Welcome back to Anime Horrors – a column dedicated to exploring new and classic works of anime and manga.
As someone who has adored Godzilla since childhood, Shin Godzilla is truly one of the most fascinating takes I’ve ever seen on the legendary kaiju. Directed by Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno (the latter being of Evangelion fame) – written by Anno – Shin Godzilla is a captivating work that brought an incredible spin to the iconic titan. So when I found out that Anno was working on a Shin Ultraman, I cheered with joy.
For those who are not in the know – Ultraman is a superhero who fights aliens from outer space. Making his debut in 1966 on Japanese television, the character became immensely popular with audiences. Eventually Ultraman would find his way out west in the form of VHS and action figures; yours truly came across both of these items, and given Ultraman’s almost Power Rangers-like design, I was immediately intrigued. Ultraman battles his supernatural baddies in a fashion like the Rangers, allowing for exciting (and cheesy) fights.
With such a playful and interesting history to the character, I am beyond excited to see what Anno will do with Shin Ultraman. I’m willing to bet that given the success of Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman will make for a big hit among western audiences. So while we await the movie, I want to take this month’s Anime Horrors to shout out a recent Ultraman series that has really caught my attention – that of Netflix’s Ultraman anime (which is based off the manga of the same name). The show serves as a sequel to that of the 1966 show.
Making its debut in 2019, Ultraman introduces the audience to Shin Hayata, an older man who used to be Ultraman (though he does not remember being him). He is visiting the Ultraman museum with his son Shinjiro, who is a child at this time; one thing leads to another and Shinjiro takes a major fall from a balcony. While his father is initially shocked, he notes that Shinjiro does not appear to be hurt at all. Via a conversation with a colleague of his, Hayata remembers his past and realizes that his powers as Ultraman have transferred to Shinjiro. Finding out that Earth is in danger from extraterrestrial forces, Hayata takes up the mantle of Ultraman once again (the show then jumping 10 years later).
After the time jump, the show primarily follows Shinjiro, who comes to learn his father’s secret and takes on the role of Ultraman from him. I hesitate to say inherits, because while Shinjiro does a lot of good fighting evil aliens, this version of Ultraman has a lot to learn. With such an important role in humanity’s existence, Shinjiro is not sure what he can do; while it is one thing to fight, he’s not sure if he can take a life. The moments of contemplation where Shinjiro is feeling torn during a battle – or even conversations he has with others on the topic – allow for insightful moments of drama and character depth throughout the show.
But of course, this is Ultraman, so there is great amount of action. Netflix’s Ultraman opts for the streaming platform’s use of CGI – which I have a love/hate relationship with. In some cases it is fine, but in others, the quality of how a character moves and emotes can be robotic (taking away from emotional scenes). Thankfully for Ultraman, the use of CGI serves to heighten the action. Though it is not at the level of fluidity one may witness from other modern anime, the fights in Ultraman will get the blood pumping. With touches of gore there and then, the actual hand to hand combat looks impressive. Not to mention that the more cosmic attacks look pretty cool.
Throughout its current 13 episodes (at the time of this writing), the show does a solid job on delivering interesting twists, with a greater cosmic scheme teased early on in the story. The show’s dramatic elements have their moments of cheese, but overall sell the conflicting feelings taking place within Shinjiro, while further heightening the narrative suspense. By the time viewers reach the midway point of the season, they will have come across a plethora of conspiracy, bad ass aliens, and epic sci-fi action. The conclusion leaves off on an interesting note that begs for more story; thankfully there is a season two of Ultraman in the works. There’s also going to be an Ultraman movie coming to Netflix (not to be confused with this show or Shin Ultraman).
Whereas many iconic characters from Japanese pop culture have seen continued admiration from western audiences, it’s terrific to see that Ultraman is starting to get even more love here in the States. I never saw a ton of attention towards Ultraman growing up, so I sincerely appreciate Netflix adapting the Ultraman manga and giving viewers the anime. Whereas the original Ultraman show has a lot of charm and fun, the Netflix anime brings a whole other level of thrills and action to the franchise. For those who are brand new to discovering Ultraman, the anime serves as a nice springboard to begin one’s fandom. After you check out the current season airing on Netflix, I recommend searching through YouTube to find old clips and episodes of the original Ultraman.