The story of Ultraman is an icon of Japanese pop culture. In the Earth’s time of need, a being known as the Giant of Light chose Shin Hayata, a member of the Science Special Search Party, as its avatar to defend the world against the threat of kaiju attacks. Originally broadcast in the 1960s and often credited as the first big hit of the tokusatsu genre, the series is given new life in the manga adaptation by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi. Shimizu and Shimoguchi are no strangers to the tokusatsu genre, having previously worked on manga for Getter Robot anthologies. The series is published under Viz Media’s Signature label with experience translation Joe Yamazaki, known to readers on this site for his work on Tokyo Ghoul, providing the English adaptation.
A direct sequel to the 1966 TV show, the Ultraman manga opens with Shin Hayata, now firmly middle aged and working at the Defense Minister of Japan, and his young son Shinjiro. Living with no memories of his time as Ultraman, Shin and his son visit an exhibit at the old SSSP building showcasing Ultraman’s exploits in saving the world. Yet when Shin meets with one of his old comrades, Mitsuhiro Ide, tragedy strikes as Shinjiro falls from a third story ledge into the museum courtyard. Miraculously, he’s uninjured, but the incident prompts Shin to meet with Ide and confront him about the realization he’s had about his missing memories: the fact that he was Ultraman. Yet to Shin’s surprise, Ide already knows and instead seeks to enlist Shin’s help in addressing a new threat on the horizon. Twelve years later, grown up now and still baffled by the mysterious powers he possesses due to his ‘Ultraman Factor,’ it’s not Shin but rather Shinjiro who comes to confront the newest extraterrestrial threat.
As a manga adaptation of a well-known Japanese classic, Shimizu and Shimoguchi present a masterful grasp of the story, themes, and significance of the work they’re undertaking. The appearance of Shin as an aging Ultraman pays homage to the original, while the story’s focus on Shinjiro and his newfound powers serves as the perfect avatar for a new generation of Ultraman fans drawn in by the story’s new format. What’s more, Yamazaki’s seamless translation allows the story to shine as it showcases the shift of the tokusatsu genre while still keeping the spirit of the original alive. Having Shin, an aging father, suit up and fight against evil resonates in a different way than seeing a hot headed youth eager to fight evil. Furthermore, Shinjiro’s attitude and dorky catchphrases provide a lighthearted allusion to the original TV series. Although the fight sequences are sometimes difficult to follow, especially given the similarity in design between the Ultraman exosuit and the extraterrestrial invader, the art is clean in its realism and the story itself provides a rich experience for both new fans and fans of the original.
Fans of the tokusatsu genre won’t be disappointed by this loving and carefully handled adaptation. For those who know the name of Ultraman or who simply want to come to understand how a Japanese pop culture icon can come to stand in the modern era of comics, this revival of a time honored classic is definitely a must read.