Friday 21 July 2023


ULTRAMAN Final is available in streaming form on Netflix

While the success of Ultraman's recent bid for global recognition is largely attributed towards the main series and Shin Ultraman, it would be remiss not to give some of the credit to Netflix's adaptation of Eiichi Shimuzu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi's ongoing manga series as well. It's a very different kind of Ultraman, but the accessibility of Netflix combined with the exposure its received through merchandising and other means have made it something of a surprise hit in the Ultraman arsenal. All good things must come to an end though, and while the manga is still going strong for now the same cannot be said for the anime version. After a strong first season and a good-yet-troubled sequel, Production I.G. and Sola Digital Arts return for the show's conclusion with the aptly titled ULTRAMAN Final.

A Zetton premonitionShinjiro tries out the test suit

Shinjiro Hayata is having dreams of a giant monster destroying everything in its path. His Ultraman powers continuing to evolve, he agrees to help test a new version of his suit better equipped to manage these changing powers. But when a new threat arrives in the form of the alien Mephisto, Shinjiro's powers appear to go out of control - causing considerable amounts of collateral damage and turning the general public against the Ultras.

Wanted by the SSSP and Mephisto's forces alike, Shinjiro has no choice but to go on the run. Considering the Ultras to be a threat the Earth should be freed of, Mephisto is targeting the four "true" Ultramen. With Shin Hayata and Bemular seemingly killed, Shinjiro is the next on his list. But who is the fourth and final Ultraman?

MephistoThe Ultras united

After season two's meagre six episode count resulted in a HEAVILY condensed story, it was clear that going forward the ULTRAMAN anime wouldn't be able to adapt the manga so directly. Not only had plot points been omitted, but more important key characters had been completed dropped along with them. While ULTRAMAN Final does retain some of the broad strokes of the SSSP's encounter with Mephisto from the original manga, it's fair to say that the two feel like wholly separate entities by this point. A lot of the nuance from the source material has been removed as a result, but at the same time going off on its own has definitely done the anime a lot of favours. It's a much more streamlined story for a start, with the entire season focusing on a single arc rather than muddling around in multiple places. With a lot of the mystery the manga set up removed, it also sets up ULTRAMAN to be something that the franchise has been at its core for a long time now - a good old fashioned superhero show, this one perhaps even more so now the action has been shrunk down to human size. The story plays a lot on Ultraman's core messages of hope and what he means as a symbol to those he protects, and as such in some ways feels more like Ultraman than the previous season did. Of course it also helps that the episode count has been bolstered up to a far more respectable 12, giving the story far more breathing space as opposed to the mad rush season two was. 

Opening up with visions of Zetton's returns immediately creates parallel to the final episode of the original Ultraman series, which of course also featured Zetton as his final opponent. Though like any fan favourite that just keeps returning over time Zetton may have suffered from diminishing returns, but the space dinosaur kaiju is always at its best when the narrative recognises just how much of a threat Zetton is. The original Ultraman lost to Zetton, a fact which immediately instilled fear in Ultraman Jack when the kaiju returned in Return of Ultraman. More recently, Shin Ultraman presented Zetton as an overwhelming death machine that was beaten by the indomitable human spirit rather than Ultraman himself. ULTRAMAN Final doesn't quite go to those lengths, but the appearance of Zetton does bring a similar sense of fear and finality. Closer ties to the original series all also created with appearances from further members of the original cast, helping to fill in some of the gaps in the undisclosed amount of time between the two shows.

The original UltramanZetton attacks

Given the nature of the story it's not surprise that the majority of the time and development goes to Shinjiro, who is of course the titular "Ultraman" of the series anyway. Although by this point he has been playing the hero for some time, Final is the point where he truly learns what it means to be Ultraman. His fight against Mephisto is initially driven by vengeance, but over the course of the series Shinjiro noticeably develops - learning from his mistakes and becoming a hero sworn to protect even when everyone and everything is against him. Although he's the most powerful of the "Ultra Brothers", he's also the least refined. Even with how sizeable the cast has gotten by this point, Shinjiro spends much of the series runtime on his own - in a sense re-contextualising the idea of Ultraman as a "solo hero" the original series presented. That notion is short-lived though, naturally reuniting with the other Ultras at the end of the series but also winning back the hearts of the Japanese people - the scenes of them cheering the Ultras on a warm reminder of just how much these heroes mean to fans in reality as well as within the shows themselves.

The other character who finally gets her due here is Rena, returning to what we previously learned about her in season one and completing her journey from a critic of Ultraman to one of his biggest supporters, and then finally an Ultra herself. While the specifics behind her true identity differ from that of the manga, the end point of the character largely remains the same. Whereas a lot of the time Rena felt like she was only there to be Shinjiro's love interest, this time around we get a much better sense of her personality as well as her spending ample amounts of time with other characters as well. Rena is a character who can balance who can balance drama and comedy particularly well, highlighted during her emotional conversation with her father where she repeatedly turns her Ultra suit on and off.


Whether it be aliens or kaiju, villains are just as big a part of Ultraman too and Final certainly doesn't disappoint there either. Right from the initial trailers it seemed as though there was some (possibly entirely coincidental) Shin Ultraman synergy going on with the appearance of Mefilas, Zarab AND Zetton, but when you're talking about three of the most popular adversaries from the original series then of course they're going to show up sooner or later. Though he has the fighting ability to back it up Mephisto offers up a far more calculating villain, much like previous versions of Alien Mefilas. His cold and calculating demeanour also acts as a good foil to his subordinates, particularly Valkyura - a femme fetale reinterpretation of Ultraman Taro's Alien Valky. But just when you think you've got to grips with all the villains the show throws in a curveball at the end - which may or may not be a surprise depending on where you're approaching ULTRAMAN Final from. While the parts of the manga this element draws from are used to subvert the most obvious outcome, Final goes in the opposite direction to offer up something that's predictable yet a poetic parallel to the original series.

A sharper focus on specific characters does have its drawbacks though, and if there any flaw most noticeable here its how certain characters fall to the wayside. Of the Ultra Brothers themselves Jack particularly only really turns up for the final battle and isn't really pulled into the plot of the season whatsoever. Bemular is another character that really suffers from this approach, especially since so much of the manga's early chapters (and thus the previous seasons) emphasised the mystery surrounding him. With the story now going off on its own direction everything that was setting up isn't the focus anymore, so here's Bemular is just kind of hanging around before his storyline coming to a very abrupt end without proper clarification as to who he is (something that's far more clear in the manga). Additionally, it's disappointing that other extended cast members who've helped carry the series, such as Adad, don't really get a proper send off this final series - excluded from the story altogether and just showing up in very measly cameo fashion.

Alien ZarabValkyura

Being excluded from the series might be something of a blessing in disguise though, because as enjoyable as the story may be it's far from unpredictable. Turning the general public against Ultraman isn't just a storyline that's been done within the franchise before - it's a superhero staple that Final doesn't do much to deviate from. The whole set up of Mephisto's plan has an awful lot of convenience to it, relying on certain cast members (particularly Dan and Taro) acting dumber than they would normally be portrayed in order to move things along. Bringing Ultraman's original encounter with Zetton into the story is also a bit of a double-edged sword as it means other aspects of the original series shouldn't have been so easily forgotten - such as the first encounter with Zarab and Imit-Ultraman.

If there's one area that ULTRAMAN Final really excels though it's the visuals. Three seasons in the CGI animation has truly settled in, and Production I.G./Sola Digital Arts pull off a product that's truly worthy of being called a finale. Previous issues like stilted character movement are a thing of the past, with this season's animation feeling far more fluid - keeping up with the fast-paced fight scenes as well as the slower-paced character moments out of suit. Again, using motion capture for the characters' movements has really helped give the show a sense of realism despite being animated. But even more so deserving of credit here is the filmography of the season - the significantly improved lighting and framing of each scene giving it a far more cinematic quality.

Specium beam!The Marie Suit

The visual quality doesn't just mean the animation either, as ULTRAMAN Final also follows the great franchise tradition of featuring some fantastic suit designs - not all of which originate from the manga. Spoilers seemingly being of little concern to both Netflix and Tsuburaya it didn't take them long to show off the Marie suit, which being the "new" Ultra for the series is arguably the centrepiece when it comes to character design. Marie is a wonderful addition to the established Ultras, nicely in-keeping with the show's aesthetic but also adding a feminine quality that really stands out against the burlier Ultra Brothers. Final also features the animated debut of the Type C suit, arriving in one of the season's standout moments and really setting the scene for a fantastic climax. On the villain side of things Mephisto and the two Alien Zarab that appear look equally fantastic, true to the manga/show's sense of updating these classic Ultraman creatures without losing what made them so iconic in the first place. Speaking of iconic, Zetton here has never looked better. Any adjustments to the classic kaiju are subtle yet effective, which just goes to show how fierce Ultraman's greatest enemy looked over five decades ago. Then just when you think it can't be topped, the real final enemy shows up in a form that parallels this version of Ultraman beautifully. 

Ultraman Suit Type-CThe Zetton suit

Though not without its own flaws ULTRAMAN Final is a huge step-up from the muddled nature of the previous season, and offers a relatively satisfying conclusion to this version of the story. While the divergence from the manga comes at the expense of certain characters and a more intricate storyline, this more streamlined version feels far better suited for television while keeping with the true spirit of the Ultraman franchise. Visually it's also the best the series has ever looked, not only pushing the animation just with great fight scenes but also providing some amazing new suit designs just begging to be merchandised. The added epilogue sequence is also a very nice touch, leaving the possibility open for a return one day should Tsuburaya Productions ever deem it. Given the way they like to pull from franchise history at the most unexpected of times, never say never.


Otakuzulla said...

Just wanted to point out that both here and in your First Mission review you acccidently refer to Zarab as "Metron".

Alex said...

Thanks, that's me having Ultraseven on the brain 😂