“Ultraman, Ultraman: here he comes from the sky.
Ultraman, Ultraman: watch our hero fly.
In a superjet he comes from a billion miles away,
From a distant planet land comes our hero Ultraman.”
In the early 1970s, a strange phenomenon reached American shores in the guise of a tall silver alien: Ultraman landed, and for some lucky children like me, life would never be the same again.
I was probably five years old when I first saw this Japanese television series, complete with awkwardly dubbed English, cheap special effects (think unraveled cotton balls substituting for spacecraft exhaust), and an oddly ingratiating cast of oddballs. From the catchy theme song and psychedelic opening graphics to the scary but all’s-well-that-ends-well plots, I was hooked. It helped that the hero, Hayata, was both attractively suave and suavely attractive.
Ultraman fought some of the most bizarre aliens that Earth has ever seen, and he saved the human race more times than we know. I especially remember the grotesque crab creature with frightening pincers, who alternately appeared six feet tall and sixty, who could disappear at will and freeze humans. Only Ultraman could vanquish such a foe – Ultraman and his human counterpart Hayata, infamous beta capsule in hand, alongside his Space Patrol crewmates. Ultraman rocked my world.
Ultraman was a Japanese cultural phenomenon that resulted in numerous sequel-series, not to mention created a huge toy and accessory industry that continues to this day. The show was simply enormous in Japan; according to a Japanese friend, it was their equivalent of Mickey Mouse. And some American children got to experience the thrill. Apparently the show was broadcast in seventies, in the Detroit area, and around Philadelphia, and also in the Washington D.C. metroplex where I lived between 1973 and 1977. It was definitely not a country-wide syndication; only a few of my friends and acquaintances recall having seen the show…but it made a big impression on us.
So what was it about the show that was so damned cool? One can never pinpoint such a fascination…it’s too much like explaining what attracted you to your first crush (or your latest, for that matter). But I can say this, thanks to Nickelodeon, TV Land, and other retro-maniacal cable channels, I have re-experienced most of my favorite childhood shows. Land of the Lost was appallingly acted – except for maybe the evil Sleestaks. Banana Splits offered nothing catchier than its theme song. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl had nothing going for it except female superheroes who, in retrospect, look really bizarre, but then, in that time period, didn’t we all? I still adore Schoolhouse Rock, but other than that, only Ultraman has held up well, still entertains and enthralls me.
If you get a chance, check out Ultraman online. Your local video store might have some episodes as well. Go on – fly with Ultraman!
(article from the 1999/2000 era Daily Revolution)