by Phoenix, HSM team writer
Here he comes from the sky
Watch our hero fly
In a super jet he comes from a billion miles away
From a distant planet land, comes our hero Ultraman.
Recently, I was hanging out with friends, talking about Home and other things. We got to discussing Japanese anime; anime has become extremely popular today, as has tokusatsu, but that wasn’t the case when we were younger. As we discussed these memories from childhood, I recalled a few and spoke of one: Ultraman.
Ultraman wasn’t very familiar to the group. Only two people seemed to recall the name. Only one thought it familiar; the other spoke of an Ultraman with blonde hair. This wasn’t the Ultraman from my memory, as far as I could recall. He was Japanese. I supposed it was a regional show when I was a kid, assuming that was why it was unfamiliar to them. We had two Japanese shows at that time every afternoon: Ultraman was a tokusatsu series, and Speed Racer was the animated show. This was a time when no one cared that the monster suits were all rubbery and the super hero had noticeable zippers down their backs or that the buildings were clearly cardboard and styrofoam and the same city block fell every week in the monster attack. This was a time when martial arts were amazing (still is) and sci-fi was everywhere (still is).
Ultraman was the story of a Japanese pilot of the Scientific Patrol on an elite team of six visible characters, who was accidentally killed by a UFO collision while on patrol investigating that UFO. The alien inside the craft, in his sadness at the accident acted to return the pilot’s life by merging with him, giving him his life force. Thus, Hiyata was transformed into Ultraman. He was given a silver capsuled object called a Beta Capsule, to transform whenever there was trouble that he and his team could not handle; he would hold this capsule aloft and transform to a giant in a helmeted silver, red and blue body suit. He used special karate moves and special attacks, the favorite one being the Specium Ray emitting from his right hand when his hands formed a plus sign, to fight all the creatures that threatened earth. Most of these were Godzilla-like creatures. Though Hiyata was merged with the alien life force to become Ultraman, he could only sustain these powers and giant form for a short time. His suit had a warning light beacon on the front in the form of a chest plate, and the beacon would flash when he had only three minutes of power remaining.
I remember rushing home after school to watch this show every day. I can still recall the song, and often sing it out of the blue. The original show ran from 1966 to 1967 in Japan. It was in the 70’s, as a return series dubbed in English, that I was enthralled by its superhero greatness. After that there were several spin off series; some reached America some did not. One such Ultraman spin off in 1992 was Ultraman: Toward the Future. It was produced in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the show.
Ultraman was a big part of my childhood. I never forgot my daily dose or first foray into the monster hero storyline, Japanese style. Years later, the Power Rangers emerged onto the scene; they were slightly reminiscent of Ultraman, with the suits and karate moves, but not the storyline or magic. Ultraman was a true hero, a true Japanese icon. Ultraman is burned into my memory. He was amazing, exotically handsome (Hiyata) and able to transform and save the world, being the first hero to obtain giant height on TV, well before Transformers ever became a reality. Granzella’s recent addition to Home content, in the form colorful suited figures of their U-man Unidentified Squadron brought back these memories: U-man.
Susumu Kurobe (born Takashi Yoshimoto), the actor who played Hiyata in the 1960’s episodes, so loved his portal of Hiyata in the original series that he revisited his role in episode 47 of Ultraman Mebius, Ultraman Brothers, Mega Monsters Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends The Movie, and Ultraman Saga. He has played other characters in some of the other Ultraman series as well as acting alongside his daughter in Ultraman Tiga The Movie 2000. Though he has appeared in numerous other acting portrayals, Ultraman remains a big part of his life.
As I started this article I thought about the generations of American kids that love manga, anime and sci-fi, and of how much Japanese sub-culture has given and enriched our pop culture. From Japanese myth and hero legend, we arrive at some of our modern storytelling: Godzilla and Ultraman to G-Force for me; Dragonball Z and Inuyasha, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach and Witch Blade and more for my son. There is a long-lasting legacy these series have created in our culture. The characters live long after childhood, being reinvented in new series and movies, for new generations of waiting fans. I was happy to discover the Ultraman character has become a family of characters all different Ultramen and women carrying on the fight for earth like Hiyata did.
It would be a blast to be able to see the original series in Home, perhaps via Crackle. It would be fun to see Hiyata and the Science Patrol save the Earth again. I am certain it would be a different experience, but even in my jaded age I think I would still enjoy those special moves as I did when I was a child.