By Joseph Walter
Ultraman, as a franchise, is something I respect, but have very little experience with... well, except for some childhood viewings of the undying horrors in the nightmare fuel-soaked Ultra 7 (a topic I'm looking forward to talking about next October!) and the Tokusatsu fun of the basically-Ultraman-but-apparently-not Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad / Gridman (which is another topic for another day.)
Regardless, I chose to put it on..... and wow, I'm glad I did.
Although I haven't finished it yet, I'm fully enthralled. Sure, it has a slew of annoying flaws, but it's all worth it thanks its maddening level of wanton subversion that turns the entire Tokusatsu genre on its head. Essentially, it's a superhero show that challenges the very concept of a superhero show in unexpected ways.
You know how in Power Rangers, a group of teenagers routinely kill hundreds of monsters without ever giving it a second thought? Did you ever think about how unsettlingly weird that is? Netflix's Ultraman did, and it happily tackles the topic, and its ramifications, head-on: a high-school student is burdened with the responsibility of becoming the titular superhero (something he did not ask for), and is then conditioned to enjoy the highs of saving lives and stopping small crimes... only to be forced into a position where he is not only asked to kill, but do so repeatedly and without a conscience. "This is your job," his superior says. The main character's forebear, the previous Ultraman, tells the boy that, despite the wonders of the Ultraman powers, there's a dark side. Being Ultraman is a curse... and the murder and mayhem is an inescapable part of it.
As a sucker for stories where the main character's superpowers are a burden rather than a gift (oh, hello there, Tekkaman Blade!), I can't help but adore how this series takes such a common and understood element of Tokusatsu shows (in this case, the explosive deaths of enemy Kaiju at the end of every episode) and approaches it from a new angle, questioning the act's morality and the ramifications it has on those who are forced to do it.
Before I get any further off track, let me reel myself back in and talk about the reason I'm making this post in the first place: THE MUSIC.
The main "hero theme," which is simply titled "ULTRAMAN," took me by total surprise to the point where I was covered in chills, my jaw had dropped and I had tears in my eyes!
The second our hero transformed into ULTRAMAN for the first time, this was the theme that blasted, heralding the arrival of Earth's champion... so let's give it a listen!
The thunderous brass and percussion that open the piece give us our first taste of the song's main idea (one that'll be stuck in your head for some time, but in a good way). Just from these few opening seconds, it's clear that the composer is going hard, but it's only after the choir kicks in that you finally realize just how hard they're actually going, and the scope of the length they're willing to go to do it. They're pulling out all the stops, and no one can stop them.
With the choir comes an enthusiastic percussion section, and, soon after, the full "orchestra," whose synthetic nature, which I would normally consider a hindrance, actually helps give this piece a greater level of thematic impact, as it reflects the transformation's mixing of synthetic and organic elements into a single, greater being.
As you continue to listen, you soon come to realize the most astounding part of the piece: it's basically the same motif being repeated over and over again for two minutes straight... and yet it never gets old. In fact, I want even more.
The variations of motif, while not spectacular or complex in their own right, are endlessly satisfying, and you can't help but get wrapped up in the excitement and energy of the composition.
Some of my favorite moments are the sequences at :55, with its proud horns and timpani, and also at 1:08, with the choir giving its own, dramatic take on the idea.
My truly favorite sequence, though, is at 1:22, where a digital element enters the fray and mixes with the choir, delivering a rendition of the main theme that seems to scream "we aren't done yet; THIS ISN'T EVEN OUR FINAL FORM!," and that sentiment is perfectly punctuated at the appropriate times with a mighty, rogue timpani player (at approximately 1:27, 1:30, and 1:33, with the final act of defiance near the 1:40 mark.)
... and don't even get me started on the inversion of the main theme during the track's finale. Don't even. Don't do it. Just don't.
.... YEAH! I KNOW! IT WAS AWESOME.
Okay, you don't have to lie to me. I get it: you're totally pumped and want to see the piece in action. I don't blame you. Here, I'll do you a favor. I'll put up the video so you can hear the music in its proper context and feel the cinematic power of pairing it with the the corresponding visuals... ...andImcertainlynotdoingthisjustbecauseIlovethisvideoandcouldwatchitamilliontimesinarow.