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Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006
ULTRASUCCESS IN PRINT
Alien star flies off the shelves
Children's books typically feature anything from frogs or cats or pigs to dinosaurs and sometimes even people. Those authored by Tatsuya Miyanishi have all those -- but he's also written several books featuring Ultraman.
"Ultraman is a character known to both the young and old, and so he works wonderfully as a communication medium," said Miyanishi, 49, author of 1996's award-winning "Otosan wa Urutoraman (Daddy is Ultraman)," which has sold more than 200,000 copies to date. Its sequels -- including one featuring an Ultra brothers character named Ultra Seven -- have also won awards, and they, too, remain popular with readers.
Just like many Ultraman fans of his generation, Miyanishi says he loved everything about the superhero alien from an exploded planet in Nebula M78, who came to Earth to help humans fight monsters. In fact, he clearly remembers how, in 1966, it was one of the first shows televised in color -- and how astonishingly vivid the images of the red-and-silver-clad, 40-meter-tall hero seemed to him. The monsters were equally amazing, he said, and so were the episodes depicting them.
"Ultraman was strong, but he was actually making strenuous efforts to win in just the 3 minutes that his energy allows. We saw him thinking, suffering and struggling sometimes, too," Miyanishi said as he analyzed the attractions of the now 40-year-old Ultraman.
It is this human side of the superhero that came together with Miyanishi's idea of a book featuring fathers. At the time, Miyanishi was working with an editor who was also a big Ultraman fan, and they started playing with the idea of a story of Ultraman being married and having a son.
"Just like our Ultraman, we wanted dads to be heroes to their children, but then we also know as fathers that dads also laugh and cry like everybody else," Miyanishi said.
"Daddy is Ultraman" is comprised of nine short episodes. In one of them, Ultraman is battling a monster with all his strength. Then, as he returns home totally exhausted, his son innocently comes up and asks to play monsters with him. In the final cut, we see Ultraman putting on a monster mask and being attacked by the son -- along with the line: "He never fails to save energy for this."
In another episode, the son asks Ultraman to buy him a monster mask from a vendor at a festival, and Ultraman almost answers his wishes. Then mom scolds dad, claiming that he will spoil their child. Ultraman is a bit intimidated. But on the final page, we see Ultraman making a mask of the monster as he watches his son sleeping soundly.
All the episodes, Miyanishi said, are true stories that any father could relate to, adding that this Ultraman was a tribute to his own father. "After I became a father, I understood for the first time why he did or said certain things. Then I was able to see things from both sides -- as a father and a son -- so it became easier to write books featuring dads," he said.
Although Miyanishi believes his books -- all authorized by Tsuburaya Productions, owners of the "Ultraman" property -- are not just for children, but for all generations, he said he hoped that fathers especially would read them. In fact, he confirmed, he does receive many responses from dads in their 30s, who often tell him that "this Ultraman is about me."
"I think it's good for fathers to show their children who they are and what they do -- and Ultraman is perfect for conveying that message," he said.
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