He’s Not From Krypton
Hayata: “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want to be a man who can stand for justice. A man who can save everyone. I am… Ultraman!”
A monster rampages through a city. The army can’t even scratch its tough hide. Away from prying eyes, a young man holds a gadget aloft and transforms into a red and silver giant. The giant attacks the monster, managing to wound it.
As the battle rages, a blue light on the giant’s chest becomes red and begins flashing. The giant forms a cross with his hands and fires a beam that destroys the monster. His mission complete, Ultraman flies away to transform into his human form.
Ultraman is one of Japan’s most iconic heroes. In many ways, he could be considered the Japanese equivalent to Superman. Ultraman dominates the Tokusatsu (special effects heavy) genre, rivaled only by fellow iconic shows Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. He has even appeared on our list of the Top Non-American Heroes. So who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he defending the Earth? Let’s find out.
The Science Patrol: Ultraman’s Backstory
Alien Mephilas: “What are you, Ultraman? Are you an alien… or a human?”
Ultraman: “I am both. I was born to fight those who break universal laws, like you.”
The Forbidden Words (Season 1, Episode 33)
Ultraman debuted in a self-titled show on July 17, 1966. He was created by Eiji Tsubuyara, the special effects guru who helped to create Godzilla. Tsubuyara’s Catholic faith inspired several elements of Ultraman, most famously the cross gesture he makes before using his most powerful attack.
Monsters and aliens begin appearing on Earth in the series’ premiere. The Japanese government forms a specialized task force called The Science Patrol to study and combat the monsters. During a routine mission, an agent named Hayata is killed in the crossfire of a battle between two energy beings.
One of the beings, later named Ultraman, is horrified that his actions killed Hayata. He bonds with the corpse, resurrecting Hayata. Ultraman explains that he is an alien police officer who had tracked a monster to Earth. He then gives Hayata the Beta Capsule, a device that would allow him to transform into Ultraman to fight the monsters plaguing the planet.
Color Timer: Ultraman’s History
Narrator: [once an episode] “The energy that Ultraman receives from the Sun diminishes rapidly in Earth’s atmosphere. The Warning Light begins to blink. Should it stop completely, it will mean that Ultraman will never rise again.”
Ultraman’s first opponent, the dinosaur-esque Bemular, is the monster who indirectly killed Hayata. Since then, Ultraman has fought aliens, radioactive plants, giant mummies, mutated fish, a dinosaur capable of necromancy, and every other giant critter imaginable.
Ultraman even fought Godzilla… sort of. The monster was called Jirass and had a different backstory, but was made from a repainted Godzilla costume with a triceratops-like frill added. Then the frill was torn off and the monster started shooting atomic breath. So for all intents and purposes, we got Ultraman vs Godzilla.
The TV series was formulaic. The Science Patrol would hear about a monster and investigate. They’d find the monster, but were usually incapable of stopping it. With a few minutes left in the episode, Hayata would transform into Ultraman and defeat the monster. Rinse and repeat. It was repetitive, but very popular.
Ultraman’s end came when a monster called Zetton damaged his Color Timer. He was unable to gauge how much time he had left and turned to stone when he ran out of power. Luckily, the Science Patrol were able to kill Zetton. Then a Deus ex Machina appeared in the form of another Ultraman called Zoffy. He had come to Earth to bring Ultraman home and separated him from Hayata, reviving both in the process. Ultraman realized that the Science Patrol no longer needed him and left with Zoffy.
Giant of Light: Ultraman’s Powers and Personality
Ultraman: “Mirai, we Ultramen are certainly not gods. No matter how hard we try, there are still lives that we cannot save and feelings we cannot convey.”
Ultraman Mebius and The Ultra Brothers
Unlike the various incarnations that follow him, Ultraman’s repertoire is fairly simple. He has superhuman strength, durability, and can fly. He is a skilled martial artist and wrestler, often beating monsters with his bare hands until they’ve been weakened. Ultraman then destroys them with an energy attack.
Ultraman’s most common finisher is the Specium Ray. He makes his cross gesture and fires an energy beam from his hands. When that isn’t enough, Ultraman can create an energy buzzsaw called the Ultra Slash. Ultraman has other powers like telekinesis and teleportation, but prefers sticking to his basic arsenal.
Ultraman and his host Hayata are similar. Both of them are public servants with a deeply honed sense of justice. Hayata is like Clark Kent in that he is a good person trying to do what he can to help people. Meanwhile, Ultraman has all the power and heroic tendencies of Superman. Ultraman even gets a few messianic moments where he sacrifices his freedom or life to save Hayata.
The Actors who play Ultraman
Ultraman was played by Bin Furuya and voiced by the late Hisashi Kondo. Susumu Kurobe played Hayata and has become the primary voice actor for Ultraman’s more recent appearances.
Hayata is set to appear in the Netflix anime Ultraman, voiced by Hideyuki Tanaka. He serves as a mentor and ally to his son Shinjiro, who has become the new Ultraman.
Didya get all that?
Japan’s biggest hero in more ways than one.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.