Seiji Hokuto, the sole survivor of an airplane crash years ago, believes it was no accident, but an assassination of aliens on board. That he has his own Ultraman armor, that this was the same crash that clued the Science Special Search Party to the aliens among us, and that the SSSP are following this trail of bread crumbs even now, lends credibility to his tabloid conspiracy. And when Seiji is targeted by the “Ace Killers,” Seiji is joined by three other Ultramen: not only Shinjiro and Dan, but the original vessel of the Child of Light, Shin Hayata, Shinjiro’s father and the protagonist of the original Ultraman TV series.
It might be easier to say who isn’t Ultraman in volume 7, as many of the characters get to bust out their Ultraman cosplay here. Not only Shinjiro, but also his father Shin Hayata, the original Ultraman, who derived his powers from merging with an alien; as well as two others donning Ultraman armor, Seiji Hokuto and Dan Moroboshi, neither of whom are as likable as the original and his heir. The Ace Killers also wear armor that emulates the powers of Ultraman, although they use theirs to sinister ends.
Quite unlike other armored superheroes, Ultraman is not the tale of an inimitable icon, but of a mantle that can be shared, duplicated, and borrowed, not unlike DC’s Green Lantern or Marvel’s Captain Universe, or, if we go in search of a classical precedent, the way that Patroclus borrows the might and spirit of Achilles by wearing his armor. Ultraman is also borrowing the tropes of “passing the mantle” as well, as we appear to be at the beginning of a generational superhero model—like father, like son—which makes Ultraman more like The Phantom—a heroic guise that has been passed through the centuries—than Iron Man. And, to come full course with the mantle trope, the array of Ultraman pretenders provide examples of the “stolen mantle.” Ultraman becomes something that the characters covet, like worldly power and influence, and each uses it to advance their own drives.
So while it can be difficult to know exactly who is fighting who, as each Ultraman appears no different than the rest, and the Ultramen are fairly similar to the Ace Killers, it worked for me, and I believe it an intentional part of the storytelling. The Ultraman armor, as well as the armor of the Ace Killers, neutralize any nuance in their wearers, so that from the outside, they are equivalent, so many hamsters in hamster wheels, having the illusion of moving and fighting for their lives, though of course the powered exoskeleton does the moving and the fighting. The machine aspect of Ultraman grinds down its wearer so that they become less hero than operator, and it is this refreshing realism in Ultraman that contrasts so favorably against other armored superhero tales, in which the armored suit becomes the agent of the hero’s individuality.
The sameness of the warring armors reminds me of those movie or TV scenes in which several characters wrestle for a gun and one gets shot; as they ape the desire not to get shot, the actors are playing less the facade of their character and more the primal drive of all humanity to survive, and in so doing, the distinctiveness of the characters are blurred. Similarly, it seems that the armor wearers in Ultraman, in wrestling with their own armor and that of others in a gruelling book-length battle, are losing their own individuality.
While the first volume was a little too tame for me, the Ultraman series has evolved so that I now look forward to reading it, and I recommend it to readers that are looking for a well-told manga story.
Ultraman Volume 7 arrived on shelves on February 21st, 2017, but if you find it sold out, you can buy it in print or digitally directly through Viz Media.
Viz Media sent the review copy.