MUD PHANTOM TSUCHIKERA
Written by Jonathan Wojcik
With a name like "mud phantom" and a design like this, you should already be in love. I see (and design) a lot of sludgy, sloppy muck monsters, and Ultraman has its fair share already, but there's something extra special about this shambling mutant's bulbous, lumpy, potato-like upper body, brightly glowing little eyes and wide, toothy grimace; it strikes me as the kind of face every cartoon thinks a piranha has. Then there are those eerily long, floppy fingers, which by the way can extend like whips, and the blunt, gnarly spikes throughout its body. The fan wiki never makes mention of this, but I'm pretty sure those spikes are actually shards of rotten wood and that the fingers are roots, especially with the more obvious branch of driftwood lodged in its back!
Tsuchikera isn't just a mindless heap of mud and twigs, however...in fact, it spends most of its existence living peacefully in the swamp neighboring a remote village, harming no one, and every so often an old man stops by the water to play a soft little tune from a music box...why?
The tragic story of this creature begins with a scientist named Kondo, a single father who has no choice but to work for the military during the Pacific war. Working with his best friend and fellow scientist Hirano, their experiments accidentally lead to the creation of an artificial bacterium with mutagenic properties, and when he opposes its use as a weapon, he is forcibly injected with it as its first test subject. Any remaining samples are lost in the ensuing chaos, and with no way to reverse his horrendous mutation, the man flees to the swamp to hide from civilization.
It's Hirano who ends up taking care of the man's little daughter, and initially brings her to play by the water almost every day so that his old friend can see she's still safe, and at least watch her grow up from afar...but her life is soon cut short by an air raid, and the only thing that can keep the mutant calm is the sound of the music box he had intended as a gift for her.
Things continue this way for several decades, until one day the music is interrupted when Hirano is ambushed by muggers. Springing to action, the Mud Phantom saves his friend's life by drowning and eating one of the two thieves, but unfortunately, this only sparks a police investigation that further agitates the creature. As it also turns out, the swamp has long been contaminated by toxic waste that has driven the entity increasingly mad, and by absorbing the rest of it, the raging swamp monster grows to titanic proportions.
The one bright side is that by the time of their battle, Ultraman Gaia knows that this monster is the real victim here, and uses his Gaia Healing ability to pacify it. This causes Tsuchikera to essentially disintegrate, having little humanity left to "heal" under layers of mud, pollution and bacteria, but Kondo's spirit manages to send a final message of thanks to the friend that stuck by him into old age, and passes on finally at peace.
There is, however, one bitter detail I've saved for the end: that the toxic waste poisoning Tsuchikera's swamp and further degrading its human mind was the by-product of a missile the series heroes developed to defeat another, unrelated kaiju.