Science Saves Us All

While Ultra Q features a handful of truly surreal episodes – especially one where a kid’s pet turtle mutates and exits reality – it’s a genuine show about weird science, philosophy, and natural balance.

That’s hard to see for some. Japan’s entertainment in the mid-’60s was awash with giant monsters. So too was Ultra Q, where most weeks, a photo journalist, pilots, and occasional researcher dealt with an oversized beast. Yes, a rubber suit and miniatures brought this to life.

But where the follow-up franchise Ultraman locked in to Saturday morning goofiness, Ultra Q displayed an unusual maturity. Again, Ultra Q revels in the hokey – a giant slug from Mars is destroyed by salt – yet its messages go beyond the time period. It’s at times mournful about humanity’s planetary impact. Worries over the environment came years before most.

Ultra Q’s social awareness makes it a gem, thoughtful in tone

More importantly, Ultra Q considered the good and bad of science. Where rogue experimentation or social expansion spawned a city-destroying mutant, a quick-thinking (mostly) logical idea to solve the issue was implemented. It’s smart, celebrating brains over military force. An oversized ape, brought to building-tall scale by WWII rations, isn’t destroyed. Rather, it’s recognized as confused, then carefully sedated and returned home.

Ultra Q’s social awareness makes it a gem, thoughtful in tone and still supplying the visual effects spectacle as to not lose anyone in the audience. Plus, by way of Toho effects specialist Eiji Tsubaraya, his new studio signed a number of Japanese sci-fi regulars. Frequent Godzilla film actor Kenji Sahara takes the lead, while a multitude of small contract players pop in for an episode or two.

Writing off Ultra Q as a mere starting point for the broader Ultraman brand is to demean the accomplishment here. If needed, dismiss the kaiju pop culture influence and listen to a show willing to engage in Twilight Zone-like ethical dilemmas, plus reflect fear of a changing nation.

Rather than rely on military solutions after Japan’s WWII experience, Ultra Q props up the mind as a weapon. For kids, it’s heady stuff, emboldening those who study or even the outcasts. Ultra Q’s key scientist spends days in an isolated cabin away from society, yet still saves the planet from various catastrophes. The same goes for a gung-ho journalist (Hiroko Sakurai) whose reporting sells papers as much as informs. Intellectuals always won on this show. A few monster rampages to keep kids engaged seems worth it.

Video

Woah. Just… woah. After years of legal struggles as to who owns the brand, the result is this masterful and quite frankly flawless Blu-ray presentation. Thankfully shot on 35mm, Ultra Q’s look rivals that of some major films. It’s that sharp, producing gobs of detail and pristine, untouched sharpness. Close-ups replicate facial definition en masse, while visual effects bring out the best of these miniatures and/or suits.

Occasional scratches, specks, and dirt do appear. That’s expected and well within reason. Obviously, composited effects dim resolution. Again though, that’s normal. Mill Creek’s compression handles seven episodes per disc, working the grain structure to preserve the filmic appearance. If artifacts show, it’s brief and nothing more than an anomaly.

Brilliant black & white uses the full gray scale, exhibiting vivid contrast. Depth keeps its strength thanks to rich black levels. Where needed, contrast picks up, otherwise pure and natural.

Audio

Each episode carries Japanese DTS-HD 2.0 mono. In brief, Ultra Q brings the best tier of vintage audio. Clarity for something of this age (and doubly so for TV production) is absurd. Forget any of the typical aging signs like static, hissing, or popping. Ultra Q sounds practically new.

Part of that though comes from the obviously added sound effects. Ultra Q pulled from Toho’s stock library, but many of those effects fade to make way for modern foley work; it’s distracting. It’s enough to engage the subwoofer a touch, odd given the limitations of Ultra Q’s day. Bummer these things were tinkered with.

Extras

On the discs themselves, nothing. Inside the impressive packaging though is a full color booklet with writer Keith Aiken’s rundown of Ultra Q’s production history, an episode guide, character bios, monster FAQ, and more. Good stuff.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Ultra Q
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  • Extras
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Movie

The origins of Ultraman date back to Ultra Q, a surprisingly thoughtful show about giant monsters, science, and social awareness.

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