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‘Ultraman: Rising’ Review: Netflix Presents “How to Train Your Kaiju”

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Ultraman: Rising will not be what longtime fans might expect from the iconic character. Similar to Godzilla, the decade-spanning character has inspired numerous stories and versions through the years. This time Netflix has given it a childlike innocence, throwing a family dynamic in the mix.

With Ultraman: Rising, there’s nothing technically new here on paper. We have seen this type of story in far better animated films. It is the story of a seemingly immature character with zero humility, who discovers an unusual creature, adopts it, and through ups and downs, they grow together. Movies such as Leelo and Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon, and Monsters Inc. more or less used this story arch. But for the franchise of Ultraman, a story about parenting is a fascinating spin. For example, the Disney princess journey is overdone, but imagine the next Godzilla movie revolving around one. That is the unique flavor of Ultraman: Rising.

Ultraman: Rising: the story

Written and directed by Shannon Tindle (Marc Haimes as co-writer) and co-directed by John Aoshima, Ultraman: Rising centers on the Sato family. The film begins on a note similar to The Incredibles. Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe) is a part-time father and part-time superhero as Ultraman. From the beginning, the conflicting life of Ultradad is on full display. He tries to spend quality time with his wife, Emiko (Tamlyn Tomita), and his son, Ken (Christopher Sean). Despite the Professor’s efforts, kaiju keeps wrecking the city, forcing him to save everyone.

The film pushes forward a few decades. Ken is the center of the story. As an adult, Ken has become a legendary baseball player. But unlike his father, Ken never learned humility or balance. Ken’s ego is the same size and weight as his feelings of neglect. His relationship with his father is estranged, and his mother Emiko disappeared unexplainably years ago. Ken’s only friends are a floating A.I. robot named Mina and a tenacious journalist who mostly wants an interview. To top it off, Ken must replace his aging father as Ultraman.

Image from Ultraman: Rising
Image from Ultraman: Rising (Netflix)

While taking on the Ultraman persona, Ken assumes the role begrudgingly. The Ultraman name is the source of his pain, and the attempts at being a savior are left wanting by those who need the hero. For Cowboys fans, one might see Ken as the Terrell Owens of the story. Then the catalyst arrives. In the middle of protecting a sacred kaiju, Ken finds an abandoned egg. The egg hatches and out pops a kaiju in the design of a (checks notes) Teletubbby. It is pink, needy, has a beak with the face of a Gerber baby, and she believes Ken is her mother.

Ultraman: Rising has a sweet little Kaiju story

To be clear, the baby Kaiju in Ken’s story is not a human (or is it?). At the very least, there was never a mention of genetic experiments with humans and kaiju. Yet somehow, the sweet, adorable kaiju baby (born from a dragon-like beast) resembles a running toddler. And while cute and endearing, when the egg hatches, it is rather jarring.

It’s an understandable creative choice, but usually handled with balance. Flounder smiled and had eyes like a human in the original Little Mermaid. Toothless had the mannerisms of a puppy in How to Train Your Dragon. Both animation exercises were intended to endear the audience to the creature and were handled deftly. Emi the fussy and giggly kaiju simply looks like a baby. Do not get this reviewer wrong because she is an infectious character, but at first, it’s bizarre.

Beyond any hit-or-miss ingredients, Ultraman: Rising has a big heart. Furthermore, the film has a strong message about the retrospective journey kids inherit when growing up. As a child, it’s hard to understand the nuances of being a parent. The struggle of raising a child comes with endless complexities, and the film explores the emotional depth of gaining knowledge. At the same time, the ignorance of how a parent fought to balance work and a family can potentially breed resentment. That is, until the child grows up and has a kid of their own.

Through the insanity of caring for a motherless child, being a hero, and being a respectful teammate, Ken’s empathy for his father slowly transcends. Admittedly, the moments were surprisingly impactful when the story stayed within these boundaries.

ultraman-rising
Image from Ultraman: Rising (Netflix)

There is also a splash of How to Train Your Dragon’s influence. The kaiju are treated like misunderstood threats in the city. Characters speak of a location described as Kaiju Island. Like the Toothless trilogy, the villain wants to find and destroy the island.

A Netflix animated movie attempting Spider-verse visuals

Ultraman: Rising takes inspiration from two different animated properties. A prominent example is the Spider-verse movies, using exuberant use of color to enhance the playground. In various action beats, exaggerated streaks of color fill the screen when punches are thrown. The animators used familiar wisdom from Spider-verse in their human character designs. The creators of Spider-verse once described the human components as possessing the feeling “of an unfinished sketch.” The same is true with Ultraman: Rising.

The only difference is the motion-based elements. Spider-verse feels like a movie shot with a 24-frame rate camera, giving it the cinema aesthetic. Ultraman: Rising feels more akin to The Clone Wars in various places. That being said, the “motion smoothing” moments are few and far between.

This is not only an Ultraman movie, this is “How to Train Your Kaiju”

Ultraman: Rising manages to overcome its shortcomings. The father and son dynamic works better than expected and may bring a few tears. The core elements bear a strong resemblance to How to Train Your Dragon. We see a character seeking his father’s attention who is the only heir capable of protecting his kingdom, and he finds a way to grow through the nurturing of an otherworldly creature.

While there are some peculiar choices, the movie has a tender, kaiju-sized heart. More than anything, it gives an opportunity for kids to learn about Ultraman at a young age.

Ultraman: Rising is now streaming on Netflix!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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