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Analysis / Ultra Series

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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". Worth mentioning is that the villain of that episode, Alien Mefilas, is also a Satanic Archetype, with his temptation of a young boy to give him Earth in exchange for ruling over another planet having parallels to the Temptation of Christ.
    Mefilas: What are you, Ultraman, an alien or a human?
    Ultraman: I am both.
    • Ultraseven 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 Franchise, 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 many Kaiju and Toku series in general.
    • 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 4Kids Entertainment) 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 and are considered to be the worst series in the franchise by many fans, 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 for 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 rather than bringers of horror and tragedy. The franchise doesn't take itself too seriously either sometimes, which makes it look campy to people who thought otherwise. The shows' optimism also feels out-of-place for westerners as western monster and superhero movies are generally very bleak and pessimistic in the modern era.
    • Special Effects: The Japanese consume special effects differently from westerners, with a focus on the illusion of reality rather than making reality. Rubber suits and miniature sets are still used to this day in the franchise, and while CGI plays a major role in special effects in the modern era, Westerners absolutely love tearing apart the "primitive" techniques of Toku, with Ultraman being a favourite target only second to Godzilla. While it is certainly true that Showa Ultra series' special effects look primitive, they could be extremely talented for their period (not the extent of Godzilla films, but certainly something), and the effects have greatly evolved over the years with higher quality suits and miniatures combined with digital effects. However, the fact that it is still People in Rubber Suits is something that the CGI-saturated western audiences of today cannot shake off. Few understand that Toku's special effects tradition draws from the ancient art of miniaturization (such as bonsai), or the amount of work the practical effects require (outdone only by stop-motion) compared to CGI.
    • Can't shake off the stereotypes: Everybody who knows Ultraman but has never watched any (or very little) 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, due to "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny, 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. Many later shows 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.
    • Kaiju dissonance: 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 for children (see every Showa Gamera movie for examples). It's also common for western critics to dismiss Ultra kaiju as "weird". While there is certainly no shortage of bizarre-looking kaiju in the Ultra Series, Japanese monsters are usually more bizarre than American monsters due to the influences of Japanese myth and legend being full of strange creatures. To Japan, kaiju are half real, half supernatural, thus not bound by the laws of common sense like American monster-makers try to place their creatures in (compare Toho's Godzilla with the two American takes on Godzilla as an example).
    • 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 influenced 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. The Ultra Series has also invented and influenced almost every regular trope usually found in Japanese anime and film today, with many well-known manga artists, animators, TV producers, and filmmakers taking influence from the Ultra series. To westerners, this has very little effect on the history of popular culture, so they don't understand what makes the franchise big in Japan.