‘Ultraman’ Review: Netflix’s Superhero Series Suits Up for a New Generation

     April 1, 2019

ultraman-netflix-reviewMore than 50 years ago, Eiji Tsuburaya‘s Ultraman capitalized on the success and popularity of Japan’s tokusatsu style of storytelling, something that made Tsuburaya’s other co-creation Godzilla world-famous. Technically the second installment in the Ultra Series, following Ultra Q, the 1960s show centered on Hayata, a member of Earth’s monster-defense force (the Science Patrol) who was able to transform into the giant Ultraman in order to battle kaijus and protect mankind. Now, in animated form, Ultraman returns for a whole new generation as a Netflix anime series.

This new 13-episode series, available to stream today, isn’t just a reboot of the super-popular Ultraman series, it’s a continuation of it. Obviously a lot has changed since the original series–the live-action tokusatu-style visuals have been traded in for 3D computer-generated animation and the title hero is shrunken down to a human-sized hero, for starters–but this new adaptation pays homage to its forebear in many ways. Just as Netflix’s Ultraman takes the reins from the Tokyo Broadcasting System predecessor, so too does Hayata’s son Shinjiro take on the mantle of Ultraman from the original hero himself.

ultraman-review-netflixAfter an introduction that centers on Shinjiro and his father, the story jumps forward 12 years to find Shinjiro as a young man in high school, aware of his lineage and thrilled by the powers it grants him, though he keeps them secret. He can’t quite control his abilities yet, however, and that’s something he’ll have to learn. Quickly. A new threat soon emerges, forcing Shinjiro to face a trial by fire as the newly minted Ultraman.

There’s a lot to like in this new series, but for fans of the original Ultraman, there’s also a lot of changes to overcome and get acclimated to. The CG animation is solid for the most part, thanks to Production I.G.’s veteran studio talent, and it allows for incredibly detailed and varied environments; realistic, visceral, and kinetic combat; and a vast assortment of alien characters mixed in with humans. But the animation sometimes has a hitch in its get-along, especially the background characters and, unfortunately, in some of the fight scenes as well. Once you’ve gotten warmed up to it, the visuals become less of a distraction and more of a complement to the storytelling.

The other glaringly obvious change here is that the title character is human-sized, not the monstrously massive hero who duked it out with building-sized kaijus to the detriment of the cities (and citizens) that served as their battleground. (At the time of this writing at least, around Episode 6 of 13, Shinjiro has yet to go plus-sized. Hopefully that changes. Update: [Highlight to read the spoiler: Unfortunately, this version of Ultraman never goes super-sized, but Shinjiro’s awakening and ultimate form are worth the watch.)

ultraman-review-netflixBut on the positive side, the story doesn’t just revolve around a monster of the week, it also factors in investigative work by local law enforcement as well as the overall plans of the Science Patrol, led by some shady characters, both human and alien alike. This series is also a chance to get to know an all new Ultraman all over again as Shinjiro learns the limits of his powers, the responsibility that comes with the title and its popularity among the citizens, and the politics he’s become entangled in through no fault of his own. And for the purists out there, Ultraman may include an upgrade to the recognizable suit, but it still features the character’s signature power-up move and combat tactics like the Ultra Slash and Specium Ray. There are lots of Easter eggs to be found and plenty of new material to enjoy, and you might just get more of Ultraman than you first expected …

Overall, Ultraman is a welcome addition to the canon and, though it may look and feel quite different from the original, is a fitting series for the modern era. Check it out on Netflix now!