The Ultra Series (ウルトラシリーズ Urutora Shirīzu), or Ultraman Series (ウルトラマンシリーズ Urutoraman Shirīzu), is a long-running franchise by Tsuburaya Productions. The franchise's hero aspect began in July of 1966 when Ultraman became one of the first Daikaiju/Henshin Hero franchises.
Ultra Q was an early tokusatsu series in Japan, one of the first to bring daikaiju to the small screen. Special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya was a major part of the series. It was planned to introduce a giant hero to fight the monsters, similar to the Showa Godzilla films. The hero went through many stages, originally intended to be a bird-man named Bemular, with a design which later became the monster Hydra. Eventually, he evolved into the red-and-silver hero of renown. They introduced the titular hero Ultraman in the second series, which enjoyed immense success and kick-started the henshin hero genre.
Many sequels would follow, including Ultraseven a intended standalone series with no connection to Ultra Q and Ultraman except that Ultraseven came from the same nebula, however after Eiji Tsuburaya's death this was reconnected in Return of Ultraman. The show was the first offical Ultra Series after 3 years. The show was managed by Hajime Tsuburaya, Eiji's son and song writer for most of the Ultraman theme songs going by the stage name "Tokyo 1". The show was a rather big shift in tone as the attack team's members were undeveloped in exchange for the first supporting family of the Ultra Series, the Sakata family. Return of Ultraman also brought Ultraman and Ultraseven in the same universe. Due to the success of the ongoing franchise Kamen Rider the new Ultra show Ultraman Ace had the first primary antagonist similar to the Great Leader of Shocker, Yapool. The enemies Ultraman Ace faced were renamed to as they were more powerful than Kaiju made by Yapool. Ultraman Ace was the first Ultraman to have two hosts, Yuko Minami and Seiji Hokuto, they were intended to symbolize the peace and love of a woman and the courage and strength of man. The show was much more gory and much more a fantasy. However the goriness was not well received so the next show Ultraman Taro became much more family friendly.
The show was one of 3 shows created for Tsuburaya Productions' 10th anniversary, Fireman and Jumborg Ace. Ultraman Taro defined the Ultra race and gave lore much more than Ultraman Ace and frequently had the Ultra Brothers appear. Some fans of the Ultra Series where upset with the light tone of Ultraman Taro so Ultraman Leo decided to be extremely dark with several onscreen human death and gruesome alien death. Ultraman Leo first 39 episodes had Ultraman Leo as Gen Ohtori training with veteran Ultra Dan Moroboshi as his Ultra Eyes became broke. The last 12 episodes however decided for the second time to introduce a a antagonist Black Directive most likely attempting to compete with the equally dark ongoing show Kamen Rider Amazon. However the kaiju began to die out as human sized hero and anime became much more popular causing the Ultra Series to go on a 3 year hiatus, Kamen Rider Stronger even replaced Ultraman Leo on TBS.
In 1979, the Ultra Series had its first anime series The☆Ultraman which was unconnected to the Showa continuity. In 1980, however kaiju and sci-fi began to surge more due to the new decade so Ultraman 80 premiered. Ultraman 80 first wanted to appeal to children in middle school so the first 12 episodes showed Takeshi Yamato being a science teacher, member of UGM, and being Ultraman 80. The school plot was dropped in episode 13 to make Ultraman stick to the franchises' roots. Ultraman 80 was the first Ultra Series to have a live ending theme. Ultraman then went on a hiatus in the early 1990s, the foreign series Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero and Ultraman: Towards the Future were produced and were dubbed/subbed in Japanese with mild success in Japan. In 1993 after Ultraman: Towards the Future debuted in Japan on NHK and after Kamen Rider ZO debuted, Toei and Tsuburaya co-produced Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider to compare popular franchises.
The series returned with the first Japanese produced Ultra Series with Ultraman Tiga, which was well received. Ultraman Dyna and Ultraman Gaia followed, and both were successful. After the direct-to-video Ultraman Neos in 2000, the series saw Ultraman Cosmos, the longest-running entry to date at 65 episodes, with 10 initially being complied due to a scandal with the Ultraman Cosmos but were later shown as the scandal ended. Then as Tsuburaya as had Kamen Rider replace Ultraman on most TV stations released the darker, adult-oriented and arced Ultraman Nexus, the series lost ratings immensely due to its being scheduled at a time when only children could view the series. By the time it was finally released to its intended audience, it was too late to save the ratings.
A return to its roots with the child-friendly Ultraman Max saved the franchise, but it remained with lower ratings. After the subsequent 40th-anniversary series, Ultraman Mebius, only two new entries have been made to the television show during the Heisei Era: Ultraseven X, and two seasons each for Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle, which were followed up by the Ultraman Zero trilogy and Ultra Zero Fight. Later on in 2013, to celebrate Tsuburaya Productions' 50th anniversary, the self-titled "New Generation" Era was formed as part of the late Heisei Era, introducing several shows such as Ultraman Retsuden, Ultraman Ginga, and their successors. These "New Generation" series were more toy sale-oriented and shorter, introducing new collectibles and gimmicks, and none of them had over 30 episodes. These drastic changes put off some older fans as these newly introduced collectibles seemed out of place, and ratings fell, though they rose again along with sales, as the Ultra Series installments were produced one after the other, especially with the 50th anniversary series, Ultraman Orb.
The franchise has also been in the movie theaters, starting with the two parody films Ultraman Zearth and Ultraman Zearth 2, followed by Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey, released in 2000, as well as ULTRAMAN, a movie that opened in December 2004. The straight-to-video market also saw the release of Ultraman Neos in 2000, as well as special features for Ultraman Tiga, Dyna, and Gaia, who have teamed up in theatrical features (Tiga and Dyna once, as well as the three of them all together). The Ultraman Mebius & the Ultra Brothers movie opened in September 2006.
Foreign productions include the 1987 Hanna-Barbera co-production Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (in Japan, Ultraman USA), an animated movie; Ultraman: Towards the Future (in Japan, Ultraman Great), an Australian 1991 production and Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (in Japan, Ultraman Powered), produced in the United States in 1993. Ultraman series have also been dubbed into various languages, including English, Spanish (only Ultra Q, the original Ultraman, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman, Ultraman: Towards the Future, and Ultraman Tiga were known to be translated into Spanish), Portuguese (Ultraman, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman, and Ultraman Tiga in Brazil), Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Indonesian and Cantonese. Also of note is the American English dub of Ultraman Tiga by 4Kids Entertainment that aired in 2002. The dub considerably distorted the characterization and general mood of the series, and--possibly as a result--it achieved only limited success. An episode of the Hoshi no Kirby anime series ("Kirby: Right Back at Ya" in America) contains an Ultraman reference, leading to the possibility that "Tiga" may have only been licensed in order to explain the reference (both shows debuted on the same day).
In 1993, Tsuburaya Productions and Toei Company co-produced Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider, a crossover with the original Ultraman and Toei's Kamen Rider 1. This direct-to-video feature is co-copyrighted by both Toei (along with its subordinates, Toei Video and Ishinomori Productions) and Tsuburaya Productions. At present, Tsuburaya Prod. accepts 43 Ultramen as official (counting Ultraman Legend, the combined form of Ultramen Cosmos and Justice, as a separate entity). This figure does not account for Thai-produced Ultramen. (The figure is 45 if Next, Noa and Nexus are counted as separate entities--it has been revealed in Nexus that all three are a single being with various forms used by different hosts.) In 2001, the Ultra Series was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the record-holder for the most number of spin-off shows.
While after Mebius, production of full-length series ceased due to budgeting constraints and licensing battles, the franchise continued to put forth films and miniseries. In 2014/15, Max, Mebius, Leo and 80 were released on Crunchyroll for streaming. This was believed to be the start of a plan by Tsuburaya to expand overseas on 2015/16. Further evidence of this plan arrived when the mini-short series Ultra Fight Victory was released and officially subtitled in English. Just months afterward, 2015's mini-series Ultraman X was simulcast on Crunchyroll——the first time a tokusatsu show was licensed to do so. In 2017, Max, 80 and Neos began airing in the United States on the TOKU channel, followed by several others later on.
After securing a court victory in 2018, Tsuburaya Productions had begun to expand the Ultra Series worldwide through efforts and works such as the release of the Ultraman Fusion Fight! arcade game in Southeast Asia, streaming the ULTRAMAN 2019 anime worldwide via Netflix, working with William Winckler for dubs of two movies and a miniseries as well as prooducing modern content such as Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes and Shin Ultraman for a global audience. Other than that, Tsuburaya had landed a licensing with Mill Creek to the entire library of the Ultraman franchise for distribution on home video in the United States, starting with a HD release of the first two series, Ultra Q and Ultraman in 2019. Tsuburaya Productions and their partners in the United States, namely Starlight Runner Entertainment and The Licensing Group, launched the website Ultraman Galaxy in 2020 to better reach out to the North American market.