Ultra Series

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Ultraman Nexus Junis statue outside Bandai HQ in Tokyo

The Ultra Series (ウルトラシリーズ Urutora Shirīzu?) is the collective name for all the shows produced by Tsuburaya Productions featuring Ultraman, his many brethren, and the myriad Ultra Monsters. The Ultra Series is one of the prominent tokusatsu superhero genre productions from Japan, along with Toei produced series Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and the Metal Heroes. The Ultra franchise is also one of the most well known examples of the daikaiju genre, which also includes Toho's Godzilla films, and Daiei Film's Gamera series. However, the Ultra Series also falls into the kyodai (Giant Hero) sub-genre of Tokusatsu shows.

The Ultramen[edit]

Ultraman and his many kin are usually red-and-silver (although several color variations have been seen in recent years) and have glowing yellow almond-shaped dome eyes (although there are exceptions to both the shape and color) and various abilities, most notably to fire energy beams from various positions of crossed hands. The Ultra beings' main weakness is that they can only stay on Earth in giant form for a limited span of time, usually not longer than three minutes, owing to a limited supply of energy (Earth's atmosphere filters out solar energy). This is marked by a light on the character's body usually called the Color Timer, or "warning light," which eventually begins to blink with increasing frequency as his energy supply dwindles (and turns from blue to red). At this stage, the Ultra beings must either find a way to recharge or finish the fight as soon as possible, or involuntarily revert to human form, or worse, risk certain death. Some say another reason for Ultraman to recharge is because the Earth is badly polluted by humans, so Ultraman only has three minutes on Earth, but can survive long enough in outer space. The time limit only happens inside the Earth's atmosphere but they have none of those setbacks outside. To counter this, Ultramen almost always merge with a human host or create a human form for themselves in order to survive on Earth, more often than not reviving a recently dead person with their own lifeforce. Ultra beings also appear to be near impossible to permanently kill, as several times an Ultra being has been killed only to be revived by another member of their species. In other cases a large enough amount of energy can be utilized to bring them back to life, usually provided by their human allies, even after being completely destroyed, as was the case with Mebius' death at the hands of Empira, only to be revived shortly thereafter by the life energy of his allies. Ultraman always try to avoid battles in inhabited areas or fighting in a place where there are innocent bystanders and try to cause the least amount of destruction as possible, from the side effects of their fights when confronting in the city, when and if they can't; a city like Tokyo would be destroyed. The Ultra-Garrison are ranked from low-tier cosmics to high-tier cosmics.

The Ultraman phenomenon[edit]

Ultraman was followed by many other series. Sequels to the original series are: Ultraseven (1967, TBS), The Return of Ultraman (1971, TBS), Ultraman Ace (1972, TBS), Ultraman Taro (1973, TBS), Ultraman Leo (1974, TBS), Ultraman 80 (1980, TBS), Ultraman Tiga (1996, MBS), Ultraman Dyna (1997, MBS), Ultraman Gaia (1998, MBS), and Ultraman Cosmos (2001, MBS). Recently the studio tried a reinvention of the hero through the "Ultra N Project," which involved three heroes: Ultraman Noa (the "mascot" of the Ultra N Project, who appears in stage shows as well as the final episode of Ultraman Nexus) in late 2003, Ultraman Nexus (2004, CBC), and ULTRAMAN (2004, Shochiku Productions). This was followed by a return to old-school style series in the form of Ultraman Max (2005, CBC). In the course of Max series, another new hero known as Ultraman Xenon was also introduced. April 2006 saw the 40th anniversary series, Ultraman Mebius, which signalled a long-awaited return to the original canon. Another hero was also introduced: Ultraman Hikari, formerly known as Hunter Knight Tsurugi.

The franchise has also been in the movie theaters, starting with Ultraman Zearth and Ultraman Zearth 2, Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey, released in 2000, as well as ULTRAMAN, a movie that opened in December 2004. The straight-to-video market also saw the release of Ultraman Neos in 2000, as well as special features for Ultraman Tiga, Dyna, and Gaia, who have teamed up in theatrical features (Tiga and Dyna once, as well as the three of them all together). The Ultraman Mebius and Ultra Brothers movie opened in September 2006.

Foreign productions include the 1987 Hanna-Barbera co-production Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (in Japanese, Ultraman USA), an animated movie; Ultraman: Towards The Future (in Japanese, Ultraman Great), an Australian 1991 production and Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (in Japanese, Ultraman Powered), produced in the United States in 1993. Ultraman series have also been dubbed into various languages, including English, Spanish (only Ultra Q, the original Ultraman, Ultra Seven, Return of Ultra Man, Ultraman Great & Ultraman Tiga were known to be translated into Spanish), Portuguese (Ultraman, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Tiga in Brazil), Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Indonesian and Cantonese. Also of note is the American English dub of Ultraman Tiga by 4Kids Entertainment that aired in 2002. The dub considerably distorted the characterization and general mood of the series, and--possibly as a result--it achieved only limited success. An episode of the Hoshi no Kirby anime series ("Kirby: Right Back at Ya" in America) contains an Ultraman reference, leading to the possibility that "Tiga" may have only been licensed in order to explain the reference (both shows debuted on the same day).

In 1993, Tsuburaya Productions and Toei Company co-produced Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider, a crossover with the original Ultraman and Toei's Kamen Rider 1. This direct-to-video feature is co-copyrighted by both Toei (and its subordinates, Toei Video and Ishinomori Productions) and Tsuburaya Productions.

At present, Tsuburaya Prod. accepts 36 Ultramen as official (counting Ultraman Legend, the combined form of Ultramen Cosmos and Justice, as a separate entity). This figure does not account for Thai-produced Ultramen. (The figure is 38 if Next, Noa, and Nexus are counted as separate entities--it has been revealed in Nexus that all three are a single being with various modes used by different hosts.) In 2013, the Ultra Series was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the record-holder for the most number of spin-off shows.[1]

The government of Malaysia banned the printing of an Ultraman book because it compared the character of Ultraman King (from the film Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy) with "Allah", the Arabic word for God, even though it is commonly used in Malaysian to refer to any "God". The Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the comparison may "confuse Muslim children and damage their faith".[2]

Basic shows[edit]

An asterisk * denotes shows (or movies) that feature no Ultramen.

Ultraman Kids' shows[edit]

  • Ultraman Kids' M7'8 Movie (1984)
  • Ultraman Kids' Proverb Stories (1986)
  • Ultraman Kids: 30 Million Light Years Looking for Mama (1991–1992)

Movies[edit]

Specials[edit]

TV[edit]

OVA (Original Video Animation) / anime series[edit]

  • The Ultraman (AKA: Ultraman Jonias) (1979–1980) anime series, co produced by Sunrise
  • Ultraman Graffiti (1990)
  • Ultraman: Super Fighter Legend (1996)

OVT (Original Video Tokusatsu)[edit]

1998 Ultra Seven Series

  • Ultra Seven - Lost Memory
  • Ultra Seven - From Earth Forever
  • Ultra Seven - Betrayal of the Sun

1999 Ultra Seven Series

  • Ultra Seven - Glory and Legend
  • Ultra Seven - The Sky-Flying Colossus
  • Ultra Seven - The Day the Fruit Ripens
  • Ultra Seven - Consequences of a Promise
  • Ultra Seven - The Imitated Man
  • Ultra Seven - I Am an Earthling

2001 Heisei Ultraman Side Stories

  • Ultraman Tiga Side Story: The Giant Resurrected In The Ancient Past (2001)
  • Ultraman Dyna: Return of Hanejiro (2001)
  • Ultraman Gaia: Gaia Again (2001)

2002 Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION Series

  • Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION - Dark Side
  • Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION - Perfect World
  • Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION - Neverland
  • Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION - Innocent
  • Ultra Seven: EVOLUTION - Akashic Record

2007 Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Hikari Saga

  • Hikari Saga - Arb's Tragedy
  • Hikari Saga - A Warrior's Training
  • Hikari Saga - Return Of Light

2008 Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Armored Darkness

  • Stage 1 - Destructive Legacy
  • Stage 2 - The Wicked Immortal Armor

2009 Ultraman Mebius Side Story: Ghost Reverse

  • Stage 1 - Graveyard of Darkness
  • Stage 2 - Emperor of Resurrection

2010 Ultra Galaxy Legend Side Story: Ultraman Zero vs. Darklops Zero

  • Stage 1 - Cosmic Collision
  • Stage 2 - Zero's Suicide Zone

2011 Ultraman Zero Side Story: Killer the Beatstar

  • "Stage 1 - Universe of Steel"
  • "Stage 2 - Pledge of the Meteor"

Mini-Shows[edit]

Video games[edit]

"Digital Ultra" Japanese DVD Release[edit]

In Japan, there have been several box sets that were released which would each contain a particular Ultra series. As of now, there are only four such box sets. The sets were released as part of the Digital Ultra movement where the shows would be re-released with digital remastering.

The following are the series which have been released as such:

  • Ultra Q
  • Ultraman
  • Ultraseven
  • Ultraman Jack

The "Digital Ultra" re-release order of the series may not match the chronological order in which they were originally aired in Japan.

Licensing rights dispute[edit]

Ultraman's licensing rights outside of Japan have been the subject of a prolonged legal dispute between Tsuburaya Productions and Chaiyo Productions (also called Tsuburaya Chaiyo Co Ltd) based in Thailand. Tsuburaya had previously collaborated with Chaiyo on the production of two movies, The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army and Jumborg Ace & Giant--the latter of which featured another Tsuburaya superhero, Jumborg Ace--in 1974. Sompote Saengduenchai, founder/president of Chaiyo Productions, claimed and maintained that in 1976, the late Noboru Tsuburaya, Eiji's son, who had died in 1995, had given him and his company a contract which had given him rights to everything Ultraman outside Japanese territories in exchange for a monetary loan. The claim is rumored to have originated from a gamble held by a drunken Hajime Tsuburaya (Noboru's older brother) and Sompote Saengduenchai over the rights to the franchise.[3]

In spite of the fact that the document failed to state clearly and specifically exactly what had been given to Tsuburaya in exchange for these rights, Japanese and Thai courts accepted this contract as real and binding because of the supposed hanko of the late Noboru Tsuburaya in the document. Tsuburaya Productions insisted and maintained that the contract was a forgery (due to factual errors, including the faulty titles of the series in the document, such as Ultra Q being called "Ultraman 1: Ultra Q," Ultra Seven being called "Ultraman 3: Ultraman Seven," and Tsuburaya Productions being called "Tsuburaya Prod. and Enterprises," a name the company never did business under), and repeatedly contested the issue.

In the course of the legal battle, Sompote presented photos of himself sharing his photos of Thai Buddhist edifices stating that Eiji had based Ultraman's face on the said edifices, a claim which he has continued to hold since the dispute began. No other evidence supporting this claim was known to exist.

After an 8-year battle in the courts of both countries, Sompote Saengduenchai was awarded a favorable decision on April 27, 2004. The exact ruling fell into some dispute: Some said it only gave him merchandising rights for the first six Ultra Series (Ultra Q through Ultraman Taro) and Jumborg Ace outside Japan, and broadcasting rights of said shows within Thailand. Other accounts, usually reported in the Thai/Asian media, said that Chaiyo had gained the rights to those six shows everywhere outside Japan. The latter could be taken as Chaiyo's side of the story, as Tsuburaya was reported in the Japanese media to continue taking further action against them.

Tsuburaya decided not to market any of the disputed six Ultra Series outside Japan until it had completely settled the rights issues with Chaiyo, although the company continued to merchandise and distribute all of the Ultraman programs created after Ultraman Taro, including the theatrical feature Ultraman the Next, throughout the world. Because of the copyright struggle, importing literature on Ultraman into Singapore and Malaysia was prohibited. It also resulted in a slight backlash against Thai Ultraman fans, who were assumed to be outright Chaiyo supporters.

In 2005 the American company BCI Eclipse announced they had acquired the DVD rights to the original Ultraman from Chaiyo. A 3-disc box set containing the first 20 episodes of the series was released on July 18, 2006, and a second 3-disc box set containing the remaining 19 episodes was released on November 7, 2006. Both sets feature the original Japanese monaural dialogue track as well as the English-dubbed version produced by United Artists for North American syndication. At certain times, the English dialogue track switched over to the Japanese dialogue for small periods of time. This was because BCI had used audio from older recordings in which several scenes had to be cut or shortened for the American broadcast in order to fit running time constraints. Tsuburaya Productions still held on to the complete original English dubbing materials, which they had obtained from a warehouse in 1997, and refused to provide them for BCI. (Contrary to BCI's statements, the original English dubs were complete and uncut, except for a small cut in the conclusion of Episode 36, "Gift From The Sky.")

During the time of the legal battle, Chaiyo came up with three of their own Ultras: Ultraman Millennium, Dark Ultraman (an evil Ultra), and Ultraman Elite. These were not used for purposes other than stage shows and merchandise. Chaiyo also created a TV series he called "Project Ultraman," un-aired as of late March 2008, a joint project in China featuring his own Ultraman and attaching Hong Kong star, Ekin Cheng to the project.

On August 23, 2006, Tsuburaya Productions filed a new lawsuit against Chaiyo for copyright infringement and plagiarism (concerning their three original Ultraman characters), and the court case was taken to China. The Chinese courts in Beijing opened "The Ultraman Copyright Study Group" in response to the lawsuit.[4] In April 2007, the Thailand Intellectual Property Court ruled in favor of Tsuburaya Productions, ordering Chaiyo to cease and desist making commercial profits from Chaiyo-produced Ultraman characters such as Millennium, Dark, and Elite. The defendants were also fined THB 15,000,000 (approx. JPY 50,904,959 or USD 428,673.50 c. April 2007) plus interest and attorneys' fees.[5][6] "Project Ultraman" went on hiatus as a result of the ruling, which implied that although Chaiyo owned the right to some of the Ultraman series, it did not own the right to Ultraman and his brothers, including the design. Chaiyo gained permission to merchandise the original series, but lost the right to create and market its own Ultraman, or even use the original, without Tsuburaya consent.[citation needed]

On February 5, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tsuburaya Productions of Japan after they made an appeal to the initial ruling. The ruling ended the long legal battle by finding Sompote Saengduenchai was not a co-creator of Ultraman. The decision ended Sompote's bid to continue his enterprise, and the court gave Sompote 30 days to stop profiteering from Ultraman. The final ruling saw Tsuburaya Productions as the sole copyright owner. Sompote was also required to pay THB 10,700,000 plus interest at the rate of 7.5 per cent a year starting from December 16, 1997, when the original lawsuit was filed. [7]

Then in 2009, the Thai Intellectual Property Court and the Tokyo District Court both ruled in favour of the Thai company. This led to the Tokyo District Court on September 30, 2010, ordering Tsuburaya Productions Co of Japan to pay damages of 16.36 million yen (Bt5.9 million) to Sompote Saengduenchai of Thailand for violating his overseas copyrights on Ultraman characters.[8]

References[edit]

External links[edit]