At first, it's easy to be put off from watching Showa Ultra by the goofy-looking monster designs, less impressive special effects, poor video quality, and other things that show just how old Ultra is. And watching it is a decidedly different experience from watching modern tokusatsu, as close as entries like Mebius come to its style.
For one, it's more violent, and even the infamously childish Taro did not shy away from showing tens of human bodies. Monsters are often slain in gruesome ways, and sometimes children are killed.
On the other hand, it's also more goofy, in the cheesy 60s monster movie style. What can be better than father and son bonding over making rice cakes to pacify a hungry monster? A kaijin that ran away from school and constantly wets its pants? An evil entity that is literally a fusion of a dinosaur and a tank? Showa Ultra can be incredibly in multiple ways.
But not only will it surprise you by its duality of narrative, which appeals to both old and young audiences alike, you will also see how the Ultra Franchise shaped tokusatsu, and, indeed, television in Japan and sci-fi as a whole. Some episodes are cliche, others invent cliches. Ultraman has had a profound impact on the development of television. Plots which seem unique or daring in modern tokusatsu could have their origins in Ultraseven or The Return of Ultraman.
It's true the effects are cheesy. It's also true that the style is different from today's, and that it can be difficult to get into. But it's also true that Showa Ultra is often incredibly enjoyable, and not an experience to be missed.
Here's a rundown of the Showa Ultra Series.
- Ultra Q is mysterious and varried, with some episodes being surreal and fairy-tale like, and others seeming to come straight out of 60s horror flicks. Each episode is basically a Toho movie, just condensed into under thirty minutes!
- Ultraman practically invented the genre of a transforming superhero television series. It retains the sci-fi aspect of Ultra Q, and is even closer to the Godzilla franchise! One of the most brilliant tokus of the Showa era.
- Ultraseven is dark, brooding, and cynical, but also appeals to its audience of children in a way that can sometimes be unsettling. Nuclear wars, planet devastation, aliens in this series have motives that are understandable, deep, or dark. Often considered, along with The Return of Ultraman, as one of the best entries in tokusatsu in general.
- The Return of Ultraman is incredibly dramatic, and does not hesitate to show the dark side of humanity, even down to the human defence team!
- Ultraman Ace is action packed, intense, violent, and gory. While the series does suffer from a retool halfway through, it remains one of the most intense and fast-paced entries in the franchise.
- Ultraman Taro, the fairy tale of ultra, is known for its defense team's ridiculous plots and costumes, anime-like, retro sound effects, and goofiness. It is also dark in a way only fairy tales can be, where monsters will be defeated, but only after they've, say, hunted down every last human being responsible for the death of their children.
- Ultraman Leo is grim, brutal, and, save for the occasional goofy episode, it is cynacle and dark, killing off more characters than every other series in the franchise put together. Remember, "Earth isn't a sugar-filled world of happiness!"
- Ultraman 80... is impossible to summarize, for the producers did not know how to appeal to the emerging modern era. Its comedic arc is very good, and it has a lot of unique concepts that aren't utilized to their potential. I personally found it enjoyable.
Giving Showa a try is always worth it. For starters, I'd recommend Seven, Ultraman, or The Return of Ultraman. The others are not as good, but certainly have their strong points.