"From the Land of Light, for all our sakes, here he comes, our Ultraman!"
Ultraman is a Sci-FiSuper Hero television show in the Japanese Kaiju tradition, which aired on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) from July 17, 1966 to April 9, 1967, with a total of 39 episodes (40, counting the pre-premiere special that aired on July 10, 1966). It was created by Eiji Tsuburaya from Tsuburaya Productions, a pioneer in special effects who was responsible for bringing Godzilla to life in 1954.It is the second edition of the Ultra SeriesFranchise and the first to have an Ultraman.The storyline begins in the near "future," established in one episode as the early 1990s. As with the Kaiju movies, e.g., Godzilla and his various oversized playmates, Earth is under the near-constant threat of attack by sinister aliens and giant monsters, most of them focusing, for obviously convenient reasons, on Japan. The Science Patrol, a special international police force, is the only organization on Earth capable of handling this barrage of threats, although even they are consistently overmatched. But little do they know, the second-in-command of the Patrol's Japanese headquarters, Hayata, can transform secretly into the giant super-humanoid from "a billion miles away," Ultraman.The series begins when Hayata, flying his plane on a routine mission, inadvertently crosses paths with a red sphere of light (called a "ship," but more resembling a red crystal ball) containing Ultraman, who is pursuing an alien monster. Hayata is killed in the crash, and out of remorse, Ultraman merges his life essence with Hayata to resurrect him. From then on, Hayata serves as Ultraman's human form, and depresses a button on a cylindrical device called a Beta Capsule to transform into Ultraman in times of need — almost always at 19 minutes into each 24-minute episode.Ultraman stands 40 meters (130 feet) tall, weighs 35,000 tons, and is 20,000 Earth years old. He can fly at Mach 5 in essentially the same manner as Superman, has super-strength, and is in possession of various superpowers, sometimes rather surprising ones that only appear once. Most, but not all, of his special abilities involve animated energy beams or rings that he emits from his hands.Upon first transforming from Hayata to Ultraman, a large disk in the center of his chest, his Warning Light (a.k.a. the Color Timer), shines a steady blue color. However, as he exerts himself, the Warning Light changes to red, then blinks with increasing rapidity, and a helpful narrator informs us, "The energy that Ultraman receives from the Sun diminishes rapidly in Earth's atmosphere. The Warning Light begins to blink. If the Warning Light should stop, Ultraman may never rise again".Ultraman spawned a mini-genre of half-hour Kaiju action shows, such as Ambassador Magma (The Space Giants) which actually came 3 months before Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and the Flying Robot (a.k.a.: Giant Robo), and Spectreman, as well as several shows that extended the Ultraman lore. However, while many have been quite popular in Japan, no other Kaiju-based shows have been replayed with anywhere near the frequency as Ultraman in syndication in the United States.Not to be confused with Superman's Evil Counterpart from Earth-3.
Ultraman provides examples of the following tropes:
All Myths Are True: If a legend exists about an ancient monster, you can bet Ultraman's going to have to fight it in the next half hour... or is the myth himself, in one case.
Applied Phlebotinum: Far too many examples to list, mostly employed and/or sought after by the Science Patrol.
Badass: Ultraman, of course, do you even need to ask?
Badass Teacher: Before coming to Earth and beginning his long career as a superhero, Ultraman was a university professor on his home planet.
Badass Normal: Gomora is nothing more than an extraordinarily large Earth dinosaur, and its only special ability is tunneling through the ground (which it doesn't use in combat), yet it is the only monster to fight Ultraman to a draw.
Cool Car: The Science Patrol-use car. Essentially a toughened Chevrolet Corvair (director Hajime Tsuburaya's car, in fact, with stickers slapped on the body during photography).
Cool Gun: The Science Patrol standard-issue Supergun, as well as the Mars 133/Ichi-San-San.
Cool Old Guy: Ultraman is 20,000 years old, and when presented with the chance to return to M-78, demands that Hayata be revived instead, reasoning that the comparatively young human needs the time more than he does.
Behind the scenes, Akiji Kobayashi (Muramatsu) was this to the other actors, who apparently called him 'Cap' off-set as well.
Cool Plane: The Jet VTOL is a multi-purpose workhorse capable of Mach 2.2 and roomy seating.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Generally avoided - most of the Kaiju put up a decent fight, when it was clear that they could fight - but there's a couple of exceptions. Dada spends his episode chasing after the last two human specimens he needs... and one of them is Muramatsu, so that just goes over poorly. Then, Dada gets to fight Ultraman himself, and man is it one-sided.
A Day in the Limelight: The Nintendo DS game Kaiju Busters functions as this for the Science Patrol. The game is a more sciency take on the Monster Hunter formula, featuring Science Patrol members who manage to defeat various classic Ultraman monsters without an Ultraman's help. Unless you unlock the hidden Legend Weapons, which are all red and silver with a little blue Warning Light/Color Timer on them, and are even created from Specium ore.
Energy Weapon: Ultraman typically uses them as finishers, relying more on wrestling moves until that point.
Expository Theme Tune: Interestingly, the US/English version of the theme song is far more expository than the original Japanese version, or it may be just a case of cultural difference: both praise Ultraman, but the English version stresses his powers, and how he saves the day, while the Japanese version praises him in far more abstract/metaphorical ways — "he is our Shining Star," etc.)
Family-Unfriendly Violence: Despite most series being kid's shows, monsters, and sometimes Ultras are often blown up, have limbs sliced off, or are brutally killed. Series creator Eiji Tsuburaya took note of this and decided to tone down the violence after the first 10 episodes or so. Though monsters Red King II still get sliced into thirds, there is no gore present.
Frickin' Laser Beams: Played a little realistically and in most cases averted - the Science Patrol's weapons don't have recoil, and none of them, strictly speaking, are 'lasers' in the usual sense. The Supergun is rendered as more of an electric wave, the Spidershot gets used more as a flamethrower, etc. Even the Mars 133, which is depicted with the usual 'laser' effect, is actually a Specium ray gun.
And then Ultraman's energy attacks are actual energy bullets.
Henshin Hero: Hayata has no super-powers while in human form, beyond special training as a Science Patrol agent.
Hour of Power: It became a hallmark of the series that after transforming, Ultraman only had a few minutes [usually three] to deal with the monster or he'd die.
The 'Three Minute' rule was apparently because there was only so much time the production company could devote to the giant-size battles due to cost, and 1/10 of the 30-minute running time seemed about right.
Know When to Fold 'Em: Once Mephilas acknowledges that his and Ultraman's powers are too evenly matched, he calls off the fight, declares that he will return to conquer the Earth another time and teleports out.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: When Ultraman leaves, Hayata gets his time combined with him erased as a side effect of being revived.
Last Episode New Character: Zoffy, Ultraman's superior officer in his home planet, only appears in the final episode of this series, but goes on to become a key character in subsequent Ultra shows and movies.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The opening shot of the second episode appears to be Ide talking about how he got his black eye to someone we can't see - but he tells his story directly to the camera.
Meaningful Name: All of the Kaiju had this. "Bemlar", for example, was one of the possible names for Ultraman, during planning stages = the name of Ultraman's first opponent.
Zetto (last letter of the Latin alphabet) + N (last letter of the Japanese language) = Zetton, the ultimate alien badass.
Monster of the Week: Again, if not the source of this trope, Ultraman is an archetypal example.
Mascot Mook Red King, Gomora, Zetton, Baltan, Mephilas, Sadora, and Pigmon just to name a few.
Memetic Hand Gesture: The Specium Ray hand pose. Not quite as well-known as the Rider Henshin pose, but almost every Ultra Series hero and many non-Ultra Series giant heroes do a version of it. Even in Western Animation/Ben10, Ben's "Way Big" transformation looks Ultraman-esque and does a classic Specium Ray.
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Who knew Ultraman could just levitate the monsters when necessary? And wouldn't that have come in handy in, um, most of the other episodes?
In the second Baltan-seijin episode, while he and a few others are stranded on Venus while Earth is under attack, he suddenly gains the power of interplanetary teleportation. Convenient.
His psychic powers are established as rather draining (Hayata collapses after the teleportation), and he hesitates to use them without a pressing reason - generally, when his normal attacks are ineffective or would be ill-advised to use.
Never Say "Die": If the fight lasts too long, Ultraman will never rise again. Actually an aversion, since Ultraman doesn't actually die in any sense of the word from his timer running out.
Plucky Comic Relief: Science Patrol member Ide, known as Ito in the English dubbed version, is a bumbling, cowardly klutz who is also the team's weapons designer. Subverted in a couple of episodes, wherein Ide/Ito actually provides the most tear-jerkingly dramatic moments.
Pigmon, who despite being quite monstrous-looking is only human-sized and just wants to help people (unlike Garamon from Ultra Q, which seems to have worked against him in his second appearance]]. And then there's Gavadon, who really doesn't do much except sleep, and Skydon, who sleeps and is really heavy.
Both Ultraman and the Science Patrol recognize when this his happening, and try to spare monsters who aren't deliberately harmful.
Rings of Death (The Ultra Slash, a razor sharp energy ring that the hero occasionally uses to slice the Monster of the Week in half — or on one occasion, in thirds.)
Rule of Cool: Bizarrely adhered to in-universe in one episode: a monster arises from a child's drawing during the day (cosmic rays + sunlight = Kaiju. No sunlight, no beastie.) It also never attacks unless provoked. They discuss what to do about it, talking about the damage that would be done if they did do battle with it. When Ito says they can simply erase it while it's dormant, the chief actually says that that is too dull a solution, and they'll have a proper, fair-and-square fight when it reappears in the morning (keep in mind here that they have orders from above to do so, and don't actually know where the picture is). The chief was dead serious about having a city-wrecking battle the monster's temperament doesn't even make necessary because the safe solution wasn't as interesting. Getting it out of the city by nonviolent means doesn't even come up at the strategy meeting.
Shoe Phone: The Science Patrol communicators are the little badges they wear on their lapel. Pull out the antenna, and off you go.
Sizeshifter: Most, but not all, of the aliens either do this or are capable of it. (The Zettonian in the last episode gets shot dead before we find out if it can or not, for example.)
Spell My Name with an S: Quite a few things. For example, the space monster/thing "Bullton"? Almost certainly comes from Andre Breton - and that explains the whole episode, doesn't it.
The Smurfette Principle: Fuji is the only female member at the Japanese Science Patrol headquarters, and what's worse, she's the communications officer. Justified, barely, as being made in 1966; averted when possible as Fuji herself is aware of it, goes on field missions on a regular basis, and is by all means a competent Science Patrol member.
Stone Wall: The Jet VTOL looks basic, but can take a ridiculous amount of punishment and still land properly (at one point taking a direct hit from something that straight-up explodes Phantom F-4s). Even the Mini VTOL requires something like Ultraman's Travel Sphere colliding with it at Mach speeds to put the pilot in danger.
Strictly Formula: Weird stuff happens. Surprise, it's caused by a giant monster. The Science Patrol tries to take care of it, fails, Hayata gets separated from the others, gets big, fights the monster — oh, no, the warning light is blinking! But Ultraman wins Just in Time and flies off. Hayata returns, never to be asked why he's always coming back just after Ultraman leaves. (The show takes pains to put him in the sort of situation where the others realistically wouldn't question his absence.) The end. At least, those are the Stations Of The Canon that nearly every episode must visit; the situations actually are quite varied. It's just always a giant monster causing it, or being sent by whoever did.
Superpowered Alter Ego: Ultraman is this to Hayata. (In practice, it's not actually clear to what extent Ultraman-Hayata is Hayata, or is Ultraman.)
Symbiotic Possession: The reason Ultraman takes a human host is to save Hayata's life, and in exchange Ultraman gets to stay on Earth. They remain two distinct beings, and in the last episode, they separate to let Hayata stay on Earth while the big guy goes back to M-78 to recover after his defeat at the hands of Zetton.
Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: the Science Patrol is described as having numerous branches in other locations, with an HQ in Paris - we're only shown the adventures of the Japan branch, is all.
Toku: Pretty much kickstarted the genre on Television.
Transformation Sequence: Nothing like the elaborate Super Sentai or Metal Heroes ones. After Hayata raises his Transformation Trinket, we get a stock-footage scene of Ultraman growing into action. Of course, the technology of the decade prohibited such things from getting too fancy, and the nature of the transformationnote Strictly speaking, the Ultras don't need to use a Transformation Trinket specifically, and can transform without them. But having a device greatly simplifies the process, and they don't have to worry about forgetting how to transform means that simple is better.
Translation Convention: Justified as a rule. Any time any non-human (including Ultraman) is heard speaking Japanese, there's either a justification along these lines (Zarab-seijin can't actually communicate with anyone else without a computer to go through, the Dadas are only intelligible when speaking to each other, the Baltans have to posses a human or go through the Pan-Universal Translator, etc.) or they've obviously taken the time to learn an Earth language (notably Keronia, whose broken Japanese is explained as Gotou having been away from Japan for so long that he's begun to forget it). Mephilas-seijin doesn't get one, but it's entirely within his character to have learned Japanese somehow.
Wham Episode: "Don't Shoot, Arashi!" Arashi, the team's shooter, goes off-policy and opens fire on a monster during an incident where there are large groups of schoolchildren present who are at risk from his actions. He gets (temporarily) drummed out of the Science Patrol as a result.
Also, Gomora's fight with Ultraman that resulted in a draw brought kids to shock, as Ultraman lost a fight for the first time in the shows run.
"My Home Is Earth", a beautifully-shot episode where the MOTW is revealed to be a Space Race astronaut named Yamila who was mutated by exposure to an alien atmosphere and painstakingly repaired his ship to return to Earth, only to be hunted down by the Science Patrol because his return threatened to expose the cover story over his initial disappearance. Emotions run wild amongst the group, with Plucky Comic Relief Ide symphasizing with his plight as a pioneer of science, and eventually Yamila dies writhing in pain in the mud at the doorsteps of a World Peace Conference. A memorial plaque is placed in this spot, but Ide bitterly notes that the lofty words of politicians mean nothing compared to their actions.
What If?: The Ultraman Fighting Evolution 3 game had an unlockable Alternate Ending to the Final Battle. If you hold off Zetton long enough as Ultraman before losing, Zoffy arrives in time to fight Zetton himself instead of after him. After destroying Zetton, things essentially progress the same as the series did.
Worthy Opponent: On several occasions. One of the most notable is episode 10, when Ultraman has to deal with a Godzilla Expy (it was in fact an old Godzilla suit with a ruff around it's neck) in Scotland; after the battle in which Ultraman vanquishes the monster, ripping the ruff off his neck during the fight, Ultraman respectfully — in fact, tenderly — replaces the ruff around his defeated enemy's neck.
Ultraman makes a distinct effort to try to avoid killing his enemy on several occasions if there's a chance he can fulfill his mission while preserving his opponent's life (for instance, in the Gabadon episode).
Mephilas-seijin appears to consider Ultraman this.