Guest contributor Christopher Taylor shares how Ultraman can expand for a Western audience.
Ultraman is a Japanese icon, often referred to as Japan’s Superman and is one of the cornerstones of the tokusatsu genre. Despite how ingrained the franchise is into the country’s pop culture Ultraman is a property that has failed to find traction in the West. This lack of expansion can largely be due to legal battles that Tsuburaya Productions, the owner of the franchise, have been tied up in for years. This changed months ago when Tsuburaya announced that they won their copyright battles and have teamed up with Starlight Runner Entertainment to help expand the brand into the international markets, with the possibility that a new American entry in the series will be made.
But how do you take such a storied Japanese property and successfully expose it to a Western audience? There are a few key areas that could prove vital in making Ultraman‘s expansion work.
Find The Right Platform
There are two digital platforms that could serve as Ultraman‘s gateway to Western notoriety: Netflix and VRV. Given Netflix’s multitude of original series from Japan, including the recent anime spin-off of the Ultra franchise called ULTRAMAN, it might seem like the best option. However, that constant glut of new-content is a double edged sword as several shows are given the chance to find success, but it’s a crowded field that causes a majority of the content to get buried.
VRV’s status as an aggregation platform that houses many different networks may seem less focused than Netflix but it actually has a greater preexisting attachment to the franchise, with multiple Ultraman seasons already available on Crunchyroll. Another upside of going with VRV is that they can promote across all of the service’s channels with potential advertising opportunities including having the casts of the Nerdist, Roosterteeth, or VRV’s other partners react to various episodes of the franchise, directly bringing Ultraman to the attention of those varied audiences.
Tsuburaya Productions and Crunchyroll seem to have had some sort of falling out/lack of communication over the last year with some older Ultra seasons being pulled from the service and Ultraman R/B not getting a simulcast, which its predecessors Geed and Orb had received. If there is any trepidation on Tsuburaya’s end then they should reconsider these thoughts since Crunchyroll/VRV may be best available platform to distribute the brand and launch the eventual American entry on.
Embrace the Legacy
Tsuburaya loves leaning into the franchise’s over 50 years of history in Japan and there is no reason they should not continue that approach when entering Western markets. There may be some weariness in doing this since it could be intimidating to new viewers who do not have the generational attachments that the Japanese have, but the nature of the franchise should dissuade any doubts.
Nearly every season of Ultraman is a self-contained story that follows different sets of characters. There are references and ties to previous continuity, like the titular character of the upcoming Ultraman Taiga being the son of former protagonist Ultraman Taro, but the series’ structure means that every installment offers a clean slate and potential jumping on point. It is a franchise that acknowledges its past yet does not require it viewers to have full knowledge of it, easing the challenge of introducing it to other regions.
Showcase the Fan Base
Ultraman is a concept that may be difficult for Western audiences to understand the appeal of. While it may be unfair to boil down the series’ premise to “Space giants beating up giant monsters”, that simplification is how many are going to initially see it as. The best way to gets over this hump is to highlight the preexisting fans and showcase why they love it.
Fan testimonials can make the property more approachable by not only showing that an established community exists, but that it is also made up of normal people. This should remove any intimidation while also informing newcomers about the finer details of this tokusatsu franchise that have allowed it to endure and remain beloved for over half a century. From kaiju battles, to themes of friendship and team work, to its unique sense of style and humor, there are a plethora of reasons why millions already enjoy the Ultra franchise. Showcasing this preexisting love could enable millions more to give it a chance and find themselves falling for it too.
What better way to remove this roadblock to Ultraman‘s Western success than by tapping into the power of its greatest and most passionate champions?