WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Season 1 of Ultraman, streaming now on Netflix.
When the Netflix adaptation of the 2011 Ultraman manga was announced, fans wondered how many twists and turns the series would take in telling the tale of how Shinjiro Hayata becomes the titular hero. That manga subverted quite a bit of the old Ultraman lore, after all, ignoring everything that came after the 1966 TV series ended and acting as a direct sequel to the fan-favorite show.
But while these 13 episodes do stick to the source material for the most part, key changes have been made. Luckily, the results give fans a more nuanced and emotional story.
DAN MOROBOSHI'S STORY
In the manga, Dan was an agent of Japan's SSSP police force, who wore a suit similar to Shinjiro's. Here, he was seen training early on to take on the mantle, desperately wanting to become a hero. It turns out he was an alien refugee who lost his brother, Rei, to terrorists and was looking for retribution as he believed they'd come to Earth.
In the anime, Dan follows suit as Shinjiro's rival, but the reveal of him as another Ultraman is a well-kept secret. Also, Dan doesn't have alien roots here; rather than being driven by revenge, he simply wants to become Ultraman, believing it's a high honor no one else is worthy of.
THE PORTAL TO THE CITY
At the manga's SSSP headquarters, Dan takes Shinjiro to a secret level where he opens a portal like it was an elevator door. This leads to a city where alien refugees hid out on Earth, running away from terrorists in the cosmos. Here, Dan educated the teen on why Ultraman was so important, as a beacon of hope for these immigrants.
The anime, however, simply disguises the city as a shanty town in Japan, where aliens use devices to present themselves as human. Admittedly, it loses the mystique of the manga and feels kind of boring, as we don't get to see the variety of alien species out in the open, but it's not a terribly distracting change.
THE BRAWL AGAINST ACE KILLER
In the manga, when Shinjiro, Dan and the third Ultraman, Seiji, tracked the terrorists on a secret mission on Earth, they battle them in a Japanese forest. The leader, Ace Killer, blew up Dan and killed Seiji, only to come face to face with Shinjiro. Then, one more player entered the fray: The original Ultraman, aka Shinjiro's dad, Shin, who would eventually coach his son to unlock his full potential and to murder Ace.
In the anime, Shin never touches down in this big fight as he's still badly wounded from the first time he tried to help Shinjiro in the field. Instead, he and the SSSP monitor the boy remotely, using ear pieces to advise Shinjiro on how to take Ace's army on and save his armored colleagues.
The manga presented Jack, a human informer for the SSSP, as a heroic individual. He was working with Yapool (a genius scientist), Agent Adad, and Red (a Thing-like alien) to bring down the Universal Alliance, which was using planets like Earth as pawns to build an army. Here, Red joined the final battle, while Jack secreted Yapool away from the SSSP to hide him in America as he believed spies were out for the former alliance engineer. Shockingly, Jack turned out to be another Ultraman soldier.
Their fate in the anime is way different, because we never find out Jack's true allegiance, a situation made all the more blurry by how he kills Yapool at the end, rather than help him escape. Also, Red isn't in the anime at all, so we can't even vouch for Jack based on his friends. Finally, we never figure out his relationship to Adad, with Jack boasting no aspirations to join the Ultraman legion.
THE MOTHER ISSUES
The manga kept Shinjiro's mom alive, although, she was rarely seen. As for the mother of his love interest, Rena, well, we never really heard about her, leaving fans to assume she left Rena and her dad, Endo.
The anime cuts a more dramatic story, with Shinjiro's mom dying when he was younger. As for Rena, rather than just being obsessed as a fangirl of Ultraman, she actually has a deep hatred for him as one of Shin's earliest battles led to collateral damage in the city, including the death of Rena's mom. This results in an intriguing dynamic with how Shinjiro and Rena view superheroes cutting loose around citizens in public.
THE DEAD BODIES
Endo's main arc in the manga was him finding a bunch of dead bodies with bar codes on them. He first thought it was a serial killer, but it was later revealed that the cadavers were all part of an infiltration mission giving alien criminals human host bodies.
The anime totally ignores this plot beat, and gives Endo less agency as a result. His main goal now is to find the person stalking Rena, who turns out to be the impetuous prince Igaru, a perverted criminal. As for Ace Killer's team, their only mission here is to kill Seiji and other diplomatic survivors from the terrorist attack that catalyzed this new series, and not to attain dead bodies for aliens to inhabit.
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).