Ultraman

Tagged: Film | TV

Japanese tv series (1966-1967). Original title Urutoraman: Kûsô tokusatsu shirîzu; vt Ultraman: a Special Effects Fantasy Series. Created by Eiji Tsuburaya. Tsuburaya Productions. Directors include Hajime Tsuburaya, Toshihiro Iijima, Akio Jissôji and Samaji Nonagase. Writers include Tetsuo Kinjô, Mamoru Sasaki and Masahiro Yamada. Cast includes Bin Furuya, Susumu Kurobe and Masanari Nihei. 39 25-minute episodes plus a pre-premiere special. Colour.

The Alien Ultraman's pursuit of Bemular, an escapee from the Monster Graveyard, leads to their crashing on a Near Future Earth: Bemular into a lake, Ultraman into the aircraft flown by Shin Hayata (Kurobe) of the SSSP (Science Special Search-Party), a scientific organization that polices the Earth's skies. Remorse compels Ultraman to merge with him (see Parasitism and Symbiosis): resuscitated, Shin can now transform into Ultraman (Furuya) – a red and silver humanoid with large oval eyes and a head crest, about 15 metres tall, immensely strong with a variety of Superpowers including Teleportation and destructive Rays. Bemular, a Kaiju (see Monsters) resembling a giant Dinosaur, rises from the lake: he fights Ultraman, but is defeated. Ultraman now dedicates himself to defending the Earth.

Episodes invariably feature the appearance of a Kaiju, either native to Earth or from space: the exact nature of the threat it poses becomes clearer as the story proceeds, with the authorities (including the SSSP) unable to defeat it. There is often much lively destruction of buildings until, in the final few minutes, Shin becomes Ultraman: a battle follows – involving martial arts and beams fired from eyes and hands – and the monster is defeated. This formula is occasionally varied.

The SSSP sometimes seek peaceful solutions: for example, they offer the invading Baltans (whose planet has been destroyed) sanctuary, but the Baltans would rather enslave humanity. This compassion is a little undermined when Ultraman destroys their ship – which contained 2.3 billion Miniaturized Baltans: this disturbingly large kill rate only avoids being genocide because some survive to threaten Earth in a later episode. Another story has a stranded astronaut mutating into a monster, then returning to Earth seeking revenge, the authorities having covered up their disappearance to avoid bad publicity: Ultraman kills him but he and the SSSP are distraught at having to do so. Some Kaiju mean no harm: one is trying to defend children from automobiles, another just wants to sleep. Compassion is shown for the monsters: in one episode a Buddhist ceremony (see Religion) is held for all the Kaiju the SSSP have killed.

The Kaiju include devourers of radium, oil, electricity (see Power Sources), pearls and gold; others have powers of Telepathy, mind-control, Shapeshifting and Invisibility; some are plants, another is a 7,000 year old inhuman mummy. Occasionally the monster is secondary: for example, to a wish-granting meteorite or an Underground civilization isolated from the rest of humanity since the Ice Age. Ultraman's success at defeating all these threats when the SSSP fail is eventually shown to demoralize their inventor (and usual comic relief), Mitsuhiro Idesome (Nihie), though he cheers up when one of his devices saves the day. In the final episode Ultraman leaves the Earth, with Shin alive but amnesiac.

This series is an early Television example of the Tokusatsu genre (live action dominated by special effects, particularly scale models and men in monster suits); indeed, the show was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, who was responsible for the iconic special effects on Gojira (1954; vt Godzilla) and its sequels (many props from the films were used in this series). Not unsurprisingly, the limitations imposed by television budgets and that era's techniques mean the effects look unconvincing to the contemporary eye: spaceships and buildings are clearly models; Ultraman and the monsters obviously men in suits. Even so, the modern viewer can still good-humouredly appreciate them and easily envisage all the joy the devastation brought to children. Furthermore, some scenes still impress: episode 17, "Passport to Infinity" (original title "Mugen e no Pasupōto"), features a Dimension-warping monster named after the surrealist poet André Breton, with a room briefly transformed into a Dadaist display (see Arts) – the monster itself is suitably surreal (see Absurdist SF). This is not the only Dada connection, as aliens of that name appear in another episode.

The series was commissioned following the success of Ultra Q (1966-1967); Ultra Q is considered the first of the Ultra franchise (though it lacked any Ultras), but it was Ultraman that set the format which led to it becoming one of the world's top 50 media franchises (estimated to be worth $11.7 billion as of 2020). The series' popularity led to many sequels (listed below); the first being Ultraseven. Here an Ultra, named 340, shapeshifts into the appearance of a human he admires; he then joins the Terrestrial Defence Force's Ultra Guard as its sixth member, reverting to his true form when the Earth is in danger (and is considered the Ultra Guard's seventh member, thus Ultraseven). Despite the similarities to its predecessor this series was often grimmer in tone, clearly targeting an older audience.

The Ultra protagonists are collectively known as Ultra Warriors or Ultra Heroes; their homeworld is the Land of Light, located in Nebula M78. Most of the shows broadly follow a similar pattern – an Ultra (or Ultras) comes to Earth; they either merge with or take on the appearance of a human to defend the planet from monsters. Variations include an Ultra (initially at least) more focused on protecting the Earth than humanity and an Ultra with strong pacifist beliefs. Some adventures are based off-Earth, in or outside the Solar System, with Space Opera elements. The number of Ultra storylines means they cannot all exist in one universe: rather than have several independent timelines, they are said to inhabit a Multiverse, which provides the flexibility of allowing characters to cross over into other shows.

The Ultra franchise's live-action series after Ultraman were (Television unless otherwise stated; original title after dates): Ultraseven (1967-1968; Urutora Sebun); Return of Ultraman (1971-1972; Kaettekita Urutoraman); Ultraman Ace (1972-1973; Urutoraman Ēsu); Ultraman Taro (1973-1974; Urutoraman Tarō); Ultraman Leo (1974-1975; Urutoraman Reo); Ultraman 80 (1980-1981; Urutoraman Eiti); Andro Melos (1983; Andoro Merosu), shorts; Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider (1993; Urutoraman tai Kamen Raidā), a television crossover special; Ultraseven – Operation: Solar Energy (1994; Urutorasebun Taiyō Enerugī Sakusen), a television special; Ultraseven – The Ground of the Earthlings (1994; Urutorasebun Chikyū Seijin no Daichi), a television special; Ultra Super Fight (1994; Urutora Sūpā Faito), comedic shorts; Ultraman Tiga (1996-1997; Urutoraman Tiga), which won a Seiun Award as best media production; Ultraman Dyna (1997-1998; Urutoraman Daina); Ultraman Gaia (1998-1999; Urutoraman Gaia); Ultraman Cosmos (2001-2002; Urutoraman Kosumosu); Ultraman Nexus (2004-2005; Urutoraman Nekusasu), an attempt to target an adult audience that was then put in a children's time slot; Ultraman Max (2005-2006; Urutoraman Makkusu); Ultraman Mebius (2006-2007; Urutoraman Mebiusu); and Ultraseven X (2007-2007; Urutorasebun Ekkusu). Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle (2007-2008; Urutora Gyarakushī Daikaijū Batoru) and Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle: Never Ending Odyssey (2008-2009; Urutora Gyarakushī Daikaijū Batoru Nebā Endingu Odessei) were adaptions of Videogames. New Ultraman Retsuden (2013-2016; Shin Urutoraman Retsuden) was an overarching show that featured the new full-length series Ultraman Ginga (2013; Urutoraman Ginga), Ultraman Ginga S (2014; Urutoraman Ginga Esu) and Ultraman X (2015-2016; Urutoraman Ekkusu) as well as the short-length series Ultra Zero Fight (2012-2013; Urutora Zero Faito) and Ultra Fight Victory (2015; Urutora Faito Bikutorī). Then came Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga (2016-2017; Urutoraman Ōbu Ji Orijin Sāga), a web series; Ultraman Orb (2016; Urutoraman Ōbu); Ultraman Geed (2017; Urutoraman Jīdo); Ultraman R/B (2018; Ultraman Rūbu); ULTRAMAN (2019); Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes (2019; Urutora Gyarakushī Faito Nyū Jenerēshon Hīrōzu), a web series of shorts; Ultraman Taiga (2019; Urutoraman Taiga); and Ultraman Z (2020; Urutoraman Zetto).

Ultra Fight (1970) was a series of shorts which reused existing fight scenes with some new material. Ultraman Retsuden (2011-2013; Urutoraman Retsuden), Ultraman Zero: The Chronicle (2017, Urutoraman Zero Za Kuronikuru), Ultraman Orb: The Chronicle (2018, Urutoraman Ōbu Za Kuronikuru), Ultraman New Generation Chronicle (2019, Urutoraman Nyū Jenerēshon Kuronikuru) and Ultraman Chronicle Zero & Geed (2020; Urutoraman Kuronikuru Zero Ando Jīdo) were mainly clip shows – though Orb included a series of original shorts called Ultra Fight Orb: Let Me Borrow the Power of Father and Son! (original title Urutora Faito Ōbu Oyako no Chikara, Okarishimasu!).

There was also the Japanese/Australian production Ultraman: Towards the Future (1992; Urutoraman Gurēto) and the Japanese/US production Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (1995; Urutoraman Pawādo), the latter never shown in the US.

The above does not include all Ultraman-related television series – such as Ultraman Nice (1999; Urutoraman Naisu), a series of linked one-minute episodes which told a story but was primarily used to sell Toys; or Ultra Zone (2011-2012; Urutora Zōn), a comedic variety show starring the franchise characters.

Many OVAs were also released: Ultraman Neos (1995 [pilot]; 2000-2001 [series]; Urutoraman Neosu), originally intended for television; the Ultraseven: 30th Anniversary Memorial Trilogy (1998) series; the Ultraseven: The Final Chapters (1999) series; Ultraman Tiga Side Story: The Giant Resurrected In The Ancient Past (2001; Urutoraman Tiga Gaiden Kodai Ni Yomigaeru Kyojin); Ultraman Dyna: Return of Hanejiro (2001; Urutoraman Daina Kaettekita Hanejirō); Ultraman Gaia: Gaia Again (2001; Urutoraman Gaia: Gaia yo Futatabi); the series Ultraseven: EVOLUTION (2002); the series Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Hikari Saga (2007; Urutoraman Mebiusu Gaiden Hikari Sāga); the two-part Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Armored Darkness (2008; Urutoraman Mebiusu Gaiden Āmādo Dākunesu); the two-part Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Ghost Reverse (2009; Urutoraman Mebiusu Gaiden Gōsuto Ribāsu); the two-part Ultra Galaxy Legend Side Story: Ultraman Zero vs. Darklops Zero (2010; Urutora Ginga Densetsu Gaiden Urutoraman Zero Bui Esu Dākuropusu Zero); and the two-part Ultraman Zero Side Story: Killer the Beatstar (2011; Urutoraman Zero Gaiden: Kirā za Bītosutā).

Several Anime series were also produced: The Ultraman (1979-1980; Za Urutoraman) and the two OVA series Ultraman Graffiti (1990; Urutoraman Gurafiti Oideyo! Urutora no kuni) and Ultraman: Super Fighter Legend (1996; Urutoraman Chouteoushi Gekiden). There were also series featuring the Ultraman characters as children: Ultraman Kids' M78 Movie (1984; Urutoraman Kizzu: M7.8 Sei no Yukai na Nakama), only 25 minutes long; Ultraman Kids' Proverb Stories (1986; Urutoraman Kizzu no Kotowaza Monogatari); and Ultraman Kids: 30 Million Light Years Looking for Mama (1991-1992; Urutoraman Kizzu: Haha o Tazunete 3000 Man Kōnen).

There have also been numerous films (live action unless otherwise stated): Ultraman (1967; Chōhen Kaijū Eiga Urutoraman) a compilation; Ultraman, Ultraseven: Great Violent Monster Fight (1969; Urutoraman urutorasebun mōretsu dai kaijū-sen), a compilation; The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army (Japan/Thailand 1974; Urutora Roku Kyōdai tai Kaijū; Gundan/Hanuman pob Jed Yodmanud); Ultraman (1979; Jissouji Akio Kantoku Sakuhin Urutoraman) a compilation; Ultraman: Great Monster Decisive Battle (1979; Urutoraman Kaijū Daikessen), a compilation; Ultraman Zoffy: Ultra Warriors vs. the Giant Monster Army (1984; Urutoraman Zofī VS Dai Kaijū Gundan), which includes previously released material; Ultraman Story (1984; Urutoraman Sutōrī); Space Warriors 2000 (1985), made without Tsuburaya Productions' knowledge from previously released material; Ultraman: The Adventure Begins a.k.a. Ultraman USA (1987; Urutoraman Yū Esu Ē), an animated US/Japan co-production with Hanna-Barbera originally intended as a pilot for a television series that never happened; Ultraman Wonderful World (1996; Urutoraman Wandafuru Warudo), comprising the three short films: Revive! Ultraman (Yomigaere! Urutoraman); the animated Ultraman Company: This is the Ultraman (Wacky) Investigation Team (Ultraman Company Kochira Ulkan Tokusō-tai de-su!) and Ultraman Zearth (Urutoraman Zeasu); Ultraman Zearth 2: Superman Big Battle – Light and Shadow (1997; Urutoraman Zeasu Tsū Chōjin Taisen Hikari to Kage), whose Ultra character Zearth is a dirt-phobic Parody of Ultraman; the animated Ultra Nyan: Extraordinary Cat who Descended from the Starry Sky (1997; Ultra Nyan: Hoshizora kara Maiorita Fushigi Neko); Ultraman Tiga & Ultraman Dyna: Warriors of the Star of Light (1998; Urutoraman Tiga ando Urutoraman Daina: Hikari no Hoshi no Senshi-tachi); the animated Ultra Nyan 2: The Great Happy Operation (1998; Ultra Nyan 2: Happy Daisakusen); Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace (1999; Urutoraman Tiga, Urutoraman Daina ando Urutoraman Gaia Chō Jikū no Daisakusen); Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey (2000; Urutoraman Tiga Za Fainaru Odessei); Ultraman Cosmos: The First Contact (2001; Urutoraman Kosumosu: Za Fāsuto Kontakuto); Ultraman Cosmos 2: The Blue Planet (2002; Urutoraman Kosumosu Tsū: Za Burū Puranetto); Ultraman Cosmos vs. Ultraman Justice: The Final Battle (2003; Urutoraman Kosumosu vs Urutoraman Jasutisu Za Fainaru Batoru); Ultraman: The Next (2004; Urutoraman); Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers (2006; Urutoraman Mebiusu ando Urutora Kyōdai); Superior Ultraman 8 Brothers (2008; Daikessen! Chō Urutora Hachi Kyōdai), the most commercially successful of the Ultraman movies; Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends (2009, Daikaijū Batoru Urutora Ginga Densetsu Za Mūbī); Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial (2010; Urutoraman Zero THE MOVIE: Chōkessen! Beriaru Ginga Teikoku); Ultraman Saga (2012; Urutoraman Sāga); Ultraman Ginga S The Movie (2015; Gekijōban Urutoraman Ginga Esu Kessen! Urutora Jū Yūshi!!); Ultraman X The Movie (2016; Gekijōban Urutoraman Ekkusu Kita zo! Warera no Urutoraman); Ultraman Orb The Movie (2017; Gekijōban Urutoraman Ōbu Kizuna no Chikara, Okarishimasu!); Ultraman Geed The Movie (2018; Gekijō-ban Urutoraman Jīdo Tsunagu ze! Negai!!); Ultraman R/B The Movie (2019; Gekijō-ban Urutoraman Rūbu Serekuto! Kizuna no Kurisutaru); and Ultraman Taiga The Movie (2020; Gekijō-ban Urutoraman Taiga Nyū Jene Kuraimakkusu).

95 videogames were released between 1984 and 2018. There has also been a Manga series. The sequels to the first Ultra series, Ultra Q, are listed under that entry.

Though there were earlier Tokusatsu television shows – such as Ultra Q; Marine Kong (1960) and Maguma Taishi (1966-1967; vt Ambassador Magma; vt Space Avenger; vt Space Giants), which later had a 1993 animated OVA series – it was the success of the Ultra series that led to a boom in the genre, most notably the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai franchises, both created by Shōtarō Ishinomori. Kamen Rider (1971-1973; original title Kamen Raidā) was followed by 30 further television series, up to the present day – as well as numerous films and specials. Beginning with Himitsu Sentai Gorenger (1975-1977; vt Five Rangers; vt Star Rangers), there have been 43 further Super Sentai (original title Sūpā Sentai Shirīzu) television series to date (2020), plus many films. The Super Sentai series was reworked with much new material using American actors and revised storylines to become the US franchise Power Rangers, beginning with the television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1996).

The television series Space Tokusatsu Series: Captain Ultra (1967; original title Uchū Tokusatsu Shirīzu: Kyaputen Urutora) – though a Tokusatsu show – has no connection to the Ultra series (the choice of name is no coincidence as it was commissioned to fill the schedule after Ultraman ended and before Ultraseven started).

The popularity of this franchise in Japanese Fandom was shown when at the country's first Worldcon the Hugo award design incorporated the classic Ultraman character standing next to the traditional Hugo rocket. [SP]

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