Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions.
The bold tagline for the Ultraman manga might be “This is the beginning of a new age”, but the series has so far been looking back to the previous era. Ever since Shinjiro Hayata inherited the superhero mantle from his father Shin Hayata, he’s been required by Edo, Mitsuhiro Ide, Dan Moroboshi, and the rest of the old men of the Special Science Search Party (SSSP) that he deserves to work with them. Everything they’ve done to him is for the most part a continuing series of trials to prove that the new Ultraman is as capable as the original. Will they finally learn to trust Shinjiro and ease off a bit on their high expectations after four volumes? Not a chance. If anything, they just crank it up a notch. I’m not sure if this is some metaphor for the enormous pressures faced by our current generation of kids? Or is this what happens when nostalgia exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on popular culture?
Unfortunately, Shinjiro is still a bit of a doormat despite being constantly needled by Moroboshi since they met back in volume 2. The SSSP agent doesn’t believe that the teenager has the stones to be the professional killer of extraterrestrial terrorists required by the job. And It doesn’t really help Shinjiro’s confidence when it was revealed in volume 3 that Moroboshi also wears his own Ultraman suit, which Moroboshi describes as the 7.1 version of the series. Fans of the franchise will recognize the reference to Ultraseven, the second Ultra hero of the franchise. Additionally, the supporting character Jack is a thinly veiled reference to Ultraman Jack. With his dad included, Shinjiro is constantly being judged by at least three past Ultras on whether he can live up to their heroic legacy.
The volume’s big set piece isn’t just another fight with a rogue alien, but a battle orchestrated by the SSSP in order for Shinjiro to unlock another hidden ability. The organization sets a new standard of ruthlessness by exhibiting a willingness to endanger not just Shinjiro, but the lives of innocent bystanders. Given such crass behavior, his unquestioning loyalty to the SSSP is surprising and disappointing. He’s simply too absorbed with his new superpower to care. Shinjiro continues to be a very dull main protagonist, and the lack of appreciable character development from him after 4 volumes is starting to grate.
Also frustrating is the slow pacing of the manga. The serial killer/stalker case from volume 1 is only now clawing its way to some kind of belated solution. But this long simmering B-plot has so far been deeply uninteresting. This should have been resolved a lot more quickly. But teen idol Rena Sayama and her father police detective Endo have been used in such a random and disjointed manner, they come across more like filler than people who really matter to the storyline. If the narrative arc is going to be stretched out to this degree, can't there be at least one character who isn't so one-dimensional readers can't nurture some emotional investment?