along! She’s the alien spy!
Cue the loud dramatic musical sting!
Actually, what happens immediately after this is far more effectively terrifying. We cut back to the conference as the scientist from before lights up a shaky cigarette, declaring all hope to be lost against the Pedan aliens. Their trump card, the one expert they were relying on to have the knowledge to counter their plans, is now missing and presumed to be dead.
But wait, things get worse!
And by worse, we mean HE’S HERE, EVERYBODY!
Four golden ships, combining into the most famous giant robot in the entire Ultraman Series! Hail to the King, baby!
I apologize for my lack of professionalism here, folks, but King Joe is a legend. There’s never been a character quite like him in the entire Ultraman franchise. He’s shown up countless times, as a villain, and sometimes a hero, but most of all, he is an icon. I believe he’s even the first combining robot ever to be depicted in live action!
At the very least, other famous depictions of combining robots in manga and anime, such as Getter Robo, didn’t come around until the 70’s. I wonder if there was any influence from these episodes? That might be a research thesis for another day.
But King Joe doesn’t make a big splash only because of the novelty of his concept. The whole scene showing his slow walk to attack the TDF’s base, with massive amounts of firepower being flung his way with no effect at stopping him, is just incredible to watch. Incredibly stressful too, but gosh he just looks so cool.
So cool. Too cool, in fact, for Ultraseven. This is the first fight in the entire series where we see Seven losing; and badly. Nothing he does can so much as scratch King Joe’s golden armor, and it keeps just walking through all his best grapples and techniques. The episode ends in gut-wrenching terror as the Slugger bounces off King Joe, and the robot jumps onto Seven, pounding him into the dirt as the Ultra Guard can only watch in horror…
In last week’s episode, we noted that the Iyros actually gave Seven a run for his money by deflecting his Slugger attack… but Seven still mops up the fight immediately afterwards by throwing his Wide Shot beam attack instead. Here, Seven tries everything and King Joe just shrugs it all off. It’s actually horrifying to watch him get literally curbstomped here.
And then… the episode just ends! Right in the middle of said curb-stomping! Can you imagine watching this as it premiered on TV for the first time, and not even expecting it to be a two-part story? I think I would’ve had a heart attack waiting for the next episode.
Luckily, our readers don’t have to wait for next week, they can go watch it right now through the official Blu-ray release, or streaming for free online! Just a hint…
If you DO want to wait, next week, we’ll see how this battle ends — here’s hoping it’s for the better! — in “The Ultra Guard Goes West, Part 2!” See you then!