From a Billion Miles Away . . . Comes 10 July Streaming Event: ULTRAMAN DAY!
Fans in the know — congratulations, you’ve just become one — have received the intel that today, the 10th of July, is Ultraman Day: the celebration of all things Ultraman, one of this planet’s most prolific programs. The really big show (four hours, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. PST) streams online today at https://shu.watch, heralding the launch of the Ultraman Galaxy Store at https://ultramangalaxy.com, featuring terrific new collectibles (including limited editions on the day), plus The Birth of Ultraman on Blu-ray and DVD: including cherry-picked episodes and the Ultraman Pre-Premiere Special from 10 July, 1966, never before seen outside of Japan.
As storied as this series is, it’s taken several key figures to put this day into play, including representatives from Ultraman’s home studio, Tsuburaya Productions, as well as Jaron Hinds of Elevated Games (producers of the new Ultraman: Kaiju Kombat), Danny Simon of Licensing Group, and especially pop-culture polymath Jeff Gomez, head of transmedia entertainment company Starlight Runner.
Mr. Gomez and I begin by discussing Ultraman fans of all ages, from the original series through the present day. Because, 54 years in — and in addition to striking some potent poses — Ultraman strikes an ideal balance as a venerable evergreen.
“Actually, we believe that Ultraman conforms with the criteria to be an evergreen property — like Barbies and Hot Wheels and Pokémon — and that’s because there’s this appeal that regenerates. Ultraman is reborn within the Japanese culture sometimes every year, sometimes it takes a little while, he rests a little bit and comes back, and although he looks similar to the way he used to, there’s a new relevance.
“In terms of how we’re uniting, or reaching out to, the fans of the various iterations of Ultraman, the first thing that Starlight Runner does is an assessment: we do an analysis of the intellectual property to find out what the truly unique aspects of the property are. Even if the concept of Ultraman was imitated over the years, by everything from Power Rangers to Voltron to Pacific Rim, there are things about Ultraman that never quite were imitable: the desire to grow, to become gigantic; the fact that that character always kind of stands as a symbol for stoicism, or perseverance — as an illustration of how we can all be Ultra, how we can aspire to be better than ourselves. That became the core of our communication about this property, this franchise. That’s the rallying cry for bringing Marvel Comics on board, and for bringing these various licensees on board, for relaunching the franchise.”
Marvel. Hello! Check out that Alex Ross art. I also ask about the popular new Netflix series.
“We call it ‘Anime Ultraman.’ It’s an adaptation of a manga. Okay, so that Ultraman is not set in the canonical Ultraman universe. It’s based on a comic in Japan, that was a new take on the concept. It’s a co-production, between Tsuburaya Productions, and Production I.G, which is a very famous anime studio in Japan. The series became the number-one anime series in all of Netflix. Really really remarkable, because there’s some good stuff on Netflix. We just released a little teaser showing Ultraman Taro as being Netflix-ized. We expect to see the second season in early 2021.”
Even this serious journalist has a small stash of classic Ultraman. Who doesn’t dig it?
“There’s a hunger here in the United States for — I mean, you know, we’ve tapped into our Marvel and DC fetish. The big popular franchises have been revisited now: once, twice, sometimes three times. So our eyes are looking overseas, for stuff that we might remember, but wasn’t as resonant over the years — and Ultraman certainly was ripe for revisiting.”
I suggest that Godzilla (Gojira) never went away, noting that Ultraman’s creator, Eiji Tsuburaya, brought the original Godzilla to life. What was it like for Mr. Gomez to delve into that world?
“It’s kind of a dream come true. Right? Because I was Godzilla-boy, man. I was into all the Toho stuff. I knew his [Tsuburaya’s] name. He was a hero of mine when I was a little kid, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland. And, you know, teaming with Danny Simon at the Licensing Group, and flying to Tokyo. And not just to hang out in the offices of Tsuburaya Productions, but then they took me to where they hold the costumes, the kaiju and such. I was crying! (laughs) They let me touch the things! It was really, really brilliant.
“They recognized not just the fact that I was a fan, but I understood story, and I understood the way that Hollywood worked, and the way that intellectual properties become blockbuster universes. They had a respect for that, and I appreciated that about them. And so, working with them, although there’s always the difficulty of Japanese translation, and waiting through time differences for various approvals, we almost never disagree on what’s best for Ultraman.”
Our talk briefly turns confessional (and worth a Google):
“I hugged Eleking. (chuckles) I love Eleking. And they let me touch, or kind of shake paws, with Gomess — that’s G-o-m-e-s-s — and if you look at that monster, that kaiju, you’ll know why I love him. And we share a similar-sounding name.”
The Ultraman Day extravaganza features some seasoned performers, including Hiroko Sakurai and Susumu Kurobe of the original series, and the first man-in-suit himself, Bin Furyama. Mr. Gomez connects their presence to Mr. Hinds, of Elevated Games.
“We were doing it in tandem with various conventions this summer — but the pandemic interfered. And so he wanted to do this live-streaming event. He asked us if we would help him, and he said he wanted Bin, the original Ultraman, to be on the show, and anybody else we could possibly help him get. And we did! The event is live-streamed, but a couple of the Japanese bits were taped and prepared by Tsuburaya Productions. And let me tell you something, there’s going to be some special stuff there.”
We discuss the newly remastered 1966 launch special.
“I don’t think it’s ever been seen in the United States. It’s been used in some documentaries and archive stuff in Japan. But it’s really interesting, because Ultraman became known for its live shows, later in its existence — where, you know, stunt people in Ultraman outfits fought monsters onstage, with music and special effects. Here you have, a week before the first episode of the entire series aired, that’s what they did! And you get to see some of the original kaiju, walking around with the outfits in mint condition. (laughs) Ultraman himself appears. Really, really cool. And Eiji Tsuburaya is in the special as well.”
As Ultraman Day is imminent — hey, perhaps every day is Ultraman Day! — we close on a topic Mr. Gomez (who spearheads the Never Surrender! anti-bullying initiative) holds dear: the spirit of the fans.
“Look, you know, I come from kind of humble beginnings, if you get my drift. And to be able to figure my way into this kind of situation (laughs), you know, has to do with story, and being inspired by story, but also learning and applying the successes that the heroes in those stories achieve. That’s what I hope for in the people who watch these shows, and who enjoy the work that I do. Maybe they can learn to sort out their own expectations, and get to do fantastic things with their lives.”
Mr. Gomez’ comments have been edited for space and clarity.
Stream Ultraman Day.