'Ultraman' Review: Netflix Brings a Classic Hero Into the New Era

Tsuburaya Productions recently revived a major property, Gridman the Hyper Agent, with an anime overhaul last year in SSSS.Gridman. It went on to both critical and commercial success, so all eyes have been on the next collaboration putting a new anime spin on one of their most successful franchises, Ultraman. As one of the pillars of tokusatsu, there's a lot of pressure on its debut anime outing to succeed.

Luckily for old fans and newcomers alike, Ultraman comes out of the gate swinging with its anime debut on Netflix. Successfully capturing the spirit of the original 1966 series, ULTRAMAN cements its place as a hero of the new era.

Adapting Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi's manga of the same name, ULTRAMAN takes place 40 years after the events of the 1966 series. The Giant of Light that became Ultraman has since returned to space as Earth was no longer under the threat of alien attack. This left his human host, Shin Hayata, without memory of the events and affected with the "Ultraman Factor" -- giving him superhuman abilities.

These abilities have passed on to his son, Shinjiro, who has no idea about his father's past. When a new alien threat comes to Earth in search of his father, Shinjiro decides to don a suit and join the fight as the new Ultraman. But soon he finds that becoming Ultraman in the modern day is a lot tougher job than he bargained for.

Like an increasing number of series lately, ULTRAMAN is a full 3DCG production. This could potentially split the fan base for the series as there admittedly is an adjustment period early on. The first episode in particular feels rough as close inspection of some of the scenes reveal a few jagged edges here and there. The same can be said of the dialogue in this first episode. Many of the exchanges are fairly exposition heavy. And while this is necessary to set the stage for a sequel, it doesn't give the cast much room to develop their characters.

(Photo: Tsuburaya Productions / Production I.G. / Netflix)

Ironically, this rougher first impression is much in line with many tokusatsu productions. For those unfamiliar, tokusatsu is a subgenre in which stunt actors in suits bring a series to life with practical effects. Franchises such as Godzilla, Kamen Rider, and Power Rangers are each big examples of this. The hero shows in particular are often clear-cut -- heroes are good, villains are bad -- and thus sometimes written without much flexibility.

Because of this, ULTRAMAN feels incredibly nostalgic. There's a reverence for the original in script, tone, and overall presentation. It brings down the barrier between anime and audiences by accomplishing that same feeling of watching tokusatsu in which the elements presented feel like they can exist in the real world. There's a tangibility in the way ULTRAMAN evolves, and it comes through especially well in the fights.

Thanks to the help of motion-capture animation, ULTRAMAN absolutely shines in its monster fights. The smaller Ultraman presented in the series' first four episodes brings the fights to a more grounded level, and thus emphasizes each movement. Fights flow with an incredible amount of physicality as it's easy to picture the same fights playing out in live-action. It's important for Ultraman to nail its fights, and the new anime certainly passes this test with flying colors.

ULTRAMAN is a glorious new showing for this classic franchise. You don't need intimate knowledge of the franchise to enjoy this new spin, so there's very little barrier to entry too. ULTRAMAN is a blast of nostalgia straight to the heart that'll make you act out your own transformation poses in the comfort of your home.

Rating: 4 out of 5


ULTRAMAN releases on Netflix April 1st, worldwide. This review was based on access to the first four episodes.