When it comes to franchises, Ultraman has to be one of the biggies. At least it is in Japan, having spun off all sorts of merchandise. Sadly a majority of it isn’t readily available here in the states. I first came across it in a video store when I was a kid. I never heard of Ultraman before, but considering how anime was extremely rare at the time I took what I could get. For ninety minutes I was thrust into a futuristic world where a normal human can transform into our eponymous hero to battle the forces of evil. Little did I know that this cartoon was actually part of a larger history of live-action programming starting in the 60s.
More recently I was able to find a box set of the complete original series. This is one of those rare gems that mixes equal measures of humor, action and kaiju rubber monsters. The basic premise is a man who works for the Science Patrol, which is like UN peace keeping troops but with cooler weapons and vehicles. Their job is to use their science and crime fighting skills to make sure the entire world is safe. The entire world, in this case, being Tokyo, Japan. One member collides with a space craft killing him, but the alien being offers his life to save this puny Earthling. And so, when necessary he can pull out a flare gun of some sort and turn into Ultraman to battle the large monsters that seem to enjoy attacking Japan. Each episode entails another monster attacking and the Science Patrol trying to stop it. They, of course, fail so along comes Ultraman to save the day. This parasitic relationship works out well until it is time for our hero to leave as his job is done. Well, not exactly.
That is where I start to have a problem. Eventually the alien is able to separate himself from the human to leave with his comrades, leaving the Earth unprotected. As we learn from past experience, when one monster dies another will sprout up to take their place. I have no reason to believe the Science Patrol would be any better equipped to save the earth once the great protectors are gone. These aliens came to earth to protect mankind in the first place. What makes them think that just because it’s quiet for now that this will always be the case and they can leave Japan?
This problematic situation pops up in Goldar, Spectraman and Johnny Sokko’s Flying Robot as well. They act more like the big brother who beats up the bully, but doesn’t actually teach you to defend yourself. Sure it’s helpful for a little while until the bully gets you alone and smacks you around. I loved these series. They’re silly and fun, but I don’t want to leave asking too many questions like the ones I have now. I want to get in and get out. No brain activity required. Another big let down is how there are no giant robots around now, but that is a whole other article.