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Ultraman – 01-13 (END)

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Episode 13

「Ultraman」
“Ultraman”

Dropping complete animes on us through accessible platforms is quickly becoming the new normal. This gives the viewer the option to either space out their viewing or binge the series or one go. Now on the one hand, this has the benefit of uninterrupted flow. You’re never leaving the action for commercials or spending a week at work or school, but on the other hand, waiting for the next episode to come out because you just had to know if you’re favorite character was going to make it used to be a huge part of the experience. It was an entire week of torture leading up to what was usually a wash of relief when the hero, against the odds, pulled through and that’s not something you’re going to get with a streaming service.

It’s certainly not an experience I ever received from Ultraman.

Part of that, I think, comes from a change in perspective. I’ve been watching shows like these my entire life so I’m well aware that the mentor archetype isn’t going to make it, that no one dies on a cliffhanger, and the shy guy with an innocent crush on a cute girl is safe. Ordinarily, those unspoken rules would hold true for Ultraman except this show demonstrated an awareness of both its platform and of the audience’s expectations that it consistently used to its advantage.

This 3DCG series was based off the Ultraman manga by Shimizu Eiichi and drawn by Shimoguchi Tomohiro. It’s a sequel to the 1966 Ultraman television series, as evident by the many homages to the original sprinkled throughout the episodes. It follows Hayata Shinjiro (Kimura Ryohei), the son of the original Ultraman, Hayata Shin (Tanaka Hideyuki), as he learns how to use the powers he’s had with him since birth, and decides what kind of Ultraman he wants to become.

Despite having the powers of Ultraman, which should give Shinjiro a leg-up as far as traditional origin stories go, he doesn’t take to the role like a duck to water. He’s unsure if he wants to jeopardize his normal high school life, and inexperienced when it comes to fighting villains. Meanwhile, there are others who are also vying for the title of Ultraman, and none of them are as green or as naïve as Shinjiro, rendering him the underdog in a series where he not only is the titular character – Ultraman is a legacy but Shinjiro is the Ultraman the series refers to – but the only one with the advantage of being inherently super strong and fast. It’s an interesting character arc, though whether or not it’s interesting enough to make him compelling is another story.

Shinjiro is not, by himself, a strong lead. His personality is bland; his friends are basically cardboard cut-outs of people with no personalities of their own. They exist solely to give the viewer the impression that Shinjiro has a social life, and do a very unconvincing job of it. It’s clear that the series wanted to present a conflict between his dual identities, but when the connection to his normal life feels so tenuous to begin with, the conflict never comes across as genuine. It’s when the series moves past that, diving into alien culture and the villains, that it really begins to hit its stride.

For one, the aliens are extremely smart, particularly the antagonists. They poke holes in Shinjiro’s posturing, questioning his motives, and forcing him to grow, and all while looking great when doing it. The 3DCG shines during the action sequences. The updates to the Ultraman suit make it look suitably modern, and the aliens move fluidly, often shifting their bodies in unnatural ways as they fly and flip across the screen, as opposed to the generally more linear movement of the mechanized Ultraman suits, creating nice visual contrast as their ideals collide.

Great villains are never completely wrong, and one of best points the first man-eater brought up was that the SSSP (Science Special Search Party) wasn’t going after him for killing people, since he’d been doing that under the radar for years without ever warranting their attention, so much as making a spectacle of his death to reveal the existence of aliens to the public, and in doing so, boost the image of Ultraman and the SSSP. There was no dignity in dying as a tool for someone else’s cause, though, which brings me to the best and most confusing message of Ultraman:

Should aliens be treated like people or not?

Each potential Ultraman provides a different answer to that question:

Moroboshi Dan (Eguchi Takuya), for example, has been dealing with aliens for long enough that he treats them with respect. He sees them as ‘other’ but not as ‘lesser.’ In order to show Shinjiro that aliens aren’t more expendable than humans or automatically villainous, and are in fact individuals with families and desires of their own, he took him to an alien town. It was a great scene, since it signaled the start of a wider world for Ultraman, and a greying between the lines of villain and victim. For example, a young alien was forced to murder at the behest of humans, only to eventually be killed by another alien when he tried to make amends, so who’s the real villain in that story? The reality isn’t as black-and-white as it might have been during the Zetton Invasion.

Hokuto Seiji (Han Megumi) was raised by an alien family after he became the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash that may have happened thanks to this intimidating figure, so he prioritizes aliens over humans, to the point where he will blackmail men who have committed crimes in order to fund his cybernetic enhancements, and all for the sake of a young alien girl he’s cared for since he was a child. What he wants more than anything is a world where she can be herself without fear of persecution or rejection. It’s a pure goal, even if his methods can be questionable at times.

Together, these points of views and motivations influence Shinjiro to become a hero who protects everyone, not just his own kind, and that’s what should have been the major arc of the series, except it’s never explicitly shown that he does consider aliens and humans to be equals. He never spares an alien criminal so that they could face legal justice, or fights on their behalf against other aliens or even humans. The intended message of the series wasn’t conveyed in a convincing way. Even in the finale, Shinjiro was still defending humans from aliens, which seemed to undermine what the series was going for by including characters like Mr. Edo (Ushiyama Shigeru), a Zetton alien that’s ostensibly on humanity’s side.

Message besides, this was an entertaining hero’s origin story that paid proper respect to the 1966 television series while also introducing a cast of intriguing characters that helped it stand on its own. Shinjiro still has a long way to go before he can hold a candle to the legacy his father started, but it’s always good for a lead to have room to grow. Given experience and guidance, there’s hope for him yet, though for now, it’s fine that by the end of this season he, Moroboshi, and Seiji stand on equal footing.

It’d be interesting to see how he develops, but if waiting a year or so for the next season sounds like a daunting prospect, there’s already 10 volumes of the sequel manga published and just waiting to be devoured.

 

ED Sequence

April 13, 2019 at 2:22 pm
15 comments »
  • April 13, 2019 at 2:44 pmLyfe

    >Dropping complete animes on us through accessible platforms is quickly becoming the new normal.

    I’m all for this as plenty of shows out there are much better watched multiple episodes at a time rather than once a week. For me Log Horizon was one of those shows. But back ontopic, I haven’t watched this series yet but going by the pictures the CG looks OK by anime standards(I hope I’m not wrong there).

    I wonder if this series will kickstart an Ultraman revival? The series has been around for decades, much like Gundam and has had quite a few anime adaptions.

    • April 13, 2019 at 2:51 pmBnk

      Ultraman is still alive and well in japan, there have been a live action series in japan since 2013, and also a movie every year. The newest one is ultramam r/b last year and a new series is already set up to air later this year. Its so funny how many comments about how this is a “revival”, when the franchise is alive and kicking and that this anime is basicallu just an elseworld side proj3ct

      • April 15, 2019 at 8:21 amLyfe

        Oh ok thankyou I was only aware of the anime stuff lol.

  • April 13, 2019 at 2:46 pmBnk

    They cut a lot of stuff from the manga really, including an appearance by Akiko Fuji, another alumni of the original SSSP and the one who help Moroboshi to develop the Seven suit. They also cut out some scenes showing Moroboshi training with Akiko to use the Seven suit. And they adapted out Red as well, instead replacing him with dumb generic one shot kaiju. Even though Red’s role and partnership with jack is very important in the manga and he’s an important supporting character. The final battle is also less awesome than in the manga. In the manga, Hayata actually comes back into field, wearing a repaired proto suits to help Shinjiro and co. Jack also helps with his own Ultra suit together with Red. While it’s not bad, it’s just not as good as I hope, with the exception of the fight scenes which was great. Then again, thats what you get when you have veteran toku stuntman at the helm.

  • April 13, 2019 at 3:07 pmBnk

    Another thing i dislike is that they cut a lot of the humor from the manga. Not that the manga isnt dark, it is, esepecially during and after the “dark star” arc, but it never loses its sense of humor. The anime is trying too hard to be dark and edgy IMO. They also change rena’s backstory, she never loses her mother because of ultraman in the manga and she and her police officer dad is actually a super big fan of Ultraman. Her dad doesn’t acknowledge Shinjiro as Ultraman because he doesn’t feel that Shinjiro is living up to the original Ultraman, not because Ultraman killed his wife. His role is also a lot bigger in the manga and both Rena and her dad are much more interesting in the manga than in the anime

  • April 13, 2019 at 3:11 pmNanashi

    The deal breaker for me is how the handles Bemular. Even in the 1st episode they implied his true identity. Would have rather saved this for s2 and have it happen like the manga. That was an awesome reveal…

    • April 13, 2019 at 3:13 pmBnk

      agreed, the tacked-on specium scene in the end was just bad.

  • April 13, 2019 at 6:55 pmzztop

    The anime roughly covered the 1st 8 manga volumes.
    There’s currently 13 volumes out in Japan now.

    It might be some time until a S2 is released, given the source’s pacing is quite slow and steady, with many chapters dedicated to buildup before the action.

    The plot’s true meat of a potential conspiracy by the alien government’s highest levels (hinted at in Hokuto’s arc) is still a work in progress – the threads of mystery are being spun, but haven’t been clearly tied together yet.

  • April 13, 2019 at 7:17 pmzztop

    IMO Shinjiro’s character growth is still a work in progress in the manga. Although the conspiracy elements have been taking the front stage recently.

    (We find in most US superhero stories) you have a lot of heroes who are (self-aware) adults (who) follow the path of justice out of their own awareness…Whereas in Japan,(these young teens)… don’t just wake up and decide to fight for justice. (Our intention was to show)… the emotional and psychological path where the character learns about his powers and decides what to do with them.

    We wanted to portray the main character’s internal struggle – like, ‘I’m working for the good guys, but is what I’m doing right?’… But we thought it would be more gripping if the monsters were really grotesque but the character is still conflicted over what he’s doing.
    It’s easy to portray a hero where he’s killing something that is “an other” – we wanted to show a hero who had these feelings of doubt even though he’s killing inhuman monsters. Shimizu is also a longtime fan of foreign monsters, so that’s an influence visually too.

    https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interview/2015-09-17/mangaka-eiichi-shimizu-and-tomohiro-shimoguchi/.93057

    Bear in mind the interview is from 2015; pop-culture reception may have significantly changed since then.

  • April 14, 2019 at 5:20 amWorldwidedepp

    Well, they could use some more better Face emotion upgrades, special Episode 9 when he talks with this dude in the Cafe.. The Voice where lively but the faces do not reflect that for me

  • April 14, 2019 at 8:17 amstarss

    WHY– oh right. Damn you, Netflix.

  • April 14, 2019 at 6:51 pmNork22

    I really liked this animated retelling of Ultraman even though I felt it’s a bit jumbled and almost all over the place, and this is from someone who hasn’t read the manga.

    One thing I will say though, while I can’t honestly say that the suits are “Ultraman” in a traditional sense, they are pretty cool and certainly have designs that reflect some of the other Ultramans from different franchises.

    I think I’ll go check out the manga once I finish the last 2 episodes, and maybe watch a couple of Heisei Ultraman series.

  • April 15, 2019 at 2:51 amIncognito

    Tried to watch the subbed version, but was put off by this strange glitch(?) where the narration overlaps with the dialogue. So I switched to the English dub.

    https://randomc.net/image/Ultraman/Ultraman%20-%2008%20-%20Large%2001.jpg
    Loved Steve Blum’s performance as Adad. (And this was after I heard him as TIE Fighter/TIE Interceptor pilots, an Imperial Stormtrooper advisor, and Zann Consortium Defilers one too many times in Star Wars: Empire at War–which I’ve been playing a lot recently. And I’m also reminded of Amon from The Legend of Korra.)

    https://randomc.net/image/Ultraman/Ultraman%20-%2011%20-%20Large%2005.jpg
    Ah, Moroboshi… No-nonsense dude who’s willing to cockblock Shinjiro with a death glare just to keep the Ultraman secret safe.

    Well, the only thing that disappointed me lore-wise was that none of the current Ultramen in this show had the ability to turn giant. But I guess that’s because the SSSP want to avoid unnecessary casualties (like Rena’s mother) and collateral damage that would likely ensue once two giants fight in a densely populated city.

    Show Spoiler ▼

    On the technical side… I just hope that by the time the second season rolls in, 3DCG anime technology (and on a similar note, the motion-capture technology that gave birth to Virtual YouTubers) matures enough to the point that scenes can be rendered at a crisp 60fps. That being said, perhaps it was easy for me to ease into the full use of 3DCG thanks to Arpeggio of Blue Steel and The Magnificent Kotobuki (to say nothing of Netflix’s other CG anime outings). Also, the fact that Production I.G. basically mo-capped tokusatsu actors/stuntmen for the fight scenes was also a nice touch paying homage to the show’s roots.

    I’ll be looking forward to the show’s next season with great interest.

  • April 15, 2019 at 9:26 ampaulrenzo

    Is it me, or is Moroboshi the only character that seems to have his own music theme?

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