I revisited various incarnations of the storied Ultraman property before reading the all new manga, mostly to remind myself about the character and the main touchstones, but also as an excuse to take a trip down the good old nostalgia hole.
My first experience with Ultraman was a nigh unplayable fighting game that was made for the Super Nintendo back in the days of yore (1991), and believe me, the game was pure, uncut garbage. I had assumed it was based on the original Japanese TV show from the mid-60s, but to my surprise, I discovered that it was drawn from the Australian TV series Ultraman: Towards the Future, in an effort to reintroduce American kids to Ultraman. I watched a couple of episodes of the Australian series on YouTube, and despite being full of cheese and more than a little ridiculous, it couldn’t quite capture the ridiculous, cheese-stuffed kaiju zeitgeist of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which crushed absolutely everything that featured stunt-people wrasslin’ in rubber suits circa 1993.
I then went back even further to the original series, also on YouTube. Between its sheer earnestness and completely amazing theme music, I think I can understand how Ultraman captivated a whole generation of fans. The new manga, written by Eiichi Shimizu and drawn by Tomohiro Shimoguchi, is billed as “the beginning of a new age” right there on the cover, and while it hits many tried and true themes common in re-imaginings, it delivers these themes in a classic, action-packed tale that should satisfy fans old and new.
The story takes place decades after the “Giant of Light” partnered with Shin Hayata of the Science Special Search Party to save Earth from repeated invasions by massive monsters. Now the Defense Minister of Japan, Hayata claims he has no recollection of his time spent allied with Ultraman, despite the insistence of Mitsuhiro Ide, another former member of the SSSP and current Chief of the Institute of Science and Technology. Ide reveals a secret to Hayata: Hayata actually became Ultraman during times of crisis, and even now he possesses the “Ultraman Factor,” a source of superhuman abilities which he has passed down to his son, Shinjiro. Ide presses Hayata into service, for evidence has been accumulating that suggests a new threat to earth, and only he and his son have the power to stop it.
In this re-imagining, the giant-sized Ultraman has been converted to a human-sized combat suit worn by Shinjiro. The design is extremely hip but clearly informed by the older look of the multi-storied giant. It seems that the authors were very much inspired by Bio Booster Armor Guyver in their take on Ultraman, yet they remain true to the Ultraman mythos.
While the action is kinetic with leaps from tall buildings and Specium-Ray powered fisticuffs, the script retains an emotional core in the relationship between father and son. This, of course, has been done before, but in Ultraman, it never feels forced or contrived. This core becomes well-established in the first volume, and by all indications, fans will be rewarded in future installments with heart-pounding action and compelling characterizations. Ultraman more than deserves a new generation, and Shimizu and Shimoguchi have proved more than capable of carrying the torch.
Ultraman, vol. 1
by Eiichi Shimizu
Art by Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Viz Media, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Teen