It’s only logical Japan’s version of Superman towers at a hundred feet tall (or thereabouts) and clashes against some giant monster threat each week.
That’s Ultraman in short, a kooky, colorful, wild show that divorced from predecessor Ultra Q. Where the latter maturely espoused messages of peace and science, Ultraman stars an alien embodied by a human who fights stuff. Although aimed at kids, Ultraman engages in bloody violence, severed limbs, and monsters shredded by Ultra’s various lasers. It’s surreal entertainment.
Bold with its color, literally and in storytelling, the series follows Japan’s Science Special Search Party – based in Paris, oddly – who ineffectively attack the creature-of-the-week. Strangely, Ultraman appears self defeating, admitting that Japanese self-defense forces can’t handle these invasions. Each episode comes down to Hayata (Susumu Kurobe) grabbing an alien device, turning into Ultra, and doing what he does. Unlike Ultra Q or even the Godzilla series, science rarely wins. Instead, it takes an otherworldly hero to save cities, forests, or even oceans.
Ultraman does things its own way
Ultraman does things its own way
While Ultraman isn’t lacking in imagination, the by-product of weekly episodes wears on the output. Creaky monster suits and lacking miniatures add camp value, if not out of line with the writing’s comedic release valve. Goofiness is pervasive between rounds of drama, enough to soften not only violence, but a darker side too. One episode kills off an entire team of investigators, ending with a makeshift funeral. An actual human toll is rare in Japanese kaiju films or tokusatsu TV. Ultraman does things its own way, ensuring longevity because not even imitators can stand up to the eclectic style.
Future series took the idea in a number of directions, including serialized storytelling and theatrical pairings. There’s charm in the original though, an earnestness to do something new that while mimicking the ‘60s kaiju boom, stands on its own via a spark of imagination. No doubt Japanese kids took a pose and pretended to shoot lasers from their arms, mirroring one of Ultra’s finishing moves. Plus, there’s a pro wrestling touch as suit actors throw one another around. Ultraman consistently pushed for fresh material, ensuring the basic formula doesn’t wane across these almost 40 episodes.
Ultimately, it’s an iconic series. The influences stretch to the US, not only for the dubbed version that made it Stateside in the early ‘70s, but all the way to Power Rangers. It’s the same stuff – raw, surreal fantasy that emboldens the truth that no one handles giant monsters better than Japan.
After seeing the dazzling result of Ultra Q, this is a total bummer. While definitely on Blu-ray media (six discs total), nothing suggests HD. More accurately, Ultraman takes the DVD – compression and all – and upscales the material. It’s ugly, at least in terms of Blu-ray’s expectations.
As a consolation, the DVD release looked fine. Colors stand out and age doesn’t limit brightness. Film sources carry little to no damage, if also no visible grain. Moderate detail pokes out from the ugly artifacting (and that’s a constant presence). None of this changes in Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release, offering no improvement.
As with Ultra Q, new sound effects accentuate action scenes. Differences between the scratchy dialog and pristine action audio cannot be missed.
DTS-HD provides the mono mix, wavering in fidelity and clarity. The small scale TV score doesn’t exhibit any range, thin and high on treble. There’s no surprises waiting within.
Nothing on the discs themselves, but Mill Creek produces a fine looking package (or Steelbook if preferred) with a full color booklet containing writer Keith Aiken’s explainer on Ultraman’s origins, an episode guide, monster list, and more.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Ultraman originated a formula that continues today, creating a colorful world of monsters that’s never afraid of being bizarre.
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