WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Season 1 of Ultraman, streaming now on Netflix.
The Ultraman anime re-frames the 53-year-old sci-fi franchise for a new generation, following much of the foundation laid down by the 2011 manga series. No longer is it about cheesy fights with Shin Hayata taking on kaiju as the towering Ultraman, but rather now it centers on men in Teknoman-esque suits battling alien ninjas in order to protect Earth.
What's most intriguing about this adaptation is its spin on the Ultramen army, expanding upon the 1966 television series.
Shinjinro Hayata, Shin's son, is the anime's primary protagonist. When Ultraman (a cosmic light god) left his father's body to return to space, the entity imprinted onto Shin's genes and so, Shinjiro was born with the "Ultraman factor." That gave him super-speed, durability, strength, agility, reflexes and a degree of invulnerability.
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But S.S.S.P. (effectively, Japan's S.H.I.E.L.D.) knew that, as Shin's son, his superhuman genetics could unlock the secret of Ultraman someday, and so, after years of monitoring they induct him into their weapons technology program that's trying to replicate the hero. Instead of being a cosmic celestial, however, Shinjiro's fitted with a suit and gauntlets on his forearm which allow him to generate a blast called the Specium Ray, Ultraman's signature move.
He's Japan's Iron Man, but he's holding back on his full potential. However, after seeing his colleagues brutalized by the terrorist Ace Killer in the Season 1 finale, he evolves and is able to generate more energy blasts, like the real Ultraman; he's transformed into a weapon of mass destruction. That said, Shinjiro simply wants to broker peace between humans and aliens, and his code of non-killing brings him into conflict with the S.S.S.P., which believes he should be judge, jury and executioner.
This role is taken up by one of the S.S.S.P.'s most senior agents, Dan Moroboshi. He's desperate to be Ultraman, and grows jealous of Shinjiro's natural abilities, as he thinks the teen doesn't deserve the role. Dan views the kid as an entitled brat who's only unique because of his DNA. That's made all the more worse by Dan's mentality that criminals should be killed, especially aliens, with no remorse.
Despite their differing philosophies, they work together with a dynamic that comes off as a twisted Batman and Robin. Dan takes lead as Ultraman experiment 7.0, and upgrades to 7.1 just before Shinjiro joined up because, deep down, he knew Shin's son would show him up and make better use of the suit built from data collected from the original Ultraman.
Nevertheless, Dan turns out to be the best Ultraman in combat. His suit doesn't emit blasts like Shinjiro's does, but he does wield a near-indestructible sword to perfect effect. And despite Shinjiro being just as adept at martial arts, Dan proves time and time again he's really the best killing machine out there, and more so, one who doesn't need spectacles and big explosions to get the job done.
Young Seiji Hokuto deduced Shinjiro's secret, and enrolls at his high school in hopes that they can become partners. Seiji has an Ultraman suit of his own, built by the alien refugee Yapool.
We learn Seiji was a survivor of a terrorist attack on a diplomatic plane years earlier. Yapool's family had close connections to Seiji's, so after the boy's rescue, Yapool retrofitted him with limbs and turned him into a half-human, half-machine. Yapool is also working with Bemular (a less-heroic version of Ultraman), and that research enables him to provide Seiji with a suit that's the fastest out of the three, and equipped with green repulsor rays on a nuclear level, similar to Shinjiro's.
Seiji brash and hot-headed, the stubborn runt of the litter. As the series progresses, he tries to blackmail the S.S.S.P. into allowing him to work for the agency, but after he's turned down, his roguish ways lead to a collision course with Ace Killer's squad, the terrorists that blew up the plane and sent the boy down a road of revenge.
Now streaming on Netflix, Ultraman Season 1 stars Ryohei Kimura (Eden of the East), Takuya Eguchi (Gosick), Megumi Han (My Hero Academia) and Hideyuki Tanaka (One Piece).