This time on History of Tokusatsu, we go in depth and cover Ultraman beyond the TV screen.
One of the features that sets the Ultra Series apart from its Super Sentai and Kamen Rider counterparts was its tendency to revisit certain characters in long format. Ultra Seven, one of the most popular entries in the entire franchise, often rivaling the original Ultraman himself, returned in a grand total of 16 direct to video and TV specials. In 1993 two direct follow ups to he series were broadcast, Operation: Solar Energy and The Land of Earthlings featured numerous returning cast members from Ultraman and Ultra Seven. This was the start of what has been called the Heisei Ultra Seven series. This series follows the original intent of Ultra Seven as being the only Ultra character to exist.
The Heisei Ultra Seven series continued with Ultra Seven 1998 and Ultra Seven 1999 before the premiere of the controversial Ultra Seven Evolution. Evolution was composed of five hour long episodes with a decidedly darker tone than what had come before it. The first episode itself is notable for being one of the few entries in a transforming hero show that doesn’t actual feature a hero transforming.
The early new millennium also saw the release of three video specials that tied into Ultraman Tiga, Dyna, and Gaia. While Tiga was a sequel that featured no returning cast members, Ultraman Gaia: Gaia Again follows the lives of the heroes years after their battles have ended while Ultraman Dyna: Return of Hanejiro acted as a sort of “lost episode” for the series.
During times of hardship or transition, Tsuburaya would continue the franchise through short length miniseries. During reruns of Ultraman Tiga, Tsuburaya created the series Ultraman Nice, a series of 40 commercial length episodes featuring the comedic Ultraman Nice and a science patrol team composed of a family who support the rather cocky Ultraman Nice.
The original Ultra Series miniseries was Ultra Fight, featuring Ultra Seven. The show was little more than 3 to 5 minute episodes as an excuse to have two characters fight each other with next to no production value, the characters would often fight each other on the beach or in forests. Interestingly enough, the format would return years later with Ultra Zero Fight and Ultra Fight Victory. Zero and Victory followed the miniseries format of Ultra Seven but featured actual story lines. The Ultra Zero Fight series was collected in three hour long video specials with extended scenes not featured on TV.
Ultra Zero Fight in particular featured the return of the Ultimate Force Zero, last seen at the end of Ultraman Zero the Movie. Zero’s team was composed of characters based on old heroes in non-Ultra themed Tsuburaya productions. When Ultraman Zero was first announced as a character it was revealed he would star in a trilogy, with one new moving released each year. The third entry in this trilogy was delayed a year after Tsuburaya created the Ultraman Foundation and donated the budget of the movie to relief efforts towards the disasters in the Tohoku area.
From 2008 to 2011 Tsuburaya also released two direct to video episodes each year. The 2008 entry was a direct sequel to 2006’s Ultraman Mebius and followed the cast of characters a year after the end of their show. 2009, 2010, and 2011 featured direct to video episodes that often served as prequels to the movies being released that year. 2009 saw Ultramen Mebius: Ghost Reverse reveal the origin of a powerful weapon featured in Ultra Galaxy Legends while 2010’s Ultraman Zero vs Darklops Zero shows the origin of a powerful army that Ultraman Zero would fight in Ultraman Zero the Movie. 2011’s Killer the Beatstar served as a conclusion to the characters seen in the two Ultra Galaxy TV shows.
A unique entry in the franchise was 2001’s Ultra Zone, a 23 episode variety show of sorts with monsters making comedic appearances in skits that followed their every day life in Japan and a member of a science patrol team who monitored them from her base.
After Ultraman a number of tokusatsu began airing, trying to garner the fame and success the original Ultraman shows did but perhaps none were as successful as Kamen Rider, which we’ll cover in part 5 of The History of Tokusatsu.
Source: Tsuburaya M78 Blog,