Otaku USA Magazine
Have an Ultra New Year!

Remember how I said two issues back that the reason I’m into tokusatsu nowadays is because of Ultraman?

My dad and my aunt watched the United Artists dub of Ultraman along with a majority of the other shows that were being dubbed and shown on American television at the time and found the episodes on second-generation bootlegs at conventions years later. Those tapes were passed on to me and the rest is history. Now with my aunt gone, her Ultra and Kaiju merchandise serving as her inheritance to me, I’ve gained a more sentimental attachment to the Ultra Series as a whole and the past two years proved to be the best time to be an “Ultra Fan.” From all the news we’ve been getting about future projections, this year is looking to be no exception.

Every Ultra Series entry pretty much follows the same formula (with a few exceptions and twists on occasion): A guy who is usually a member of an organization that guards the planet against threats from Earth or space gets involved in some sort of accident that either brings him to the brink of death or outright kills him. At that point, he’s saved by a red and silver alien, usually claiming to be from Nebula M-78, who says that he needs the guy’s body to fight off the hordes of oncoming monsters. The guy agrees, gets a handy henshin item which he will then use to transform into the alien, always labeled as “Ultraman•bCrLf by the humans at the time. Action ensues.

Now in past years, Tsuburaya Pro (the studio responsible for making the Ultra Series) has been known to pull out the all the stops during anniversary years. For 1996, the 30th Anniversary of Ultraman, they released the first Ultraman Zearth movie, a special •bCrLf40th Episode•bCrLf of Ultraman that gave fans the ending they always wanted, and the TV series Ultraman Tiga, which proved to be the key to reviving the franchise. Tiga did so well in fact that it got a direct sequel series the following year in Ultraman Dyna and the popularity overall led to the creation of the third series in the “Heisei Trifecta,•bCrLf Ultraman Gaia.

The year 2001 was the series’ 35th Anniversary and Tsuburaya attempted to create a more peaceful hero with Ultraman Cosmos. Though the series did well with toy sales and managed to get the record of the longest running Ultra Series at 65 episodes, it wasn’t exactly all that popular among longtime fans who didn’t exactly like where this series was going. This, of course, didn’t help when the actor for Musashi, the series’ protagonist, got involved in an off-screen scandal and Cosmos suddenly had its final episodes combined into two specials with Musashi edited out. Things were further messed up when the actor’s name was cleared but it still resulted in the extended episode count.

After a rather contested year with the Ultra N Project (an attempt to reinvent the franchise with the Ultraman Nexus TV series, a new character, and a movie) and the beginnings of the legal battle with Chaiyo Entertainment, Tsuburaya came back in 2006 with Ultraman Mebius. With this series, Tsuburaya did something that won them major points over the other studios at the time: They actually gave fans what they wanted. Specifically, a return to the original “M-78 Universe•bCrLf that had not been seen since Ultraman 80. Even more amazing was having the original actors from all of the Showa-era Ultra shows appear to reprise their roles in the amazingly epic movie, Ultraman Mebius and Ultra Brothers.

And what about 2007? It brought the 40th Anniversary of Ultraseven (the second Ultra Series and arguably one of the more popular) and with it, Ultraseven X, a 13- episode series that was a long-awaited return to the studio’s hardcore sci-fi glory days and also became the first Ultra Series in a late-night time slot. Almost right afterward, Tsuburaya released Ultra Galaxy: Great Monster Battle, an adaptation of the video game that has kids duking it out with Ultra Series monsters.

Even after all that, the celebrating isn’t over yet. Later this year we’re getting another movie, Great Decisive Battle! The Super 8 Ultra Brothers. This movie not only looks to bring back Ultraman Tiga along with his alter-ego’s actor, Hiroshi Nagano of the boy band V6, but also to serve as the ultimate team up: the Heisei AND Showa era Ultras! Something fans have only thought of in their wildest dreams (and fan fiction).

Indeed, the past few years have seen some really awesome shows and in this time where Godzilla has been laid to rest and Toei has become more focused on money than quality, it’s great that I can still look forward to those red and silver giants from Nebula M-78 showing up to thrash the next evil menace.

Till the next, keep the party going Tsuburaya.

[Excerpted from the April 2008 issue of Otaku USA magazine]