What do you think is the worst Showa Ultraman series?
As much as I love Ultraman as a series, I haven’t seen enough of the Showa series to make a real judgement. I’ve seen the original Ultraman, Ultraseven, Ultraman Leo and Ultraman 80 I also used to have a battered VHS tape of several episodes of The Return of Ultraman. I REALLY want to see Ultraman Ace and Ultraman Taro but have not had the pleasure.
However, if we ignore the animated series The Ultraman and the American co-production Ultraman: The Adventure Begins known as Ultraman USA in Japan and just focus on the live action series I really think there is only one contender for objectively worst Showa Ultraman series:
The problems with Ultraman 80 isn’t that it’s a bad show, it has some VERY good elements to it. I love the main character Takeshi Yamato and his initial desire to come to Earth to teach the children and help shape the future of mankind. Monsters have vanished from Earth for 5 years since the departure of Ultraman Leo but begin to return.
After helping find a new monster, Yamato is secretly recruited by the defense agency UGM (Utility Government Members). He is not allowed to tell anyone at his school he is working for the UGM and he cannot let anyone know he is actually Ultraman 80 or he will be forced to return to the Ultra Garrison. This initial setup is really good as is Yamato’s blossoming romance with fellow teacher Kyoko Aihara.
Sadly, this entire dynamic is dropped by episode 20 without even a mention as to what happened. The show then takes a much more traditional tack for an Ultraman series with tales of the UGM fighting monsters and aliens. This part also isn’t bad as it becomes very serious and Sci-Fi oriented with very few kid-centric stories.
Then, somewhere in the early 30s, the series changes AGAIN to focus more and more on children and their stories. By the time we get to episode 40 or so, things change yet again with the death of longtime UGM member Emi Jouno and her replacement with a new heroine, Ryoko Hoshi.
Ryoko is actually Ultraman 80′s childhood friend from the land of light Yullian who has come to Earth to warn 80 that a great enemy is coming to assassinate him but stays and joins UGM after Emi’s death. She seems shoehorned into the story at the expense of an established character. That’s not to say I hate her, how can I when this is the first role of Sayoko Hagiwara who would go on to play Rei Tachibana/Dyna Pink in Kagaku Sentai Dynaman and Ley Nefel in Choushinsei Flashman?
At the point where Ryoko is introduced, even the themesong changes. The first themesong was a very early 80s, almost disco-inspired tune:
Where the second tune was much less upbeat and more subdued and featured Yamato running through fields waving as opposed to a lot of action:
This constant change seems to be an attempt to fix flagging ratings and make the show more enjoyable for different audiences. At this point, Ultraman 80 was the 7th series in the franchise (not including animated installments) and it was starting to wear a bit thin. That’s not to mention that newer shows like the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai franchises (as well as imitators like Zone Fighter and Spectreman) had cut into the ratings and created a bit of a glut of super hero/monster shows on TV. It was no longer as fresh as it had been and the attempts to change the formula had not brought in the ratings they wanted, neither did adjustments mid-series. It was too little, too late and would spell the end of Japanese produced Ultraman on TV for 16 years until the premiere of Ultraman Tiga.
There are things I LOVE about Ultraman 80. There are some great returning monsters like Baltan and Gomora, the initial setup was great and the character of Yamato himself is very sympathetic and cool. However, it really fails to stick the landing with the last episode replacing the dead Emi Jouno with an identical, android duplicate which is just… wrong.
It is still a fun and watchable series but it is wildly inconsistent in tone and just drops characters, plot lines and concepts with no explanation. It may also have killed the series on TV for a decade and a half so it has to go down as the worst Showa Ultraman series of them all.
(I am marking this as Off Topic Tuesday because I received the question on Tuesday and didn’t get to respond until Wednesday)