2017/09/01

The CD Collection--Ultraman Great, USA & Ultraman Powered Box Sets


Welcome back to the never-ending documentation of my never-ending CD Collection. I am making good on the promise I made in my previous post about giving these a review...so here it goes...

This has been an exciting year for fans of obscure Ultraman series. Ultraman Great AND Ultraman Powered have finally made it to Bluray. You know, the two Ultra series that held in such high regard that for awhile they weren't considered canon at all. Either way, in a brilliant bit of cross-promotion we also got brand-spanking new CD Box Sets to cover the audio side of both of these series.

To make things a little more interesting, these sets were released by different record labels. As the Ultra series isn't as consistent as say...Sentai or Metal Hero with it's music rights, some of the Ultraman series CDs managed to completely escape Columbia's grasp during the 90s. Ultraman Great was a Columbia series, but much like Kamen Rider ZO and Kamen Rider J the music from Ultraman Powered was initially released by Apollon Records. You might be thinking "Who?", but if I told you their later name you'd probably understand. Apollon changed it's name over to Bandai Music Entertainment in 1996 and was basically defunct by the end of the decade. In 2005, Columbia released both of the Ultraman Powered soundtracks in the ANIMEX1200 line. From there...the music rights seem to have fallen off once again...

So really, this post is going to be the tale of two brothers separated at birth. Ultraman Great (and Ultraman USA) remained at Columbia and Ultraman Powered now lives at Cinema-Kan, which is an excellent subsidiary label of diskunion that provides CD releases of incredibly niche and obscure titles. Going through their catalog, there is pretty much a twenty year gap between Ultraman Powered and the next newest title. Regardless...let's see who did their sets justice.


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Ultraman Powered Original Soundtrack
CINK-24→26
2017.04.19

DISC ONE


Ultraman Powered features a soundtrack composed by then-Tokusatsu newcomer Toshihiko Sahashi. If the name rings a bell, congrats--you've been paying attention. Sahashi has been responsible for composing Super Sentai series (Carranger, Gingaman, Kyoryuger, and Kyoryuger Brave), Kamen Rider series (Kuuga, Agito, Hibiki, and Den-O), and even a few other Ultra series (Gaia and Mebius). That's a pretty impressive AND eclectic resume. I mean, I love Eiji Kawamura...but his work follows a pattern and existed within a ten-year time frame. While the DNA exists in his music, Sahashi has quite a bit of range. There is one thing I really need to say about Sahashi, but I'll get to that in a little bit.

Inside of the obi. Normally the backside is blank.

Disc One loosely covers the Ultraman Powered Ongakushuu CD (APCM-26) that was released in late 1993. The tracklist isn't exact, and it isn't in order, but it's mostly there. The biggest difference is the addition of Hitomi Sudo's Starlight Fantasy (which is the 1995 TV Broadcast Ending song) along with a short version of the coupling image song Chikyu kara no Message.

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DISC TWO


This disc focuses partly on the BGM portion of Ultraman Powered Sound Ohyakka (APCM-27) from early 1994 and includes a lot of alternate takes of music from the previous disc. That said, this disc absolutely doesn't feel like leftovers. It's a necessary companion to the music from the previous disc. It's kinda strange how comprehensive the Music Collection for Ultraman Powered is when the series was only thirteen episodes long and basically thrown away. Well, not that the last part of that could have been predicted.

I should probably talk about the music itself at this point. Sahashi's sound is unlike anything I've ever heard from an Ultra series at this point. It's fresh, energetic, loud, and yet very heroic. All things that can be said about the music from Gekisou Sentai Carranger. Earlier this year I wrote a three part series on Carranger and briefly touched on Sahashi's soundtrack. In it I said...

"I have read that he kinda felt like he was very ill-prepared for Carranger (maybe that is why there was no music playing during their roll call in the first episode), but the fact that there are three music collections for the series kinda says otherwise."

Having just listened to the Ultraman Powered CD set, I completely understand what he meant. The Carranger music collection is basically note-for-note the Ultraman Powered Music Collection. The only real new music he came up with for Carranger was the Zonette theme and all of it's variations. Who knows if Toei said "We want that music you did in Ultraman Powered" or if he turned in the thinly-veiled new Powered music on his own. Regardless...it's blatant self-theft. I guess that sort of thing is in a grey area of ethics, but when you're crossing franchises and studios (Tsuburaya and Toei) it can be a legal tangle.


That said, the Ultraman Powered music is excellent. In every way. It is incredibly lively and just a lot of fun to listen to. I've seen a few episodes of Ultraman Powered, and the music is easily the best part about it. Alright maybe Powered's suit is pretty rad too...but the action is so slow. Which kinda makes me wonder if the music was just a tad bit of an overshoot. Who cares, though. You don't need to watch the series to listen to the music. It exists on it's own.

In a very packed field of excellent Tokusatsu music of the 1990s, the Ultraman Powered music collection has a hard time sticking out with it's younger brother (Carranger) getting all of the attention, but this one might be the real W.I.N.R.

I'm as disappointed as you are with that joke...

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DISC THREE


The final disc contains all of the drama portions of the Ultraman Powered Sound Ohyakka CD and just about every conceivable version of four vocal songs from this series (Karaoke, Short, Short Karaoke, etc). There really isn't too much to say about the oodles of versions of the songs...but the drama stuff at the beginning...


OK, so the CD that the drama was sourced from was released in early 1994. It's...so cheesy. On one hand, there are a lot of clean Ultraman sound effects that can certainly be harvested from it. On the other...wow. It's entertaining, I'll give it that. We're given the usual statistics and whatnot about W.I.N.R. and everything else in the Ultraman Powered-verse. It unceremoniously ends with a bizarre quiz. Having never heard this CD prior to owning the box set, yeah, it's a trip.

I usually really enjoy the disc-of-leftovers that some series have. This is no exception...

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Set Overall: Cinema-Kan did an awesome job putting this together. For a smaller label, you can definitely tell a lot of time and care went into putting this set together...and for a very reasonable price! A three-disc set of uncommon music from a niche label only set me back $45. I mean, the only thing I can think of that's missing is Shinichi Ishihara's Columbia versions of the original theme songs. Who cares, though? Those are far more common than the content of this disc, and omitted for obvious reasons.

This is some great stuff, Cinema-Kan. Is it wishful thinking that they somehow go back and get their hands on the Apollon Kamen Rider ZO and J stuff?

Back Cover. Usually I don't need to specify that, but yeah...

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Ultraman G Ultraman USA Special Box
COCX-39977→80
2017.06.21

DISC ONE


Getting right in to it, this first disc manages to turn the six Ultraman Great vocal songs into twenty-eight tracks. Twenty-eight! There are versions-upon-versions of every song. It's nice to have options, but hot damn. Having them all upfront in one solid block of cheese is a bit absurd.


At the risk of repeating myself more than I already have in this post, I shall direct you to this post...where I discuss these songs as much as I dare to during their appearance on Disc Four of that set. Who knows, though. I might talk about these at greater length in the future.


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DISC TWO


Getting into what should have been the first disc of this set, this is the Ultraman Great Symphonic Suite. Conductor Shinuke Kazato made the trek to Australia and was given the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to bring his vision of what a thirteen-episode Ultraman series should sound like...

...and not a single person there said "...Superman much, mate?"

I suppose I should back track a little bit. You see, this set might seem like a random collection of two unloved Ultra soundtracks. The one thing that Ultraman Great and Ultraman USA have in common is the composer of their soundtracks is composer Shinsuke Kazato, whose Tokusatsu credits include...Ultraman Great. Oh, and the Ultraman Kids and Ultraman USA soundtracks.


At the risk of spoiling some of the contents of Disc Four, yeah...the Ultraman USA soundtrack ripped off the infamous John Williams Superman theme...HARD. I mean, note for note. It isn't even trying. Why Tsuburaya asked him back to score Ultraman Great is beyond me, because it happened once again. I've given a lot of other composers shit for mimicking popular western soundtracks in the past, but those were amusing and usually featured a decent amount of variety. The boner that Kazato had for the Superman music is just embarrassing. What it boils down to is trust. I recognize some of the music on this disc as Superman, but what if I'm not recognizing some of it? How much of this did Kazato actually write? For sure he wrote the excellent renditions of the two image songs that sneak into the final tracks, but nothing else is recognizable as an original.

I will say this... At the very minimum, it sounds great and is a pretty good listen. For all the wrong reasons, though. I guess it's kinda funny...

I should also mention that tracks 1-9 are the Symphonic Suite. Tracks 10-13 are full size instrumental versions of the themes and the English versions of the two image songs.


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DISC THREE

There isn't a ton to say about this Disc. It is the live recording of the Ultraman Symphonic Suite. Well, not all of it. It's seven out of the nine tracks. The only disappointment here is that the of the contents from the CD that this is sourced from are absent. This originally appeared on the very rare Ultraman Symphony Concert set from 1993.


It's a worthy addition, but I think having the entire disc would have been even better.


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DISC FOUR


As I previously mentioned, Shinsuke Kazato composed the soundtrack to both Ultraman Great and it's video predecessor Ultraman USA. While I lambasted it for it outright being the Superman score, maybe there is a reason for that this time around. We're talking Ultraman USA after all.

For the uninitiated, Ultraman USA is the unholy lovechild between Tsuburaya and Hanna-Barbera. I kinda feel weird ending this post covering Ultraman USA as this is where Tsuburaya began it's three-part failure to invade the west through business partnerships. USA was 1987/1989, Great was 1990, and Powered was 1993. I admire their spirit, but yeah...starting with Hanna-Barbera in the late 1980s was probably what doomed their expansion. I'm not even saying an animated Ultraman would have been a bad thing...there was 1979's THE ULTRAMAN, and that was a success.


Yes, yes. This soundtrack does rip off the Superman score as frivolously as I mentioned above, but it is so much meatier than the Great soundtrack. There are lashing of the two vocals songs woven into the music. Plus, this has the most Ultraman sound out of the three soundtracks covered in this post. Ultraman Great Symphonic Suite's plagiarism was annoying, but this one seems a little more innocent since there is plenty of bespoke music smashed in.

The remainder of the disc is many, many, versions of the two songs recorded by a young Shinichi Ishihara in some of his earliest Tokusatsu work. Oh, and a live orchestra rendition of the ending song, Toki no naka o Hashirinukete, appears at the very end to close it out. Again, it would be nice to have the rest of it in his set...


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Set Overall: I'm not entirely crazy about the layout of this set. As a physical set, this absolutely excels. I mean, the glossy box, individual jewel cases (with photos of the source discs), and the big booklet is excellent and full of photos and information. I really would have been happier if Discs One and Two were swapped...maybe even leading off with the Ultraman USA stuff on the first disc would have been better. At least it would have been chronological.


Content wise, of course this is packed with completionist treasure. I did air my grievances with the ripped off music, but that was beyond the control of anyone who worked on this set. It gets a thumbs up from me, but be prepared to pay a premium for this beauty of a set. $80. Yes. Four discs for $80. If you jumped when I mentioned the 3-Disc Ultraman Powered set being a bargain at $45, how do you feel now?

Back of the box. If this set was sealed, the obi would have been covering this up.

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Recommended Pick: I have to give it to Cinema-Kan's Ultraman Powered set. Both sets have great content and a lot of previously unheard valuables, but the Powered set is just put together so much more coherently...even if the packaging is pretty basic (convenient) in comparison. Seriously, props to the small guy this time around. Cinema-Kan definitely did wonderful work to make this release the best it can be. It gets the job done for a very reasonable price. Not to mention, if you're a fan of the Carranger music you *really* have to check Powered's music out.

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I can't say I've gotten too much in the way of exciting releases of retro Tokusatsu CDs this year, but these two have definitely left me satisfied. One more than the other obviously. For more of my CD Collection, be sure to check it out here.

The CD Collection will return again later in the month with just a brief look at only four CDs. Yeah, it's going to be a light post, I know. I'll be way too busy the last two weeks of the month to do a more involved post. Hopefully I'll have a little bit more time in October for content.

Thanks for swinging by!

-CC

P.S. I'm probably going to review the 8cm CDs that would have been covered here separately. Hence why I didn't really have too much to say about the vocals songs.

BONUS: Some additional photos I couldn't manage to sneak in...






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