Ultraman has been a franchise for a while now, but I never really started to get into it until earlier this year with Ultraman X. With the series running since 1966 — that will be a whole five decades next year in 2016 — that’s one hell of a backlog. It’ll be a long while before I watch each and every series and finally catch up to become the ultimate expert, especially since there’s always more on the way. The manga has been running in Japan since 2011, but it’s only now seeing a release in the United States four years later.
As someone inexperienced with the franchise, I worried that Ultraman would spend a lot of time building upon previous material. When you’re dealing with a series that’s as old as Ultraman, it’s a valid concern. Thankfully, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case. While Ultraman does hint at previous events, it doesn’t necessarily rely on them. The story takes place after Ultraman has come and gone leaving a peaceful Earth, but the events prior don’t seem to play a huge role beyond the initial setup.
Shin Hiaya who worked with the Science Special Search Party (SSSP) has a son named Shinjiro, and it’s revealed that Shinjiro has a little something special, the “Ultraman Factor.” Unlike previous iterations of Ultraman, it’s a little different this time around. Rather than manifesting the power of Ultraman and becoming giant, the protagonists instead already have the powers within them. It’s a bit of an interesting twist, but since we’re only dealing with Ultraman volume 1, I wouldn’t be surprised if their abilities evolved over time. One of the biggest aspects of the Ultraman series is the kaiju battles, so without them the manga might be a little disappointing.
Despite the fact that Ultraman volume 1 is largely setup, there’s still a fair bit of action. Unfortunately, the enemy they face isn’t exactly what you’d expect. It’s a great fight with fantastic choreography and art by Tomohiro Shimoguchi, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like your typical Ultraman fight. Both opponents are human size, which is a bit different from how things usually go in the series. Since this is a manga and not part of the television series, it’s easy to imagine that the manga was meant to be different. It certainly is. But, having the battles take place on a smaller scale makes it feel less like Ultraman and more like Guyver.
That’s not to say that is a bad thing, it just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. The art itself is fantastic, and is only exemplified by the larger size of the Viz Signature series of books which really makes it pop. If there’s one major problem I have with Ultraman volume 1, it’s that it’s over too fast. As the story is told, some things become clear, but more questions do arise. It makes me want more, and that’s always a good thing. If you’re a fan of Ultraman, you’ll probably want this on your shelf. It’s a little early to tell at this point, but I’m excited to read the second volume and find out what’s really going on.
Translation: Joe Yamazaki
English Adaptation: Stan!
Touch-Up Art/Lettering: Evan Waldinger
Design: Fawn Lau
Editor: Mike Montesa