When it comes to giant monster series that have come out of Japan, most people would probably think Godzilla. But the big lizard wasn’t the only Kaiju around – the benevolent Ultraman first appeared almost 50 years ago and has been protecting the Earth from invading monsters ever since.
Ultraman debuted in July 1966 and though it was the first show to feature the character of the same name, it was actually the second show in the Ultra series. The first was Ultra Q, another “tokusatsu” (special effects) and Kaiju series that had run earlier in ’66. Many suits used in Ultra Q were re-worked into Ultraman monsters.
Ultraman focused on the Scientific Special Search Party, a worldwide police force that used special weapons to combat various monsters. The group’s best member, Shin Hayata, had the ability to use a special artifact called the “Beta Capsule” to turn into the super-powered space giant, Ultraman, when the SSSP got knocked down. The series ran for 39 episodes, plus a short film, and kicked off a massive media franchise.
The Ultra series has since encompassed more than 25 different television shows, plus three Ultraman Kids shows (meant to be more kid-friendly, of course), dozens of films, plus many video games. Unlike similar shows and films of the tokusatsu genre, such as Kamen Rider, Godzilla or Super Sentai/Power Rangers, Ultraman didn’t have much of a splash in the American market. One of the few exceptions was Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (AKA Ultraman USA), which was an animated film created in a joint production between Hanna-Barbera and Tsuburaya Productions.