Ultra Q was an early tokusatsu series in Japan, one of the first to bring daikaiju to the small screen. Special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya was a major part of the series. It was planned to introduce a giant hero to fight the monsters, similar to the Showa Godzilla films. The hero went through many stages, originally intended to be a bird-man named Bemlar, with a design which later became the monster Hydra. Eventually, he evolved into the red-and-silver hero of renown. They introduced the titular hero Ultraman in the second season, which enjoyed immense success and kick-started the transforming hero genre.
Many sequels would follow, including Ultraseven, The Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Taro, Ultraman Leo, and Ultraman 80. Ultraman then went on a hiatus in Japan, but the foreign series Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero and Ultraman: Towards the Future were produced. They did not enjoy success.
The series returned to Japan with Ultraman Tiga, which was well received. Ultraman Dyna and Ultraman Gaia followed, and both were successful. Years later, the series saw Ultraman Cosmos, the longest-running entry to date at 65 episodes. However, when Tsuburaya released the darker, adult-oriented Ultraman Nexus, the series lost ratings immensely due to its being scheduled at a time when only children could view the series. By the time it was finally released to its intended audience, it was too late to save the ratings.
A return to its roots with the child-friendly Ultraman Max saved the franchise, but it remained with lower ratings. After the subsequent 40th-anniversary series Ultraman Mebius, only two new entries have been made to the television show during the Heisei Era: Ultraseven X, and two seasons each for Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle, which were followed up by the Ultraman Zero trilogy and Ultra Zero Fight. Later on in 2013, to celebrate Tsuburaya Productions' 50th anniversary, the self-titled "New Generation" Era was formed as part of the late Heisei Era, introducing several shows such as Ultraman Retsuden, Ultraman Ginga, and their successors. These "New Generation" series were more toy sale-oriented and were shorter, introducing new collectibles and gimmicks, and none of them had over 30 episodes. These drastic changes put off some older fans as these newly introduced collectibles seemed out of place, and ratings fell, though they rose again along with sales, as the Ultra Series installments were produces one after the other, especially with the 50th anniversary series, Ultraman Orb.
The franchise has also been in the movie theaters, starting with the two parody films Ultraman Zearth and Ultraman Zearth 2, followed by 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 & the Ultra Brothers movie opened in September 2006.
Foreign productions include the 1987 Hanna-Barabara 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 Ultraman, 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 43 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 45 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 2001, the Ultra Series was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the record-holder for the most number of spin-off shows.
While after Mebius, production of full-length series ceased due to budgeting constraints and licensing battles, the franchise continued to put forth films and miniseries. In 2014/15, Max, Mebius, Leo and 80 were released on Crunchyroll for streaming. This was believed to be the start of a plan by Tsuburaya to expand overseas on 2015/16. Further evidence of this plan arrived when the mini-short series Ultra Fight Victory was released and officially subtitled in English. Just months afterward, 2015's mini-series Ultraman X was simulcast on Crunchyroll——the first time a tokusatsu was licensed to do so. In 2017, Max, 80 and Neos began airing in the United States on the TOKU channel.
- Ultra Fight (1970)
- Ultra Super Legend: Andro Melos (1984)
- Ultraman Nice (1999)
- Ultra Zero Fight (2012)
- Ultra Fight Victory (2015)
- Ultra Fight Orb (2017)
"Digital Ultra" Japanese DVD Release
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:
- ^ http://www.jefusion.com/2012/06/neo-ultra-q-marks-return-of-ultra-q.html
- ^ SciFi Japan » Ultraman in Dispute!
- ^ Thailand: Court orders Tsuburaya Chaiyo and Chaiyo Productions to stop making a commercial profit from new Ultraman characters
- ^ Bangkok's Independent Newspaper
- ^ Bangkok's Independent Newspaper