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Ultraman- Japan’s National Hero

There is a certain combination of red and silver that can be seen throughout Japan, often appearing rather subliminally in everything from the design of public buses to the graphics on soda cans, that is synonymous with a famous icon of Japanese pop culture known in English as “Ultraman”. A hero of more than just epic proportions, Ultraman is also a hero of advertising who helps to sell everything from air conditioners to automobiles in Japan. At first glance one may wonder how a single hero of popular media can possibly appear so ubiquitously year after year in Japanese culture. One has only to realize that the character is actually one of Japan’s many dynastic icons and there is a long list of other “Ultramen” which have appeared over the numerous decades since the first series is documented to have debuted in 1966. It was obviously a rather spectacular hit, having inspired such a popular and large family of silver space heroes.

Many in the western world may still remember the original series, as Ultraman was also quite a popular Japanese hero abroad. The legendarily cool martial arts poses in combination with the classic special effects are so iconic now, that the show is often rebroadcast simply because there is nothing else quite like its production style today. Nostalgia is also likely somewhat of a motivating factor for many enjoying the original series, but more modern generations of Ultramen are also around to cater to those who enjoy a slightly more 21st century style of production quality. A large number of fans have likely enjoyed a wide array of Ultraman production styles, appreciating each for its own unique way of presenting their beloved hero.

Here is a little background about the premise of the original Ultraman, which is commonly used as the basis for all of his successors. The series was conceptually set sometime in the 1990’s when there is apparently an unexplained arrival of numerous space monsters to Earth according to the show. A global organization, known as the “Science Special Search Party”, is set up to deal with all of the rampaging space monsters. One of the organization’s bases is set up in Tokyo and a person from the base has an accidental collision with Ultraman’s spaceship. To save the human pilot Ultraman inserts his life force into the human and saves the day. Ultraman then gives him a small device which he can use to call on the giant silver space hero when his help is needed. Ultraman is, from then on, basically summoned by the organization to do sci-fi martial arts when they would like a helping hand to deal with a space monster situation. His one primary limitation is a solar fuel supply which is apparently not sufficient through the Earth’s atmosphere. As a result, Ultraman has a lighted timer appearing on his chest which is often used as the main way to keep audiences at the edges of their seats.

Though many forms and styles of Ultramen have come and gone, one rather classic facet of Ultraman costumes remains in what seems to be a kind of nod to its 60’s origins. Those first encountering the hero in Japan will likely find it rather silly that the eyeholes, cut for the costume wearer to see through, look oddly like downward pointing cross-eyed pupils in Ultraman’s eyes. If one looks carefully enough though, they are facing Ultraman’s aforementioned energy timer which may be a wise place for Ultraman to look.