First Look: Ultraman (2019)

Manga Adaptation by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts
Streaming on Netflix

Premise

Many years ago, Ultraman came to Earth to protect it from annihilation at the hands of giant monsters and aliens. Nowadays it’s just a distant memory, but not for Shin Hayata, the human host of Ultraman. His time as a host caused him to inherit some otherworldly powers, which were then passed down to his son, Shinjiro Hayata. With sightings of an evil, Ultraman-like figure, Shinjiro must learn about the origin of his powers, and how he can use them to protect Earth.

Euri’s verdict: Ultraman, Plus Ultra

There’s a lot to like about the 1966 Ultraman, be it the goofy yet memorable aliens, the groundbreaking for the time special effects, or simply the vibrant orange jackets worn by the Science Patrol. It’s a classic show, and popular enough that Ultraman is recognisable by many outside of the tokusatsu fandom. When it ended in 1967, it was mere months later that the next series, Ultra Seven, was on the air. There have many iterations of this show over the years, some of which we’ve covered here on this site, but never once did it occur to me that what Ultraman needed was a sequel. A sequel, no less, to the classic 1966 Ultraman.

And after just the first episode, I think I’m on board.

Not only is this a sequel to a tokusatsu show, but it’s also an adaptation of a manga written by Tomohiro Shimoguchi, who you might know as the author of Linebarrels of Iron. While the manga has been ongoing since 2011, you can’t help but wonder how long Tsuburaya had this one in planning. It was less than a year ago that they, along with Studio Trigger, released the fantastic and out-of-nowhere SSSS.GRIDMAN, another sequel to an old tokusatsu show. It’s hard to say whether they’re doing a Disney in their attempts to modernise some of their classic shows, but if this is anything like SSSS.GRIDMAN was, and early signs are very positive, then it’ll be hard not to ask for more.

Admittedly it’s only been a few weeks since I finished watching Ultraman R/B, but this opening episode felt like an incredible breath of fresh air for the franchise. To start, this episode has no giant monster battles in it whatsoever. We do get the introduction of an evil Ultraman-like character, who seems to be a cross between Dark Samus and Ultron, but there are no monsters to be seen outside of some fun nods at the start of the episode via a museum diorama.

They’ll come in due course, I’m sure of that, but the episode doesn’t feel the need to rush back into the familiar Ultraman formula. Instead, we get a fair chunk of exposition, cluing us in on Shin and Shinjiro, their relation to the events told in that 1966 Ultraman series, and their place in the world today. The biggest issue I’ve had with this franchise, particularly with Ultraman X and Ultraman R/B, is the lack of character development. This show really hits the ground running in that department.

It helps that Shinjiro’s circumstances are quite familiar, as he’s learning to live with his powers in much the same way as many western superheroes do. In fact, it’s very reminiscent of Spider-Man, in the with great power comes great responsibility sense. We see maybe ten minutes of him as a teenager, but already we understand that he’s just trying to fit in, while accommodating for powers he wants to keep hidden. I’m not going to pretend that isn’t cliche, but it’s simple and it works.

Without beating about the bush, the 3DCG is going to put a lot of people off this show. I personally don’t have a problem with it in concept, and there are some terrific shows out there such as Land of the Lustrous and BLAME! that really show what you can achieve with the style. Heck, SSSS.GRIDMAN did a great job with it too, even if it was only during the monster fights. Unfortunately, Ultraman is very inconsistent.

There are times when the animation is smooth and looks terrific, but you can tell that there are particular scenes that have had more attention paid to them than others. There were times when the scene would shift from a smooth segment into a choppy, 15 frames-per-second version just with a camera change, to the point where it feels a lot like a badly optimised video game. That choppy animation style isn’t new, and it’s indeed the norm for many shows like this, but the lack of consistency across the entire episode really puts a spotlight on it.

It’s a shame, because it’s definitely going to put people off this show when it has otherwise showed us that there’s a lot to look forward to. With only a little knowledge of the original show, it’s easy to see how much of a love letter this is, and from someone who clearly cares for the source material. Personally, I’m very excited to watch more.

One thought on “First Look: Ultraman (2019)

  1. “Without beating about the bush, the 3DCG is going to put a lot of people off this show.”

    Yah, that’s the big thing keeping me from watching it, and I LOVE Ultraman. This series uses a particular style of 3DCG that I positively loathe.

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