Tokusatsu Nights Are Alright for Fighting

Ultraman Z just punting a giant monster right in the chest. Boss. (Image: Tsuburaya Productions)
Ultraman Z just punting a giant monster right in the chest. Boss. (Image: Tsuburaya Productions)

Giant robots are cool. Giant superheroes, too. Giant monsters? Also cool. But you know what makes them cooler? Fighting. At night.

This not particularly trenchant insight came to me recently while watching an episode of the current Ultraman series, Ultraman Z. This year has, among other things, found me in the truest throes of returning to my Power Rangers-and-Godzilla-infused childhood, and completely drowning myself in the likes of the aforementioned Ultraman Z, Super Sentai, and Kamen Rider. It’s a retreat into childhood nostalgia, but it’s also just good fun because, well, superheroes in Spandex are cool.

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Regardless of that fact: this episode that struck me so particularly, like most episodes of Ultraman, concluded with a brawl between our hero Ultraman Z/Haruki Natsukawa (Koshu Hirano) and a monster named Five King. He got a new power-up form, Gamma Future, which is basically “What if Ultraman was Doctor Strange, but lorge,” but also, it let Ultraman Z basically do that one Avengers: Endgame fan theory about Ant-Man killing Thanos by exploding his butt.

It was very silly. And very cool. Marvel are cowards, honestly.

Anyway! What I loved most about all this was that the battle — directed by Super Sentai: Strongest Battle’s Koichi Sakamoto — was unlike any of the fights in the show up to that point because it took place at nighttime. It doesn’t really happen all that often in tokusatsu shows and it made what was already a fun fight scene (with some great stunt and camera work) just visually more engaging.

From a practical standpoint, in a nighttime fight it’s easier to hide some of the more budget-restricted stretches of imagination that come with asking you to believe that this person in a suit grappling with another person in a suit is actually a city-scaled all-out monster mash. Replacing the stark studio lights representing a balmy day — monsters and mecha don’t fight when it’s overcast, it seems — with the warm hues of the city set underneath them has this hazy, almost magical effect. Lit from beneath, these figures really do feel like massive titans, duking it out.

Gipsy Danger goes into battle. (Image: Warner Bros.)

But there’s also just the visual spectacle of it all. Pacific Rim, which is basically Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to the toku genre, got dinged for setting all of its climactic Jaegar/Kaiju fights during a rain-soaked twilight tussle, robbing its spectacle of distinct clarity. But that lack of clarity is what made Pacific Rim’s fights so much more fun than those in its daylight-set successor (that and, well, plenty of other things). There’s an almost dream-like haze to Pacific Rim’s final battles, which feel as hectic and as unclear to us as they do for their mech-bound protagonists.

The darkness, lit only by the yellow glare of the nearby Hong Kong cityscape and the moon itself, allows our imagination to expand a little. Our brains fill in the gaps stark daylight would highlight and we allow ourselves to imagine the scope and scale of these things that are otherwise enveloped in darkness. There is a scale to those Pacific Rim moments, beyond the sheer size of its monsters and robots, that is amplified by the night. Everything is heightened as our imaginations take over, and let the magic of it all sink in as our eyes are dazzled by the twinkles of street lights and neon acid spit.

The night is a monster’s domain for good reason. It’s only fair that our giant heroes and robots beat them up there, too.