Taking its cues from the spate of high-end superhero flicks pouring out of Hollywood, The Ultraman franchise has been upping its game with the last couple of Ultraman Movies. Since the beginning, most Ultraman series have been presented as a standalone takes on the overall series template - then they are slowly crossed over, sliced and diced and mix and munging with the series and characters that came before re-inventing the overall universe over and over.
But since the 40th anniversary Ultra Series - Ultraman Mebius - broadcast in 2006 - and the ensuing theatrical release - Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers, Tsuburaya has been slowly but surely tightening up the continuity. The original Showa Ultramen (1966 - 1980) are now part of the "Canon" as Continuity Geeks like to say. I should note that the 2008 movie - Superior Ultraman 8 Brothers - unfortunately was a bit of a misstep - using a clunky alternate universe plot device to mix and match Heisei Utramen Dyna, Tiga and Gaia with the old school Man, Ultra7, Jack and Ace with Mebius somehow in the middle - Inferior is more like it.
However I thought 2009's Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy was everything one should expect from a 21st century modern ultra-flick. A lot of it takes place on the Ultra homeworld. The villain was pretty bad-ass, the evil Ultraman Belial (he kind of looks like a McFarlane reject - but I still like the idea of an evil Ultraman). The new main Ultrahero - Ultraman Zero - is a bit of an rebel outcast which is a cool touch (as well as the son of Ultra Seven). And all the Showa Ultra-dudes have cool roles in the story.
I like the fact that they really just went for it and went over the top, instead of pussy-footing around. Considering that first and foremost these movies are for kids and are in someways just toy commercials on steroids - I am always pleased when the movies give copious nods to the old school. Hopefully the producers are realizing that there is a discerning secondary market in older guys who grew up with the stuff (or at least wish they had) and are open to take a chance to be entertained by this kind of fare.
The newest movie, called Ultraman Zero, the Movie was released theatrically this past December looks like it is following on in this gonzo vein. One thing that has piqued my interest are 3 new characters which are homages to 70's tokusatsu heros that were outside of the Ultra Pantheon.
They all show up in these teaser - see if you can figure out who is who!
Official Movie Site