Slice and Dice

Rightfully assuming the audience who began with Ultraman a decade earlier was getting older, Ultraman Leo shifted its appeal to the changing demographic. It’s not shy about it either.

Previous Ultraman series saw monsters cut in two or their arms slashed off in defeat. Early in Ultraman Leo, there’s a night murderer who splits people in half, their separated bodies visible on camera. One victim is a father and his son turns to vengeance. Ultraman Leo likely spawned a bunch of middle school serial killers given its nature. In the first episode, Ultraman Taro’s leg is broken. It’s not subtle. Not only do two monsters stomp and splinter the bones on screen, there’s a snapping sound to go along with it.

For its tonal brazenness and pleasing effects alone, there’s cause enough to give Ultraman Leo a go

Ultraman Leo doesn’t alter the core formula. There’s still a useless government-led military effort (MAC) sent to fight the weekly giant monster assaults. Each episode ends in a brawl, where Leo steps in to save Earth from what’s usually an alien threat. Outlandish vehicle designs, ridiculous uniforms, and bizarre plots keep the visual energy high.

Yet, this series’ bleaker tone creates an outright abusive apprenticeship for Leo, who came to Earth after failing to save his own planet. Using a Hong Kong-esque martial arts master/trainer relationship, Leo spends the early part of this show in ludicrous training regimens. If he considers quitting, he’s slapped or beaten. This, even as he punches and kicks trees, bloodying himself in the process. The message isn’t dissimilar from previous Ultraman entries, but delivered in a stern, even grisly manner fitting to a decade fraught with national challenges.

Storylines take on a more serialized method, and lore became a tighter focus as various Ultra characters make their appearances. By Ultraman Leo, that wasn’t new, although linking this all together into something more cohesive was. There’s clear effort in these scripts to connect everything as a franchise beyond the weekly fighting.

Released in the mid-70s, Japan’s monster boom was on the wane so Ultraman Leo does feel a touch desperate in its reach. Credit to the model makers and effects team though, who while inconsistent purely based on the rushed format, do compose some spectacular scale. Tidal waves rushing into Tokyo look convincing enough for theatrical release. Improved composites match anything from Toho’s Godzilla flicks from this period. For its tonal brazenness and pleasing effects alone, there’s cause enough to give Ultraman Leo a go.

Ultraman Leo Blu-ray screen shot

Video

Not that different from other Mill Creek Showa-era Ultraman Blu-ray releases, the key problem remains compression. Shot on 16mm, the result is a heavy, thick grain structure the encode simply isn’t capable of handling. Images turn into messy digital slop, retaining little (if any) of their original filmic qualities. Add in smoke/haze (common during action) and seeing any clarity becomes impossible.

Credit to the restoration team in Japan who makes the prints almost spotless. A little stray dirt or a scratch is of little concern. There’s vibrancy to the source material too, giving the series life it never had before over the air on tiny TVs. Strong contrast and firm shadows convey the ever-changing mood.

Splashed with aggressive reds, the MAC team doesn’t try to camouflage their arrival. Splendid saturation isn’t helping the compression, but does stand out. Primaries elsewhere impress on an equal level.

Audio

Japanese only DTS-HD services the series well enough. Sharp dialog fares well even as the action turns heavy. The catchy theme song perks up, treble pure, limiting distortion.

Thankfully, the early trend of adding new sound effects is over. Ultraman Leo uses only the original audio.

Extras

Nothing except for a detailed booklet and episode guide.

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.

Ultraman Leo
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Series

Tonally wacky but aiming for an older audience, Ultraman Leo’s surprising violence highlights a series locking in on its own lore.

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