Several years after the first season of the Ultraman anime came out, we’ve finally gotten our second season of the show – this time only half the length of the first season, with a second season the same length coming out next year (giving a whole new meaning to the concept of the “Split Cour”). The question becomes “how well does a shorter, tighter narrative handle the series.
To be upfront – I’ve fallen behind on reading the Ultraman manga, and instead, I’ve focused on a smaller handful of other titles, as I hope to clear those off of my read list for this year. So, I can’t speak to how well they handle the adaptation. The season puts its focus on a single storyline, starting with a group of aliens doing mass abduction of humans via cameras, in turn, who are being roped into this plan by another organization who wants to take out all of Earth’s Ultramen, to set up their conquest of Earth.
The CGI exclusive approach, by Sola Digital Arts and Shinji Aramaki, is still how the show is being presented, and it’s fine. Sola Digital Arts gets a ton of hate from various corners of anime fandom, but I don’t hate it. I’d argue that the choreography this season is something of an improvement. There feels like there’s a lot more work done in setting up the fight choreography this season and giving characters generally distinct fighting styles.
They don’t necessarily narratively make sense for each character to fight as fluidly and proficiently as they do. For example, the new Ultraman, Taro, handles a fight against a bunch of goons very successfully, with a whole bunch of moves that look like they went through the same sort of combat training that Jack Reacher might have gone through in his extensive military – but without establishing that background. Ultraman Jack, on the other hand, is ex-military and an agent for the US government but also fights like a wrestler character in the Tekken series, including using the Sling Blade (one of those moves that looks cool, can be bust out from nowhere, but I have questions about its efficacy as a shoot) in a fight.
As far as the narrative goes, this is also a series where the narrative focus is generally not on our nominative viewpoint character – Shinjiro Hayata. For most of the series, Shinjiro is a captive of the enemy, and is able to witness what’s going on with them, but does not act. He doesn’t attempt to escape or attempt to resolve the conversation with dialog. Instead, the focus lies with Taro, Jack, and Ultra Seven. Even Rena, our usual point of view character for how the public perceives the situation is sidelined as a prisoner, being kept in literal stasis.
The theming of the story is also generally a little more camp – our initial group of villains are literally operating in maid costumes, with the voice acting of some members of the group implying that those members are in drag, and also making it clear that this crew are not competent villains either. The rest of the villains clearly are setting up something for the next season, but what that is isn’t exactly clear – so I can’t speak to the writing of that portion, as I don’t know how well this will all pay off. However, the monster designs also get into some more camp territory, which would fit incredibly well compared with other rubber monsters in tokusatsu.
It also bears mentioning that there are very few female characters in this season, and a lot of them either end up dead or prisoners, which is not great. While some of the members of the first villain group, the Wadoran Maid Spies, are again voiced by male actors, it never quite is played for laughs – the Ultra-Brothers take them seriously, and while one of them has a joke line that could be played as “this is a man who is not familiar with wearing women’s clothing” – the line is also written in a way that would work normally, but with a more straightforward comedic implication of the line was delivered by a woman (“women’s clothing is impractical and doesn’t allow for pockets – especially maid cafe costumes”). Considering how the rest of those characters’ beats are played absolutely straight, I’ll cut them some slack in this regard.
In all, I enjoyed this season. I do want to see how well the manga handles this arc – in due time – but the way that this is handled in animation is fine.
Currently, Ultraman Season 2 is available for streaming on Netflix.
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