Hello there, Ultraman Connection faithful, and welcome back to the Watch Club. I’m EJ Couloucoundis, editor-in-chief of Ultraman Connection. I’ll let my partner introduce herself in a moment, but before I do, I feel a need to stress that this episode, even when compared to the politically-charged themes of previous episodes of Ultraseven, is exceptionally heavy, and as such, I will issue a personal warning- If you are not in a place to discuss the realities of militarization, collateral damage, and mutually assured destruction, be prepared to take a week off.
Once again, I’m Sarah Last, staff writer and content creator for Ultraman Connection. This is one episode that I’ve been simultaneously looking forward to, and also agonizing over, because… I mean, where do we even start? “Super Weapon R-1” has become iconic amidst the classic Ultraman series, even if it’s not usually referenced in explicit, visual ways like “The Targeted Town”. All the same, it’s one of the most memorable episodes of this series because it never flinches from the horrific realities of warfare, a reality which unfortunately we still grapple with today. It’s surreal and heartbreaking and downright harrowing.
I cried watching this episode in preparation for this discussion. I’m tearing up thinking about it again. This isn’t to say “Super Weapon R-1” isn’t written so that people of all ages can’t understand it, but… in several ways, that makes it more painful. There’s no ambiguity to the horrors you're witnessing. Even a young child can see them.
I think this episode hits even harder than the afore-mentioned “Targeted Town”, for reasons that will become apparent all too quickly…
Even in the opening scene, the narrator helpfully introduces the audience to a huge missile system described as a “terrifying” new weapon, a planetary attack super weapon system called — you guessed it, “R-1”. The rest of the Ultra Guard seems to be amazed at the feat of engineering that it represents, but Dan’s look of concern as they pore over the weapon’s specifications I think speaks for all of us.
I’d argue it goes beyond concern — Dan is horrified at the potential of R-1. This is a man who watched the TDF extinguish an entire species with nuclear weapons (See Episode 6, “Dark Zone”) and now he’s witnessing the creation of a weapon 8000 times more powerful.
You can hear the worry in Koji Moritsugu’s voice as Dan asks Furuhashi to explain to him why Earth’s protection is worth an act this unspeakably awful — a question Furuhashi cannot speak to. Getting his answer in that silence, Dan runs to try and call off the test of R-1, barely being held back by Furuhashi and Anne.
I think the whole dilemma within the Ultra Guard over Super Weapon R-1 is so effective in this episode because no one is acting out of character. Dan’s fellow teammates aren’t being used just for mouthpieces to espouse some sort of exaggerated claim so he can be held up as a morally-superior hero for facing them down. The Ultra Guard is just as concerned with protecting the peace of Earth and humanity as they always have been, in every episode we’ve seen so far. Anne even says that they don’t need to use the Super Weapon, just having it as a deterrent will surely prevent other aliens from attacking them!
But that’s why this story is so heartbreaking. Dan’s trying to argue for the better path, but it might mean going against the desires of the human beings he’s fought so hard to protect for this entire time.
“A sad marathon you keep running, even as you cough up blood.” That’s how Dan describes the cycle of militarization — after all, why wouldn’t the invaders they are protecting against increase their arms as a response to R-1? That comparison has stuck with me for years.
The argument he has with Furuhashi here is one of those perfect bits of acting where the characters, themes, and awful comprehension of the stakes of this episode come crashing down on everyone’s head. Dan demands that Furuhashi answer, what will happen when the aliens respond with even more powerful weapons, more dangerous schemes for invading the Earth? Furuhashi doesn’t even think before he answers — of course they can just build stronger weapons when that happens!
And at that moment, everyone in the room stops, in dead silence, and realizes the implications of what he’s just said. No other words need to be added, other than Dan’s famous analogy that I still hear quoted to this day.
I have to tell you, that line has lived rent-free in my head ever since I saw this show for the first time.
And then… it gets worse. We cut to a conversation between Captain Kiriyama, Officer Takenaka of the TDF, and a pair of scientists. And we hear it from smiling lips: “If [R-1] is successful, we’ll start building R-2 immediately.”
R-2. With ten times the explosive power of R-1. A weapon as powerful as 8000 nuclear bombs.
The most terrifying part of this scene is definitely the fact that the scientists deliver their news with genuine, beaming smiles.
As for the rest of the Ultra Guard, even Kiriyama is concerned about the destructive potential of these weapon tests, but the same scientists assure him that Earth won’t be affected, because they’ve painstakingly chosen a testing site for the weapon, a planet which they are certain is completely uninhabited. There’s no way anything could possibly go wrong!
Except that this is Ultraseven so, of course, everything is going to go wrong.
You brought up the episode “The Dark Zone” earlier, and this scene reminded me of that story as well, for another reason. In that previous episode, humanity tried everything they could to avert the destruction of the Pegassa’s city. Here, the scientists are sure that they’re taking every precaution to make certain that their massive superweapon isn’t going to harm any other living thing (aside from… y’know, the living things they would hypothetically use it against after it hits full production). Nobody here is doing this specifically because they’re bloodthirsty warmongers who want to see things die.
But nobody in the Ultra Guard other than Dan realizes that there is only one possible end to this course of action.
The weapon is launched, by the grinning scientists, on Planet Gyeron. On impact, Gyeron is reduced to dust.
There’s a subtle moment, when the collected cast is watching the impact on screen. There’s a look of… solemn horror, is the best way to describe it. In a vacuum, what they just watched is horrifying. The extinguishing of an entire planet. Even if there really was no life on it, that planet is gone. Any potential it had, erased. And then they have to be told that the test was a success, and everyone is all smiles again.
Everyone except Dan Moroboshi, watching from the back.
Dan immediately leaves, not sticking around to join the relieved celebration with the rest of his team. But that celebration is also short-lived, since the Ultra Guard quickly receives a warning of something headed towards Earth, something that appears to have come from the ruins of Planet Gyeron. Dan and Furuhashi are dispatched to space to investigate it, but I think everyone in that control room has realized what’s happening now.
As the Ultra Hawk 1 makes it into space, Furuhashi is the first one to spot it — a titanic, birdlike Kaiju. The scientists were wrong. There was something alive on Gyeron, and now it is without a home, and hungry for vengeance. Dwarfing the Ultra Hawk in size, Dan and Furuhashi barely avoid it as it hurtles towards Earth. Their rockets do nothing — a passing meteorite fails to do much as slow it down. NOTHING can stop Gyeron, and now its rage is directed towards the people who blew up its home.
So of course the Ultra Guard decides to send jets with even more powerful bombs to use against it, surely that will fix everything, right?
And… It seems to work, actually. Gyeron explodes into a giant fireball, sending gorey squibs all across the landscape for good measure, and everyone congratulates themselves for a job well done. They’ve solved the problem before it escalated further and hurt other lives! That’s the most important part of their job, after all.
But the scientists aren’t satisfied with that, they immediately call for the production of further “Super Weapons” to be implemented, to make sure this never happens again. That declaration now seems dreadfully ominous to the rest of the Ultra Guard, not just Dan himself. They all seem to realize the fight is far from over. If Gyeron could survive its entire planet exploding, then why would a few measly bombs from the Ultra Hawk stop it now?
You know what else is ominous? The slow camera panning over a ruined churchyard cemetery where Gyeron exploded.
Sure enough, the ruined pieces of Gyeron slowly ooze themselves together to reform its body. The next day, the attack starts again. Gee, this is all starting to seem like a marathon of a battle, one might say…
Something that also needs to be noted is that Gyeron wasn’t like this, originally. Its current body, its current powers, are a consequence of R-1’s detonation. This is 100% the fault of the TDF.
And they don’t recognize their mistake at all! When Gyeron is destroyed, they view it only as a pretense to speed up construction of R-2 — and begin work on R-3 and R-4. It’s enough to make me sick to my stomach…
We mentioned an earlier episode of Ultraseven, “The Dark Zone”, in this article, which makes a lot of sense considering these two episodes both share the same head writer, Bunzo Wakatsuki. But while rewatching “Super Weapon R-1” this week, you know what I was reminded of even more specifically? The fight against Gomora in the original Ultraman series.
Both stories involve a Kaiju who rises up against humanity for the sole purpose of vengeance against humanity’s short-sighted arrogance. Both stories show how the threat of their respective Kaiju attacks escalate far outside of their control, and escalate the huge scale of damage, as a result of humanity’s inability to seek any sort of solution that does not involve violence.
And both stories bring an end to the Kaiju only after a horrifically brutal and desperate fight against Ultraman.
In this episode, the Ultra Guard quickly realizes that Gyeron has resurrected itself, to continue its attack. What could be worse than an indestructible space monster hell-bent on revenge against humanity? One that now spits the radioactive ash particles leftover from the same weapon that destroyed its planet.
There’s no other options left for the Ultra Guard after that radioactive fallout forces their plane to crash. Dan, Seven, is the only one who can stop this threat. He tried to stop it before with his dire warnings of the consequences from launching R-1, but now he has to end it with his own hands.
There are some shows that enjoy presenting their themes with cautious subtext, and then there’s Ultraseven.
Subtext can be ignored, or denied. I know people who use subtext, and they’re all cowards.
Even the miniature sets hammer in the point, highlighting how monstrously destructive this fight has become. Gyeron and Seven face each other down in a beautiful field of flowers, which are trampled and covered with radioactive ash as their battle drags on.
It’s utterly brutal, and uses landscapes that are rarely used in Ultraman. Quarries, cities, mountainsides — fights against invaders tend to feature terrain that is meant to be destroyed in a scene like this. A building smashed, a mountainside spitting rocks into the air. Here, we have exquisitely constructed ruins, and flower-filled fields that pop in contrast to the dryer colors of Seven and Gyeron.
And still, the TDF scientists do not learn. The female scientist consistently says that she takes responsibility, but her male counterpart always insists that the next weapon will do the job. They never consider that the solution could be simply to stop. As the rivers catch fire and the fields of flowers are muted by ash, the only option offered is reprisal.
The scientist here has demanded bloodshed as the price to be paid to protect humanity. Only Seven is capable of delivering it, by executing Gyeron as it struggles and thrashes in the mud.
I am not exaggerating for the sake of being poetic, Seven literally ends this fight being covered in Gyeron’s blood after finishing it off with his Slugger.
It’s heartrending, because so often in these shows, Ultraman is the last line of defense, the last hope that humanity has to preserve itself against dangerous and malicious threats that come to it from outside of our world. Ultraman is there to take on battles which humanity cannot fight on its own. But this fight… this was one that we called on ourselves, and Seven is the one who pays the price for it in our place.
… I need a drink.
You and me both. We also get a rare denouement scene — after all, a big part of this episode is the consequences, and that has to be reckoned with by human beings. The words Dan spoke at the beginning of the episode ring out again — “A marathon you run even as you cough up blood,” and the scientists find themselves reconsidering their choices. The episode ends on a high note, with Dan being visited by Takenaka and one of the scientists, with a message: R-2 is being scrapped. Even if it’s just a fantasy, humanity can learn their lessons.
Next week, we’ll take a look at a threat from beyond the stars — and from within the controlled mind of our own species, in Ultraseven Episode 26 “Operation Cyborg.” See you then!