Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

Showa vs. Heisei: The Evolution Of Themes in Ultraman Over Time

(I'd meant to post this on Saturday, in honor of Ultraman Day, but ran out of energy before I ran out of thoughts. Pretend, if you will, this was completed on time.)

There was recently an interesting post on Moegame</a> about the evolution in focus of Ultraman series over time. Since the original post is largely just a collection of scattered thoughts -- almost more notes -- I figured I'd summarize it rather than translate it.

The basic thesis put forth in the post is that Showa-era Ultraman series focused primarily on the monsters, while Heisei series have been steadily more focused on the human elements. So:

Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Ultra Seven the main theme of the show is about resolving the crisis caused by the monster(s) of the week. The audience isn't ever shown what the Ultra in the series is thinking (interior monologue, etc.), despite both Ultraman and Ultra Seven having the Ultra as the "human" main character. (Dan being Seven himself, just micronized. The author of the article takes the premise that after merging with Sho-man, the consciousness in Hayata's body is 'Man, not Hayata. I'm not sure if I personally agree completely with that assessment, though it's been long enough since I watched enough Ultraman -- enough to form an opinion -- that I could be off base there. But I digress.)

The first three Heisei series, in opposition, put the human as the main character. The theme is more "both light and human", where Ultras are equated to "light". So it's more of an exploration of the human as Ultra. These series focus more on the human's experience, and we see things through a more internal PoV, rather than just having the camera sitting on their shoulder, as is the case with Ultraman and Ultra Seven.

The series that bridges the two philosophies is Ultraman Returns (Kaette Kita Ultraman). Goh/Jack is the first Ultraman to be proud to be a human. The key Heisei story writers -- the Konaka brothers, Hasegawa Keiichi, etc. would be of a generation where Jack would be their first (and thus in many ways most influential) Ultraman.

This then brings us to Mebius, which looks at the Showa universe through the human-centric philosophy of the Heisei generation. The core of this approach is in Mirai's response to Ryuu's question in episode 30 of "Why do you Ultramen go to such lengths to defend the Earth?" The response shows that Ultraman wish they were still human, and the Ultraman Moebius and Ultra Brothers movie gives a case of four of their greatest heroes indeed choosing to live as humans.

The author's final conclusion is this:

In the Showa series: Ultraman (light) > humans
The first three Heisei series: Ultraman (light) = humans
Nexus/Mebius: humans >Ultraman (light)

Thus, human possess the potential to exceed Ultramen.

All that said, my take on this is...

There's a lot of interesting meat in that, though I don't completely agree with his final premise. The author has a good point about the way the focus has shifted over time. However, I think a certain amount of that can be attributed to the changes in storytelling styles over time. These days it's more in vogue to do the deep penetration third person perspective -- basically to sit in the main character's head -- rather than the traditional, more distant pure third person perspective where the camera just follows the main character around, but the audience knows only the character's actions and nothing of his thoughts. That said, I think the author's point about the key creators on the Heisei series being fans who grew up in the Showa universe also had a huge impact on their perspective, and hence their additions to the mythos. Fans being fans they sit and ponder the characters' motivations and really get down and dirty with what makes them tick. The humanizing of the Ultra (as it were) I think to a large extent comes out of that fannish process, with the story perspective shift being born from a combination of that and the shift in storytelling style.

I think the poster stopped short too early and missed his best supporting evidence on the "humans > Ultramen" premise. He should have taken a look at the Ultra Galaxy series for the next evolution in the human-Ultra (im)balance. In both Ultra Galaxy series we end up with an Ultra (two of their best and brightest, in fact) needing to be saved by Rei, the Leonix for Earth. In the most recent movie the entire Ultra race needs Rei to come in and save the day. Now, Rei's own humanity is somewhat arguable given his odd background, but outside of his camraderie with monsters and a few wire-fu powers, he's pretty human. And he does what no human in an Ultra series before has done: defeat a monster without Ultran aid. Rei himself would go astray if not for the support (and boot to the head) of his human friends, thus reinforcing the human element.

That said, I actually don't agree with the final premise here. I usually view Ultra Galaxy as an abberation, a stopgap series written by a staff that have shot their creative wad and need time away working on something else to recharge their batteries before digging in to produce awesome Ultra-universe stories again. I haven't seen Nexus yet (stop looking at me like that, I'll get to it; I just need to do it when I can allow my brain to be eaten) so I can't speak to any of its themes. But I don't think the main theme in Mebius is that humans are greater or cooler or whatever than Ultras. I think it's point is that the two species together can achieve much greater things than either can separately. Yes, the Brothers in the movie gave up their Ultra-ness (or however you want to call it.) But they didn't give it up because they wanted to be human. They give it up doing what Ultramen have been doing even before Sho-man accidentally took out Hayata: protecting the universe from rampaging giant monsters. It was an act of self-sacrifice, not of selfishness. Living as and with humans was a side effect (albeit a welcome one), not a goal unto itself. To me that doesn't imply a wish to become human so much as an acceptance of the consequences of doing what they feel is right. Even Mirai, for all his wide-eyed admiration for all humanity doesn't seem to me to think that humans are superior -- or even potentially superior -- to his own race. He wants to fit in, yes, and that is why he plays human on TV. But once he is accepted for who he really is, he doesn't set aside any of his unique talents or perspective to try to be more human. And on more than one occasion we see him taking pride in being Ultraman. (His reaction to Sakomizu saying it would be sad for them not to have a party for the Ultra Father Advent Festival since they have an Ultraman right there comes to mind in support of this.)

Looking at the series Mebius as a whole, yes, it's a series where the humans chip in a lot. Mebius himself derives much of his strength (and two of his power-ups, Burning Brave and Phoenix Burning Brave) from the support of his human friends. But he only does that with help, not on his own, and not because the humans do something exceeds anything he himself is capable of. It takes a cooperative effort from both sides. Even the conclusion of the final battle emphasizes and re-emphasize how it's only through the combined human/Ultra forces that victory is achieved. Human technology built to enhance Ultra power is the final weapon, but neither side alone is sufficient. It takes both. Teamwork is the theme here.

(Which is incredibly ironic, given that self-sufficiency -- "I will not rely on others" -- is such a central motivation as well. But that's for a different post.)

It will be interesting to see where the stories go from here. Tiga aired in 1996. The wide-eyed kids who grew up on the adventures of Daigo, Asuka and Gamu will soon be of an age where they start telling stories of their own. Which way will they go, these children of the Heisei? It will be interesting to see what the fifty year anniversary brings us.


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