Ultra Q is the first series in a very long-running Japanese tokusatsu/kaiju franchise. While most people have likely never head of Ultra Q, most should be aware of its much more well-known second offering Ultraman (which would begin airing just a few weeks after the finale of this show). The Ultra series has over thirty shows, more than 1,100 TV episodes, and dozens of films to its name. Mill Creek Entertainment recently acquired the distribution rights to this entire franchise and plans to release new sets every few months, starting with this week’s releases of Ultra Q: The Complete Series and Ultraman: The Complete Series (the third series UltraSeven is scheduled for December 10 and two newer series Ultraman Geed and Ultraman Orb are dated for November 19). Ultra Q: The Complete Series – SteelBook Edition is a great release from Mill Creek Entertainment and quite possibly one of the best ever put out by the company. From the great video quality to the very nice packaging and art direction, Mill Creek Entertainment put a lot of effort into this release and it shows. Ultra Q: The Complete Series rivals some of the offerings from boutique Blu-ray publishers like Criterion Collection and Arrow Video.
Ultra Q was Godzilla co-creator and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya’s first attempt at a giant monster TV series and at the time, was also one of the most expensive Japanese shows ever made. The series has been widely compared to The Twilight Zone and The X-Files and I can certainly see the similarities (there’s a Rod Sterling like narrator at the beginning and end of the episode and the format is monster-of-the-week like The X-Files). Each episode features a different monster wrecking havoc on Japan or some other location like a base in the South Pole. For example, the first episode is about a monster in a mine that was disturbed by a construction crew and decides to lash out. There’s also giant chickens, slugs, flowers, an artificially created abomination (easily the freakiest looking monster of the series), a “balloon monster,” and a South Pole monster who is strangely afraid of moss. With the monsters rotating in and out (though some do make a second appearance), the only real “serialized” aspect is the team of reporters and pilots that cover these attacks. The main character is the adorable reporter and photographer Yuriko but she is assisted by two pilots (Jun and Ippei), her boss Seki, and is also occasionally helped scientifically by Professor Ichinotani. These characters show up in most but not all episodes as some are completely stand-alone. Most episodes start with a giant monster attack of some sort which continues or even gets worse until the characters find something that can stop it. They then promptly load up missiles with their “kryptonite” and blow them to smithereens.
I was expecting Ultra Q to be one of the cheesiest pieces of entertainment I’ve ever consumed. The kaiju genre is already one of the cheesiest niches out there and doing it on a TV series budget was sure to lead to some hilarity to riff on. I was actually surprised by how serious Ultra Q is played and the lower budget really doesn’t show or hurt the series at all. While I am a little disappointed by the lack of cheese in this series (outside of the monster introduction scenes and of course the destruction they cause), it also means the show is much better produced than I expected it to be. Ultra Q is actually a well-made show that is reasonably entertaining and doesn’t have to rely on riffing material to give you a good time. I’m glad that the episodes are 25-minutes long though as I doubt many of them could hold viewers’ attention for much longer than that. I will say that there are few standout episodes in this series, but there are also only a handful of stinkers as well. Ultra Q is a very consistent average to slightly above average series whose episodes are rarely worth less than a 2.5/5 but also usually cap out at a 3.5/5.
That’s not to say there are no unintentionally hilarious episodes though. For example, episode six is the first truly bizarre episode of the series as it involves a flying turtle and Benny Hill like chase scenes between a small child with a machine gun and two robbers. This is the lowest rated episode of the series on IMDB but I actually kind of like it because of how bizarre and unintentionally hilarious it can get. There’s also episode thirteen which stars my personal favorite monster of this series, Garadama. I love this monster so much especially his hilarious walking motion and his stupid looking hop. There’s a few other cheesy episodes spread throughout, but the majority of them are more serious episodes featuring well-designed monsters wrecking havoc on some amazing miniatures. The miniatures and models are especially great for a weekly TV show that aired for 28 straight weeks with no breaks (meaning there was very little time to create them). Miniature and model making has been on my wishlist of hobbies to try and Ultra Q has made me want to move it to the top of my list.
Mill Creek Entertainment is mostly known for putting out budget-friendly releases that are very cheap but don’t have the bells and whistles that some other Blu-ray and DVD publishers offer. They certainly aren’t a boutique Blu-ray publisher but they could have fooled me with this release of Ultra Q: The Complete Series (and Ultraman: The Complete Series which you’ll read about soon). It’s almost as good of a release as the ones publishers like Criterion Collection and Arrow Video put out and if some extras were included, it absolutely would have reached that plateau.
Ultra Q: The Complete Series is being put out with two different packaging options. I received the slightly more expensive SteelBook edition (on Amazon there’s only about a $3 difference between the two), but there is also a standard packaging edition as well (which may not look quite as nice but will supposedly form a mural on the spines when all of the sets have been released). Because of that, I will only be discussing the SteelBook release in this post. The main thing that stands out is, of course, the amazing SteelBook packaging. I’ve said before how I love the look of SteelBook Blu-rays and Ultra Q: The Complete Series looks especially good. The packaging is obviously extremely sturdy (its made of steel so it’d better be) but Mill Creek has also done a great job with the art direction on it as well. It utilizes printing on the slipcover to give the cover a 3D element and the art is great throughout. Even the disc art is very nice and clean in my opinion. This is a very minor thing but as someone who is at least borderline OCD, I also like that the spines for these releases have the series number on them. These Ultra series SteelBook Blu-ray releases are going to look so nice lined up together on a shelf. The packaging and art isn’t all though, Ultra Q: The Complete Series also comes with a nice 23-page booklet of information about the series (episode synopses, character and monster descriptions, the history of the show, and a technology guide). It’s a very nice touch and shows that Mill Creek really put a lot of effort into this release.
While great packaging is nice, I’m sure many of you are just wondering how Ultra Q looks on Blu-ray (as its the first time the series has been available on the format). I’m happy to report that I think the show looks excellent in high-definition. I will admit that I am far from an expert on video quality, I’m still learning the terminology and what makes for a “good” looking Blu-ray. For now though, I just have to go off of what I think looks good and what doesn’t. In my opinion, Ultra Q: The Complete Series looks almost crystal clear. I’m guessing this is partly due to it being in black and white as (spoiler alert) I saw a lot more visual quality issues on Ultraman: The Complete Series (which makes the move to color) than I did on this release. There are some occasional artifacts (like one in the left corner of the screen in the third episode, though it only sticks around for ten seconds or so) but other than that, the picture quality is almost always crystal clear. One thing that likely helped this release was the lack of compression. To help keep the prices of their releases low, Mill Creek will often compress as many episodes onto as few discs as possible. In this case, the 28 episodes are on four discs. Seven episodes per Blu-ray disc is perfectly fine for a 25-minute series like this. Audio wise, unless you know Japanese you’ll have to read subtitles as the episodes aren’t dubbed. I’ve always been a subtitles guy anyway so this isn’t a big deal to me. Even for shows with good dubbing, I’ll still usually opt to read subtitles anyway as I prefer to hear the actors’ actual voices and the original language used. However, if you really hate reading subtitles the lack of dubbing could certainly be a pretty big negative.
Really the only slight disappointment with this release of Ultra Q: The Complete Series is the lack of extras outside of a digital copy code for Mill Creek’s movieSPREE streaming service. However, I highly doubt any extra footage or interviews with the cast or crew was ever even recorded. Some sort of retrospective with historians, surviving cast members, etc. would have been great but I’m not going to dock a release of a show from the ’60s any points because of the lack of extras. In my opinion (especially for older series like this), extras can only help a release and even the lack of any at all shouldn’t be held against it.
Overall, Ultra Q is a solid start to the franchise but Ultraman would be where the series really started to kick it into second gear (especially in the all important cheese factor). Content wise, I would give Ultra Q an average three out of five but because of the great job Mill Creek did with the video quality and presentation, I think it deserves to be bumped up to a 4/5. Recommended for anyone who enjoys wacky Japanese programming. For fans of the Ultra series though, this set comes highly recommended as it is a great release and likely a huge upgrade from the 2013 DVD set.
Ultra Q: The Complete Series – SteelBook Edition was released on Blu-ray on October 15, 2019.
Mill Creek Entertainment will also release UltraSeven on December 10 and Ultraman Geed/Ultraman Orb on November 19.
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Ultra Q: The Complete Series – SteelBook Edition used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.