Ultraman is a Japanese superhero who first appeared on a 1960s television series battling new monsters every week. The series ran for 39 episodes in 1966 and 1967, sometimes pitting Ultraman against kaiju (the gigantic mutant monsters from our own planet) and other times having him square off against seijin, or alien invaders aiming to conquer the Earth. The central role played by monsters in the series is hardly surprising. Ultraman was created by Tsuburaya Productions, under the command of Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects pioneer who brought Godzilla to life. He recruited many Godzilla veterans to take part in the TV show, notably monster suit actor Haruo Nakajima.
Tsuburaya recycled some of his most famous monster suits, including those for Godzilla and Baragon, in this series, but he modified the costumes to avoid legal conflicts with Toho Studios, which had released the original monster movies. Sometimes, the alterations were done on the fly, during production, with the actor still inside the suit. Nakajima once quipped that the staggering gait he used for his monsters had nothing to do with his acting style. He was simply reeling from the noxious fumes from the spray paint applied to the costumes.
Much like Superman, Ultraman poses as an ordinary mortal but when danger arises he can transform into a superhero — in this case, a gigantic monster-smashing Space avenger. In his everyday life, he’s no slouch either. As Shin Hayata, he belongs to the Science Patrol, otherwise known as the United Nations Scientific Investigation Agency. Its mission: To protect the Earth from all manner of monsters. Hayata secretly uses a “Beta capsule” to become Ultraman. He wears a warning light on his chest, the Color Timer, that signals his energy state. When it’s a steady blue, he can fight as Ultraman, but if it begins flickering and turns red, he must finish his business quickly and change back into Hayata, or else risk total energy depletion. In that event, a narrator warns, he “will never rise again.”
Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra_Monsters to see a complete list of all the monsters and aliens from the Ultraman series, as well as its countless sequels, spin-offs and copycat productions. For a little taste of Ultraman, watch this short clip.
Tomorrow’s featured monster: Varan.