Rena Sayama and her fans are in danger, but a different Ultraman than she expects is now on the scene...
The hunt for the serial murderer who has idol Rena Sayama in their sights is on, but the detectives following a lead bite off a little more than they can chew after they are attacked by a mysterious alien. The two are saved by Dan Moroboshi, who has also taken on the mantle of using an Ultraman suit to hunt down aliens. Meanwhile, Shinjiro continues to have doubts about truly becoming Ultraman, forcing the SSSP to figure out a way to test how strong his resolve is. With the danger to Rena reaching climax, Shinjiro and Moroboshi team up to take on a threat fit only for Ultraman.
In my reviews of this series so far, I’ve noted that this particular take on Ultraman is strongly akin in the best way to many of the superhero origin stories that fill American comic books and superhero movies, and the way that this series provides a unique yet familiar take on these tropes has been thoroughly satisfying as the plot has proceeded. Now having read five volumes of this series, the superhero movie comparison feels particularly appropriate as a descriptor - the first two volumes of the series were Shinjiro’s initial “origin story”, and the third volume was an excellent mid-act which introduced his doubts about being Ultraman. Quite fittingly from the point of narrative flow, volumes 4 and 5 provide an action-packed finale to the beginning of this series in a way that provides a fitting-conclusion to Shinjiro’s development as well as the Rena Sayama serial killer case while leading into the future of this series in a way that made me absolutely excited to read more.
Volume 4 picks up immediately following the previous volume in revealing Shinjiro’s comrade Dan Moroboshi as a second Ultraman, and the fraught relationship between the two provides the driving catalyst in this volume as Shinjiro continues to confront his doubts about taking on the mantle of being Ultraman. It helps that Moroboshi is pretty damn cool as a katana-wielding superhero in pretty much all of the action scenes he is in, but what really makes this pairing work well is the contrast between the utter sense of cold determination that Moroboshi has versus the doubts plaguing Shinjiro. This juxtaposition is teased out early in a vivid way when Shinjiro finds out about Moroboshi as Ultraman, and I liked the way that we see this very vividly change Shinjiro’s conception of their relationship in a way that really puts into focus his own internal perception of his personal struggles. This is illustrated without many words, and I thought that the two pages which detail Shinjiro’s shock were wholly appropriate and really cemented this change in perspective.
The immediate follow up to Shiniro’s revelation about Moroboshi is a battle in which Shinjiro is forced into action to protect the city against another alien threat. I thought that this segment was particularly good because of the way it ran Shinjiro through the whole range of emotions from confusion, to doubt, and finally to anger as he again walked the brink between defeat due to his hesitation. This ends up being a fantastic action scene because of the way that Shimizu and Shimoguchi-sensei’s art and paneling captured that dynamic range of action in this scene, making for an extremely strong segment when Shinjiro’s emotional arc was overlaid on top. The end result is another completely satisfying moment of catharsis and wonder for Shinjiro as he triumphs, but I really appreciated the nuance shown in this final moment because we also see his lingering fear at the implications of him growing in power.
The concluding segment to volume 4 leads straight into the main events of the volume 5 as the identity of the murderers targeting idol Rena Sayama are revealed as everything coalesces around her concert. This ends up being an incredibly dramatic confrontation as Shinjiro and Moroboshi arrive at centre-stage just in the nick of time to confront intruders and her show. While this scene is heavy on the action and the dramatics in a wholly satisfying way as a climactic confrontation, one thing that I thought was really powerful was the way that Shimizu and Shimoguchi-sensei never lost sight of the presence of the audience at the concert even while focused on the showdown between Shinjiro, Moroboshi and their adversaries. We see numerous panels onlooking Shinjiro from the perspective of the crowd, and one particularly powerful panel depicted Shinjiro in the reflection of Rena’s eyes. I thought this tied some of the major themes that this series has focused on together really well - Shinjiro’s hesitance at shouldering the public expectations of being Ultraman have been a weight on him, and in this moment we really see the concrete form of these expectations as the crowd watches on as the battle happens. I thought this upped the dramatic stakes in a really tangible way, and this definitely sold me on the overall climactic impact of this segment. The conclusion to the mystery is also portrayed in detail, and overall I thought that this segment really succeeded at providing a climax for the events of the series so far.
The second half of the volume 5 wraps up this story arc by detailing the fallout from the case being solved, and I really liked the way that this provided some excellent closure while simultaneously getting the next arc of this series underway in an interesting manner. One scene that I thought really stood out was a closing discussion between Moroboshi and Shinjiro where they discuss what had just happened, and this really provided a dramatic capstone to the development of their relationship so far as Shinjiro continues to move forward. Again, the art is perfect here because the angles nail the intense dramatic effect that the creators were going for with in this conversation. We see both of their faces either depicted only in part, or obscured by shadow during this conversation, and the build up in intensity conveyed by several quick-cuts between their faces in really worked well to highlight the dramatic buildup in their conversation. I think this really served to highlight the sense of this scene signifying the “end of the beginning” for this series, and I was definitely excited on the whole by this.
The end of the volume raises a number of questions as the next major arc of the series such as the presence of yet another Ultraman as well as questions about the presence of aliens on Earth. This ends up being a bit of a breather after the high dramatics of the previous volume and a half, and the plot setting that went on here was fascinating because of the way that it continued to signal the direction of the plot going forward after this volume’s battle. One really exceptional scene that I thought perfectly suited the direction of this series took place during a visit by Rena to the SSSP to try and find out more information about Ultraman. Naturally, she bumps into Shinjiro in a charming scene that is pure Superman, and I thought this was a familiar yet fitting way to build upon her intense involvement in this series’ first arc. The volume ends off on a dramatic note that definitely made me really interested to see what will happen next between Shinjiro and the latest Ultraman to appear on the scene, and I definitely can’t wait to see where this series heads next as it moves beyond its beginning stages.
Ultraman Vol. 4 & 5 are an exceptional conclusion to the beginning of this fantastic series because of the way that they combined the flair for the dramatic of an action movie with some strong character work on Shinjiro’s part as he struggles with finally accepting the mantle of Ultraman. The action is completely engaging thanks to the strong art and paneling utilized, and I really enjoyed the sense of narrative flow this series displays between and even within its volumes. This series’ first arc is an amazing take on the tropes of conventional superhero movies, and this familiarity feels satisfying yet the spin is different enough to make this new take on Ultraman one of my favourite ongoing series after these first five volumes.
Ultraman Vol. 4 & 5 were published by Viz Media on May 17th, 2016, and August 16th, 2016. Authored and illustrated by the team of Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, the series is currently ongoing and published by Shogakukna’s Heros magazine.
Ultraman was named one of our best new series from 2015, check out the rest below!
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