Written by Jonathan Wojcik

...And now for something completely different. This is the first of the "superbeasts" (sometimes translated as "terrible monster") created by the evil alien Yapool in the series Ultraman Ace, which include some of the wackiest, most messed-up kaiju in the franchise.

In one such case, a couple of mysterious strangers appear one day to give the local children free rides on a fantastic hot air balloon, but something strange happens to every child that comes back. Namely, they're much calmer. In fact, they're so docile and so obedient that rumor spreads fast about the amazing, mysterious hot air balloon that makes children more "behaved," and soon, parents are actually clamoring to let (or rather *make*) their children ride it. Soon enough, however, some of the children become more than calm, but almost catatonic...and medical testing shows that their brains are almost totally inactive.

The disturbing truth of the balloon is that it is not only a monster, but a monster that feeds on the energy of youth, sucking it right up through the balloon-hole that actually serves as a "mouth." Even though the children look the same on the inside, their minds and "spirits" are aging an entire lifetime in only days. They simply no longer have the energy, physical or emotional, to act like children anymore, and while they're never explicit whether their actual lifespans are affected, I feel like the situation is equally cruel in either case, considering the kids have had too much taken from them to even care.

We all know the kids will be saved by Ultraman by the end of the episode, but having now gathered enough power, the balloon reveals its true form:

Still capable of flight and still incorporating the original balloon as a swollen stomach, the strange kaiju has a whip-like left arm, gliding membranes down its sides and a seahorse-like head with a floppy, rubbery trunk, horn-like ears, insectoid red eyes and a third, brightly luminous eye on its forehead.

As strange as it looks, the monster has no distinct combat powers of note, but it does take on its kaiju form while still carrying a load of children, and we're shown at least twice where those kids have wound up:

Portrayed by limp, flailing dummies in silhouette, the image of the children flailing and bouncing around in the creature's luminous stomach is one of the most surreal and nightmarish images I've quite possibly ever seen from an Ultraman episode, and I say this having only just seen it in my 30's. If Bad Balloon wasn't dreadful enough before, this hauntingly weird image definitely cements its inclusion here.