1 9 6 6 – 1 9 6 7 (Japan)
39 x episodes
This 39-episode Japanese series (originally titled Urutoraman) was first syndicated in the USA in 1966 and focused on a 200-foot-tall space policeman (Susumu Kurobe) from Nebula M78 who travelled around the universe ridding the world of similarly giant monsters.
Normally, you’d think there wouldn’t be much call for such duties. However, Japan alone hosted endless numbers of hideous creatures who randomly erupted from mountains and lakes to trash the neighbouring towns, so Ultraman was kept very busy.
In the first episode, a policeman was towing a hapless enemy (Bemura) to a graveyard for space monsters when he collided with a ship flown by earthling Science Patrol officer Hayata (Bin Furaya). The only way the interplanetary cop could save Hayata from certain death was to hand some life force over, thus linking the two.
In exchange, Hayata was given the solemn duty of protecting the earth as Ultraman.
Whenever Hayata and his Science Patrol cronies came up against a baddie they couldn’t handle, he went off and held his beta capsule aloft, transforming into Ultraman in Shazam-like fashion.
Ultraman could fly and shoot Specium beams when his hands were crossed, as well as change shape up to 200 feet high.
Only able to maintain his Ultraman form for a limited time, he would attempt to wrestle dragons, steam-spewing platypus monsters, and other beasties into submission until the time limit required him to bring out big guns. On his chest was a warning light, which would activate when his energy levels were depleting.
As the narrator would state, “If the warning light should stop blinking, it would mean that Ultraman would never rise.”
His outlandish adversaries included Dada, a sort of op-art Tiki god; the rocklike Jamila; and Pestar, an inspired cross between a bat and a starfish.
They were usually played by Haruo Nakajima, who had been the original Godzilla and donned that creature’s costume again (with a neck fill added) to create Ultraman foe Jirass.
Ultraman was eventually defeated by the monster Zetton, who was in turn defeated by the Science Patrol.
Zoffy, Ultraman’s commanding officer, arrived on the scene and separated Ultraman from Hayata. He sent Ultraman home to Nebula M78, giving Hayata only enough energy to survive for a short time.
In order for Hayata to live, he would have to rejoin with Ultraman, but the series ended before the situation was ever resolved.
The series was originally produced by a Japanese company called Tsuburaya. The man responsible for Ultraman, Eiji Tsuburaya, was a special effects maven who also brought Godzilla to the big screen.
Although Ultraman lasted only 39 episodes, the “Ultra-Series” was extended over seven different shows, including Ultra Seven, Ultra Ace, and Ultraman: Towards the Future.
The show spawned elaborate sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs that introduced a whole family of Ultra beings. Internationally, its most familiar legacy is the deathless Power Rangers franchise.