Recently, I saw someone wondering if if Gen Urobuchi, a well-known writer responsible for dark series such as Kamen Rider Gaim, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and a few others, could save and enliven the Ultra Series and bring it fully up to competition with the currently popular toku. I've always been wary of series that billed themselves to be darker, but this is something the Ultra Series usually does well. Ultraseven, Ultraman Leo, and Ultraman Nexus, (yes, I like Nexus, despite my criticism of it) all come to mind as dark and incredible series. But is Tsuburaya likely to take this route, and would it actually help the struggling series?
First of all, Urobuchi writes a different style than Ultra. He drops episodic arcs entirely. The only Ultraman ever that did that was Nexus, and even it did not drop the episodic format as Kamen Rider Gaim did. Even though Ultraman has moved more and more towards the superhero genre, it is still at heart a science-fiction mystery/fantasy series, if not so obviously as it was in the time of Ultra Q. Kamen Rider can be similar, but what works for it would not necessarily work for Ultraman.
Now, would Tsuburaya attempt a darker series to further prop itself up after overcoming insolvency? The history of the ultra franchise does not lend proof to the idea that a dark series saves and restores it, rather it seems to show it to be a highly risky endeavour. Here I'll explore the darkest and grittiest entries in this series, in order: Ultraseven, The Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Leo, Ultraman Gaia, and Ultraman Nexus. (I will bring up Ultraseven X at the end.)
(My source for my info on this is the Japanese wikipedia)
Ultraseven often explores darker themes and was a huge success. It gained the highest ratings in the history of the franchise. It does not have a high body count, but rather explores more mature issues, even touching occasionally on grey morality.
The Return of Ultraman followed up Seven. In my opinion it is darker, featuring major character deaths and themes of mistrust. However, while it gained fair ratings, they were far below Seven's, and while it is generally well-received now, reviews were mixed back then.
Ultraman continued in a darker fashion with Ultraman Ace. Ace was highly controversial, due to its graphic depictions of violence and progressive portrayal of women. Its ratings were slightly lower than Return of Ultraman's.
(A note about Ultraman Taro here. Tsuburaya decided to follow up Ace with a lighthearted series. Taro was highly successful, but was somewhat ill-received by a vocal selection of adult fans who were not pleased with its childish nature. Note that while I say "childish", I found Taro to be occasionally unsettlingly dark compared to modern tokusatsu.)
To satisfy the fans who were upset over Taro's childishness, Tsuburaya went all out with Ultraman Leo. Unfortunately, the actual children in the audience were not keen on seeing other children's parents, friends, older siblings, relations, guardians, and friends brutally killed onscreen, and so Leo's ratings plummeted to less than half of Taro's. It was this, and 80's mismanagement that caused the series to go on hiatus until Tiga.
Since Leo's disastrous run, the Ultra Series has only forayed into darker territory twice, not counting Ultraseven X. While until Max it would deal with sadness and serious topics occasionally, no series was steadily dark save for two.
Gaia, like Seven, is not overwhelmingly dark, and it does not have a high body count. It does, however, look at humanity in a more critical way than its predecessors, and it does explore mature themes more often than most other modern Ultraman series. Gaia was fairly well received.
Nexus, however, was truly dark. It was made for teens, but aired on a child-focused time slot, and like Leo this mismanagement led to disaster. Nexus was a flop which nearly killed the Ultra Series.
(Tsuburaya did air, to celebrate the anniversary of Ultraseven, a mature series. This aired late in the night, however, and was not part of Ultra's regular run, which is why I did not count it.)
From the history of the Ultra Series we see that darker series are highly risky. Tsuburaya will not attempt something like that--they are still recovering from Nexus. However, it is possible we will see a smaller, mature extra to celebrate one of the anniversaries coming up. I'd look forward to such a thing! Stephan222 (talk) 01:48, March 28, 2016 (UTC)