Saturday, 23 January 2016

Ultraman, Volume 1 Review (Eiichi Shimizu, Tomohiro Shimoguchi)


In Japan, Ultraman is almost as much of an institution as Godzilla which makes sense as they both featured guys in cheap monster outfits fighting each other while smashing cardboard cities (both were also created by Eiji Tsuburaya whose one idea in life was “let’s film guys in cheap monster outfits fighting each other while smashing cardboard cities”)!

Ultraman was an ultra-corny ‘60s TV show about a powerful alien who merged with a human called Shin Hayata to protect the world from Kaiju monsters. It was corny and very funny – I highly recommend watching some of the original show’s clips on Youtube! 

Now Ultraman’s been given a makeover in this new manga from writer Eiichi Shimizu and artist Tomohiro Shimoguchi - and disappointingly it’s pretty bland stuff. Hayata is reintroduced as a middle-aged dude who’s now a content family man with no memory of being Ultraman. Except some of Ultraman’s strength remains in him - and his young son Shinjiro. 

The story kicks off when a villain appears and blows up a plane. The bad guy then very politely waits 12 years for Shinjiro to grow up before appearing again, allowing him the chance to become the new Ultraman… sort of! They’ve revamped Ultraman completely in this book. The new Ultraman is no giant of light (meaning he’s not as tall as skyscrapers) nor is the only villain introduced so far, Bemular, who also looks totally different. The new Ultraman armour looks cool but derivative of Guyver (if anyone remembers that awesome anime).

The action is unmemorable and boring while Bemular’s characterisation is non-existent (he’s just written as the “evil Ultraman” which he isn’t – he’s supposed to be a giant lizard monster). Why are these two fighting at all - what does Bemular want? Knowing the motivation would invest the reader in what’s happening rather than not at all! There’s also a cheesy damsel-in-distress scene as the girl Shinjiro likes (but he’s too shy to ask out, of course) is being intimidated by some older dudes (read: implied rape) and needs rescuing - real imaginative and not at all clich├ęd, guys! 

To be fair Ultraman was never an untouchable masterpiece of storytelling - it was silly, entertainingly bad TV - but even so this new version barely feels like that character. The creators have thrown together an uninspired story to relaunch the series that’s underwritten in many places and stereotypically macho throughout. I’d love to read a great Ultraman manga but this Poochie’d version ain’t it.

Ultraman, Volume 1

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