In Netflix’s new Ultraman: Rising, Christopher Sean voices Kenji Sato, a star LA Dodger baseball player who recently returned home to Japan to play for the Giants. All this is a cover, though, as his father, Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe), who’s also the hero Ultraman, must retire after an injury and needs his son to take over for him. Ken reluctantly agrees at the behest of his mother, who’s recently gone missing. Ken struggles as the giant-sized hero. His frustrations with this burden and strained relationship with his father bubble up to the surface in his public personality in his athletic life as this arrogant American sports star treating Professional Baseball in Japan as easy, and he’s here to take it to a new level.

Ken’s jerk nature while juggling being Ultraman and trying to protect the city is very relatable to a more American superhero archetype. Ken is very affable, but the lack of balance in his life makes him seem like a jerk. Balance is a key theme in this film as his father, the previous Ultraman, isn’t about killing the Kaiju he faces but tries to protect the city and the people along with getting the Kaiju out of there and back into nature. Killing is a last resort. This is pretty much different than watching any Ultraman episode from the Japanese television series over the years, but it does work here in this film. The balance thing works well, just like in the MonsterVerse movies, as Kaiju represents nature and the environment, and here, Ultraman being a force to make sure humanity doesn’t go too far.


Going too far is represented by Dr. Onda (Keone Young), the leader of the Kaiju Defense Force, and his goal to kill all the Kaiju because of some tragic thing that happened in the past. The KDF ends up orphaning a baby Kaiju that Ken must now take care of and raise, adding yet another thing into his life that he didn’t plan for and really doesn’t want to do. In Ken’s super impressive secret base and house, his only real friend or family is a floating orb named Mina (Tamlyn Tomita), who has a nice design and works as a perfect straight person in many of the film’s humorous parts.

Director Shannon Tindle, along with Netflix Animation and, surprisingly, Industrial Light and Magic, is doing animation that isn’t just VFX for non-animated films. This team of filmmakers has crafted a film with a striking visual aesthetic. While you can say, “It’s like SpiderVerse!” it’s more complex than that. You can see that influence in applying the look of sequential art onto an animated film, and with Ultraman: Rising, it’s Manga – precisely Shonen Action and Sports Manga. They use line tones that you would see in black-and-white Manga on all the characters, making them feel solid and adding excellent depth. The storyboard team deserves some kudos because they really created some fantastic shots that felt familiar to people who watch a lot of anime and will instantly notice.


These references work very well with all the classic Ultraman nods throughout. The film pulls mainly from the original 1966 series in the design of the titular hero and some of the Kaiju. The thin look and big broad shoulders connect with the nostalgic idea of Ultraman rather than trying to look exactly like the classic tokusatsu show’s suit actor in a costume.

They use the slender shape so well in the fights with enormous, chunky Kaiju, and with most being bigger than him, it makes each battle look like a challenge for Ken to overcome as he’s constantly trying to figure it all out. These scenes, contrasted with the baseball scenes, felt like showing the main sides of shonen-style stories, fighting on one and passionate sports on the other. The sports doesn’t overstay its welcome but is used very well to show how much of a mess Ken’s life is. It also gets to show the humans more and show off those designs. The film’s character designs have a heavy focus on their eyes, and the look of the eyes on the characters are unique and challenging for me to describe, but they show entirely the emotional state of the characters. The faces and how the character acting they’ve done is something that I’d enjoy watching again.

I was lucky enough to see this film in a theater, something that most won’t be able or care to see as it’s a Netflix release. I feel everyone involved put their hearts into making this a great film that honors Tsuburaya Productions’ character and franchise. It also makes some changes that I think work to fit American sensibilities and how we see our superheroes. Some of the more die-hard Ultraman fans might not like some of the changes, but I think they can help bring even more fans to the character and the world. Ultraman: Rising is a great movie and easily one of the best animated films of the year so far, but it is also one of the best on Netflix, period.