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Ultraman Rising is a Deep Heartfelt Take on a Legend

Updated: Jun 21

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Ultraman Rising is most likely going to be the best animated movie of the year. With a rich history to draw from and a passionate fan base this movie could have easily just played to fans and stuck to one of the many different Ultraman formulas and done fine but no, instead it gives a unique twist on the character and has a profound message that made me reflect on Ultraman, his legacy, and how it all applies to us regular people. 

A surprising thing that this movie does differently from really any type of superhero reboot is that it isn’t origin story. The audience isn’t really told anything about Ultraman’s abilities or lore. You just accept that Ultraman exists. And this is fascinating for a series with such a big history with over 40 movies, comics, video games, and so many television shows that it won a Guinness World Record for spin off shows.

He’s been around since 1966. He’s had several crossovers with other Japanese heroes like Gundam and Kamen Riders. References to Ultraman are abundant in Japanese popular culture, think like references to Superman in U.S. culture. He even has a charity named after him.

He’s a Japanese pop culture icon…but here’s the thing, Ultraman rising is an American reboot and Ultraman hasn’t really had alot of success in the west. So how did they handle the rich history of the Ultras and bring this Tokusatsu legend to American audiences…well they kinda didn’t but it actually really works. 

Ultraman opens with a quick info dump that kaiju are neither heroes nor villains. And that Ultraman exists to handle them, not outright kill them though. They are the equivalent to a rattlesnake finding its way into your house. Yes, it’s dangerous and many people wouldn’t fault you for wanting it dead and out of your house. But that snake isn’t malicious. It’s scared, confused, trying to go on with its own life, so maybe it's better to hire someone that would take it back to the wild so everyone can move forward. So, Ultraman is like a giant snake wrangler in a flashy body suit.

We learn that the protagonist, Ken’s father is Ultraman and he and his mother are involved in studying and working with Kaiju. We flash forward 20 years and Ken is the new Ultraman and he is having a hard time filling his father’s shoes.

That’s all you get for an origin. There is no mention of the history of the Ultras, no over the top sci-fi explanations.  The color timer is shown but given a different mechanic than previous incarnations, Ken whips out classic Ultraman moves that fans will no doubt recognize but his powers are never explained.

But you just don’t care at all because Ultraman Rising does a great job at making you believe that Ultraman has been around for years, and you are just tuning in to see a glimpse of this world. 

The movie never relies on concepts like “one super attack that Ultraman can use” or “if he doesn’t stop this classic villain the entire world is in danger!” Instead, it's a really grounded take for larger-than-life characters. 

The main premise focuses on Ken dealing with his inherited role as Ultraman and at first how it impacts his baseball career. He was a superstar for the LA Dodgers and now has to move back to play in Japan for his second job. Ken is still a superstar in Japan, but it raises suspicions of why he would leave a city that loved him and when he was so close to a championship. Ken combats this by being arrogant and apathetic to growing as a baseball player and teammate and mixing that with the physical injuries he faces as Ultraman, a role that he also meets with apathy and arrogance, it begins taking a toll on his professional career.

This could have just been the movie and it would have been fine. If you gave us big kaiju fights, some home runs, and Ken growing as a person, everyone would have been satisfied but this movie said absolutely not. No easy route for this movie, we’re gonna add a whole nother layer to this film and pull on your heart strings and make you reflect on your own life.

Once it gets into the real meat of the movie Ultraman saves an egg from a kaiju being hunted down by the Kaiju Defense Force. The KDF are kind of painted as bad guys but also not outrightly evil. They want to kill the kaiju and eradicate them from the earth to save lives and stop their destruction, which really isn’t evil at all. We later learn that the head of the force, Dr Onda has alot of personal beef with kaiju and doesn’t want anyone to experience the same fate as his family. They are the bad guys but just barely. The movie makes it easy to empathize with Dr Onda and though his rage drives him mad, you still wish he would see the whole picture.

That egg Ultraman saves is what creates this unique twist on the genre. The egg hatches and now Ultraman is the adoptive father of a baby kaiju who is named Emi. We get a montage of Ken doing the typical tasks new parents have to do and it employs your standard comedy tropes to show that Ken isn’t adjusting all that well. It also shows that his baseball career is going downhill fast since the sleepless nights and stress of a newborn isn’t helping his game and Ultraman doesn’t get any paternity leave either. 

During all of this we still get action sequences that are animated beautifully and are a ton of fun to watch. The final fight is especially exciting. The comedic parts in here gave me a few chuckles and never made my eyes roll.

All the characters are unique and well written. The story is heartwarming and interesting. It's easy to get immersed in this world and care about the characters. Emi is especially precious, and they did a great job at blending her toddler sensibilities with her Kaiju abilities. 

Not to mention alot of these scenes are filled with references like a Booska cameo, a license plate reading M78-U7 referencing the nebula where The Land of Light is located and U7 referencing to Ultraseven, and my personal favorite, Emi doing Godzilla’s dance from Invasion of the Astro Monster.

It’s a movie for everyone. Ultraman fans from any era will enjoy the references, children will enjoy the fun action and silly antics, adults will find the movie both thrilling and emotionally moving, and especially new parents like myself can relate so closely to Ultraman’s parenting woes. 

Ami’s speech about parenthood is the realest advice I have heard out of a piece of media, and it is insane how perfectly they capture what it feels like. I never expected an Ultraman movie to represent me so well.

But that really brings us to what makes this movie so profound. It’s easy to just think this movie is about parenthood because it is but its theme really goes deeper than that and it makes this movie stand out as more than just an animated reboot.

When we first meet Ken and his family, Ken’s father says that “Ultraman’s most important task is finding balance” this is something that Ken struggles with every step of his journey. In the first fight we see from Ken, he isn’t dominating his opponent and gets flustered so his color timer begins to warn him he will lose his powers. This is the same thing that happens to him at his first baseball game in Japan. The opposing catcher talks trash to him, and he loses his cool. He often can’t focus and handle the pressure. 

And his attitude contradicts this. When he sits down with Ami for their interview, he pours sauce on his noodles, and she reminds him that you are supposed to dip the noodles in the sauce and Ken arrogantly responds saying he likes doing things his way. Later on, there is even a billboard that reads that showing us that this is a catchphrase for him. 

This is Ken’s greatest flaw. He goes against his father's guidance and thinks that he moves the scale however he pleases.

He believes he is in control of everything, and his cocky attitude and short fuse is evidence of that. 

And if you are a parent, guardian, older sibling, babysitter, then you know that a baby doesn’t give you the ability to move that scale. Ken’s abrupt life change as a new father doesn’t allow him to “do things his way.” He doesn’t get to sleep in, he doesn’t get to just come home and relax, he doesn’t get to keep things tidy, he doesn’t get peace and quiet. Instead of trying to learn and adapt, he instead resists it, making it so much harder for him.

He actually contradicts this and foreshadows that a balanced mindset is in his head somewhere. After the catcher trash talks him and his shoulder injury from Ultraman is causing him to nearly strike out, he crosses the plate and bats from his other side. Everyone is shocked but Ken is confident and  ends up hitting a grand slam. He proves that by keeping cool under pressure, having confidence in your skills, and the willingness to adapt to your situation can be so fruitful but he fails to carry that lesson into his real life. 

Because it’s not just the balance of fatherhood that trips him up, he struggles to connect with his father, and he only reopens his relationship with him because he admits he can't raise a kaiju on his own. He fails to empathize with his dad about his role as Ultraman and never understands that his father has supported him throughout his life both as a hero and a baseball star. Instead of understanding the balance that goes into a complicated relationship, he takes what he wants and never gives back. 

Much like any of us, Ken goes against the flow of life. We want everything to go our way. We want to take the easy route. We want a break. And honestly can you blame us? Life is hard and we aren’t even balancing being a secret giant superhero that gets thrown around by giant monsters.

But when Ken accepts the balances that life requires and adapts to it, his life doesn’t get easier, he gets better. He becomes a smarter parent, a more empathetic son, an empowering teammate, and a stronger hero.

Ultraman Rising can teach you about this mindset and life change. It’s truly one of the hardest things about being a human being, the idea that you don’t get to have it your way all the time and you must adapt, or it just gets harder.

Ken’s father reminds him that being Ultraman isn’t about fighting. It’s about heart. He doesn’t just mean fighting giant monsters, but fighting the anxiety, the fear, and the distractions that come with life. Stronger punches aren’t going to make Ultraman better, but his resilience and growth sure will.

Ultraman Rising was a complete shock to me. Who would have thought that an American reboot focusing on a Japanese legend would give such a deep lesson that left such an impact on me. This movie is a gem that has a message that will stand the test of time. It deserves all the praise it gets and definitely deserves that sequel that is teased in the end credits.

It’s an amazing time to be a fan of giant monsters and superheroes and seeing how people are giving unique takes on the genre much like how Kaiju No 8 took everything we love about those classic movies and created its own twist on it. And to hear more about that, you can check out this video, right here:

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