Ultraman Final Thoughts

An epilogue for my viewing of the original Ultraman TV series.

I knew Ultraman was going to be about a team of special forces wielding high-tech weapons against giant monsters with the help of an alien superhero. So I can’t accurately say I didn’t know what to expect from this series. It certainly is all those things. Yet nothing I had read about this classic special effects show had led me to anticipate its box-of-chocolates sampler of different styles, tones, genre riffs, and visual techniques. Aside from the Science Patrol, a kaiju or two, and Ultraman himself, a viewer did not know what they were in for from one episode to the next.

Having watched Ultra Q I was somewhat educated for what would come, just not expecting its anything goes approach to continue so strongly. Nor had I realized quite how much experimental art and avant-garde design was behind the look of Ultraman. The series and its monsters occasionally drift into the surreal, because, well, there were surrealists working on it.

It might be important to remember that the Batman TV series was on the air at the same time as this original Ultraman. Would viewers in Japan have been aware of it yet? Batman TV is the closest thing I can think of to compare with some episodes of this show. But then Batman was parodying long established traditions in superhero stories. Ultraman gets into poking fun at a genre it essentially invented. I don’t think Ultraman ever becomes “camp” but it does edge toward meta. That’s something that will influence my view of every kaiju film, toksatsu adventure series, or super sentai show that came afterwards.

Another lasting effect of this series is that so much of Neon Genesis Evangelion makes more sense now (artistically at least). I knew that Hideaki Anno, the creator of the 1995-96 anime, was a big Ultraman fan (even making his own homemade Ultraman movie), but I hadn’t grasped how much of the visual style of Evangelion was born from Ultraman. The connections Evangelion and Ultraman are a huge topic I’d like to explore someday, especially with the circle being closed by Anno’s upcoming Shin Ultraman feature film.

Ultra Q spawned Ultraman which spawned a franchise that continues today. I’ve seen a little of the current 2020 series, Ultraman Z — and it looks as wild as ever. I have several other series, new and old, waiting for me to watch. I’ve actually just started the 2013 Neo Ultra Q, and then I’ll likely go back to the original sequence, with Ultraseven. I can’t say yet how much blogging I’ll do about those shows. Given what I’ve seen so far, I’m expecting quite a journey.

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