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Anime ● Review: Ultraman

Title: ULTRAMAN

Director(s): Kamiyama Kenji, Aramaki Shinji

Screenwriter(s): Higaki Ryo, Shimoyama Kento

Studio: Production I.G, Sola Digital Arts

Released: 2019–2023

Season 1 Runtime: 13 episodes, ~24m each.

Season 2 Runtime: 6 episodes, ~24m each.

Season 3 Runtime: 12 episodes, ~24m each.

Starring: Kimura Ryouhei, Uo Ken, Tanaka Hideyuki, Morohoshi Sumire, Han Megumi


My Verdict: Nothing particularly bad, but nothing particularly memorable either.


Ultraman (Season 1)

● Based on the ongoing manga written by Shimizu Eiichi and illustrated by Shimoguchi Tomohiro, this anime follows high schooler Hayata Shinjiro, son of the original Ultraman Hayata Shin, as he becomes the new Ultraman.


● Please note that I have not read the manga so the review is purely of the anime. Also, I am no expert on the franchise.


● Firstly, although the rendering of this type of CG generally looks good, the motion is odd. Whether one tolerates it is a matter of personal taste. It does improve after the first season.


● The designs of the environment and anything inorganic generally look good. The human characters are sufficient but the aliens look too fantastical. This seems, at least generally, to be the approach that the franchise takes. I personally find it unfittingly weird in this anime. In this respect and others, the worldbuilding can be better.


● For example, in Star Wars and Star Trek, when weird-looking aliens appear, it typically comes across as normal as the worldbuilding in those fictional universes is sufficient. Ultraman is set in the present and although aliens are not out of the ordinary, it is not quite presented that way. It could simply be because this Ultraman is more consistent with contemporary sci-fi whilst the aliens simply look too fantastical for that approach.


● It is good that there are generally no chunky expositions on how the universe works but elements, including characters, are just thrown out there. Some mystery is intriguing but too much for too long and it is clumsy. For example, Bemlar is initially presented as a villain but then he is not. It’s great that there are grey characters, but the way it develops is clumsy. Another example is the different (political) factions or bodies that are shown but they are not used in an interesting way.


● The Ultraman suits don’t even try to be different from Iron Man as seen in the MCU, even down to the in-suit HUD shots.


Shinjiro in-suit HUD shot.
Shinjiro in-suit HUD shot.
Shinjiro in his suit.
Shinjiro in his suit.

● Season 1 at thirteen episodes introduces the characters and covers Shinjiro’s journey of becoming the new Ultraman under the SSSP (Science Special Search Party). He goes through the usual struggles of a superhero; for example, how far he should go hurting his targets.


● Season 2 at six episodes involves the mass disappearance of a significant portion of the population.


● Season 3 at twelve episodes adopts the “nemesis who wants to destroy the titular hero” premise.


● Despite whatever weaknesses, at least Shinjiro is not the outright annoying teenager. Like all heroes, there is some stubbornness—he can’t be perfect—but he is a kindhearted guy who tries his best without being too much of a goodie-goodie.


● The addition of more Ultramen is understandable as the length of the plot demands it. However, the execution is a little too convenient and cheesy. Also cheesy is Shinjiro’s friend Rena who just happens to become a J-pop star. She is fine and necessary as a character but the J-pop thing is just too much.


● The above being the case, at least there is SSSP agent Moroboshi, the stereotypical “seriously strict and insensitive jerk”, who is always telling off Shinjiro because he needs to be told off half the time.


Moroboshi and Shinjiro
Moroboshi and Shinjiro

● Unlike previous works, the “color timer” is not featured although there are a few moments in which the equivalent thereof applies. It is appreciated that such a cheesy feature is not resorted to but it is a device that can create dramatic tension and suspense, so keeping something like that would improve the drama.


● The series aptly looks at the image of Ultraman and how the media perceives and presents his actions, particularly in the final season. It could, however, take a deeper and more cynical examination of the subject.


● Also, aliens and genetics are involved when it comes to superhuman abilities. This is limited to a few rather than the entire population, but one wonders if transhumanism is meant to be a theme.


● The production is generally good if one can accept the animation style. The voice acting is solid. The music by Toda Nobuko and Jinnouchi Kazuma is fittingly grand with the use of traditional brass themes. Contemporary electronic style is used as well. The action is typically fast but, thankfully, not so fast to be a messy blur.


● As already mentioned, there is nothing particularly bad. Overall, the premise and plot are just interesting enough to keep one watching and the pacing is good enough. But there is nothing particularly memorable. There are too few wow moments, if any. Season 2 with the mass disappearance is initially trippy and intriguing, but even that isn’t that captivating.


● The anime also comes across as trying to be somewhat dark and complex but it doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. This is because, as already mentioned, some elements are just thrown out there but not carried through. The manga is aimed at seinen so it is not unreasonable for the work to have some complexity and adopt a darker tone. I am guessing, as is common, that there is a lot of material from the manga that is missing, material that makes a substantial difference in worldbuilding and plotting.


Bemlar
Bemlar
 

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