Analysis / Ultra Series

The use of Christian imagery throughout the Ultra Series
  • Eiji Tsuburaya, creator of the Ultra Series, was a very devout Roman Catholic and often incorporated Christian imagery into his works.
    • Starting from the original Ultraman, Ultraman's finishing move is the sign of the cross, and one episode has the Science patrol visiting Mount Ararat, where Ide directly mentions Noah's Ark was rumoured to have been built.
    • Ultraman's relationship with his host can be taken as a symbol of the two natures of Christ (God and man), as seen in the episode "The Forbidden Words",
    Mefilas: What are you, Ultraman, an alien or a human?
    Ultraman: I am both.
    • Ultra Seven gets even more blatant with the Christian imagery. In one memorable episode "The Crucifixion of Ultra Seven", Ultra Seven is put on a cross by the Guts Seijin. Now in anime this is strangely normal, with crucifixion not really having a meaning in Japan outside of standard execution. But for Tsuburaya, crucifixion is Author Appeal, with Seven himself being a Messianic Archetype directly meant as symbols of Christ and Buddha.
    • In Ultraman Mebius, the title hero's human form is an All-Loving Hero who has returned after many years since an Ultraman has last defended the planet. With his arrival coincides the return of an ancient evil who was vanquished long before humans built cities. One can see some elements of Jesus' second coming and Satan escape from imprisonment in Hell as described in the Book of Revelations. In fact I the first part of the Grand Finale, Empera (the ancient evil in question) demands that humanity give up Mebius to be under his rule much like the Beast from the Sea demands humans to worship it.
    • Even the homeworld of the Ultramen has this. Why else would a world inhabited by benevolent defenders of universal justice be called the Land of Light?
    • Ultra Galaxy Legends carries this too. Ultraman Belial, a prideful individual attempts to gain power for himself and is banished for it. Sounds familiar? The heroes even fight him in hellish terrain in the battle against his army of Kaiju.

Why the Ultra Series has never gained any traction in the West
  • In Japan, the Ultra Series is quite the cash cow, but in the West it has never been popular there. To many there, it seems corny and cliche;. What will be listed below also applies to Japanese Kaiju in general to a certain extent.
    • Lack of distribution: This is probably the most obvious reason behind the franchise's lack of success in the West. Tsuburaya Productions has not distributed many Ultraman episode collections or movies to the west. It was very hard for foreign audiences to get subtitled releases until very recently with Crunchyroll legally streaming Leo, 80, Max, Mebius, and X as well as Shout! Factory releasing Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Ultraseven on DVD. The most likely reason is because Tsuburaya considers many of the franchise's western dubs (like the infamous Tiga dub by Creator/4KidsEntertainment) to be Old Shames. There were also two Western-produced series in the 90s, the American Powered and the Australian Great, that were both failures, probably discouraging Tsuburaya from trying another Western-produced Ultra Series.
    • Sliding Scale Of Silliness Vs Seriousness: This is probably the biggest reason for the lack of success the Ultra Series has seen in the West. As said earlier, it looks Narmy to Westerners. This can be attributed to how Westerners often see city-destroying monsters as dark (as evidenced by Cloverfield), contrasting the Ultra Series' (generally) lighthearted take on Kaiju where they are treated as weekly nuisances (Mebius and Ultra Galaxy in particular) rather than bringers of horror and tragedy. The franchise doesn't take itself particularly seriously either (possibly an act of self-awareness as it's more noticeable in later entries), which makes it look campy to people who thought otherwise. The show's idealism also feels out-of-place for westerners as monster movies are generally very bleak there.
    • Low Budget: It goes without saying that the Ultra Series is low budget. Corners had to be cut when Eiji Tsuburaya came up with the brilliant idea of turning monster movies into a regular tv show. Rubber suits and miniature sets are still used to this day in the franchise, and while CGI plays a major role in special effects, they are not as wow-inducing as big budget westerner monster movies. The older series suffer particularly badly from this as special effects were not as technologically advanced in 1966. Not helping is that the older Showa entries (Ultraman through 80) are more popular in Japan and more well-known making it seem the whole franchise is like that.
    • Can't shake off the stereotypes: Everybody who knows Ultraman but has never watched any series probably thinks that the franchise is this in every episode: "Giant monster shows up. Ultraman fights it. Crappy special effects. Insignificant team. Cheesy plots." Now, some series apply more for this than others, but not during their time period, but many still believe that Ultraman is one long running, formulaic show that's staler than century-old cheese and still has the quality of an MST3K movie. Shows like Nexus and Gaia do a masterful job at averting the negative stereotypes associated with the series, but the Showa Ultra Series are far more popular in Japan than their Heisei counterparts (Tiga, Dyna, Gaia, Nexus...), embedding themselves deeply into Japanese pop culture. This makes it very difficult for the franchise to dispel the idea that it is still stuck in the 60s and 70s. The series is also sometimes much deeper than many give it credit for like Seven and Nexus, which had thought-provoking themes, while Mebius and Galaxy had much character development.
    • Live-action Kaiju age ghetto: Ultraman is generally considered to be for children in Japan. This seems odd for westerners as American, Australian, and European monsters are generally PG-13 or R-rated there. It must be remembered though that Values Dissonance plays a large role as Japan would consider monster-fighting violence to be more acceptable on children's tv (Godzilla movies were for kids during the 70s!). So childish moments in the series seem extremely out-of-place to a Westerner expecting destructive tragedy. This particularly applies to the Showa series as they aimed more for kids (with the exception of Darker and Edgier Leo and Seven) than the (usually) general-audience later entries.
    • Influence is harder to appreciate in the West: The Ultra Series is one of the biggest names in Japanese television for a good reason. It proved that it was possible to make put {[Kaiju}} on the weekly television. It also started the Henshin Hero Boom of the 70s. In fact, Godzilla did poorly in Japan during the 70s because people knew they could just watch {[Kaiju}} every week on tv instead of once a year at the movies thanks to Henshin's popularity. Toho's Zone Fighter was made because of this. The Ultra Series has also invented and influenced almost every regular trope usually found in Japanese fighting anime and non-realistic film today. To westerners, this has very little effect on the history of local television, so they don't understand what makes the franchise big in Japan.
    • The popularity of anime: Anime is very popular in the West compared to the Ultra Series. In fact, the franchise went on hiatus in the 80s due to anime outstripping it in popularity, hurting ratings. Not only does anime's popularity push the Ultra Series to the sides, but Anime is often more serious and deep as most are aimed at teenagers or adults. While the Ultra series has had its fair share of dark and serious (Nexus comes to mind), animation's higher potential (and budget) compared to live-action has prevented westerners from better appreciating the Ultra Series' serious moments.

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