Ultraman: Rising Is an Ode to the Heroics of Parenthood

Movies Reviews Shannon Tindle
Ultraman: Rising Is an Ode to the Heroics of Parenthood

Of the many colorful characters conceived after the Godzilla-inspired tokusatsu boom, few loom as large as Ultraman, a superhero who grows to gargantuan proportions to protect Japan from supersized monsters. The big guy was so beloved that he helped usher in the Kyodai Hero subgenre, which is all about do-gooders who transform into giants so they can battle hulking creatures. Following a barrage of TV series that carries on to this day, word of the character’s exploits eventually went global, resulting in a worldwide fanbase that eagerly awaits the numerous shows, movies and videogames about this savior from the Land of Light. Ultraman: Rising, a new film from Netflix Animation, is the latest installment in this storied franchise, and unlike many other entries in the series, it feels tailor-made for newcomers. Through its colorful cuts of animation and superpowered antics, it’s a family-friendly film that hones in on the greatest battle of all: parenting.

The story follows Ken Sato (Christopher Sean), a legendary baseball player who moves back home to Japan at the prompting of his estranged father, Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe). It turns out that his pops is Ultraman, and after getting injured on the job, he asks his son to take up the family business. Ken isn’t thrilled at the prospect, and he’s in the middle of balancing his life as a ballplayer and superhero when things get even more complicated. After a fight between a giant winged lizard and the anti-monster wing of the military goes sideways, Ken finds himself the parent to a 30-foot-tall baby kaiju.

If it wasn’t clear, this isn’t a “traditional” Ultraman narrative, in that it’s not about fighting a bunch of big bads from outer space. Instead, Ultraman: Rising is largely dedicated to the perils of raising a kid as a single parent, a concern that is doubly stressful here because the Kaiju Defense Force, led by the vengeful Dr. Onda (Keone Young), is hellbent on kidnapping Ken’s adopted child so they can use her to find the creature’s rumored homeland and destroy all the monsters for good.

This childrearing angle is one that’s handled with a lot of heart, and Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes’ screenplay gets at both the joys and pitfalls of parenting by delving into the stress that comes from juggling a million different problems while also ensuring your baby doesn’t shoot a laser beam through a nearby skyscraper (okay, maybe this one is specific to Ken’s case). Although there’ve been plenty of stories about overwhelmed single dads getting owned by babies, the monster movie twist here leads to more than a few great gags as the film also gets at the type of sentimental beats you would expect despite the somewhat outlandish premise of raising a massive bird-lizard child.

And beyond the adorable hijinks, these new circumstances help Ken grow as a person while also forcing him to address lingering issues with his loved ones. The story gets at the pressures he and his father faced as Ultraman, a responsibility that created a schism in their household and led to unresolved resentments. Family is the thematic throughline here, even when it comes to Dr. Oda, whose villain origin moment links back to a kaiju-related incident that put him on the warpath. From him, we can see how an otherwise positive motivator — caring for loved ones — can push people to extremes.

Furthermore, an interesting inversion is that instead of the ultimate foe being an invading creature, like in many kaiju stories, the foil is instead a government official commanding a paramilitary force bent on these being’s destruction. By contrast, Ken’s dad is a preservationist who intends to maintain a balance between the big critters and humanity, a sentiment that alludes to this narrative’s empathetic streak and gestures at the genre’s socially conscious beginnings.

But while Ultraman: Rising is largely focused on parenting, instead of massive creatures crunching city blocks, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any large-scale action. There are only a handful of fight scenes, but each packs a wallop, as director Shannon Tiddle and co-director John Aoshima utilize impact frames and effortlessly cool storyboarding to build on the time-honored tradition of kaiju battles. The tokusatsu genre fundamentally thrives on big guys punching each other, and when push comes to shove, Ultraman: Rising delivers. ILM and Netflix Animation confidently operate in a post-Spider-Verse aesthetic, mixing 2D comic book flourishes and 3D styles to great effect. Things are equally aesthetically consistent outside these flashy sequences, and the visual flourishes accent the familial drama, driving at character emotions and physical comedy as our beloved giant baby causes bedlam. Characters have distinctive, angular designs and everything is tied together by thick line art, bright colors, and Ben-Day dots that grant each shot personality.

These characters’ voice actors also elevate the proceedings, with Christopher Sean getting across Ken’s braggadocios ego and deeper anger against a father he thinks abandoned him and his mom. Keone Young as Dr. Onda is another highlight, and he conveys the character’s level-headed relentlessness that suddenly comes undone in an unhinged screaming match against the former Ultraman, as his deeper desires for retribution are brought to the forefront.

All that said, much like the overwhelmed dad at the center of this tale, Ultraman: Rising can often feel like it’s juggling too much, as there just isn’t enough time to delve into our hero’s baseball career, superhero efforts, family history, childrearing and interpersonal relationships. As a result, montages are left with a lot of heavy lifting, making nearly everything outside of the central parenting moments feel neglected and hurried. In the end, it may be cute and thematically cohesive, but it never quite reaches the scale of emotional destruction it intends to.

Still, although Ultraman: Rising doesn’t hit quite as hard as its hero’s Spacium Beam, the movie looks great, is adorable, and works perfectly as a standalone story for series newcomers. It was very clearly born of personal trials and tribulations from raising a kid, which comes across in the everyday brutality of Ken’s long hours cleaning up monster slime until he heads into work half-asleep and struggling. Ultraman: Rising may not quite reach the heights it could have, but it works as a sincere ode to parenting — and this supersized hero.

Directors: Shannon Tindle, John Aoshima
Writers: Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes
Starring: Christopher Sean, Gedde Watanabe, Tamlyn Tomita, Keone Young, Julia Harriman
Release Date: June 14, 2024

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin