Along with my beloved Godzilla, Ultraman is arguably the most famous pop culture dynasty to emerge from Japan. Since 1966, the franchise has been a permanent fixture in television, movies, and other mediums of entertainment, and even after all these years it’s still bringing joy to people’s lives. Suffice to say, Ultraman’s everlasting legacy speaks for itself. Of course, a glossy American reboot was bound to happen someday, and it’s currently in the works.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Tsuburaya Productions — the company founded by Tokusatsu wizard Eiji Tsuburaya — has partnered with Starlight Runner Entertainment to give the franchise a western reboot and expand its mythology for the digital age. If all goes ahead as planned, we can expect movies and TV shows spread across multiple platforms for years to come. And the best part? There will also be toys. We should never lose touch with our inner child.
No directors or writers are attached to helm any planned projects yet, but Starlight’s CEO Jeff Gomez seems like a good dude and a genuine fan who aims to do right by the franchise. As he told THR, “Ultraman is one of my greatest childhood heroes. We’re honored to be embarking on this mission to bring this family of characters back to the world stage.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the basic premise is this: an alien arrives on earth and forms a special bond with a man who works for a special agency tasked with protecting our world from monstrous and extraterrestrial invaders. This bond basically enables our guy to transform into the giant superhero known as Ultraman and throw down with all manner of creatures.
The planned reboot will mark the first western Ultraman adaptation in over 30 years. Back in 1987, Hanna-Barbera co-produced an animated flick called Ultraman USA, which at the time was only the second Ultra property to be produced outside of Japan (the first was Thailand’s Hanuman vs. 7 Ultraman). Elsewhere, some of the original Japanese series’ were dubbed and repackaged for overseas audiences, but, overall, Ultraman has evaded Hollywood until now.
That said, you might be wondering why it’s taken so long for this iconic franchise to be given the makeover treatment. Here we have a pop culture institution that’s been popular for over half a century in Japan, and despite rarely leaving its native shores, the franchise is globally recognized. What’s been the hold-up, Hollywood?
Well, according to the fine folks over at Anime News Network, the foreign distribution rights to the franchise were at the center of a very complicated and messy legal battle for years. The dispute was finally settled last year after years of bickering and lawsuits, but you can see why no company wanted to get caught in the middle of that drama.
That’s irrelevant now, though. Let bygones be bygones. The only thing that matters is that Ultraman’s star is about to shine brighter on a global scale than ever before. And while it remains to be seen just how epic in scale the upcoming projects will be, Ultraman has the potential to be a huge blockbuster saga on the same level as any modern superhero movie or giant monster flick. Right now, we’re experiencing boom periods for both genres, and since Ultraman combines the best elements of each, the money-making potential has never been greater.
Moreover, Hollywood seems to finally be making adaptations of Japanese properties that are befitting of their legacy. After seeing the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailer and the way it embraces some of that old school Toho weirdness and charm, I really hope Ultraman doesn’t shy away from its original sensibilities too much, either. Make the reboot bigger and fancier, sure, but keep it absurd, unique, and distinct from all the other superhero fare that’s out there at the moment.
As is the case with Michael Dougherty and Godzilla, whoever is tasked with helming Ultraman should be a monster enthusiast with an affinity for the classics, as well as someone who can bring some human heart to proceedings. And while I believe that Ultraman can be translated just fine for western audiences, it’d be cool to see them follow in Marvel’s footsteps and opt for movies that celebrate Japanese culture from an authentic point of view. Diverse stories are more interesting, and now that we’re seeing them reap box office rewards, there’s no real reason to avoid exploring these avenues on this scale.
While current blockbuster trends will serve Ultraman well, this has the potential to be something really special and different in the current cinematic landscape. I have no idea where they’ll take it, but to know it’s happening is good enough for now. In the meantime, you can look forward to a new Netflix anime series in 2019.