The first Ultraman show to be produced in five years after Ultraman Leo, The☆Ultraman was a co-production between Tsuburaya Productions and legendary anime studio Sunrise, who would go on to launch the massive and stupidly popular Gundam franchise the same year as this little show. While The☆Ultraman is very much in line with the entries that came before it, the show throws some interesting curveballs at us, not only existing in it’s own universe from the M78 stuff, but also combining elements of popular Space Opera anime, leading to a very unique Ultraman show and one that’s a classic. The show follows Science Defense Guard agent Hikari, who fuses with Ultraman Jonias to defend the Earth from numerous aliens and monsters. Thanks to the medium of animation, we get some creatures that normally wouldn’t be possible using suitmation.
Our first monster is actually one of our main characters-Pig! Pig is member of the Science Defense Guard and serves as the team’s analyst. I really love the idea of a defense team having their own robot buddy helping them, and the fact that it’s styled after Pigmon feels just so natural to the show. He’s even got himself a little monkey friend, Monchi, so the sidekick has his own sidekick!
It also adds for a fun bit of world-building to the show when early on we discover Pig is an outdated model of robot when we meet the more advanced Robot 101. It’s not a huge revelatory thing, but it’s one of those little bits of lore that helps this particular world stand out on its own when compared to the M78 universe we’ve seen in the last seven shows. It’s just a concept that I find cool, and the fact it ties into the background of a member of the main cast is real nice.
Our first proper monster of the week, or rather, monsters of the week here, is Seagra, your typical saurian kaiju usually seen as the first opponent of these kinds of shows. A group of Seagra appear out of an iceberg that floated up from Antarctica and begin freezing a harbor, only to be vanquished once Ultraman Jonias arrives on the scene.
Right off the bat, The☆Ultraman throws a bit of a twist with Jonias’s first battle. While dinosaur kaiju are dime-a-dozen, the show gives us not one, but four kaiju, something that the live-action series would have a harder time accomplishing due to budgetary restraints. In addition, thanks to the medium of animation, the Seagra look more like actual dinosaurs (or how science thought dinosaurs looked at the time) than a man in a suit. Not to knock the suitmation style, I am a man who has written thousands of words and spent numerous hours going over my love for this menagerie of weirdos, but it is cool to see something done in a different style compared to the shows I’ve looked at so far. In terms of their designs, the Segra are winners. I’m a sucker for big dinosaur guys, and having a group of ice-spewing dinosaurs is just a really fun idea to kick off a really fun show.
The Seagra were replacements for Jonias’s initial inaugural opponents: A gang of Red Kings! I’m glad the switch occurred, as I feel every Ultra show deserves it’s own unique monster to kick things off. Red King will get his time to shine here soon enough, but I’m glad we got something more unique to kick off the show’s one-of-a-kind kaiju.
Spiral here almost certainly exists thanks to the medium that The☆Ultraman is in. A massive tornado monster, Spiral flies around sucking up energy from power plants, often materializing huge arms to grab what it wants!
The true body of Spiral is a heart-like organism capable of generating these bizarre atmospheric phenomena. It’s a really fun concept for a monster, and definitely something that would’ve been impossible to produce in a tokusatsu program at the time, even with a company with so much expertise in the field such as Tsuburaya.
A giant crocodilian monster, Wanigodon is killed by Science Guard agent Marume. However, it is theorized that the cells of the monster could potentially grow into new individuals, and the Science Guard begins searching for any of the cells blasted off of the monster.
Growing from a clump of the cells is a baby Wanigodon, who, as you have it in these sorts of stories, is found by a child and taken in as a pet. And much like the results of taking in baby animals for pets in the real world, it ends pretty badly once it grows to a gigantic size as well as joining forces with other fully grown members of it’s species. Thankfully, Jonias is able to overcome the monsters once the creature’s weakness to salt water is discovered.
Wanigodon’s a simple, but effective monster, and I’ve always been a fan of kaiju who have the hook of being able to reproduce from stray cells. This also allows for Jonias to battle multiple Wanigodons, again something that’d be much harder to do in a live-action Ultra show. The weakness to salt water is a bit odd, but I always liked it when it turned out that kaiju can be susceptible to common objects, as it helps with their strange nature and helps them ground them a bit more in the world they inhabit.
The design itself is a winner in my book. While it’s not too complex and recognizably crocodilian, the extra horns and spikes help push Wanigodon out of giant animal territory and into the territory of a kaiju proper. It also brings to mind all sorts of prehistoric crocodile species, giving the monster a primeval motif.
One of the strangest monsters in the show by far, Red Smogy is a mysterious red cloud, that when exposed to water, transforms into a kaiju! It’s a really bizarre, but imaginative monster concept, and one of my favorites from the show by far. The design recalls Zazahn from Return of Ultraman, though I have not been able to determine whether or not this was intentional on part of the show’s creature designers.
Red Smogy would be one of the few kaiju to escape the show, appearing as one of the monsters that makes up Belyudra, the colossal chimera kaiju from Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle Legends the Movie. When planning out what kaiju were meant to make up the monster’s body, two Zazahns were added on by mistake and due to the similar designs of both monsters, one was converted into Red Smogy. Red Smogy’s inclusion would be pointed out in episode 100 of Ultraman Retsuden, a show that served as a recap for the vast amount of past Ultraman episodes.
THE TOUGH FAMILY
A family of ceratopsian monsters that threatens to consume an entire forest by themselves, the Tough Family as I like to call them, are a fun and unique threat for Jonias. The family’s patriarch, Tough Gillan is a well done dinosaur kaiju, very simple, but memorable. An overall pleasing design.
His mate, Tough Gillas is a bit more drab compared to Gillan, and lacks Gillan’s frill, but I really like that! I think it’s really cool when sexual dimorphism between kaiju is shown off as it makes them feel like actual organisms. She forms a good team with Tough Gillan and they’re able to knock Jonias for a loop for quite a bit. Their designs were done by Minoru Kurei, who worked on Tsuburaya’s Dinosaur Catcher Born Free, as well as their Giant Beast Planet pilot. Kurei based the two off of hedgehogs, which is where their quills take inspiration from.
We also have the Tough Gillacos, the two infant offspring of Gillas and Gillan. They’re very simplistic and cute to the point where I’m shocked they weren’t merchandised, I can totally see toys and plushies of these guys. They’re also the only two members of their family spared by Jonias, who uses a special ability to shrink harmless opponents down. While I’m glad Jonias didn’t murder two baby kaiju in cold blood, I do feel bad for their parents, who were just trying to survive and take care of their kids, and I feel like if they appeared in a more recent show, all four of them would’ve made it out.
A strange, ocean-dwelling, flying fire monster, Fire Badon might be one of the few kaiju that feels maybe too bizarre for me thanks to combining all those disparate elements there into one creature. In addition, the design itself feels a bit too plain, especially compared to most of the creatures we’ve seen prior to this guy.
That being said, what makes this guy cool is that he’s is genuinely tough, and he really puts the Science Guard and Jonias through a bit of trouble, and even forcing the team to upgrade their battleship Maddock to combat him more effectively, leading to a really stunning episode.
The result of a space monster accidentally merging with a satellite, Compugon was awakened from his dormancy on Earth when the planet Diora sent out strange signals. Compugon’s a creature I overlooked for the longest time in my various reference books, but he soon won me over when I saw him in action. The idea of a space monster merged with technology and awakened by accident is a fun concept, and the design feels very classic anime with the vertical slit mouth, bug eyes and large whips on top of his head. He’s sort of Twin Tails’s uglier cousin, which what makes him fun.
Compugon was designed by Minoru Kurei, although he has stated that he has no recollection of designing the monster, which is very strange.
BALTAN AND MYKONOS
And making his first appearance in animation is Baltan himself! It’s a great depiction of the space ninja, looking very faithful to the original design, but with some minor changes to the design, such as the larger claws and more slender frame. He’s sadly missing his classic laugh this time around, which is a shame, but he’s still the Baltan we know and love.
Baltan’s plan here is to record Hikari transforming back after being Jonias and threaten to release it to a TV station, then trying to kill him after luring Hikari to Baltan’s mansion base. To capture the footage of Jonias turning into Hikari, Baltan has him fight a kaiju, Mykonos. While he’s a bit of a throwaway monster, Mykonos ain’t too bad, feeling like a good, brute kaiju. Maybe not the most iconic of monsters, but one that gets the job done and does it well.
The last survivor of an ancient race of intelligent kaiju, Dolfigo slept for thousands of years deep inside a lost temple. When archeologists exploring the ruins awaken the beast, Dolfigo takes control of their minds. Unlike many of these sorts of stories, Dolfigo is a relatively harmless creature, and only wants to be left alone in the ruins. The team dynamiting his temple though, brings about the episode’s requisite fight. It’s left ambiguous if Dolfigo died when his island home sank, which is a bit of a shame. The poor guy just wanted to be left alone on his island! You bastards ruined this guy’s house and maybe killed him! When will Dolfigo know peace?!
Questionable moments aside, Dolfigo is a really cool monster from the show’s first half and one that raises a lot of interesting questions about the show’s world. There was a race of sentient kaiju thousands of years ago? They had a peaceful symbiosis with humanity before they vanished? Dolfigo is the kind of monster you could make an entire movie or even a story arc around. He’s a really intriguing character in the way the world sets him up, and it makes me want a prequel showing off the sort of time period when the monster’s kind was in greater numbers.
In terms of design, Dolfigo is a winner. While he’s you’re typical saurian monster, he’s got a lot of cool features that help him stand out, like his giant yellow eyes, the mohawk on top of his head and even his fang placement help create a very memorable kaiju. I haven’t found any design notes on this guy, but the eyes and fangs always reminded me of various deep sea life.
Another relatively harmless kaiju, poor Zalome becomes a rampaging beast when a magician’s teleportation trick accidentally fuses himself with the monster, and the two’s mixed mind causes all sorts of trouble with illusions of the monster being summoned in different spots, as well as Zalome heading to the home of the magician’s family. Thankfully, Jonias is able to separate the two and he flies Zalome off to his home in Africa.
The story of a magician’s trick ending with him fused with a kaiju is a wonderfully bizarre concept, and something I almost expect seeing in something like Ultra Q. Zalome himself is a fairly simplistic quadruped, looking like a cross between an iguana and a dimetrodon, but I feel like such a design helps Zalome feel sympathetic in the episode’s events. He’s just a big, dumb animal at the end of the day who got caught up in a freak accident.
I know what you’re thinking, “This is just a tricked out bulldozer, not a kaiju!” and on one hand, you’re entirely correct, but there’s more than meets the eye with Hector here. Hector was the creation of former Science Guard scientist Ogawara, who wanted to created a special anti-monster weapon, but wasn’t taken seriously due to no kaiju being around when he was a member. Ogaware quit the Science Guard and made Hector independently.
Unfortunately, while searching for a monster detected in the Himalayas, the creature, a strange, intelligent slime, takes control of the machine (and Pig), causing it to go on a rampage.
The concept here, while not outright confirmed, definitely feels like a reference to the classic short story Killdozer! by scifi author Theodore Sturgeon, which featured a bulldozer being taken over by an energy being. There was a TV movie adaptation of Killdozer! which aired in America in 1974 and even made it all the way to Japanese TV in 1976, which all but confirms in my eyes Hector was based off of his earlier ‘dozer counterpart. That being said, I think that just makes Hector incredibly fun. Ultra has never been shy about taking inspiration from other science fiction and horror stories for inspiration, so having Jonias go up against Killdozer with the serial numbers filed off makes for a fun and memorable tribute to Sturgeon’s story.