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40 Years of Ultraman

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the ultra-awesome dept.

Television 69

jonerik writes "The Japan Times has four articles covering the events surrounding this year's 40th anniversary celebration of the Japanese superhero Ultraman — along with Astro Boy probably the most iconic Japanese hero of the post-war era. The Ultraman...Forever article follows the history and development of the series over the last 40 years, and its appeal not only to the original generation of fans, but to the current generation, who are now the children or even grandchildren of the series' original audience. The Ultrabonding article explores this in further depth, crediting the series for strengthening the bonds between fathers and sons, both of whom grew up — or are growing up — watching the series. The Ultracollecting article looks at the toy collector side of things, and Ultrasuccess in Print interviews Tatsuya Miyanishi, the author of a series of Ultraman books — including 1996's 'Daddy is Ultraman' — which have proven popular with both young and old fans alike."

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OMGOMG (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990152)

Fr11st p0sterz

Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

Yusaku Godai (546058) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990154)

I mean, in Japan it's *still* ridiculously huge. You see Ultraman everywhere, and Japanese geeks love collecting Ultraman crap. But I'm not even aware of an Ultraman fandom in the US, and I'm generally up on those sorts of things... Am I the only one who feels this way, or are there American Ultraman fans? I mean, I know we got Power Rangers, but by the time that came out I was too old and too jaded to care (rather, I was like 11 or 12).

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

Starvingboy (964130) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990174)

As a representative of the entire US of A, the answer is "Nope"

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (3, Funny)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990200)

I agree, Ultraman is ridiculously huge and in Japan you would see Ultraman everywhere especially when he is fighting those radioactive plants/worms/politicians(oops).

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

Monsieur_F (531564) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990684)

well, that's still better than hugely ridiculous

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

tyme (6621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16995652)

I rushed home from elementary school in the mid-seventies in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. to watch Ultraman on TV. My older cousin, David, had turned me on to it and it seemed to be pretty well know by my classmates as well (we played Ultraman at recess). I also watched it on a B&W TV, so I thought Ultraman was silver as well (I never got to see the show in color, it went off the air before my family bought a color TV in 1979). In the late seventies most of the Japanime was gone from American TV (at least in the D.C. area) except for brief stints of G-Force and Starblazers. We didn't see a resurgance of Japanime on U.S. TV until the late eightier with Voltron and Robotech, and nothing even remotely like Ultraman or Johnny Socko until the arrival of the Power Rangers in the early nineties.

Along with Speed Racer, Marine Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Johnny Socko's Flying Robot, Ultraman formed the basis of an enduring fascination (or, possibly, obsession) with Japanese popular culture. During the long dry period of the mid-eighties, I had to get by with whatever pirated dubbed or subbed videos my friends and I found through local anime clubs (there were clubs at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University and we had older friends and siblings who could hook us up). It wasn't until the mid-nineties that I was really able to feed my anime fix on anything like a reagular basis.

Anyway, for any of the really die-hard Ultraman fans (of the old TV show) out there: Hayata had the spoon first!

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

NetCharge (1010113) | more than 7 years ago | (#17000578)

Yeah, I was really surprised to find out Ultraman was in color too. I watched the show in the early 70's - probably 72 or 73, certainly no later than 75. I also thought that the Captain's name was Hiawatha... go figure.

Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childhood (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990252)

I am seriously dating myself, but I enjoyed watching Ultraman and Astroboy on Channel 39 in Houston, Texas. These programs were one of the few moments of enjoyment in my childhood.

During the reminder of the time, my parents -- especially, my father -- either beat the shit out of me or told me what a fucking idiot that I am. I had seriously thought about suicide in 1982. I guess that my father was right: I am a loser and did not even have the guts to kill myself. I had the beer and the pills but did not have the guts to drink the concoction.

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990296)

I erred. Astroboy was on channel 39. Ultraman was on channel 26 in Houston.

By the way, for those of you looking forward to Christmas, I have bad news: god does not exist. Jesus is a lie. I should know. Just look at my childhood. What kind of god would have allowed the brutality that is my father?

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990332)

What kind of god would have allowed the brutality that is my father?

One that got bored and made a bet with Satan?

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (0, Offtopic)

Seraphim_72 (622457) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990426)

What kind of god would have allowed the brutality that is my father?
Your continuum needs fixing. It runs from God to the father who was the asshole that you got. It should run from God to the father that would have done more than beat you. As much of an asshole as he was it could have been much, much worse. Why though would God even allow that? I don't know, the other side of that coin is thanking God for making sure it wasn't much, much worse, as bad as it was, it could have been worse. There are many places to get help. Please I beg of you, never try to take your life. You are special to many people, most that you don't know. I think you are special. I will gladly help you. The world is truly a better place because you are here, and the world will be less if you are gone. I am sorry your Dad was such a shithead. I cannot change that, but I can help change your life today. seraphim_72 (at) yahoo.com - I will gladly help you. You are a person who recognizes right from wrong, you know what was done to you was wrong, that means you have grown from that, you have the seeds to be a good person. email me, I will try to help.

Sera

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990472)

Relax. 1982 was 24 years ago. I have grown past my miserable childhood.

The principal side effect of my childhood is that I am an atheist.

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16999232)

A cheating whoring christian wife of 18 years was the succubus that played that role for me. IMHO, anything that finally purges the synapses of the hateful tribal superstitions known as religions is definitely worth being thankful for, ultramately.

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990988)

Which points out why kids love fantasy, where they can imagine a magic talisman that will make them powerful enough to make things right. Even kids who are raised under benign and loving conditions chafe under their near total powerlessness.

What makes Harry Potter popular is not that he is magically powerful, but a much more powerful and subversive fantasy: he is willing not only to break rules, but to oppose and undermine adult authority figures in order to set things right.

Re:Ultraman & Astroboy Were Part of My Childho (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16991412)

>I am seriously dating myself, but I enjoyed watching Ultraman and Astroboy on Channel 39

Don't worry, most of the guys on slashdot are seriously dating themselves, too. :)

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (2, Insightful)

1310nm (687270) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990324)

When I lived on a military base as a kid, the one DoD channel that we got in English had Ultraman every Saturday morning, between Voltron and Captain Power [captainpower.com] .

I liked Voltron a lot better, because after putting up with the lame story line acted out by the annoying Voltron team, you would finally get to see Voltron FORM BLAZING SWORD and cut villianbots into a flash of white light. I'm guessing blinding flashes of light are cheaper than cutting objects in half, from a production standpoint.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

Matey-O (518004) | more than 7 years ago | (#16997754)

Re: Captain Power Holy CRAP! I just had a Galaxy Quest moment!

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (2, Interesting)

hung_himself (774451) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990334)

I used to get up early Saturday morning to watch it on TV when I was a kid. It was my favorite show and where I learned about lousy dubbing. We only had a black and white TV then so it wasn't until years later that I learned that Ultraman was greenish rather than the silver I had imagined.

Mind you, this was on Canadian TV - but the question wasn't addressed at Americans per se...

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (2, Interesting)

Jack Action (761544) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990368)

Growing up in the 70s, Ultraman was an icon on a par with Godzilla and the Planet of the Apes movies.

I'm not one for nostalgia, so I can't vouch for current fandom -- but Ultraman was the real thing.

(Though I'm a Canuck who watched the series on pre-cable American border stations: Channel 20 Detroit).

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

Yusaku Godai (546058) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990382)

Yeah, between you and the previous reply it seems that Ultraman was on TV in Canada. Didn't know that, but I find it sort of amusing. Somehow I doubt that you still see Ultraman merchandise around every damn corner in Canada anymore though, like you still do in Japan.
I can fully understand the nostalgia factor, and I have some of it for things that I now consider silly (ie Transformers), but the Ultraman obsession in Japan seems to have almost risen to a religion.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

piscine2000 (614786) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990762)

The Philadelphia UHF station WPHL [wikipedia.org] gave us a daily dose of Ultraman in the early 70's.... Do Wee Willie Webber fans remember the early 8th Man [wikipedia.org] episodes in which the detective hero would go into android "Tobor" mode by smoking a cigarette?

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

sauge (930823) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991300)

(Grin)

I watched Ultra man on channel 20 also. Right next to Jonny Socco and his Giant Flying Robot!

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (2, Interesting)

jonerik (308303) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991502)

Apparently a lot of stations around that period would run Ultraman during most of the year, go to Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot for the summer, then back to Ultraman for the rest of the year. That's how it was scheduled when I was living on Kansas City around that time. Other stations would air them back to back. Either way, I suspect that they were both marketed to stations as a single package since they both tended to be on the same stations.

I liked Johnny Sokko better, but that might be because I'd seen that first. Ultraman definitely had waaaaayyyy better special effects, though. Johnny Sokko's still cool to see, though, if only to watch ten-year-old kids shooting guns and killing people.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

wrecked (681366) | more than 7 years ago | (#16992916)

Thanks for that hit of nostalgia... I grew up in Windsor too, watching Channels 20 and 50 after school. Ultraman, Lost in Space, Speed Racer, Get Smart...

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16997426)

I'm grinning ear to ear remembering Ultraman. I used to watch that show after school when I was 6 in the early 70's in Bethesda, Maryland. Funny - it was on channel 20 over here too! And they ran all the same shows... Johnny Sokko, Speed Racer, Lost In Space, Kimba, and Marine Boy. And like a lot of you, we didn't have a color TV either - I always thought Ultraman was silver until just a couple of years ago when I googled Ultraman and found a bunch of sites with pictures. But in my mind, Ultraman is locked in as silver.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (2, Interesting)

Purity Of Essence (1007601) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990376)

When I was a red-blooded bicentennial kid in 1976 I used to love watching Ultraman, Godzilla, and the awesome Creature Feature with Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG channel 44 [crazedfanboy.com] .

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

E2Hawkeye (180998) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991274)

In Baltimore during the seventies, our local low watt UHF station (WBFF with Captain Chesapeake!) carried Ultraman, as well as Marine Boy, Kimba The White Lion and Speed Racer. Every single weekday. I can assure you, us kids took these every bit as seriously as anything that came on the major networks.

It's funny how, of this group, it was Speed Racer that got nationwide traction in the US. A precursor to anime helping to create a generation of Nascar fans.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990452)

Yes your are right nobody cares about Ultraman, everybody else liked Ultraseven

Well, it's not a us national site. (-1, Offtopic)

krischik (781389) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990480)

This is "slashdot.org" and not "slashdot.or.us". You may not know it but sites with 3 and 4 character top level domains (.org, .net, .com, .info etc pp) are for international use.

National sites end with a 2 character top level domain - in the case of the USA it would be ".us".

Martin

Re:Well, it's not a us national site. (1)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991068)

"Slashdot seems to be very U.S.-centric. Do you have any plans to be more international in your scope?

Slashdot is U.S.-centric. We readily admit this, and really don't see it as a problem. Slashdot is run by Americans, after all, and the vast majority of our readership is in the U.S. We're certainly not opposed to doing more international stories, but we don't have any formal plans for making that happen. All we can really tell you is that if you're outside the U.S. and you have news, submit it, and if it looks interesting, we'll post it.

It is worth noting that there is a Japanese Slashdot run by VA Japan. While we helped them a little in their early days, they essentially run their own content without any real involvement from us... none of us can read Kanji! There are currently no plans to do other language or nation specific Slashdot sites."

ernie cline said it best: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990992)

ultraman is AIRWOLF!

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

franksands (938435) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991124)

I don't about the US, I'm from Brazil and I do care for Ultraman. It was one of my favorite shows .

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

jonerik (308303) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991420)

Today it's almost certainly going to be a big "nope" among US kids unless they're particularly big on Japanese culture. Around '71, '72, '73, though, that first '66 Ultraman series was running in the US, and it was very definitely a big thing among a lot of kids at that time.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16991816)

Well considering that the DVD of the original series was recently released in the U.S., I'd have to say "yes". Japanese hero shows definitely still have a following here.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 7 years ago | (#16996534)

I used to watch it... hmm... between say 1975 and 1977... when I was a wee lad, 4-6 yrs... and I used to "play" Ultraman... my Dad's HiFi had a Sony R2R deck that came with this heavy Sony microphone... and it was the perfect beta capsule.... bebebebebebebebebebe! Its messed up... but, yeah, I really really cared about it, and for the life of me, I dunno why...

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (1)

cthulhu11 (842924) | more than 7 years ago | (#16998976)

I loved watching it as a kid, ~ 1975, probably on a Pittsburgh broadcast station. I've thought of the Science Patrol ever since each time I saw a Corvair that was actually running. I just bought the originals on DVD after a long wait for them to come out. The later derivatives just aren't the same. A Seattle retro diner-restaurant has a flying Ultraman hanging from their ceiling and was impressed that I knew what it was. No idea where it came from.

Re:Does anyone in the US care about Ultraman? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16999758)

Personally, I prefer Battling Seizure Robots

the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990162)

The Ultraman...Forever article follows the history and development of the series over the last 40 years, and its appeal not only to the original generation of fans, but to the current generation, who are now the children or even grandchildren of the series' original audience.

Yeah, the kids certainly do love it. Except they know it as "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers".

Re:the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

DevelopersDevelopers (1027018) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990202)

No, we know it as "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." The kids know it as "Power Rangers: Super Time-Knight Rangers of Space Powers from Dimension Z!" [wikipedia.org]

The new stuff... not as good as the original, eh?

Re:the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

Purity Of Essence (1007601) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990340)

Bah, the Power Rangers are an obvious Science Ninja Team Gatchaman [wikipedia.org] rip off.

Re:the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

rworne (538610) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990498)

Power Rangers and it's ilk have been around for a very long time. Power Rangers is just the latest incarnation of the Sentai/Tokusatsu genre. Gatchaman just has the honor of being one of the first, if not the very first animated sentai series.

Re:the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

echocharlie (715022) | more than 7 years ago | (#16996608)

You're right about Gatchaman being the first anime sentai series. I'm having a hard time thinking of some of anime sentai series other than Shinesman, though. And that was only a short OAV series.

Re:the new stuff... not as good as the original (1)

Ucklak (755284) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991674)

I remember being a kid in Hawaii and loving those shows. I still have my original first season Go Ranger toys with removable helmets and learning how to count in japanese and not be bothered by subtitles because of the show - the subtitle thing came in handy when Star Wars came out.

People don't really get that Power Rangers are really 31 years old and not 14.

2 other shows I wish I could get for a personal collection are Kamen Rider and Roboccon, the home robot that was afraid of cockroaches.

Cultural icons (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990180)

Ah the Japanese version of a Mexican wrestling movie. Even as a kid I was stunned at how silly Ultraman was. If you have to be young at heart I guess I was never that young.

Ultraman reminds me (-1, Offtopic)

Centurix (249778) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990254)

of Ultramon. Nice multi screen desktop management utility.

-1 Offtopic.

The *other* Ultraman (2, Informative)

semifamous (231316) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990352)

I remember a show about another superhero named Ultraman [imdb.com] played by Quinn from Sliders (or "the fat kid" from Stand By Me.) I remember it being a fun show, but I think that was because I was so young and his powers were so silly.

He floated.

He couldn't actually propel himself forward. He had to used some sort of spray cans for propulsion. Spray cans.

Re:The *other* Ultraman (2, Funny)

vain gloria (831093) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990450)

He couldn't actually propel himself forward. He had to used some sort of spray cans for propulsion. Spray cans.
Good grief! Sounds almost as bad as some movie I saw a while back. The child hero was a luminous being in tune with a mystical force that flowed through all living things. He had to use midi-chlorians in his blood stream to do it though. Midi-chlorians.

I forget the name of the film...

Re:The *other* Ultraman (0, Redundant)

pixelised (965919) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990528)

Sounds like you're talking about Stars Wars Ep I.
</sarcasm>

Re:The *other* Ultraman (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990870)

I remember it being a fun show, but I think that was because I was so young and his powers were so silly.

He floated.


It's not that silly... more like a weakened version of a flight power which he obtained later in the series (alongside super-strength, although that was also faked out in an early episode). Even though the powers may seem silly, the limitations on power were part of the plot.

The weakness on the other hand, is silly.

Re:The *other* Ultraman (1)

samurphy21 (193736) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991452)

Also, he had super speed, though I'm not sure if that was from the beginning or developed later on.

Article text, link requires compulsory registratio (1)

deafpluckin (776193) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990430)

Ultraman . . . forever

Zap! Pow! Suwatch! After 40 years and 16 series, the Ultra Warriors are still saving the Earth and entertaining kids of all ages everywhere
By MARK SCHILLING

Special to The Japan Times

The "Ultraman" live-action science-fiction series has been a rite of passage for Japanese boys (and a few girls) and their families for four decades now, since the first show was aired in 1966.

News photo
Ultraman gets set to fire his "specium beam" in 1966's "Ultraman" series. (c) TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS CO., LTD

For many, one day you are the parent of a preschooler whose idea of fun television is "Sesame Street" or "Ponkikki," the next you are living with a junior superhero who makes strange cries and arm movements in addition to more familiar karatelike kicks and chops. Your child is, you notice, not merely knocking imaginary space monsters into the next galaxy, but vaporizing them with his "specium beam" fired from forearms crossed in an "L" position, with the upright arm doing the zapping.

He has also developed an insatiable craving for red-and-silver plastic figures -- members of the "Ultraman" extended alien family with Viking horns and grasshopper eyes thrown into the DNA mix, as well as the monsters they battle.

The fast-filling toy box, you will soon discover, is only the beginning: Tsuburaya Productions, the Tokyo-based company that makes the "Ultraman" shows, licenses more than 5,000 "Ultraman" products, from "tightie-whities" for tots to lighters for dads. There are also the inevitable movies, animations, DVDs and even an "Ultraman" channel on cable TV. In other words, "Ultraman" is still an ultraprolific, ultraprofitable franchise -- with no end in sight.

Should this be a cause for alarm? Should parents protest against the insidious influence of ultraviolence on the tender minds of their offspring? Few Japanese think so: By now, two generations of parents here have been "Ultraman" fans, and the series is as much a part of the national fabric as furikake (rice topping) and chopsticks -- both of which are available bearing the "Ultraman" logo. It would be like Americans rallying against Superman.

"Ultraman" was created by Eiji Tsuburaya (1901-70), the father of the tokusatsu (special effects) genre in Japan, who also worked for the Toho studio on many monsters pics, beginning with "Godzilla" in 1954. "Ultraman," however, was not the first special-effects TV show made by the company he founded in 1963. That honor goes to "Ultra Q," a 28-episode black-and-white series modeled on "The Twilight Zone." Broadcast from January to July 1966 on the TBS network, " Ultra Q" featured a human team that investigated extra- terrestrial phenomena and fought Tsuburaya's signature Toho monsters under new names. (Godzilla became the odd-sounding "Gomess.")

Nonetheless, for Tsuburaya and his company, "Ultraman" represented a big, ambitious step forward. The show was filmed in color, with a budget then considered huge for Japanese TV.

"It was in the red from the beginning," says Tsuburaya Managing Director Ken Fukui, who joined the company 20 years ago and is now its "Ultraman" historian. "Mr. Tsuburaya made the show the way he made movies for Toho -- the emphasis was on quality."

Also, notes Fukui, "the original target was adults." Back then, TV was a medium for the entire family, which watched the tube together, so shows had to appeal to dads as well as kiddies. "In time, the target shifted to children -- but that wasn't always the case," he adds.

News photo News photo
News photo Ultraman in action against monsters come to Earth to wreak havoc, from 1966's "Ultraman" series (above left) and 1996's "Ultraman Tiga" series (above); and a beautifully wrought vinyl model of the monster Kanegon (left) from the famed Billiken toy-maker. (c) TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS CO., LTD; (c) 1966 TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS CO., LTD (left)

From the beginning, the "Ultraman" show stood out from the competition -- especially thanks to its title character. An alien from an exploded planet in Nebula M78, Ultraman helped humans battle kaiju (monsters) that threatened the existence of civilization, using a dazzling array of beams and other superpowers. Other superheroes had similar attributes -- Superman was also an alien from a distant, destroyed planet, who could, like Ultraman, fly without any visible means of propulsion.

Ultraman, though, differed from the rest in not only size -- he towered over 40 meters tall -- but in his very being. Zipping about the stratosphere in his TravelSphere after his planet had gone pop, Ultraman collided with an Earth-based spacecraft of the Science Patrol (also known as the Scientific Investigation Agency), a team of humans charged with protecting Earth from alien incursions. The crash killed the pilot, Shin Hayata, but Ultraman, sharing his own life force, revived him. Hayata thus had Ultraman's spirit inside him and, by pressing a button on a special Beta Capsule device, he could become Ultraman.

In other words, Ultraman merged with a human, but without giving up his alien identity. Meanwhile, Hayata retained his own personality and will. Sounds a little deep for a 4-year-old, doesn't it?

But as complex as the show's origin story and cosmology may have been, the basic narrative was easy to follow. Hayata and other members of the Science Patrol, including a token woman and a boy (the former a radio operator; the latter her trouble-prone kid brother), encountered the space monster of the week and, when the going got tough, Hayata transformed into Ultraman (played by a guy in a rubber suit, starting with one Bin Furuya). The ensuing battle royale between Ultraman and the monster (originally played by rubber-suited stunt actor Haruo Nakajima) was the high point of the show.

But Ultraman was, and is, not without weaknesses. The most glaring of these is his inability to stay in the Earth's atmosphere for more than 3 minutes. When his time is about to expire, usually in the middle of a ferocious fight, a warning light on his chest blinks. This lends a certain intensity to the action -- though Ultraman has been known to wangle extensions.

The success of the original 39-part "Ultraman" series that followed the 28 "Ultra Q" shows in 1966 generated a slew of series headlined by other members of the "Ultraman family" -- all played by actors wearing skintight, multi-toned outfits, all with a formidable array of superpowers -- and some of whom occasionally did their derring-do alongside the original Ultraman.

The list of spinoffs includes "Ultra Seven" (1967; 48 programs), another hero from Nebula M78; "Return of Ultraman" (1971; 51), featuring a young racing car driver who becomes Ultraman Jack; "Ultraman Ace" (1972; 52), which sees a man and woman merge to form superhero Ultraman Ace ; "Ultraman Taro" (1973; 53), which features Ultra Mother and the boy hero of its title, along with family members the Ultra Warriors ; "Ultraman Leo," (1974; 51), in which Ultraman Leo beams in from another galaxy; and "Ultraman 80" (1980; 50), in which a young teacher transforms into Ultraman 80.

News photo
1971's "Return of Ultraman" (c) TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS CO., LTD

There was then a 16-year gap until the next locally made 52-part series, "Ultraman Tiga," in 1996, though in the interim Tsuburaya created two 13-part series filmed in English for the international market -- "Ultraman: Towards the Future" (1989) and "Ultraman the Ultimate Hero" (aka "Ultraman in America"; 1993).

"Then tokusatsu series like 'Ultraman' became too expensive to make -- Japanese networks couldn't afford them," Fukui explains, referring to the cost of the cinematic-quality special effects that had to be created virtually every week. "Even today, we can't earn a profit from the series alone," he adds. "We make our real money from our licensing business."

Still, in the past decade, Tsuburaya has made seven new 51- or 52-part "Ultraman" series for the TBS network, with the latest, "Ultraman Mebius," debuting in April with, as its central character, a rookie Ultra Warrior sent by Ultra Father to protect Earth.

Altogether, in the franchise's 40-year history, there have been a total of 16 official live-action TV series (not counting "Ultra Q") and 19 movies -- including "Ultraman Mebius & the Ultra Brothers," which hit local theaters in September.

"We're the first tokusatsu series and we're one of only three that's still on the air today," says Fukui. "It's difficult to do this sort of show properly, but over the years we've developed the knowhow."

What's the secret of Tsuburaya's ultrasuccess? First and foremost are the monsters. In 40 years, there have been nearly 1,000 and, says Fukui, "they are all original creations, with their own individuality. Boys find them fascinating." The bulging toy box agrees.

Also driving the show's popularity, claims Fukui, are the miniature cityscapes that are destroyed in the course of many a battle.

"Their realism adds appeal to the show," he explains. Tsuburaya now uses CG effects to enhance that realism, but "CG alone isn't enough," he says. "A mix of CG and miniatures creates a more believable world, with more impact." The most important factor, however, "is the drama itself, that's what really makes the show interesting to viewers."

As simple and formulaic as those dramas may seem, Tsuburaya International Sales Manager Atsushi Saito explains that they are "about more than just defeating monsters."

"The shows deal not just with the threat of monster invasions to world peace, but with pollution, bullying and other social issues. Kids learn something by watching them," Saito says.

The shows are also surprisingly pacifist. Ultra warriors never draw blood. In the past their vanquished foes would disappear in puffs of smoke; now they dissolve into pixels.

"Sometimes they will even change a bad monster into a good one and send it back to its home in space," Saito says. "This is a very Japanese way of looking at things -- to blur the line between good and evil -- but it's central to the show's philosophy."

In others words, typical Japanese humanism, even though many of the characters are not, strictly speaking, human.

Despite the show's Japanese view of the world, Tsuburaya has been successfully selling it internationally for decades, in particular 1989's "Ultraman: Towards the Future," which was produced in Australia with the South Australian Film Corporation, and 1993's "Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero," which was shot in the United States by Major Havoc Entertainment.

"We're very conscious of the international market and have been for a long time," says Saito. In line with that outlook, even programs set in Japan always had an intentionally international look and feel, from the interior shots -- yes to Western-style rooms; no to tatami -- to the "universal" messages of world peace and brotherly love.

The fruits of that approach are demonstrated by the worldwide reach of "Ultraman." To date, "Ultraman" series have been sold to more than 50 countries, translated into around 10 languages -- while there are currently merchandise licenses in more than 100 countries.

What is ironic, however, is that the monster-butt-kicking violence that is a strong draw for young male audiences worldwide has been a barrier to "Ultraman" sales in one most unlikely country. Australian authorities considered "Ultraman: Towards the Future" too strong for the sensibilities of its kiddies and barred its broadcast -- ultimately only allowing 11 episodes to air. And that despite it having been made in Australia.

What about the future of "Ultraman"? Tsuburaya, says Fukui, will keep updating the look of the show, such as adding more CG shots to the effects mix.

"But," he insists, "we will never change the basics -- 'Ultraman' is good for another 50 or 100 years."

Assuming, of course, they don't run out of monsters.

See related stories:
SF hero conjures memories old and new across the generations
Alien star flies off the shelves
Serious toys for serious fans

The Japan Times: Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006
(C) All rights reserved

what does this mean? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16990446)

As of early October 2006, Google Trends shows a marked decrease in queries including the word "slashdot" over the past year[3], suggestive of a concomitant drop in relative traffic. Google Trends shows the popularity of a query relative the total number of search queries, and thus no absolute trends can be derived from the Google Trends graph; over the same period, however, rival site Digg has seen no such decline in Trends statistics.[3]

However, web analysis site Alexa Internet shows that the number of visitors to Slashdot as well as the relative popularity of the site shot up in 2006, peaking in May 2006. The Alexa rankings, however, are not to be considered accurate, as one of the webmasters for Slashdot has said that the sudden jump in Alexa ranking was not at all consistent in actual server load - the ranking jumped but the number of actual page views remained steady.

hmm???

Forever, huh? (1)

aldo.gs (985038) | more than 7 years ago | (#16990462)

So... 40 years later "Ultraman...Forever" arrives. Let's see if DN...Forever can break their record.

Ultraman vision of the future. (1)

cabazorro (601004) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991208)

I grew up in the 70's in Mexico. Ultraman and Goldart (Monstruos del Espacio) were my super heroes.
Ultraman was solar powered (but like todays batteries kept getting discharged in the middle of a presentation, i mean a battle).
Goldart was a transformer (turned into a single engine jet and lived in a volcano).

Of course, ultraman was full of drama. People actually died, got sick, and sometimes, Ultrman lose!

I would then get up, turn OFF the black and white tv in the dinning room. Walk out into the yard all bugged eyed and exclaim with upmost disbelief: "Carajo!"

Making my early childhood afternoon tv days, 30 years ago, worthwhile.

Re:Ultraman vision of the future. (1)

mcamou (30102) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991514)

Gracias gracias gracias!!!!

I've been looking for YEARS for someone who remembered Monstruos del Espacio. I didn't remember the name of the series but every time I told someone about it (the family of aliens who turned into rockets and the guy with the whistle), they looked at me as if I were crazy. Thank you for giving me a pointer to prove my sanity!

Re:Ultraman vision of the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16991762)

That show was called "Space Giants" in the US. It was called "Ambassador Magma" (Magma Taishi) in Japan.

It has been remade into a new show since the one you remember and there are anime and manga for it too.

I remember watching that -in English- when I was little. I wanted a whistle that could summon robots.

Re:Ultraman vision of the future. (1)

jonerik (308303) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991824)

Also known as "Space Avengers" in most English-speaking territories outside of the US. It was actually the first color rubber-suit-monster show to air on Japanese TV, beating "Ultraman" to the punch by six days.

The series was created, incidentally, by Osamu Tezuka ("Astro Boy," "Kimba the White Lion," etc.). It was one of the few live action things he ever did.

Re:Ultraman vision of the future. (1)

Gocho (16619) | more than 7 years ago | (#16993040)

I remember watching Monstruos del Espacio in Venezuela in the early 1980s. Nobody from my generation remembers the rockets, the whistle... but here it is, for your viewing pleasure.... http://zonaretro.com/tienda/product_info.php?cPath =47&products_id=489 [zonaretro.com] There is a YouTube video at the bottom of that page

Re:Ultraman vision of the future. (1)

LocoMan (744414) | more than 7 years ago | (#17000162)

Another venezuelan here... I remember all the fun times with the friends playing ultraman and doing the cross palms thing. Also I remember Goldar (and how I wanted them to show full shots of how that girl and kid transformed into rockets!!!), also Robot Gigante (a quick googling shows it was called Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot in the US) and on the animated front, Capitán Centella (Gekko Kamen), Capitán Futuro, Galáctico (Starzingers) and of course the whole collection of giant robots, Mazinger Z, Vengador (Kotetsu Jeeg), Gladiador (Gaiking), Supermagnetrón (magetorobo ga-keen... the worlds first bisexual robot.. :) )... aaaaaah... fun times back when cartoons didn't have a problem showing people getting killed.. :)

yikes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16991212)

i read 40 years of ULDAMAN so i had involuntary contractions

huh? (1)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 7 years ago | (#16991484)

And no mention of Gojira?

Memories (1)

bahgheera (540910) | more than 7 years ago | (#16992296)

Wow, this is bringing back a flood of memories. I used to watch Ultraman with my grandad on Sat. mornings, and during the week after school there were three shows I had to see: Space Giants, Speed Racer, and this show called the Pow Hour. The Pow Hour showed Looney Tunes, and in between cartoons they had a guy in the studio with an Atari 2600. Kids could call up and play the games by saying 'Pow' when they wanted to fire. Some guy behind the scenes would push the button everytime he heard 'pow', heh heh. Surprised no ones mentioned Space Giants though...

Re:Memories (1)

mannd (841376) | more than 7 years ago | (#17108338)

Used to watch Ultraman on the "Wee Willie Weber" show in the Philadelphia suburbs in my early teen years. The show also featured Astro Boy and Eighth Man. All Japanese stuff. Two sets of Ultraman DVDs are now available from the first Ultraman, and watching them does bring back memories of a more innocent time. Also had a kind of crush on Fuji.....

Nostalgia Clouds The Mind (1)

Captain Chad (102831) | more than 7 years ago | (#16993126)

I remember being an avid Ultraman fan when I was 5 or 6, back in the early '70s. Just recently I got the DVDs of the first season, and oh-my-god was it cheesy. Bad plot, bad effects, bad acting, etc. Essentially the science patrol would spin its wheels for 20 minutes, then Ultraman would come to the rescue for the last 10 minutes and fight the monster. I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn't.

43 Years of Gigantor (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 7 years ago | (#16993314)

Ultraman is lame, gigantor could kick his butt any day of the week

Where did Ultraman come from again? (1)

bohemian72 (898284) | more than 7 years ago | (#16997304)

What I remember from the English theme song was that he came from "a million miles away."
I used to think,"well, that's just somewhere roughly four times as far away as the moon! What's there?"

Re:Where did Ultraman come from again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17003446)

I think it was a million lightyears away.

It's here (1)

Kancept (737976) | more than 7 years ago | (#17008372)

I remember Ultraman and my mother still buys the stuff for my kids. We were in Walmart yestday and they had season 1 volume 2 there. If they'd had volume 1 to go with it, I'da bought it.

Ultraman blows. (1)

stile99 (1004110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022166)

Johnny Sokko was the shiznit, just admit it. Did Ultraman have a guy who looked like the bastard child of Cthulhu as the head of the bad guys? Noooooo.
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