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Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006

ULTRABONDING

SF hero conjures memories old and new across the generations


Staff writer

A few months ago, Hiromasa Kaneko noticed that his son Hibiki had started pretending he was characters from "Ultraman Mebius" that he said the other children at his nursery in Tokyo's Meguro Ward were all into. But rather than just let his 4-year-old son copy his friends, Kaneko figured it would be better for him to see the real show so he would actually know what was going on.

News photo
A father and son watch an "Ultraman" DVD together on dad's laptop, a typical sight this year in many family households. JAPAN TIMES IMAGE PHOTO

So one Saturday evening, they sat together in front of the television to watch an episode of "Ultraman Mebius" on TBS. Ever since then, every Saturday evening at 5:30, the father and son have become firm fixtures together watching the show.

Back when Kaneko was his son's age, he was a big Ultraman fan too, but he'd had no idea that the SF hero was still going strong. So, when he saw the latest version, "it really brought back memories," he said.

Since that first Saturday-evening viewing together, Kaneko has rented the older "Ultraman" series -- not just to please his son, he admits, but to remind himself of episodes he saw in his own youth.

"I realized they're actually very interesting, because it's not just about heroes fighting bad monsters." he says. "The stories are thought through and you don't tire of watching them."

Hibiki now knows a lot about old episodes, too, and said it's fun to watch TV with daddy.

Aiding continuity

Nowadays, the Kanekos are not the only father-and-son followers of "Ultraman Mebius" or earlier series to be enthusiastically watching together. In this 40th anniversary year of Ultraman, the phenomenon is bridging generation gaps in countless Japanese households -- helped, undoubtedly, by the many characters from past Ultraman series that are featured in "Ultraman Mebius."

Also aiding continuity over Ultraman's four decades is the fact that the core story line has been the same: Ultraman, an alien from an exploded planet in Nebula M78, is here on Earth disguised as a human member of the Science Patrol, whose role is to protect Earth from aliens. No one else knows his secret identity.

Then, in every episode, a different monster appears and starts causing chaos and wreaking destruction. Although the Science Patrol members fight back, it invariably becomes a tough battle. At that point, Ultraman changes out of his disguise and helps the humans to fight back and beat the monster.

But there's a crucial twist: Ultraman only has 3 minutes of energy he can use, and when the blue "Color Timer" on his chest starts blinking red, it's a sign that his time is nearly up and he's in a tight spot. That, though, is when he uses his special beam, destroys the monster and saves the Earth. Salvation assured (until the next episode), Ultraman then flies away and rejoins the Science Patrol unit as if nothing had happened.

The latest "Ultraman Mebius" series basically follows this format, while reintroducing many monsters that appeared in previous series in the 1960s and '70s -- not to mention the Ultra Brothers, who come to help Ultraman Mebius protect the Earth.

Encyclopedic knowledge

So, for all the dads watching now, there's nostalgia and newness combined -- as well as great bonding potential with their children as they show off their encyclopedic Ultraman knowledge.

Another of these is Hiroshi Nakazawa of Fuchu City in Tokyo, who tapes and watches "Ultraman Mebius" with his 2-year-old son Kentaro. Nakazawa (not his real name) says he can name most of the monsters from past Ultraman series that he's watched in reruns over and over again. And, he says, he puts that expertise to good use when communicating with his son, whose mind these days is full of Ultraman.

"I used to read him books or make up stories for his bedtime, but now I tell him how each monster fought with Ultraman when they first appeared on the show in my time," he said. And just so he won't be found wanting, he admits that he updates himself with Ultraman books and through Web sites where fans write in trivia about the shows.

The best part of the whole thing, Nakazawa said, is that he is sharing the experience with his son. "I'm happy to see my son enjoying the same show that I liked so much when I was a kid."


See the main story:
Ultraman . . . forever
See related stories:
Alien star flies off the shelves
Serious toys for serious fans



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