When you're a Godzilla fan, you're most likely into Gamera too. Those are the big ones American fans like. However, other than those two, another name is huge in the kaiju genre: Ultraman. Believe it or not, Ultraman is a lot more popular in Japan currently than Godzilla. I've always heard of Ultraman growing up, but I never thought much f it. I dismissed it as just being another Power Rangers. Boy was I wrong. Years later today, I'm part of the TOHO Kingdom forums. While there, Ultraman and his many monsters were always popping up. Over time, the comments about the franchise made me want to check it out, it seemed like something a Godzilla fan would enjoy. Sadly, DVD releases are limited, the franchise isn't exactly big in America. However, the original series was available on DVD (for under $10!) so I picked it up. Ultraman: The Original Series is the pioneer of the Ultra franchise, it's an enjoyable series for all kaiju fans.
The original Ultraman series is famous for its 'monster of the week' thing and of course its main character. If you don't know, the focus is on the Science Patrol, the elite of Japan. (Complete with 60's style suits and laser guns.) We have Hayata, (Ultraman's human host) Captain Mura, Ito, Arashi, and the lovely Fugi. These guys just work great together, the chemistry, they're just nice. Hayata, well, how can one not like him? He's the definition of a 'nice guy who does what's right.' The Captain is great, he shows a demeanor that deserves respect yet he genuinely cares for his members. Ito you'll be seeing a lot, the comic relief member. Well, to be fair, he was only truly comic relief in the earlier episodes. His slapstick scenes ("Who turned off the lights?!) was thankfully dropped as the show went on. Arashi is more the worrisome member, he doesn't get as much screen time as the others. Then there's the only female member of the group, Fugi. She's definitely needed in the cast, she adds a certain meekness or innocence to the group. (They even turned her into a giant in one episode.) Yes, the cast really works here, they all have great chemistry with one another. Oh, almost forgot the only kid member, Hoshino. At first, he may seem like someone who just hangs around there, but later in the show he gets his own uniform. Though he doesn't participate in battle much. The only thing this cast is missing is a dog.
Ultraman is a classic character. He has a great backstory that sadly was never expanded upon in the series. The first episode is a bit slow, but does a good job with establishing Ultra's bond with Hayata. The character of Ultraman is pretty awesome I have to say. Based on his name you think he's some cheesy superhero? Think again. Ultraman is a hero, but he's not without a distinctive character. He's always ready for a fight, and won't hesitate to openly mock his opponent, such as with his fight against Godz-I mean Jirass. Here we see him do something that would happen only once in the show: laugh. He completely openly mocked Jirass the whole time. So don't think this guy is a cheesy Power Ranger, he's hardcore. This brings us to the most important aspect of the show: the monsters.
Every episode featured a new monster, with the exception of the Prince two-parter. The original show is famous for its diverse cast of monsters. Sadly, a lot of them are some of the lamest creatures you'll ever find. The first episode featured Bemular, (you have to see how this guy's weak little arms flap around) a good first opponent for Ultraman. The second one featured the fan favorite Alien Baltan for the show's first science fiction-themed episode. After that, the neo-Bargon Neronga. Not a bad first three, then of course the Creature From the-I mean Ragon. However, the main problem I found with the series is that in a lot of the earlier episodes, there was no danger for Ultraman. He completely destroyed the monsters with ease, sometimes they wouldn't even land a single blow! It wasn't until Episode Seven when the always-awesome Antlar appeared. That was the first fight where there was actually a chance Ultraman might lose. Alien Zarab was a pretty great villain, especially with the Fake Ultraman concept, good stuff. There are some really great designs here, Antlar, Zetton, Dorako, Telesdon, Alien Mephilas, among others. Sadly, with every cool monster appearance, there's usually two lame ones. Gamakjira being the biggest offender of them all. The suit and actual monster is so awful that it's laughable. And I don't know why the show relied on four-legged creatures so much, they get old fast. Still, one can't deny the uniqueness displayed here, Gyango might just be the most creative design I've ever seen for a kaiju.
|The always amazing Antlar|
There are a few standout episodes. The first one that really stood out was Episode Eight, when they went to the Ultraman version of Monster Island. That one featured a few different monsters, but the one that stood out was the fan favorite Red King. Neat design, great portrayal. However, his best appearance was when he returned in Episode 25, another great episode. (That one also featured the first appearance of Dorako, a pretty cool monster if you ask me.) Another standout, (or infamous) is Episode Ten. To be more clear, it features Jirass. This monster is famous for one thing: it's the Godzilla suit with a frill. What's even more funny is that Ultraman actually rips off the frill. Now we're left with Ultraman fighting a painted Godzilla. It's hilarious, but that's part of the charm. The series is episodic, the only two-parter is with the famous Gomora, the first monster to actually defeat Ultraman. However, the one that stood out the most was Episode 22, 'Overthrow the Surface.' Right from the start it's different, the coloring looks dark and the way it's filmed gives the impression of the shaky cam style. In this Twilight Zone-themed episode, the simplistic yet awesome Telesdon appears. Man that was a strange episode. One of my personal favorites was Episode 37, where Ultraman battles the 'Chief of all monsters' Geronimon. But that's not really the reason why I liked it, it featured the return of two of my favorites monsters: Dorako and Telesdon. What I don't understand is why they replaced Dorako's Gigan-like claws with normal hands and took out his wings. Geronimon was extremely underwhelming. A lot of monsters in this show are, but for the 'Chief of all Monsters,' I expected better. Still, that episode did feature a weapon built by Ito that could destroy whole monsters. There's also the 'joke' episode of the series, Episode 34, featuring the 'Heaviest Monster in all of Existence.' That episode was practically a parody of the show itself. Then of course there's the famous final episode...
|Zetton, the ultimate monster|
'Farewell Ultraman ' is the last episode of the series. I couldn't ask for a better climax. This one features aliens who come to earth and awaken the 'most powerful monster in the universe.' This monster is Zetton, who completely pulverized Ultraman. Zetton is definitely the show's ultimate villain, his design is incredible. His roar or better term his sounds give off a sense that this guy is an emotionless being. The fight I hear a lot of people say it should have been better. Honestly, I thought it was perfect. It isn't very long, but every move made by both was felt. You know Ultraman was going to lose, and he did, he was completely defeated. Zetton is then destroyed by a prototype weapon built Dr. Iwamoto, my only complaint. Zetton is obviously the most powerful monster in the show, yet you have him beaten by a human based weapon? I read that the original intent was to have Ultraman's superior defeat him, which would have been so much better. Still, the ending has such emotion, you don't want it to end, but it's over. By then they should have realized that Hayata was Ultraman, but hey, we live in a world where it took Lois Lane years to find out that Clark Kent was Superman.
Overall, the original Ultraman series had a lot of heart. It's oldschool and fun. A lot of aspects are outdated, but it doesn't lose its charm. You'll be smiling every time you hear Ghidorah's roar on the Science Patrol phone. While a lot of monsters are weaklings and look lame, there's a great number of them that would be pretty great in a Godzilla film. The fights are classic Showa type, lots of wrestling here. Ultraman is a show all kaiju fans would enjoy, and for under $10, how can one go wrong? Ultraman may look cheesy on the outside, but at its core, it's show filled with heart and characters you can root for.