Grim_Noir Gets to Some Ultra-Reading Over the Holidays

Ultraman-manga Volume 01

Title: Ultraman Volumes 1-2 (so far)

Story and Art: Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi

Editor: Mike Montesa

Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Evan Waldinger

Translation: Joe Yamazaki

English Adaptation: Stan!

Original Publisher: HERO’S INC

Licensed by: VIZ Media, LLC

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

In Japan, Ultraman is similar to Doctor Who in the U.K.. Like The Doctor, this alien protector of Earth has had many iterations: In additon to the original Ultraman, there have been Ultraseven, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Taro, Ultraman Leo, Ultraman 80, Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Dyna, Ultraman Gaia, Ultraman Cosmos, Ultraman Justice, Ultraman Legend (a combined form of Cosmos and Justice), Ultraman Noa, Ultraman Neos, Ultraman Nexus, Ultraman Max, Ultraman Xenon, Ultraman Zearth, Ultraman Mebius, Ultraman Hikari, and even an Ultrawoman. And, like Whovians, fans of Ultraman have “their” Ultraman; the one they grew up with, or that they identify most strongly with. I was hoping the Ultraman in Viz Media’s recent manga would be MY Ultra. However, I’m two tonkabon volumes into the story and I’m still not sure…

The original Ultra- series began with a question in the winter TV season of 1966. Ultra Q (the Q was short for Question) was not a superhero show, rather think of Kolchak, The Night Stalker, if he had a reporting team and his editor was more of a J. Jonah Jameson, “if-it-bleeds-it-it-leads”-type. Each week, Yuriko Edogawa, a female photographer, and her crew would investigate marauding monsters and/or megalomaniacal aliens. When the show returned for its second season in Fall 1966, the writing staff had run out of ways for ordinary humans to overcome grossly over-powered and oversized creatures. Someone more powerful was needed…

Shinjiro Jump

The original Ultraman series began when human Science Special Search Party patrolman Shin Hayata suddenly and unceremoniously became a bug on the windshield of the universe. While out on patrol in his jet, Shin is slammed into by Giant of Light’s spaceship. Giant is a 120-foot tall alien Ultra-Crusader (a sort of space cop in the Green Lantern mold), who is in pursuit of Bemular, a giant alien monster. Feeling bad for causing the accident with his single-mindedness, and dying himself, Giant of Light merges their life essences into a single entity. Stranded on Earth and unable to maintain his enormous form for more than three minutes at a time, Giant remained dormant inside the human form of Shin most of the time. When needed, Shin could transform into the Ultra-Crusader by triggering something called “the beta capsule.”

The new Ultraman manga begins many years after Shin and Giant of Light were succesfully separated and Giant has returned to his home planet. Shin, now Defense Minister, claims to have lost all of his memories of his time fused with Giant of Light. The manga’s first chapter opens with Shin’s toddler son, Shinjiro, falling off a four story balcony and surviving without a scratch. Is the S.S.S.P. truly currently inactive? Does Shin really have amnesia? Are Giant of Light’s powers truly gone from the Hayata family? Why are alien monsters showing up on Earth again after almost fifty years? And what does an internet-obsessed female pop singer with an alien stalker have to do with it all?

Ultraman fight

I would love some answers (or clues, or even foreshadowing) for any of those questions. Unfortunately, series creators Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi are more interested in splashy Michael-Bay-style fight scenes. Faster than you can say “The Flash in an Iron Man suit with a cosmic codpiece,” high-school-aged Shinjiro is a full-fledged showing, but not growing, Ultraman, fighting human-sized aliens. Nothing is explained and you will only “get” the plot (so far) if you can spot and understand all the Easter eggs hidden throughout the tale.

If you’re into spectacular fights, you might enjoy how lovingly drawn the punch’em-ups are in the Ultraman manga. Without the cheesy rubber suits getting in the way, the fights do look spectacular. There are some unique perspective shots, collateral damage is not ignored and the artists never forget the choreography has to make sense. I just wish we gave a single tinker’s damn about ANY of these characters and the jeopardy they face.

Ultraman-Hayate Family

Volume two introduces Detective Endo, the Fox Mulder of this Ultraman project. Shimizu and Shimoguchi spend almost half of the second tonkabon following his “side story.” The author’s omakase at the end of volume two provides some hints: The creators originally wanted to write an all new Ultraman who was fused to a cop, but reveal that the publisher insisted the manga be a direct sequel to the original television series. Clearly, the writers are fumbling their way into this revised concept.

I will probably pick up volume 3, but, thus far, I cannot recommend the series to anyone else. If this pandering and meandering manga’s gorgeous artwork could activate a beta capsule to be welded to a stronger narrative, this could really be something special. For now, I have invested $25 and 500 pages of reading and I feel I am entitled to more scale, both in the epicness of the story and in the sense of wanting to see giant monsters slug it out with giant defenders.

Ultraman-manga Volume 02



* GRIM_NOIR has also been enjoying VIZ Media’s re/releases of Magi, My Hero Academia, Master Keaton and grim_noir_3_tTokyo Ghoul. He remains convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or Friend on Good Reads or Facebook to finally end his self-delusions. (Also, “his Doctor” is the fifth Doctor.)

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