Ultraman X and Cyclical Gateways
Nostalgia is a powerful force in the modern age, but it can involve more than simply revisiting old things from one’s childhood. Drawing on the properties and tropes that you loved in the past can be a great way to discover new things that meet the same criteria years later. This is something that has happened to me recently with the 2015 tokusatsu show Ultraman X; a series that appealed to me because of fond childhood memories and which itself has acted as a gateway to a whole new franchise for me to explore. Today I’d like to run through the long, passive process of how I discovered this series as a case study, but first it feels like I should give a quick rundown of the show itself (I’d certainly love to pique some readers’ interest if I can!).
The Ultra franchise has been running since 1966 and has multiple timelines, but Ultraman X takes place in an alternative universe that is mostly separated from the other stories. 15 years ago a solar flare was caused by a battle between two extraterrestrial beings and awakened kaiju that were lying dormant under the earth in the form of Spark Dolls, and a defence force named Xio was formed to combat kaiju and alien threats. Daichi Ozora is a Xio scientist who believes that humans and kaiju can learn to coexist; when a dangerous kaiju attacks Daichi finds himself bonding with an entity named X to transform into a giant hero in order to return the kaiju to their Spark Doll forms for safe keeping. The series has a small, intimate cast of human characters, most of which eventually get their own personal episodes, some of which are surprisingly gripping. The monster designs are interesting and while I’m not familiar with the franchise’s past quality I think the suit work is very good quality. There are a lot of recurring kaiju featured in the show too, so X is a great installment to start with if you want a good snapshot of what to expect if you plan to watch more of the franchise.
That’s it for my potted review of Ultraman X, now we’ll move on to the meat of this subject. How exactly did I come across this quirky, monster-brawling gem?
I’ve always been pretty geeky even as a child. My first great obsession, as I’m sure is the case for many children, was dinosaurs; I lived and breathed the things, memorising details on as many species as I could. Then in 1993 something came along that similarly enthralled the minds of a whole generation: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The colourful teenage superheroes exploded in the west, and I think that’s thanks in no small part to the fact that their morphing powers were derived from dinosaurs; that certainly appealed to me at any rate!
Now, as you may be aware Power Rangers was an Americanisation of the Japanese tokusatsu show Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, and the most obvious clue to that was in the weekly battles against giant monsters, which is where this chain progresses. When Power Rangers was a few years old, the BBC ran a special evening of programming centred around kaiju, including two movies: the 1976 remake of King Kong and 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, and I pretty quickly attached myself to Toho’s venerable giant monster franchise, buying what few VHS releases I could find on the small island I grew up on and recording a few off late-night TV; I must have watchd Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah alone about ten times.
It should be pretty obvious by this point that the uniquely Japanese aesthetics of these two franchises was one of the things that inevitably lead me to anime, and here’s where it gets a little interesting. After I became an anime fan and VHS technology died out my access to kaiju movies pretty much dried up, but I never forgot my love for the genre. Last summer I picked up the short anime series Kaiju Girls, which I didn’t realise until midway through was a spin-off of the Ultraman franchise. I had first learned of Ultraman during the aforementioned BBC “Monster Night” and was intrigued by the concept of what was to me a fusion of the kaiju and sentai genres, but there was no way for me to watch it at the time. Fast forward to 2016 and a subscription to Crunchyroll: I was browsing the site’s live-action section and discovered a whopping 9 Ultraman series to choose from! Some quick audience research suggested that Ultraman X was a good starting point for a newcomer, but after that you can bet I’ll try my best to get through them all!
I find my eventual discovery of Ultraman fascinating because of the way my love of childhood franchises have not just circled back around but also come come together and fused into something that encapsulates the things that I liked about both properties, and it’s great in this case that I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg and have lots more Ultraman to explore. If you’re ever looking for new media to get stuck into I can highly recommend casting your mind back to the things you enjoyed years ago and seeing if they can lead you to something similar yet new and exciting! Go forth and search your past to find a shining future!