I’m not as familiar with Ultraman or the Ultraman franchise as I could be as it was a little before my time. However, that could change now. Enter Viz Media, who has licensed and translated the current ongoing Ultraman manga series for their Viz Signature line.
Is it good?
Ultraman Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written By: Eiichi Shimizu
Drawn by: Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Translated By: Joe Yamazaki
Taking place twenty years after the events of the original Ultraman series, the former Ultraman, Shin Hayata, has moved on with his life as the Defense Minister of Japan. He has also forgotten his life as a hero, but he may need to start remembering soon. An old colleague of his from the time he was in the Science Special Search Party (SSSP) by the name of Mitsuhiro Ide approaches him while he is visiting a museum with his son, Shinjiro — and he has some rather dire news. The world may need its hero again in the wake of a suspicious airplane accident…
Ultraman Vol. 1 is an introduction that, thankfully, does not require previous knowledge of the original Ultraman series in order to get into it. This volume does a solid job of introducing new people to the universe all within the first chapter, focusing on Shin and what happened to everyone after the original series ended. The remaining chapters actually switch gears and focus on Shinjiro, jumping forward twelve years and showing how he is doing. In this regard, Ultraman Vol. 1 is a superhero origin story, as Shinjiro struggles to figure out his place in the world as he learns to deal with these powers he has (he inherited them from his father) and fighting a big bad guy, though with the exception that he’s more pulled into it forcefully than willing considering the situation that his father gets into order to protect him. Either way, it’s a great first volume to start the series off on.
Character-wise, the comic focuses primarily on Shin and Shinjiro Hayata this volume. Everyone else doesn’t really get much focus or development — not even Shinjiro’s mother (who appears in all of four pages in the manga). Shin was the former Ultraman, losing all of his memories of the time he was merged with this Giant of Light. The first chapter really dives into his character with his worries about not remembering the past, why he has powers himself, and what is wrong with his son. Writer Eiichi Shimizu allows for the audience to really feel sympathy for the character, wanting to know what he’ll do when he starts remembering the past and gets pulled back in. The only downside to that is the time skip, where any developments and character growth is glossed over and resolved off-panel. With Shinjiro, he is sort of the same way as Shin, but in reverse. The time skip passes over him learning about his powers and the realization of them, so we miss out on that characterization. However, the volume still develops and grows this idea of him feeling very different from the rest of the world and his own sadness about not being able to control his powers normally. As such, you can feel some sympathy for him and get interested in where his story will go, especially after he is tossed into the deep end by the halfway point of the volume.
Shimizu’s writing is pretty solid overall. His style of writing is a “less-is-more” approach. Ultraman Vol. 1 isn’t overly expositional or dialogue heavy, with plenty of instances where the characters’ problems and feelings are conveyed through the artwork or quick exchanges. The heaviest it ever gets is in the first chapter, where the backstory and background is being delivered, but it doesn’t come off as heavy handed at any point. The dialogue in general is pretty good as well, with the translation making the conversations rather engaging and interesting to read. The downside with the writing is that the comic feels decompressed a lot of the time when things get quiet and the art’s focus is on wider and larger panels. This is much more apparent in the second half of the book when it’s mostly just one long and impressive fight scene with very little happening outside of two points. Either way, despite this, the writing is fairly strong and not bad overall.
The artwork by Tomohiro Shimoguchi looks great and is full of energy. The characters are drawn decently and look distinct enough (especially when it comes to the costume/armor designs), though some of the younger characters share some similar facial features. The art is easy to read and follow along with, since the artist goes for bigger panels and layouts. There are some exceptions to this in the big fight scene with some of the panels don’t flow that well, but it’s not very often and never during any of the important plot points. Shimoguchi also has a great attention to detail when it comes to this artwork, really emphasizing the destruction in the action, the suits, and some of the locations. It’s artwork that looks really nice and I look forward to seeing more of it in the future.
Is It Good?
Ultraman Vol. 1 is an excellent start to the series, easily accessible to newcomers to the Ultraman franchise and a lot of fun for long-time fans as well. While decompressed and featuring some character work needs improvement, the manga’s writing and artwork really shine and deliver on a pretty solid superhero-kind of tale. There’s a lot of promise and potential with this series and hopefully we’ll see that start to show next time now that the groundwork has been laid out.
Ultraman is currently available from Viz Media. The original TV series is currently available for digital and physical purchase from several different sources. The same creative team behind this series also created another manga together called Linebarrels of Iron. While the manga is not available stateside, an anime adaption is, having been licensed by Funimation.