ALL OF THE SAUCER BEASTS!
Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Today's entry involves no reality-bending existentialism, no Lovecraftian madness, no ghosts or demons, but by the end of it I think you'll agree that this is one of the most monstrous families of Kaiju around, all lead by a mysterious corpse-pale man named Black Directive, actually an invading alien whose true form is never seen.
And up until Black Directive's appearance, Ultraman Leo is a fairly ordinary, episodic Ultra series. Week after week for 39 episodes, Leo has soundly defeated the latest threat to humanity with the help of his colleagues and dear friends at Earth's leading defense force, the Monster Attack Crew or MAC.
And then comes episode #40.
FIRST SAUCER BEAST: SILVERBLOOME
Called upon by Black Directive, this crystalline organism encounters MAC holding a birthday party for one of their crew aboard their orbital space station, and, spreading its ribbonlike red tentacles for hundreds of feet, completely engulfs and demolishes said station with its all-consuming digestive acid. The team very nearly escapes, but the creature only ensnares their ship and consumes every last one of them, the first kaiju to ever completely wipe out an Ultra's entire supporting team. It's a harrowing sequence, too, as we see the monster's yellow acid pouring into the ship and its flesh-fringed mouth flapping to the screams of long-established characters as they are sucked inside of a monster and digested alive.
The carnage doesn't end, either, as Silverbloome lands in a busy city street, floods its surroundings with its paralyzing poisonous gas and devours hundreds of innocent people before it seemingly just vanishes. Having actually taken the form of a small stone, it lies low until awakened by a school science teacher and consumes him face first, leaving nothing but a puddle of liquid and returning to its dormancy until its next massacre. Mad with grief, Leo eventually tears the creature inside-out with his bear hands, even finding his friend's acid-drenched starship in its stomach before he eviscerates the alien completely...but it's still a kaiju with among the most confirmed kills in any Ultra series, and for once, we're even shown the ground-level toll it takes on the friends and families of the dead, with thousands more people maimed and scarred from the gigantic creature's chemical attacks.
' It's a grim, grim episode for any Ultraman series, and Silverbloome is an antagonist so unforgettable that it's been one of my favorite kaiju since I saw only a tiny, blurry JPEG of it on the 90's internet. This very night is now the first time I've been able to watch its episode, and I was not disappointed by its on-screen performance. The idea of a "flying saucer" that's actually the alien itself is always a thrill, I'm a lifelong fan of creatures with jellyfish-like shapes, anything that swallows and dissolves its prey whole is exceptionally horrifying, and the whole design is just superb. Its bony white, bulb-shaped body and transparent bubbles almost look like the scolex of a tapeworm, if you ask me, nicely contrasting the intensely red, ragged and flat tentacles. It LOOKS like the kind of monster that should do something unexpectedly gruesome, doesn't it? And even the name, Silverbloome, is beautifully haunting.
We're used to seeing exciting, sometimes even comical battles between giant hero and giant monster, with losses of life frequently off-screen or never acknowledged at all. The fact that we are finally forced to confront this ugliness and lose an entire cast of supporting characters was more than a little intense for this series, all with a faceless monster so inhuman that it wasn't even portrayed by a wearable costume. If internet comments are anything to go by, it's no wonder Silverbloome has haunted the nightmares of some fans all the way into their adulthood.
SECOND SAUCER BEAST: BLACK DOME
Silverbloome makes a pretty intense first impression and leaves a lot of big, floppy red shoes to fill, so what does Black Directive choose for his next agent? Ultraman Leo is ready this time, and Black Dome is defeated before it can beat Silverbloome's record, but it was well prepared to pick up directly where its predecessor left off with its ability to emit massive amounts of corrosive froth!
Black Dome is obviously modeled after a crab, but capable of retracting its limbs to fly around in UFO form. Its flip-up eyes also interestingly resemble artificial, red LED bulbs, which it flashes in order to communicate, and is even attracted in turn by artificial light sources. Nowhere near as devastating as Silverbloome, could the worst of things be over for our planet, and for Ultraman???
THIRD SAUCER BEAST: ABSORBA
The next saucer beast can not only shrink down into a smaller form like the first, but this smaller form has a pair of eyes and comes across as sort of a "cute baby" saucer beast, found and taken in by a child who makes a habit of nurturing sick, injured or lost animals. When it grows to full size however, Absorba is capable of firing energy blasts from all of its hollow, tubular tentacles and feeding on oil through its larger, central tentacle.
Absorba is also the single most "saucer-like" of the saucer beasts, outright resembling a classic, metallic flying saucer on top with a meaty tentacle creature on the bottom! It, too, is dispatched before it can kill too many people, but the storyline in which a human child takes care of it would more often than not end with a monster showing some twinge of intelligence and remorse for its actions, some last-minute sign that it learned to care about people in return. Saucer Beasts simply don't work that way.
FOURTH SAUCER BEAST: DEMOSThis is another of my absolute favorite kaiju in all of Ultraman, and even hearkens back to my other favorite category of Ultraman kaiju: a collective of parasites! In the form of multiple smaller creatures, the Demos can instantly drain a human victim of blood, gathering enough energy to merge together and take on it true, gigantic monster form!
Demos is modeled after a brittle star, not something I'd have quite expected to be a blood-draining kaiju, and I utterly love that combination to pieces. I also love how the Demos's main body is such a big, spiky shell with a few barnacle-like nodules, and I love how the creepy creature has those staring, cartoonish eyeballs peering out from two of those "barnacles." This is also yet another Saucer Beast capable of producing acidic slime, which can melt a human being down to nothing almost instantly!
What's also quite inventive is just how the Demos take on a "flying saucer" appearance, illuminating their arms and twining them around their cores as they whirl through the air! I can't get over how thrilled I am by the idea of a "flying saucer" that's also a vampiric echinoderm, and every aspect of this one's design, from the beady eyes to the color scheme simply hits precisely all the right notes for me.
It's also rather interesting that the tongue appears to be recycled from one of Silverbloome's tentacles; an easy reuse of a prop they already made, but in-canon implying some kind of loose biological relationship between the two.
SIXTH SAUCER BEAST: BLIZZARD
The next of the organic "ships" is an almost humanoid creature resembling another spiny, scaly starfish, but also a bit like a squid, with a large nozzle in her belly that can spray an instant freezing compound...and another, similar nozzle on the other, differently colored side of her body that sprays fire. Yep, this bladed squid is a double-sided, dual fire & ice kaiju! It's also considered to be female, because it communicates through a little girl that may or may not be a mere projection of itself.
SEVENTH SAUCER BEAST: HUNGLER
You should immediately know what this is from the name as well as the appearance, but even a giant anglerfish is treated as a "flying saucer" here, retracted into a shape almost like an insect pupa and interestingly flying "belly up." There is, in fact, a species of anglerfish - the whipnose! - that swims in this position, but that wouldn't be discovered until many years after this series aired.
So what does Hungler do? Combining the illicium of an anglerfish with the concept of a traffic light, Hungler is a kaiju that we exclusively see devouring cars, and especially cars that are moving (i.e. occupied) at the time! It manages to inhale hundreds of people at once this way on two separate occasions, actually making this comical looking fish another of the deadliest saucer beasts and deadliest Ultra kaiju in general.
And while not directly addressed, the fact that it primarily targets vehicles says some fascinating things to me about this creature's ecology. Perhaps it's a manufactured weapon or perhaps it's only operating under Black Directive's orders, but I'd rather think that human automobiles somehow remind this monster of its original, natural prey on some far-off world.
EIGHTH SAUCER BEAST: BLACK TERRINA
Oh, guess what? There's a third Saucer Beast that I can count in my favorite kaiju ever. Black Terrina is a female bivalve-based monster, and it's interesting how almost all of these beasts are sea creatures up to this point, isn't it? You would never expect a big clam to be a terrifying space beast, armed with multiple long, powerful limbs that end in massive nail-like claws! Its true power, however, lies with the beautiful little shells it rains down in its wake...
These seashells can horrifically kill people all on their own, by leaping at their faces and digging right into their eyes! It's not a power you expect a big clam creature to have, but it's not actually unrealistic;
I don't know of anyone connected to the show was aware of this, but there are many freshwater clams in the real world with specialized larvae called glochidia, and whether by sharp edges or full blown "fangs," these larvae are indeed specialized to dig right into the flesh of passing animals! Their intention is to latch on to fish, each requiring a particular host species, and some merely use the fish for harmless transportation while others are believed to feed parasitically on the fluids or tissues of host gills!
Terrina's babies aren't just biters, though; if they attach themselves to someone's chest, they can control the person as a slave! The ONLY thing that could possibly make me love Terrina even more is if it were one of those clam monsters with cute little eyes inside, like a giant terrifying Shellder.
NINTH SAUCER BEAST: SATAN MORA
So unless you interpret this as a giant alien cormorant, or something, this bird-like Saucer Beast is the end of their marine biology motifs...maybe? It is, however, a pretty cool and original looking "bird" monster, its body plated more like some elongated insect. Its tail consists of multiple pincer-like claws ad its wings are more bat-like, overall a very bizarre aviform. It, too, produces deadly little offspring, which in this case look almost identical to the parent, though neither of them have any particularly weird abilities; rather, this is kind of a "total assault" Saucer Beast that battles with its sharp beak, energy beams, organic missiles from its mouth and its sheer speed!
TENTH SAUCER BEAST: NOVA
Perhaps you're still uncertain why I'd save the Saucer Beasts for only the final days of a Halloween Horror feature, or perhaps you feel they have some sort of unfair advantage by sheer number. Surely none of them alone are creepier than some of our previous kaiju?
But if only one Saucer Beast were to be featured here at all, it would have to be Nova, and Nova would have easily earned the same exact slot. Nova's arrival begins when a little boy, Toru, wishes on a shooting star for his parents to come back to him - his mother having died prior to the series, and his father killed only recently by a monster attack. The shooting star, however, is actually another saucer beast, and it transforms into the guise of a teru teru bozu for Toru to find.
Many of you already know what that is from other Japanese media properties, but if you don't, the "shine shine monk" is a ghostly little talisman that's supposed to ward off rain. Toru, instead, asks the doll to make the next day as rainy and stormy as it possibly can...because the next day is supposed to be bring your parents to school day.
Unfortunately, the next day is brilliantly sunny, and Toru returns to cut the doll's head off as punishment - an older and now more obscure aspect of the teru-teru bozu practice. In response, the entity turns blood red, grows in size and latches onto Toru's shoulders, taking control of the boy's body and filling his mind with delusions that he is, in fact, back with his parents.
In reality, Nova is walking its hostage around town and spraying everybody they encounter with a poisonous, red fog. This fog leaves victims with a red chain hanging around their neck and drives them into a rabid frenzy, repeating nonsense words or phrases as they flail in seemingly terrified panic and assault anybody they encounter. Already monstrous enough, and we haven't even seen its true form!
The "real" Nova still resembles a teru teru bozu, but possesses a cluster of long, whiplike tentacles for a right arm and a wicked-looking sickle for a left arm! It's also armed with destructive eye beams, explosive energy "hell balls" from its mouth and an ability to obscure itself in a field of red fog and red rain! One thing I also love about its battle sequence is that Nova repeatedly stops to do a 360 degree for turn before some of its attacks, which I imagine references a normal teru-teru bozu as it dangles from its string! Every Saucer Beast has the same kaiju title of "Organic Saucer," but the episode title refers to this one as "The Red Assassin who Beckons Death," and is further described by the narrator as a "demonic messenger."
Nova is modeled after one of the cutest, most innocent icons in Japanese media, not unlike modeling an evil monster after a stuffed toy or Santa Claus, though a teru-teru bozu already looks much like a depiction of a "ghost," so it's not too big a leap to make it into something eerie. Its powers are just about as ominous as they can come, and what it does with those powers is one of the darkest kaiju schemes in the franchise.
And yet, it is still not the LAST Saucer Beast.
ELEVENTH SAUCER BEAST: ALIEN BUNYO
The penultimate Saucer Beast is very, very different from his predecessors; the only one seen capable of taking on a human form. It's also a human form with such absurdly goofy, cartoonish behavior that you might have guessed he was an alien well before his disguise begins to deteriorate in quality like this. He makes weird faces, chuckles a lot, walks around like he's fall-down drunk, stumbles a lot when he fights, flees and hides at every opportunity and generally does a great job convincing the viewer (and opponents) that he's too stupid to be any threat...but he is, in fact, every bit as cunning and dangerous as you would expect from a beast that comes even after Nova, successfully capturing Ultraman with a power-draining cable and bringing him back to his evil master!
And then, uh, this happens I guess:
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Some series make an effort to keep their heroes dignified even as they suffer a defeat. Ultraman Leo on the other hand finds himself helplessly bound and half frozen as Black Directive tries to hack him apart with a saw (THAT WAS THIS ALIEN MASTERMIND'S PLAN!?!!??!) and Bunyo, revealing a more slug like form, proceeds to taunt him, laugh at him, smack him with a stick and even, uh, tickle him a little. I guess this is why I ran into so many comments about Bunyo along the lines of "SICK F****!!!!!!!! >:( WANT TO PUNCH HIM."
When Leo is rescued and finally battles the alien, Bunyo grows to massive size and reveals that his slug-like face was just an organic "hood" covering his actual, squid-like face. The "hood" really makes me think most of a nudibranch, but there are also shades of mushroom creature or jellyfish here.
Bunyo isn't a strong fighter, besides being slippery, slimy and oily, but he's just not the fighting kind of monster. He's more of a stealthy, trickster saucer beast, and I love that one of the deadliest is just a creepy little dude with all the outward menace of Pee-Wee Herman. The beasts get increasingly monstrous as they go along, but I love when a sequence of powerful villains or monsters throws in an unexpected twist or subversion like this one. Did I mention by the way that they DID succeed in sawing Ultraman apart? That he comes back to life due to some last-minute mystical stuff, but has to put himself back together and rise out of a freshly dug grave?
TWELFTH SAUCER BEAST: BLACK END
What could be bizarre, nightmarish and deadly enough to follow up the rest of the Saucer Beasts?
Well, nothing, really. Black End is a certainly very peculiar looking monster; a roughly ball-shaped form with stumpy legs, a flattened tail, four enormous horns and a lizardly little face peeking from an awkwardly yonic crevice down its front, but it doesn't do anything that special; it's just a flying, fire-breathing, burrowing thing with giant spikes on it, and just happens to be the physically strongest, most durable monster in Directive's collection.
It may seem rather anticlimactic if it's sheer alien weirdness you're after, but the order of these monsters makes fairly insidious sense from Black Directive's point of view. Maybe it would have made a whole lot MORE sense if they were summoned all at once, but let's pretend there's just some unexplained reason why they have to come one at a time, and consider that the previous eleven monsters have collectively killed thousands of innocent people, including Leo's entire trusted support team, battered him with non-stop attacks and most recently brought him to a painful and humiliating defeat. By now, the hero is exhausted and demoralized, and has also incidentally learned that defeating him is the primary goal of Black Directive, meaning that every last one of those other people would still be alive if he simply wasn't around. It's a classic moral conundrum many heroes in our media have faced, and this is an especially sadistic case for a villain to have deliberately calculated.
The rest of the Saucer Beasts sort of "weakened the foundation" of Earth's greatest defender, and Black End is like the wrecking ball. Could that even be intentional symbolism?
In a fairly interesting turn of events, a band of ordinary children manage to jump the villainous Black Directive himself, having no more difficulty overpowering him than they would a normal adult human. And when they take away the crystal orb he's always holding in his hands...he melts. Or, his human-like body melts. With no other evidence to go by but other monsters and aliens, the most likely explanation here is probably that the little glassy sphere itself was the true alien.
Throwing the same sphere into Black End proves to be the monster's one surefire weakness, and touched by how strongly the humans still believed in him, Leo makes the decision to remain on Earth, but only to travel abroad and live the life of an ordinary person. This marks the finale of the Ultraman Leo series...but there's still, technically, one more monster to discuss on this page.
DEMON PLANET BLACK STAR
It makes a little more sense of a lot more Japanese media when you know that they use the same word for "Star" and "Planet," but "star" is a preferred translation in most cases...maybe because it just sounds so much cooler?
The Black Star is the homeworld of Black Directive and all twelve of the Saucer Beasts, but it's not just some lifeless rock; it's very much alive and conscious, and creates the Saucer Beasts through unspecified means, but not always unspecified "materials;" Absorba is officially said to be a fusion of life forms from both Mercury and Venus, the turtle-like Black Garon is described as having once been a meteorite, and Black Dome is a "space crab" that passed through a wormhole. How, then, are they still creations of this planet-sized space monster? That's never explained either, but when we first see Silverbloome float up from its rocky surface, it briefly passes through a field of colorful, miscellaneous space junk. Perhaps, somehow, the malevolent globe collects and corrupts things from all across the galaxy?
Whatever the truth, the planet begins a collision course with Earth once Black End is defeated, but is easily blown to bits by one final attack from Leo.
...But, decades later in the series Ultraman Mebius, its own main villain pulled the surprise stunt of building a brand new Saucer Beast of his own from the debris of Black Star! The monster Roberuga is basically a meaty pink dinosaur with almost samurai-like cybernetic armor, but its head is literally an entire starship. That is a pretty threatening head for a space monster to have as it is, while the overall shape and details of the ship seem, to me, like they're intentionally reminiscent of the Xenomorph queen from Aliens!
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While some make perhaps a bit weaker of an impression than others, I feel like the Saucer Beasts are the coolest, most imaginative, and most menacing collection of adversaries in either Ultraman or countless other monster-centric series, bringing to mind the similarly surreal and epic onslaught of Evangelion's monstrous "Angels," and I especially appreciate how dark they were willing to go with what could have easily been lighter, campier Saturday Morning Tokusatsu. They knew the series was winding down, and they wanted to go out with a big bang that would leave a permanent impression on their audiences...even if it might border more on emotional scars than childhood nostalgia.