Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Fourth Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. Last time we gave you something inoffensive, sweet and fun that you might easily enjoy with the entire family. Today's special is something a bit more esoteric: a weird, wild offering from the Land of the Rising Sun, full to the brim with the oddly pleasant cognitive dissonance of seeing things you never in a million years would have thought would work together forging an unlikely Yuletide alliance. So pick up big bucket of KFC, brush up on your Hans Christian Andersen and power up for some Far-East holiday mayhem. Konichiwa bitches!

Simply having a wonderful Shitmastime.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. It's an international smorgasbord of joyful with 8.3% more kaiju!

Boy-howdy! Did I ever love me some Ultraman (1966-present) when I was a kid! I remember rushing home from school in the mid 70's to watch it as part of a block of Japanese imports that also featured other "tokusatsu" (special effects) programs such as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot (1967), Kamen Rider (1971-76, various later series) and Super Robot Mach Baron (1974), the last of which came to America with its Japanese cast sequences replaced with scenes featuring actors from Hong Kong. A few anime programs aired in the U.S. around that time as well, most notably Speed Racer (1967) and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972, re-edited and renamed Battle of the Planets for U.S. Distribution).

Ultraman was always my strong favorite, but of course I had no idea at the time that what I was watching was the second series of something that was originally called Ultra-Q, or that by the time I was seeing it there had already been seven series in Japan, each with a different set of protagonists and distinct variations on the central hero. Ultraman Taro was the sixth of these, and featured plots with deliberate nods to both domestic and international myths and fairytales. Just as the names "Jack" and "Tom" repeatedly appear in European folklore, the name "Taro" is the most common masculine name in Japanese folklore, and served as something of a mission statement for what remains the most polarizing incarnation of the long-running program.

For Western viewers Christmas might not seem like an obvious subject for a Japanese show to feature, especially a show like Ultraman that's mostly about beating the snot out of big monsters and stomping on elaborate dioramas of apartment buildings and oil refineries, but as it happens it's an extremely popular holiday in Japan. As less than 1% of the population identifies as Christian it's primarily a secular celebration focussed on Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and family gift exchanges, but it also features some uniquely Japanese elements, like the association of Christmas Eve with romance, much like Valentines Day in the U.S., and the bizarre modern tradition of serving Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner, which has become such a widespread phenomenon that take-out meals must be ordered several weeks in advance of the holiday.

It's amidst this odd blend of Eastern and Western tropes that we begin our program, in a crowded strip mall, following a little girl with an adorable Pomeranian as she pensively watches the holiday shoppers rushing to and fro, purchasing baubles and trinkets and toys for their families.

Pomeranians are not to be trifled with.

The little girl gazes longingly into a shop window at a stuffed toy that looks like her pup, and glares enviously as a mother walks her daughter down the street, each of them carrying bags full of gifts. She sits on the sidewalk and warms her hands with her breath as it begins to snow, and it's apparent from all we've seen that she is an orphan.

Why do so many Christmas stories involve orphans? Asking for a friend.

We cut to ZAT headquarters, where the Earth defense force against extraterrestrial threats and giant foam-rubber monsters are just hangin' and chillin' and dreamin' about the upcoming holiday.

The Token Chick of the team is sitting and pondering over a packet of fireplace matches, and one of three Comic Relief Buffoons asks her what she's thinking. She replies:

Don't we all, Token Chick? Don't we all?

She's referring to the matchlessly depressing Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale "The Little Match Girl," about a poor waif who sits in the bitter cold of a city sidewalk fruitlessly seeking to sell matches to passersby. She's afraid to go home, knowing her father will beat her if she doesn't sell them all, and eventually she must light the matches one by one just to keep herself warm. In the flames of each she sees visions of her dead grandmother, the only person who ever showed her kindness, and once all the matches are gone she freezes to death.

Even for the famously dismal Andersen "The Little Match Girl" is particularly bleak, and one naturally wonders here what exactly it is about the story that makes Token Chick so keen to emulate it.

As it turns out she's only interested in the whimsical notion of seeing what you desire in the flame, and so she lights a match and has herself an old-fashioned vision of an old-fashioned wedding, with her as the bride and with her ZAT coworker who is secretly Ultraman as the groom.

He's every girl's dream. Amirite, ladies?

The flame burns out and the vision fades. The Comic Relief Buffoons beg her to tell them what they saw, teasing that while she was half-catatonic and staring at the flame she looked more happy than they'd ever seen her before. She opts to keep her fantasies to herself, what with Ultra Guy being right there in the room and all.

Since they can't extort any info from Token Chick, the Comic Relief Buffoons instead grab the matches and decide to have a go for themselves, counting down from three and lighting their matches in unison to reveal their most secret desire:

I'll admit this is not what I was expecting.

Yeah, they dream of a ride on a triple tandem bicycle. They're even counting off "left-right-left-right," because they are apparently so asinine and uncoordinated it's the only way they can all remember to pedal in synch with each other. Eventually they encounter a little boy on a tricycle and in trying to avoid him they fall over, sending them all to the floor of ZAT headquarters in an awkward heap, arguing over who caused the crash.

It's just that these guys were hand picked to be our last line of defense against frequent and deadly extraterrestrial attacks, that's all.

We fade to later that evening where Ultra Guy is hanging with a woman friend and her little brother. They're joking and laughing and being generally frolicsome, and they decide that they, too will pick up a lighter and play the matchstick girl flame-game.

It would probably be helpful at this point to understand that the way a human becomes an Ultra is that they are chosen at the point of death by the inhabitants of the Ultraman planet to be brought back to life and merged with one of their own. In this series our Ultra Guy's name is Kotaro, and he was revived by "Mother-of-Ultra" after being immolated in a plane crash to be joined with her own son Taro. Hence when Ultra Guy looks into the flame he sees what Taro most wants to see, which is his mother.

She's got some big-ass tittays.

I get that they were going for some kind of mythic fertility goddess thing here, but damn! Those aren't just breasts, they're deadly weapons! She could stab you with the nipples, motorboat you to death or maybe even drown you in ultra-milk. There are worse ways to die.

Next up is Little Brother, who has a brief, friendly fantasy fight with Ultraman Taro himself, who is apparently his idol. If only he knew his grinning pal Ultra Guy actually is Ultraman!

"I've got three dollars, a bottle opener and a drinking problem. Now show me what you've got."

Big Sister figures out from Little Brother's jumping and gesticulating that he must have seen Ultraman Taro, and Little Brother brother bashfully admits it.

Now it's time for Big Sister to have a go with the flame, and what do you think she sees? It's her own wedding to Ultra Guy, except when she looks over at him she sees Token Chick standing arm in arm with him on his other side.

There's plenty enough to share, ladies...if you know what I mean."

When we return to reality Big Sister gives Ultra Guy a painful pinch on the arm to punish him for not living up to the standards she's set for him in her matchstick girl fantasy.

Meanwhile Orphan Girl is skulking around outside their apartment and peeping in the window at their jovial antics. She laments to her pup that everyone is busy preparing for Christmas with their families except for her.

Next we see her sitting next to a lake at sunset, holding a star-flecked marble up to the setting sun. In it she sees a vision of the previous Christmas, sitting at home with her parents, with her father handing her a present and telling her to open it.

"Is it a pack of cigarettes? Cause I'm really jonesing for a smoke about now."

Back in the real world she puts the little marble away and hugs her dog, saying "I wish it never happened," which I suppose she means whatever happened that left her orphaned, but the way she phrases it makes it sound like she wishes Christmas with her family never happened. Perhaps it was garbled in translation.

The next day a bunch of kids are playing next to an oil refinery, as kids often do on a December morning in Japan. It seems they've taken Orphan Girl's magic marble away and they've been tossing it around to take the piss out of her.

Eventually it lands at the feet of Ultra Guy, who just happens to be taking a little stroll by the refinery, as grown men often do on a December morning in Japan. He picks it up and gives it the once over before the little girl runs up shouting for him to give it back to her. He does so, remarking "It's beautiful, like a magic gem!" She responds by telling him it was given to her by an alien whom she calls "uncle from planet Miracle."

It seems these heartless brats, Little Brother included, were teasing her because she insists the marble was a gift from an alien and that in it you can see anything you want to if you just hold it up to the sun.

They're pretty brazen about tormenting her, too. You'd expect that as soon as an adult showed up, especially an authority figure like Ultra Guy, they'd all make nice, like they weren't being dicks to her at all or were just kidding, but aside from a half-assed gesture from Little Brother to try to save face they just keep on ragging on her as if bullying is a completely socially acceptable part of childhood in 1970's Japan.

They even go a step further, digging into her about being an orphan, and how she has to live with her grandmother because her parents are dead, and mocking the escapist fantasies she uses to try to deal with her grief.

"Stick it up your ass, Becky!"

The other kids get bored of bullying her and run off to play "Ultraman Taro vs. Aliens," quite a popular pastime with the eight-to-thirteen crowd who hang out down by the refinery. This leads the girl to confide in Ultra Guy that there are "many aliens more powerful than Ultraman Taro in this world."

Being as Ultra Guy is co-habiting his Earthly form with Ultraman Taro, and that Ultraman Taro is an alien being who draws his power from the sun, just like the magic marble, he's mighty interested in the little girl's tale.

"Okay, but make sure you wash it before you give it back."

At first she's reticent to share her treasure with him because she's not sure if he really believes her, but when he asks her what alien she thinks is more powerful than Ultraman Taro she offers it up to let him see for himself.

He holds up the marble to the sun and we see what is probably a flashback from a previous episode, where Ultraman Taro is battling a giant turtle among a cluster of scale-model apartment buildings.

King Tortoise. If they were fighting at the refinery I'd make a crack about "Shell Oil." Missed opportunity, that.

We see that Orphan Girl and her family lived in one of the apartments where the fight took place. They tried to escape the building before it collapsed, but only Orphan Girl made it out alive, and as she was fleeing she witnessed each of her parents getting crushed to death beneath the rubble.

It's a pretty brutal scene, and far more graphic than what would have been allowed on American TV at the time. Even though these tokusatsu programs were heavily edited for the US market my mom forbade me to watch the ones she felt were still too violent. She particularly took issue with Johnny Sokko, but she was always at work when it aired so I watched it anyway.

Sorry, Mom.

Ultraman Taro pretty much got the ultra-stuffing beaten out of him that day, and during the carnage a bunch of properties were destroyed and a mess of people died. It's little wonder Orphan Girl has so little faith in his ability to protect the planet.

That's right, Ultra Guy. You got your ass whupped by a turtle.

The Orphan Girl is excited because Ultra Guy saw the vision in the marble clearly, proving to him that it really is a piece of alien technology and not just something shiny thing she found in the trash and made up stories about. She tells Ultra Guy that if it hadn't been for Alien Uncle Miracle saving her and her Pomeranian she wouldn't be there with him enjoying the warm, carcinogenic glow of the oil refinery today.

She goes on to explain, via another marble-enhanced flashback, that Uncle Miracle came from a planet much like Earth to study why we stupid humans were "falling behind," presumably on their mortgage payments or Shitmas reviews.

He befriended and comforted her after the loss of her family, but eventually had to return to his own planet. He gave her the marble as a parting gift and told her that although he wouldn't be there physically he would still be watching over her. Just before he disappeared he allowed her to see his true form.

Goodbye to you, gentle Uncle Owl.

Orphan Girl now sees Uncle Owl back on his own desert-like shit-hole of a planet, apparently in real time, being aggressively flagged down by some ugly, tentacled dude in the distance. Orphan Girl gasps in horror that this is "Alien Terrorist!"

It was easy, Alien Terrorist. I just closed my eyes and thought about baseball.

I guess we're supposed to assume here that old Uncle Owl told her about Alien Terrorist at some point during their carefree rambles, because otherwise there's no good reason she should have any idea what the hell is going on. He must have also warned her what would happen if he and Alien Terrorist ever met, because she says she knows Uncle Owl is going to die and she just can't bear to watch it happen.

Ultra Guy grabs the marble and watches as Alien Terrorist tries to get Uncle Owl to tell him what he knows about Earth, but Uncle Owl refuses because he knows Alien Terrorist will use the information to invade it.

Do what you like, Alien Terrorist! I will take the secret of the Tootsie Pop to my grave!

Alien Terrorist attacks Uncle Owl. They tussle a bit and roll down a dune, and Alien Terrorist eventually manages to get the upper tentacle and stab him to death with his Alien Scimitar. He cries exultantly that even without the secret of the mystical Tootsie Pop the Earth will soon be his!

Orphan Girl knows that Uncle Owl is dead and that Alien Terrorist will soon invade. She vows that when he does she will seek revenge for Uncle's death.

Sure, kid. You're just gonna strangle him with your pig tails, right?

We cut back to the ZAT headquarters and a narrator who's popped in a few times before to make largely superfluous transitional statements tells us that Alien Terrorist's invasion "has become reality."

It seems to me that some back-story about Alien Terrorist would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than much of what we've seen so far, but the producers apparently thought fake weddings, tandem bicycles and big-titty Ultra mommas would make for some riveting television. I respectfully disagree, aside from the titties, of course, the inclusion of which I heartily endorse, but at least now we're gonna get us a good old big monster boss battle, right? Because that's what Ultraman is all about, that's what we watch it for, and that's what this crack team of highly-trained professionals is there to provide for us.

Before we get to it, though our sleepy Comic Relief Buffoons have one more bit of absurd funny business to throw our way. Instead of springing immediately into action to perform their sworn, sacred duty of protecting the Earth they pause for a moment to complain about having to work on a holiday.

"Can't I just open my presents first?"

So Alien Terrorist appears in a scale model of the oil refinery the kids were playing around that looks absolutely nothing like the real thing. The layout is completely wrong and the storage tanks are painted silver instead of white, but at least it's a bright, sunny day and we get a good look at our monster du jour without the puke-green filter they used for all the scenes we saw through the marble.

As it happens he actually is puke green.

Alien Terrorist starts swinging his alien scimitar and kicking shit and stomping all over the buildings and towers and stuff, and I'm suddenly five years old again, eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch in my terry-cloth footie pajamas and glued to our 19" console TV in the Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania house we lived in until a few weeks before I turned ten.

I'm so fully transported back to those halcyon days of my misspent youth that I barely even noticed how Token Girl specifically referred to the invader as "Alien Terrorist" when she had absolutely no way of knowing that's what he's called.

We rejoin Ultra Guy and Orphan Girl in the field near the refinery just as we left them, and they gaze in horror as the invader wreaks havoc on the highly inaccurate scale model. So powerful is Orphan Girl's grief and rage that she tries to bolt directly at Alien Terrorist to seek her revenge, and Ultra Guy has to physically restrain her.

As absurd as it may seem, her instinct to run towards and attempt to destroy a seventy-foot alien with a twenty-foot sword feels completely authentic to me. As a survivor of childhood trauma myself I understand the pent-up fury of her unresolved fear and loss, compounded by the more recent heartache of losing the one living being who had shown her kindness and taken the time to understand her pain, and triggered by this fresh terror that so closely mirrors the disaster she had previously experienced. It's an impotent, explosive outburst from a child who has been repeatedly hurt and abandoned, acting out blindly in ways she cannot herself understand.

Unfortunately she's kind of gumming up the works here, keeping Ultra Guy from ducking away behind a rock or storage shed or whatever other cover he can find so he can summon his Ultraman powers unobserved, and every moment she delays him brings more and more wanton destruction.

"Stuff a cork in it, kid. I've got shit to do."

Alien Terrorist sees them and starts shooting explosive projectiles at them from inside his knuckles, and they have to take cover in a gully to keep from being blown to chunky, meaty flame-broiled bits. Orphan Girl still wants to run to her certain death, screaming that her mother, father and uncle are all dead anyway, and that since there's no one left to even give her a Christmas present this year there's really no use in living.

Ultra Guy tells her he will help her seek revenge, but that she must first run away with the kids who were bullying and tormenting her ten minutes earlier. Little Brother, who has joined them in the ditch and has been moved by her grief-stricken outburst. Having seen the error of his hurtful ways tells her he will lead her to safety, and that he will even buy her a Christmas present if she'll only just shut the hell up for fuck's sake and let Ultra Guy go do his goddamn job.

Meanwhile Alien Terrorist is snooping around the oil and gasoline storage tanks tapping on them with his sword and trying to decide which one he wants to blow up first.

"They're all so shiny! I just can't make up my mind!"

Ultra Guy runs into the fray to give the kids cover fire so they can escape, blasting away with a little pistol with some mighty powerful rounds that make a fireball like an incendiary grenade with each impact on Alien Terrorist's masculine, scaly chest.

The box said don't use near petroleum products, Ultra Guy.

Alien Terrorist fires back with his knuckle gun and when Ultra Guy is completely obscured by smoke and sparks he finally summons his special powers and becomes Ultraman Taro.

Well it's about fucking time.

Now we get one of those signature Ultraman fights that are part pro wrestling smack-down, part fire fight and part karate tournament, set to the jaunty oom-pah beat of the ultra-catchy Ultraman Taro theme tune. Punches are thrown, bodies are slammed and models are smashed to bits, and I've got to tell you, people, it feels so good to be back watching this corny schlock again after nearly four and a half decades.

Glorious Kaiju mayhem...oh, how I've missed you.

The Comic Relief Trio show up and do a useless fly-over in one of their snazzy silver planes, and the skinny guy who didn't want to work on Christmas makes the rather obvious observation "it'll be bad if the gas tanks explode."

He shouts "Be careful of the tanks!" and Taro, who apparently just noticed there are dangerous combustibles in the area, plants himself as a living shield to protect them.

Alien Terrorist really starts piling the projectiles now, and Taro's suit sparks and smokes and glows like a Fourth of July fireworks display. Orphan Girl and Little Brother watch helplessly from the adjoining field as it begins to look more and more like Ultraman Taro is about to get his ass handed to him on an ultra-platter for the second time in the episode.

Little Brother did a fine job of escorting her to safety, I see.

Taro is really having the shit kicked out of him, getting knocked to the ground again and again, but he still just barely manages to heave himself up again and make enough of a nuissance of himself to keep Alien Terrorist from messing with the tanks. Finally Alien Terrorist gets tired of this tedious back and forth and raises his scimitar to deliver the death-blow.

Just as Taro is about to take it to the bread basket, Orphan Girl's marble suddenly starts beeping and glowing. She cries out "Uncle!" and instinctively hurls the thing at Alien Terrorist. It's one hell of a long, accurate throw, traveling hundreds of yards to its target and hitting him square in the chest. He first burst into flames, then falls to the ground and freezes into a solid, icicle-clad heap.

Ultraman Taro hops back to his feet as if ready to continue fighting, then suddenly realizes the threat has been neutralized and Alien Terrorist is no more.

"Lemme at 'em! I'll moidalize 'em! I'll...oh never mind."

Taro picks up Alien Terrorist's body and tosses him high up into the sky, then unleashes his special Ultra beam, blowing the corpse to smithereens.

Seems like using that particular Ultra power earlier might have saved Orphan Girl the trouble, but whatever, dude.

Since Alien Terrorist's body was covered in frigid rime, the fragments of his pulverized flesh fall back to the Earth as delicate flakes of snow.

"Stick out your tongue! It tastes like calamari!"

As the site of the battle becomes coated with the frosty, granulated carrion, the wintry cheerfullness of the scene inspires Taro to use a previously unknown power of Ultra to transform a radio tower into the special's titular Ultra Christmas Tree.

The ways of the Ultra are merry and mysterious indeed.

Later that evening Ultra Guy is back at Big Sister and Little Brother's place enjoying a Christmas Eve aperitif. Orphan Girl is there, too and Little Brother steps out in a dorky mustard-colored sweater and his contractually obligated Japanese boy-shorts to give her the promised Christmas present.

"Is it a pack of cigarettes?" Sorry, I already used that joke.

It's a baby doll, which she quickly unboxes and proceeds to fondle it disturbingly.

"You're not like the like the same things I do..."

Ultra Guy asks her if she'll still be lonely now, and she says no, she's going to move in with her father's parents, with whom she thinks she will be very happy. We're not told where the grandmother she's living with now is going. Maybe they'll just leave her stranded on a mountain or something.

Ultra Guy picks up a bottle of champagne, presumably as a prelude to sending the kids to bed so he can make a move on Big Sister, but as soon as he starts fiddling with the cork Little Brother notices that it's snowing outside. It's proper snow this time, too and not just freeze-dried alien fish food.

They all run to the window and Big Sister picks up Orphan Girl's Pomeranian so he can share in the view, but the feisty pup squirms and bites her hands as the actress playing her smiles gamely through the pain to avoid having to do a second take.

I told you Pomeranians are not to be trifled with.

Aside from a brief preview of next week's episode, which appears to be about a sentient tree stump that likes rice cakes, that's it.

The End.

I'll freely admit this was a saki-soaked cheese-a-thon, slow getting started, with a mess of filler and a plot that made little sense, but gosh-darn, folkses it was still a super fun watch with exactly the right kick of nostalgia to make me a very happy holiday boy.

Aside from my personal childhood connection to the program, the whole aesthetic of Ultraman harkens back to the Kaiju roots of Million Monkey Theater itself, which began its life in 2003 as a Godzilla fan site run by our esteemed founder Nate. It's wholly appropriate that the big silver guy with the not-quite-anatomically-correct crotch should finally be represented alongside the big green dude with the nuclear halitosis here, even if it did take seventeen years to bring them together. Now that I've reacquainted myself with Ultraman I may just have to catch up with the rest of what he's been up to since we last met those many years ago...but not until I've delivered the rest of your Shitmas gifts, of course!

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 11th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

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