The Original Ultra Man – By Mike Wilson

“Ultra Man…Ultra Man….here he comes from the sky; Ultra Man….Ultra Man…Watch our hero fly! In a Super-Jet he comes, from a billion miles away, from a distant plaaaaaanet….comes our hero Ultra Man.”

Here he is, the Big Man, the hero of many a child from my generation in the US, and he’s been kickin’ ass in Japan for nearly 40 years….Ultra Man! The Original Ultra Man!

There are either people who know who the original Ultra Man is and those that don’t. Recently I spoke with a guy that was stationed in Japan a few years ago and from what he tells me, Ultra Man is there to what Superman is here in the US. Over there he’s a national hero. He’s always been a hero to me, though. When I shipped out overseas years ago the guys in the barracks chipped in and gave me an Ultra Man figure one of the found at a flea market!

Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, Ultra Man aired in Japan from 1966 to 1967. His origins are thus: In the not too distant future the earth is protected b the Scientific Investigation agency, called the Science Patrol for short. Patrol member Hayata is flying in a jet investigating a UFO sighting in a nearby forest. The UFO is a super-monster named Bemlar and unknown to Hayata it is being followed by another spacecraft. The second craft accidentally collides with Hayata’s ship, killing him. But Hayata is a lucky man…the second ship belongs to a powerful alien that calls himself Ultra Man. Ultra Man brings Hayata back from the land of the dead, telling him that he comes from the faroff Nebula M78 and that he has been tasked to destroy Bemlar to keep him from harming innocent planets. Remorseful for the crash, Ultra Man gives Hayata his life, merging with him, so that the human can live again. He also gives Hayata the Beta Capsule…a device that when used transforms Hayata into Ultra Man. This way whenever danger threatens the Earth Hayata can call upon the power of this super being to combat it. There’s a catch though. Ultra Man has a limited supply of energy that he can use when called. A blinking light on his chest warns him when he is running low, and a helpful narrator tells us that if the light should stop, Ultra Man will never rise again.

But to be honest, that light never stopped blinking. Ultra Man kicked monster ass throughout the run of the original series. Watching the series again, now as an adult, I noticed some things that I didn’t catch on to as a kid. As a child my friends and I were always more interested in the monster fights…..the rest of the show was just the lead in to where Ultra Man would show up and whoop ass. I used to always wonder why Ultra Man didn’t just come right away and stop the monster. But now it seems like Ultra Man didn’t take a hand in the adventures of the Science Patrol until it was clear that the humans couldn’t cope with whatever monster they were fighting. In some instances it’s actually the Science Patrol tat defeats the monster with a hastily made new weapon or plan. I guess Ultra Man would rather the earthlings solve their own problems than to rely on him all of the time. In the episode Oil SOS Ultra Man doesn’t even fight the oil absorbing monster; it is destroyed by the Patrol. Ultra Man only shows up to put out the fires raging through the refinery before it triggers a huge catastrophe. (One of the legions of super powers Ultra Man possesses is the ability to create a fire retardant liquid from his hands.) It also seems that Ultra Man knows about some of the aliens that try to invade Earth beforehand. As soon as Hayata learns that the aliens called DaDa are on Earth he changes into Ultra Man to stop them before the aliens even let their presence really be known. (In the episode Human Specimen 5.6) I guess that works both ways though….at least three of the nemesis he faces in the series know that Hayata is really Ultra Man’s human host. It’s actually a wonder that no one else does. I guess Hayata has a Clark Kent sort of ability. How could the other members of the Science Patrol not realize that Hayata is Ultra Man? Every time a monster appears, Hayata runs off and suddenly Ultra Man arrives! These guys are supposed to scientific investigators?

It’s almost hard to not think of Ultra Man as a sadist, though. A lot of the creatures he fights are so obviously outmatched by him it almost seems unfair. And he always fights them hand to hand for a few minutes before putting them out of their misery. I will give the series some credit though. There is one episode where they show that Ultra Man feels remorse for having to destroy giant monsters that are merely following their own destructive instincts. In one of the earlier episodes (The Mysterious Dinosaur Base) Ultra Man rips the fin off of a monster, but after the beast is dead he drapes the fin on the body as if to say “Sorry.”. And fans of the show will recognize that monster as Godzilla. Or at least an old Godzilla costume on loan from Toho, with a huge fine added to the head. (In the story, it is NOT Godzilla that appears.) Interestingly, that’s the only episode where you will hear Ultra Man laugh.

Ultra Man has several sequels but the two US viewers may have seen are Ultra-7, produced directly after the original series and Ultra Man: Towards the Future, the first Ultra show made outside of Japan. I’ve never seen more than snippets of these shows, but for my money they don’t compare to the original series. (Even though I’ll have to make plans to acquire them so that opinion may change.)

The transfer on this DVD set isn’t bad, but it’s not perfect. It looks a lot better on the computer monitor than it does on the TV though. Still, if you’re a fan of the original Ultra Man it’s worth it. There’s no subtitles, but every episode is dubbed in English. There are a few hiccups where the original Japanese dialogue slips in, but not a lot and it doesn’t really interfere with any of the stories. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, folks and really, mores the pity.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Absolutely none. But then I didn’t expect any.

WHO’S GONNA WANT IT: Only fans of kaiju will want this. Since the collections are obviously of varying quality only a die hard Ultra Fan is going to put up with the picture.

CAN I BUY IT: If you do an internet search for the complete series you’ll end up with several sites. Remember, some of these are hi-speed dupes so the picture isn’t as clear as you might like. My advice is to look into the Ultra Man Webring and see the sites there selling the collection. The Three disk set will probably be the best one you can find to date.