This new CG anime series isn't about your granddad's Ultraman! This week, Nick and Micchy explore this dark n' gory take on the classic tokusatsu story.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
Well Micchy, we're finally getting to see Netflix
's new Ultraman
anime. I've never been a huge Tokusatsu nerd, but after Garo
and Gridman have knocked it out of the park recently, I'm sure we're in for some fun, hokey, alien-punching shenaniga--
ULTRAMAN adapts the 2011 manga spinoff of the '60s tokusatsu show, which is what you get when you ask "what if Ultraman was dark, edgy, and featured no giant monster punching". You know it's for grown-ups because now when Ultraman does murders, the bodies spew blood, and the color palette is grey and dingy like it's a Zack Snyder movie.
Also instead of getting big and fighting rubber suit aliens, he's Iron Man
with Superman's powers.
That isn't inherently bad, but it does feel like a waste to take such an iconic concept as Ultraman and turn it into something that I can barely differentiate from the 14 different superhero movies we get every year now.
Yeah, that's kind of where I sit on this series. OG Ultraman pretty much codified the giant hero genre in toku, and it's a shame to just throw that legacy out the window in favor of off-brand Iron Man—which is ironic considering the show is ostensibly about carrying on Ultraman's legacy through the son of the original Ultraman.
Oh right, I forgot the premise is literally a Disney straight-to-video sequel to the original Ultraman
I have zero knowledge of Ultraman
lore, so I'll take the show's word that this makes any sense. Honestly, I'm just bummed we didn't get more time with Oldtraman before suiting up his son.
As a hero, Ultraman
is usually either a) an alien or b) the fusion of that alien with a random human, so Shinjiro being the actual descendant of alien-Ultraman
makes sense. I'm just disappointed we didn't get more of Oldtraman's butt. What's the point of having these skintight suits if you're not gonna show off the goods?
Well if you can't look at ass, looking at something that looks like ass is the next best option, so you've come to the right show! I try not to harp on CGI too much—it's going to be part of the industry going forward, and there have been anime that employed it well, but there's something about how nobody's mouth matches their voice in any language that makes this show mildly unpleasant to watch.
To be fair, the CG in this show isn't any worse than the CG in any TV-budget tokusatsu. At this point, I can even deal with the low FPS, despite thinking it's hideous. But the thing that gets to me is the fucking textures on these horrible mocapped doll bodies. No matter how they light them, everyone always looks totally incongruous with their weirdly photo-realistic suits.
It certainly doesn't help how generic the characters look. All the humans in this show look like background extras who got lost. Especially our protagonist.
My personal metric for whether tokusatsu shows are worth watching is how cute the boys are. And Shinjiro Hayata is no Daichi Ozora.
This new Ultraman has no visible cheekbones and all the personality of a baked potato. Why even bother?
Yeah, pretty much any other character in this show would make a more interesting protagonist than Son of Ultraman
. His only real arc in the whole show is to learn to do murder when he's told, and even that gets resolved halfway through the series' run.
Oh, but he still feels bad about doing the murder, so that's important character development, I guess? The show doesn't spend too much time worrying about ethics after its brief scenes of cliche remorse. My favorite thing about Shinjiro's "killing is okay if I fly while doing it" breakthrough is how he gets such a confidence boost from it that he tries to hit on the idol girl, only to get immediately shut down in an exchange that goes something like:
Shinjiro: "oh yeah me and Ultraman are super tight!"
Rena: "Ultraman sucks actually, also who are you again?"
Yeah, that's the weirdest part. If this series wants to be a Mature For Adults take on Ultraman, taking more interest in the concept of murdering sentient aliens for the sake of a "greater good" seems like prime material. But the show just uses it as a lesson about how Shinjiro needs to stop hesitating in battle.
The one other time it brings up the ethics of killing aliens is in the third Ultraman's backstory, where he makes a big stink about protecting an alien girl who gets like five seconds of screentime. That's a great tactic for getting the audience invested in your emotional hook; why bother having an alien (or a girl) actually do things in the show when some random Ultraman boy can talk about her like an abstract concept instead before dropping it completely.
I get the feeling they thought it was a clever move to set up a trolley problem at Rena's concert ("either save the one girl or let the ceiling collapse on the audience, killing them all"), but by then I was just so done with the aimless violence for violence's sake.
At least that episode featured the best character
in the show.
Like yes, partly Adad's the best because he's played by Steve Blum hamming it the hell up in the dub
, but he's also the only person here who seems to be having any fun.
In Japanese he's played by Kenjiro Tsuda
, so yeah, same diff in terms of appeal. Also this is what his species looks like in live action if you were wondering:
The pecs and six-pack were a real glow-up.
A shame they lost the pink lipstick. Really would have pulled the look together. But yeah, Adad's a gigantic red herring for the show's Police Procedural arc, where you think he's this evil alien murderer who shows up and immediately pantses Shinjiro and his UltraSenpai Moroboshi.
So the moral of that story was that idol fans are the real monsters, right?
I think that's the moral of every idol story, but yeah, it turns out Adad is actually part of the Space Cops and just pretending to be evil (for some reason). He's actually on Earth to arrest an alien superfan for killing people who tweeted mean things at his favorite idol.
And by arrest, I mean violently execute because that's how everyone solves their problems in this show.
Yeah, why is this show so goddang violent?
Because it's not your Dad's Ultraman, maaaan
. In fact, we'll stab your dad's Ultraman
through the stomach.
Spoiler: he's fine.
That's what he gets for telling me to cut my hair and take out the trash.
So like, honest question, who is ULTRAMAN 2019 for? Adults who grew up on older Ultraman shows but are so over the hokey effects and occasionally cheesy morals? Because it's not an Ultraman show in spirit or in form—it's often violent for no reason, it's frustratingly humorless, and it features no giant monsters. So why tack the Ultraman name on it?
I imagine this material felt more fresh when the manga started, but after a decade of Superhero Slurry being funneled into every nook and cranny of pop culture, it just doesn't feel like much of anything. And it's not like you can't make a serious or emotionally resonant reboot of campy old properties. SSSS.Gridman
did that and then some just last year, while
intentionally making its action scenes look like action figures getting smacked together.
I'm with you there. ULTRAMAN
, for all its superficial edginess, doesn't come close to doing anything half as interesting as what SSSS.Gridman
did with Akane. Sure, the fight scenes are decently choreographed, but the incessant slow-mo just reminds me of mediocre Hollywood superhero movies. I'll pass.
(Also why bother with the stylized non-contact stage combat when the rest of this show is so deliberately violent, I don't get it.)
I do like a few of the fights, specifically when they use the CG to do stuff you just couldn't on a traditional TV anime production. Like Seijiro's fight with the space mercenaries in the season climax is built to look like a single take. Also shoutout to that fight for featuring the best named hitman character ever:
But yeah, Netflix's ULTRAMAN feels like a tokusatsu show for people who don't like tokusatsu, so the end result is a product that, while watchable and decently entertaining, is pretty unmemorable.
It's almost insulting when they do the Ultraman
pose in a show that's 2% Ultraman
at best. Under any other name, I might be inclined to give this show a pass, but it just feels like a kick in the face to the kid in me that still watches Ultraman
from time to time.
The best Ultraman
series make their heavy material palatable for younger audiences. This series delivers juvenile nihilism under the guise of maturity, and I'm not a fan. But hey, at least I got a new murder boyfriend out of it.
Oh right, Moroboshi. The abstinence-only Ultraman
I'm not as into glasses, and frankly I got tired of his weird Ultra-pissing contest with a teenager fast, but at least he left an impression.
Oh no, don't get me wrong, Moroboshi sucks, I just think murderous anime boys are hot. And hey, he's less of a drag than our actual protagonist.
Honestly, just give me Old-ass Ultraman
Old Ass Ultraman indeed. ;)