Years after the invasion of the terrifying Kaiju was halted by Shin Hayata and the Giant of Light, the world faces a new threat that only a new Ultraman can stop. This is the beginning of a new age.
Years ago, a being known as the Giant of Light arrived on Earth, merging with the human Shin Hayata to form Ultraman, defending the planet against the monstrous Kaiju. Once this mission was complete, the Giant of Light left the Earth, taking all of Hayata’s memories of his time as Ultraman with him. Although Hayata’s memories left him, he retained a fraction of his superhuman strength, dubbed the “Ultraman Factor” which was passed down to his son, Shinjiro. Years later, Shinjiro is more or less an average high-schooler save for the fact that he can leap across buildings and crush bones with ease. When he is confronted with the return of aliens to Earth, Shinjiro is faced with taking on the responsibility of being a new Ultraman for a new age.
Fans of action series will feel right at home here, as well as fans of superhero comics. Previous knowledge of Ultraman is not required but existing fans of the series will find plenty to like.
Ultraman expertly straddles the line between being a reboot or a sequel, providing an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with the series while satiating the wants of existing fans. The first volume is extremely reminiscent of a superhero origin story, focusing primarily on Shinjiro’s first exposure to his father’s powers and setting the stage for him to take on the mantle of Ultraman. We’re filled in right off the bat with a succinct yet effective understanding of the previous Ultraman story necessary to set the stage before spending a little bit of time with Shin as he is informed of the truth of his time as Ultraman by his old friend Ide. This does a great job bringing readers up to speed in a way that sets up the background for Shinjiro’s story while paying homage to the original Ultraman story in a way that existing fans will be sure to recognize.
The story then moves to spend the bulk of the first volume following Shinjiro as he is attacked by an alien in a mechanized suit, later learning the truth about his father and Ultraman in an exciting encounter. This segment goes on a for a while but hits all of the right dramatic notes as Shinjiro (surprise!) eventually dons a new Ultraman suit to battle the villain. For a battle the takes up almost half of the volume’s length, the pacing was surprisingly good and never felt like it dragged for too long while appropriately emphasizing the drama of the battle as it reaches its exciting climax. I also enjoyed that the dialogue was not overbearing in the slightest, letting the action do the talking while still filling in the story to a reasonable degree. The focus is undoubtedly on the action though as the characters never really receive any meaningful characterization in this volume, but the first volume sets the stage in an effective and satisfying way for Shinjiro’s emergence as a new Ultraman.
The second volume picks up immediately after the end of the first volume, and more or less focuses on the single question asked of Shinjiro - “Will you become Ultraman?”. In the midst of contemplating his response, Shinjiro is sent on a series of minor missions by the Science Special Search Party that his controllers are a part of to sell him on being Ultraman. This is where the superhero influences rear their head strongly again, as we get a number of exciting scenes where Shinjiro demonstrates his heroics by saving people. While light on the tension, they were still entertaining to watch especially considering how they play into Shinjiro’s characterization.
We finally gets some interesting characterization in the midst of Shinjiro’s heroics as to the surprise of no one, Shinjiro starts to enjoy feeling like a hero to the chagrin of some within the organization. This showcased Shinjiro’s character traits effectively, showing him to be more than a one-note protagonist as he quickly receives a serious reality check upon facing his first real alien fight. I enjoyed how this subverted my expectations, as Shinjiro had previously breezed through the previous encounters before facing some actual adversity.However, the compelling thing in this case was that this was a result of his own hubris rather than his enemy being particularly tough, raising some interesting questions when he is effectively saved just in the nick of time from being beaten.
This cemented what I (and the rest of the characters) slowly began to realize - that Shinjiro really isn’t very good at being Ultraman and is in no way ready for the role being thrust upon him despite what he might tell himself. This sets the stage for some effective character growth, making his final answer to the overarching question of whether to become Ultraman feel appropriately earned if a little bit premature in his own mind. (Fun fact: I just typed Iron Man by accident. The similarities are strong) Overall the second volume advances the story in a much more compelling way that the first, complementing the first volume in quite an effective manner by solidifying the story. Now that Shinjiro has gotten by with the skin of his teeth when faced with a relatively weak enemy, the table is seemingly set for his growth as a character and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.
While the story was fascinating, the action scenes in both volumes are major drivers of the plot as well as showcases for the series as a whole. While the drawings come off as a little bit on the plainer side during the stationary scenes, they come alive in a fantastic during the actions scenes which are full of impact and motion. This is the manga equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, as fights are lengthy yet never stale thanks to the dynamic shots of both Ultraman and his villains. Panels never feel over cluttered, utilizing a wide variety of perspectives to give the series an over-the-top cinematic feel. I also loved how the authors clearly have a sense of the dramatic, giving each fight scene a thrilling climax - the first of which will be sure to have Ultraman fans grinning in the best way.
It’s also worth mentioning that Viz did a fantastic job with this release, keeping all of the colour pages from the original release intact in both volumes. These pages are amazing and are the type that would be worth putting up on your wall.
The first two volumes of Ultraman are an excellent superhero origin story in their own right, confidently providing thrilling action scenes and an interesting story which drew me in. I strongly recommend reading the first two volumes close together and the second volume complements the first in a wonderful manner, establishing Shinjiro as a more interesting character and moving the story forward. While the series does plenty to ground readers in the Ultraman mythology, this is undoubtedly Shinjiro’s coming of age story and at that, one which will please Ultraman fans both new and old.
Ultraman Volumes 1 and 2 were published by Viz Media on August 18th and November 17th, 2015 respectively. Authored and illustrated a team of Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, the series is currently ongoing and published by Shogakukna’s Heros magazine. Volume 3 will be published in English on February 16th, 2016.
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