Netflix animated series Ultraman

Review: Netflix brings us animated superhero series ‘Ultraman’

With the sheer number of reboots Netflix is offering, it’s no surprise the streaming giant now offers yet another original animation, Ultraman, released earlier this month on Apr. 1, as part of its collection of oldie reincarnations.

Official trailer

Check out the official trailer!

A quick recap

So… Who’s Ultraman?

For those of us fans that haven’t ever heard of Ultraman before reading the above paragraph, a brief history: Ultraman is one of Japan’s beloved superheroes — the protagonist of a half-century old franchise helped solidify the tokusatsu (special effects) genre in Japanese filming. Although the character was first conceptualized in the debut series Ultra Q, audiences are most familiar with the second 1966 Ultraman series, which took the character to popularity.

The 1966 Ultraman followed Shin Hayata, a member of the Science Patrol (an anti-monster defense agency), who — with use of a Beta Capsule — could transform into a giant alien named Ultraman to defeat threats to the world. With the 1966 Ultraman drop, Ultraman captured television screens across Asia. Numerous sequels, remakes, spinoffs, parodies, tributes, video games, rip-offs, and more spawned from Ultraman, introducing new characters and alternate timelines and universes adorning the Ultraman title.

And what about the Netflix series?

Netflix joined the fun in the franchise earlier this month with its worldwide release of Ultraman, adapting Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi’s 2011 manga sporting the same name. This time around in Ultraman, we meet our protagonist Shinjiro, the son of OG Ultraman Shin Hayata, at the beginning his own adventure, set a whole generation after the timeline of the 1966 Ultraman (aka his father’s) story arc. Shinjiro is a high schooler raised completely unaware and unsuspecting of his destiny before a powerful mecha-alien Bemular appears in town, upsetting a cascade of events that leads Shinjiro to discover his identity and ultimately grow into his role as Ultraman.

Sure, the plot of Ultraman is built like any other coming-of-age superhero story, but the show is still engaging and amusing to watch. The audience is left in as much dark as Shinjiro is about himself, his powers, and the overall politics and players of the universe beyond. On an episode-to-episode basis, we discover new characters and gather more information and backstories; facts unfold like a mystery, providing the show a well-balanced combination of action and suspense.

What’s new

3DGG animation

Most notably unique to this 2019 incarnation is the phenomenal 3DCG animation, which provides us amazingly detailed sequences, admittedly my favorite part of watching the show. Tsuburaya Productions and Production I.G. have truly done great work; the graphics set Ultraman on a whole new level, especially when seen side-by-side with the versions from decades past. We see wonderfully fluid and kinetic choreographed fights, often deliciously slowed down before the punch that really matters, and we get to enjoy the versatility of alien bodies with movement physics different from our own.

Ultramen before

Despite the many upgrades this reboot has compared to its predecessors, Netflix’s Ultraman acknowledges and celebrates its lengthy history by naming its other Ultramen after the heroes of its previous versions, such as Dan Moroboshi of the 1967 series Ultra Seven and Seiji Hokuto from the 1972 Ultraman Ace. And of course, true to its origins, we even get to witness Shin Hayata gear up for a fight.

Combat

Probably the most striking difference diehard fans of Ultraman may be disappointed with is the more… well, ground-level combat. Unlike in past series where part of the Ultraman transformation included enlarging to Godzilla heights, the 2019 Ultraman series does not entertain supersizing in order to defeat skyscraper-tall aliens, but rather works like and appears similar to Iron Man — powering up and utilizing advanced technologies to knock enemies down instead. Gone are the extra-plus-scaled battles and giant monster foes; in are the more human-sized heroes and shapeshifting villains that can blend into city crowds. Combat is more street fight and less spandex, however this Ultraman still entertains use of the Specium Ray, the signature Ultraman power — a blinding beam of light that can break apart atoms and can grow stronger as an Ultraman grows older and possesses a stronger inner light.

What to expect (Mild spoilers!)

Of course, as necessary for practically all anime superhero-based shows, Ultraman features Shinjiro in a full-detailed transformation into Ultraman. His changing sequence is a healthy 54 seconds long, with epic choral music playing in the background. We see Shinjiro pump one fist up into the air as the Ultraman suit is called into action and begins to armor his body, honestly a little reminiscent of Ryoko Matoi’s metamorphosis from Kill la Kill.

And whether it’s awkward or just high school romance, Shinjiro finds himself time and again bumping into teenage pop idol star Rena Sayama, who has her own personal experiences with Ultraman (before Shinjiro). She serves as not only a love interest, but also as part of Shinjiro’s growth in finding his own definition of a superhero, providing skepticism and doubt about Ultraman’s goodness.

Conclusion

Perhaps now that Netflix has taken Ultraman under its wing, the franchise will begin to see a growing worldwide audience that it has sought and well deserves, breathing life back into old stans and roping in new fans. And good thing too — because after that setup of a first season, Netflix’s Ultraman is absolutely suiting itself up for a second.

Featured image credit: Netflix

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