I saw the wife and kid off to school, took a quick shower and checked the news before I began the day’s writing. Nothing new, just the usual things: more senseless violence, more worthless politics and, of course, more Star Wars. I don’t even know what the article was about — at this point my eyes just kind of glaze over when I see that logo. To say I’m burnt out is an understatement, and there’s still two weeks to go before the movie even hits theaters. The merchandising blitz alone has been staggering — wherever I go, Star Wars is there: Yoda at the grocery store, Darth Vader at the drive-thru, and Stormtroopers on my kid’s string cheese. I know, I sound like a grump, but it wasn’t always this way. As a kid, few things excited me more than Star Wars. It established a tone and play-pattern for my generation. Everything that came previously was instantly swept under the rug — its hard to remember what life was like before it. But if I try…
When I was growing up, if it was 4 PM then the streets were empty. It didn’t matter that ten kids had been noisily playing kickball outside moments before: once we knew it was that time we fled back to our respective homes for the ritual. Depending on whether your mom would let you back outside or not, you met with the others roughly a half-hour later to discuss the jaw-dropping destruction you had just been witness to. It didn’t matter that the monsters were goofy-looking, or that the same cities were smashed over and over again every episode: Ultraman was unlike anything we’d ever seen, and we were hooked.
First syndicated in America during the mid-1970s, the Ultraman television show had an interesting pedigree. It was actually the follow-up to Ultra-Q, a black-and-white show closer in tone to The Outer Limits. The brainchild of Godzilla creator Eiji Tsuburaya, Ultraman told the story of Shin Hayata, deputy captain of the Science Special Search Party aka the Science Patrol. While investigating a disturbance in the countryside, Hayata witnesses the kaiju known as Bemular being pursued by a strange red orb.
The pulsing orb inadvertently collides with the space patrol jet, knocking it from the sky and killing it’s pilot. The orb assumes it’s true form as the silver-skinned alien Ultraman to investigate and discovers what it has done. Feeling guilt over killing an innocent, Ultraman uses his power to revive Hayata, bonding the cosmic hero to the pilot in the process. Using the enigmatic Beta Capsule, Hayata calls upon Ultraman to protect the Earth from all manner of bizarre-looking monsters.
The show was the visual equivalent of a bagful of penny candy: bright, colorful, and absolutely addictive. The show’s staple was it’s outrageous-looking monsters. These were often hastily repainted costumes from other kaiju productions — even Godzilla makes an appearance as Jirass in “The Mysterious Dinosaur Island.” These mutant monsters made the perfect foil for the sleek silver form of the title character. With his finned head, glowing bug-eyes and robot-like mouth, Ultraman didn’t look like any hero we American kids were familiar with, but he was quickly accepted. Play-capes went by the wayside as we pinned stuff to our t-shirts to emulate Ultraman’s “color timer,” the indicator of his remaining power.
Using a combination of martial arts, Greco-Roman wrestling moves and some fanciful mime-like gesticulation, we joined our hero in tackling three season’s worth of monsters with names like Greenmons, Mangular, Pigmon and my personal favorite, Dada. Having a three-year-old constantly scurrying around underfoot, I can totally relate to a cumbersome lopsided monster called Dada.
The show ran for 39 episodes and featured a very definite ending, which was strange for kid’s shows at the time. In the episode Farewell, Ultraman, our hero is defeated by Zetton, a monster with heating ducts for arms and breasts shaped liked fried eggs.
My friends and I watched in horror as Ultraman’s color timer ran down and our hero went into some sort of coma, only to have to be be retrieved by his fellow alien and superior, Zoffy. While we were promised by the narrator that “Ultraman will return”, he never did. Well, at least to our knowledge. In Japan, the show was followed by Ultra Seven, widely regarded as one of Japan’s greatest fantasy TV series. I never saw it, sadly. To me, the story of Ultraman ended tragically, and has always been a bittersweet memory for me.
Until this morning.
I clicked the link not knowing what to expect. Would I see some fan-made video being beings passed off as legitimate, looking brilliant but unable to deliver on its promise? Or worse, would it be the real deal but with Power Rangers-level production values? It turns out the new trailer for 2016’s Ultraman is neither of those things. Watching the title character slowly rise out of a cloud of dust and destruction, poised to tackle the raging kaiju with only his bare hands brought that long-lost sense of elation flooding back. No big guns. No stupid armor. Just high-kicking kung-fu badassery,
Now I know well enough not to get too excited based on a preview — hey, Star Wars taught me that. But its from clear looking at this brief clip that Ultraman is in the hands of those who love the character and are looking to honor his legacy without unrecognizably altering it. Yeah, it looks too good to be true. But maybe — just for 90 minutes — Ultraman fans can go home again.
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