After “Godzilla“, another iconic character and huge franchise finds its way to Netflix, who tackles Ultraman this time, with another CGI anime series.
In the movie the hero of the story is Shinjiro, a high-school kid and the son of Shin Hayata, who, back in the 60s, bonded with Ultraman in order to defend Earth from monsters and aliens. As the series begins, Shinjiro discovers the truth about his superhuman abilities, which are forcefully put to test when Bemular, a mysterious alien entity, attacks and almost kills his father in a battle. As time passes, the story gains more and more levels, as it unfolds as a coming-of-age story, revolving around the concept of the superhero and Shinjiro’s relationship with Rena Sayama, a teen idol. Furthermore, the borders between enemies and friends (which include aliens living on Earth in secret, two more Ultramen, and a number of government officials, members of the SSSP) occasionally become invisible, as various secrets and conspiracies come to the fore.
Obviously, CGI animation will probably never match the quality of the traditional, hand-drawn style, particularly regarding the motion of the characters, which looks quite unrealistic. This “fault” remains here and means that the title demands some “getting used to”, especially from those who have been watching anime for some time. Apart from that, though, the design, of both characters and settings, is quite good, and at times borders on the impressive. Additionally, the animation during the battles, most of which feature martial arts (both hand-to-hand and with weapons) is impressive, highlighting the work done in the action choreography, which is one of the best assets of the title.
Apart from the action though, the title thrives on context, showing a depth very rarely depicted in the genre, filled with social and philosophical comments. The concept of the superhero and the approach an individual can have towards it is one of the most central in the narrative, with the three different Ultramen representing different approaches. Shinjiro the naive, “I want to do good and enjoy the glory” one; Moroboshi, his senpai in SSSP, the “chaotic good” one; Seiji, the desperate, last-resort one. The interaction and the results of these three characters and approaches are analyzed quite thoroughly and are the main sources of depth in the title.
Growing up, the concept of idols, racism (through metaphor), a number of existential questions, father-son relationships and the complicated power balance between the various characters are also major parts of the narrative, and result in a title that functions as a combination of “Parasyte” and “Gantz“. Add to that some humor, much irony, and intense drama, and you have the backbone of a truly great title.
Apart from the animation style, which definitely needs some getting used to, “Ultraman” is a great title, particularly because it combines shonen-level battle with much depth, which, in essence, make it a title addressed to adults instead of teenagers.