Golden Media Group's Ultraman DVD Set - Volumes 1 & 2
When I bought the Volume 1 episodes (1-20) of the 1966 series at someplace like Wal-Mart, I had doubts that I'd ever see the second set. What's the target market for an obscure & antiquated Japanese series from the dawn of the age of color TV? Certainly, it isn't kids, who would laugh at the dodgy special effects & rubber-suit monsters. I doubt that they'd have much appreciation for the Japanese language track and subtitles too. That leaves the adult fan base-- I don't have any guesses about the size of that, but it's undoubtedly much smaller than for Toho kaijus (Godzilla), which probably isn't huge. I suspect that inertia had a lot to do with the release of the Set 2 episodes, but for whatever reason, I'm grateful.
The packaging is excellent-- Each set contains three slimline plastic DVD cases in a cardboard slipcase with fancy graphics; the disks have cool silkscreened images; the DVDs have professional-quality animated menus. It's a major step up from the cottage industry stuff that's been available to fans. The video quality is better than you'd expect from a 40-year old show; I'm assuming that this is due to the restoration that was done a long time ago for the laser disc releases.
It does have some rough edges though, mainly due to the ambitious scope of the undertaking. An edited, English-dubbed version of Ultraman was shown in the USA during the sixties, but apparently, no effort was given to preserving or archiving that. The GMG's DVDs shows the restored Japanese video portion with either the restored and enhanced Japanese audio soundtrack (with English subtitles, if desired), or the unrestored English soundtrack. Since the original English episodes were edited, there are sections where there isn't a corresponding English soundtrack. In some parts of the English soundtrack, there's an obvious and irritating synchronization error, as the English and Japanese version background music (inexplicably mixed together) lag by a few milliseconds, creating a weird echo or phasing. It's unfortunate, but doesn't make the episodes unwatchable in English. It's cool to hear the original English voice actors again, since they defined our caricature of how Japanese speaking English should sound.
Given the market and commercial potential for this stuff, my guess is that this project was either a labor of love initiated by some supremely dedicated fans or a business entity with a slight Reality Disconnect Disorder (kaff Chaiyo kaff). Regardless, kudos to whomever.
Another guess is that we're unlikely to see the Ultraseven series receive a similar treatment anytime soon. There wasn't a sincere effort to port that show over to English (TNT's odd comedic/campy version doesn't really count), and I suspect that the hard commercial lessons learned from this project may serve as a disincentive. However, ya never know, and I've been wrong before. At any rate, we're not entirely left out in the cold: Tsuburaya Japan has released a pricey 12-disc DVD set of that show and others (in Japanese only). Although it's region-restricted, you know what happens to stuff like that...
The cycle of collecting has some similarities to sex (although it's not as wet). There's the initiating desire and drive; there's the quest; there's the gratification (hopefully); and then it starts all over again. That pretty much describes eating too, or for that matter, most things that we humans do. The climax of the mail-order cycle happens when you receive the package and open it. It's the culmination of the desire/search/order foreplay. It's kinda downhill after that, but that's what makes it a cycle. Collectibles don't usually have any intrinsic usage value after receipt, unlike a trampoline or home surgery kit. Pulling the lever usually brings rewards, so that's why we do it over and over again.
Previously on "A Fool and His Money", the word of the day was "whining"-- As in, whining about the cruel nature of wish fulfillment. Conventional wisdom and The Rolling Stones say that you can't always get what you want, at least not instantly. Bummer. In my case, I was whining about not being able to procure the toy version of a childhood favorite Ultraman monster, Gabora. Evidently, I am blessed by the twin Gods of Demand and Supply (Pinky & Skeeter, respectively), for not long after whining about this in the article did they collaborate in motivating me to search again. Lo and behold, I not only found out that CCP had made one, but I even found a vendor with one in stock. This meant that I could abandon my years-old eBay search for a Billiken Gabora model! Clearly, this has all the trappings of a miracle, so that's why I'm giving respectful props to both Pinky & Skeeter. Regrettably, they didn't offer to pick up the tab though.
In anticipation of the impending climax to my long-time quest, I decided to watch the episode again (thanx to Golden Media Group's DVD release of the original series). Ehhhhhh... well, it wasn't a particularly engaging episode (which I already knew), and Gabora's not much of a fighter (which I already knew), but I have to acknowledge that 40 years later, Gabora looks kinda goofy with his cowl open; he's got a wall-eyed, turtle-headed look. I'm beginning to believe that not only is it idiotic to assume that there's a universal aesthetic standard, but that it can be pretty elastic even within the fortress of one's own mind. Well dammit, sometimes we just have to dismiss wrongheaded negativity in deference to the cherished notions we developed in our childhood, or perhaps go a step further and torch the damned blasphemers. ("Before the Beginning, there was this Turtle...")
...and later, we noticed that the turtle had a wire to manipulate his head for some close-up puppet shots...
When buying a toaster, we're not usually concerned with the quest portion of the cycle. Although we may do research to find the best model and best deal, we're happy when it arrives because then we can begin making toast. Collecting can have that aspect as well, especially when it's driven by the desire to acquire a series of lastest releases to fill a collection. A few button presses, wait for delivery, and it's done. Then our latest acquisition can begin collecting dust.
However, enjoyment can also come from the quest portion, or "the thrill of the hunt", especially if the item has some personal signficance. I'm fortunate to have experienced a 40-year cycle that started in my childhood-- the validity of that childhood impression isn't terribly important; It's about bridging that long-arching cycle, and whining's just an interim status report.
Of course, it's even sweeter when the quest pays off with a cool toy.
You may have wondered whether CCP would do the practical and easy thing-- simply reuse the Neronga sculpt, changing a few parts? It's shocking, but they didn't. Although the poses are very similar and there's evidence that they were based on the same basic initial sculpt, it was heavily reworked for the two releases. The folds in the stomach flesh are different, as are textural details, including the locations of warts. I'm very impressed with these guys!
Maybe I spoke too soon? I'd given CCP kudos for reworking the Neronga sculpture
to produce Gabora, instead of just making minor changes. Unfortunately, that's
not the case for their two versions of Gabora. The second version is nearly
identical to the first, except for head sculpture and minor variations (probably
unintentional) in the paint ops.
The cowled head is a completely different sculpt-- it's not the original face with the petals repositioned, which is clear from just the length of the thin, center petals. If you peel back the top petals, you see that it's part of the face sculpt, and fuses with the face just behind the eyes. The interior is detailed just enough for you to recognize features through the openings, but it's not rendered in the sharp definition of the exposed face version.
Of course, it would have been much nicer if they'd released a single version
that could do both poses. It seems like it should be possible, but sometimes
in film, things are made to work through editing and by using different puppets.
It's possible that a full-size face wouldn't fit inside very well, and would
look funky with a closed cowl...? (Kinda like the lizard-under-human-flesh in
the "V" shows.)
My biggest gripe about this release is that the pose is identical to the first
version. In the TV episode, the creature lumbered around on all fours when his
cowl was closed, and only reared up on two legs when it opened. It's understandable
that they would want to take the path of least resistance & greatest profitability;
however, for the Gabora-completist collector, different poses would help justify
the purchase. On the other hand, maybe they've got the Gabora-completist collector's
psyche all figured out?
Fortunately, the vinyl is pretty easy to re-pose through heating: The toes
can be bent so that the model can be posed halfway between its lumbering walk
and standing up. Posed this way, it's different enough from the first version
to look like a "before and after" snapshot. Pose-shaping by heat is a pretty iffy thing-- it usually doesn't last very long. To do a more convincing lumbering
pose, you'd have to cut vinyl and resculpt with putty.