Based on the classic Japanese series which first aired in the ’60s this Netflix Original aims to bring the iconic Ultraman to the global audience of today. Gone is the dated live-action visual in favour of a clean CG vision of our titular hero. For newcomers to the series, in essence, it’s like a mix of Godzilla, Power Rangers, Transformers and we’ll even throw in Iron Man for the Marvel generation among us.
This first season is fully streamable and spans a 13 episode run with each roughly lasting 23 minutes. The art direction looks excellent with a cel-shaded video game quality to it, a minor annoyance is that when the action really gets going things tend to look a little jerky but this effect seems to be a result of the production methods employed and not isolated to just this series.
The basic premise of Ultraman is standard fare these days as we’ve come to see this format copied time and time again. Our present-day world is peaceful thanks to the efforts of Ultraman, a force that came from the stars, some decades ago who fought for Earth against an alien threat. With our guardian’s services no longer required he has seemingly vanished.
We begin our story focused on an aged Shin Hayata and his young son Shinjiro. As they wander around a museum a mishap occurs which should by all rights seriously injure Shinjiro but he escapes relatively unscathed. All is not as it seems when it is confirmed that the museum is merely a front for the Japanese branch of the Science Patrol, an assumed defuncted secret organisation set up to monitor unexplained events and beings. Shin conveniently slips into a flashback realising he was, in fact, the original Ultraman and the aptly named ‘Ultraman factor’ has been passed on to his son.
We jump forward 10 years, Shinjiro is a teen trying to find himself knowing that something isn’t quite right. It’s very much a coming of age origin story as we go through the motions of him discovering his special powers. An unknown alien voice begins to reach out to him, slowly taunting from afar before finally confronting and attacking him. It forces his dad, the original Ultraman, to step in as the first episode concludes on a cliffhanger worthy of instantly watching the second.
The rest of the plotline plays out as you would expect accumulating in a tale of retaliation and the need to save the world as the mantle is swiftly passed on. The first real highlight comes as we finally see that standout transformation as the Ultraman suit encases our new hero. It was that sprinkle of excitement, much like the first time Robert Downey Jr. truly became Iron Man. From here on in the action comes thick and fast. Fights are beefy, bone-crushing and over the top accompanied by a musical score to keep the adrenaline pumping. It’s clear to see that the switch to CG has removed the real world restrictions of previous efforts and it’s all the more glorious for it. There’s plenty of violence and the occasional spill of blood which warrants its fifteen rating.
Each episode is well paced and the story arc is an interesting mix of hard-hitting action and character development that brings to the forefront the moral struggle Shinjiro faces. He has a role to play in becoming the next Ultraman but is torn at the thought of killing, at least initially. The suit is a heavy burden and one that possesses both a light and dark side for its master that is the key to unlocking its full potential. There’s a touching scene where father and son sit facing each other talking everything through while a projection of their suits towers above. As we delve deeper into the storyline we meet some interesting characters each with their own objectives, we learn that there are more people who have these special suits. It’s a nice piece of fanservice that brings together some of the story arcs we have been told throughout the years. The season finale leaves us with an itch to scratch so we are really looking forward to what comes next, and unsurprisingly a reveal that most would have seen coming but you’ll need to watch to find out.
This modern take on the anime we’ve loved for many years is slowly starting to click, visually it takes a little adjustment but the storyline is the driving force. There’s an old-school vibe that runs through its core and action is a tour de force. Ridiculous and as over the top as you would expect. The voiceover work is solid, if a little cheesy in places, and for that authentic experience it also includes the original Japanese dub as an option. I hope fans of the original will enjoy this take on their beloved character and newcomers will certainly be in for a sensory treat. We never really experience monsters the size of skyscrapers which grounds this somewhat. Having never really taken the time with the originals, only occasionally dabbling, it’s definitely piqued my interested to learn more which is always a good sign.
TBG Score: 7/10
You can watch the complete first series on Netflix today