The picture above is from a project I`m working on at the moment… also I just wanted to get a pic of my son`s all time hero, Ultraman, onto the blog. To pre-teen Japanese boys Ultraman is god. There are of course a million different kinds of Ultramen as they seems to change every year. The present one is called Ultraman Mebius and is perhaps the coolest of the Ultras so far. He is rather innocent in the ways of fighting big rubbery monsters however and constantly has to be trained by the older, more experienced and less handsomely helmeted Ultramen which is, if you ask me, a clever marketing ploy to resell older versions so that stories can be acted out across living-room floors all over Japan. The original Ultraman (pictured) started in 1966 and is an integral part of the Japanese culture. While older Japanese and girls of all ages make the Peace-sign as soon as a camera is pointed at them, young boys are more likely to make an Ultraman beaming-pose (as Ultraman is doing above, though not the two little boys just to prove the exeption rule). If you want to know more, and I can sense that you are riveted click here for more information than you will ever need on Ultraman.
The Japanese love superheroes and they can be found in many forms of advertising, on company logos or even as mascots for official organisations like the police. Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the ubiquitous, colourfully helmeted rangers are the most famous however and are regularly revamped to give kids a new set of poses and role-models to work with and parents a new set of plastic figures to buy. That`s the thing I love though, I didn`t really understand or like this stuff before; I thought it violent at worst or just plain silly at best but these characters are harmless and often very funny. And here`s the biggest surprise, they are surprisingly good role models for young boys. I have become a bit of an expert on Ultraman and there is more to be said in studying the genre. Still quite unknown outside Asia the stories are instructive, full of hope and bravery and deal with all manner of situations that young boys might encounter. Though scholars might see the xenophobia in the always violently evicted monster and the Christians get hopping mad about the Christian iconography in the earlier shows; and sociologist may talk long and ernestly about the spiritual emptiness in modern Japan that is being filled with irrelevant fantasy such as this, it is all in my opinion quite harmless fun. Interesting that children often see the heart of the thing quicker than we adults do. My son thinks he is Ultraman and we use Ultraman to get him to do things like brush his teeth or tidy-up because if Ultraman or Kamen Rider or Buokenger does it, and they do do it regularly, it has to be good.
Japanese heroes work hard though, apart from TV and stage shows they often stage smaller encounters in suburban towns so that they can meet the public even if that is, as in this pic, at a local supermarket. Defending the Earth one minute, dodging shopping trolleys the next. It`s not easy being a superhero in Japan.