Capsule Review: Ultraman: Rising (2024) – A Visually Dazzling But Heavy-Handed Animated Feature

Shannon Tindle, previously a storyboard artist and co-writer of Kubo and the Two Strings, made his feature directorial debut in Ultraman: Rising. An animated Ultraman movie made for American audiences and it even comes with a twist. The twist in question involves Ultraman (voiced by Christopher Sean) forced to take care of a baby kaiju after defeating her mother, Gigantron.

Yes, a baby kaiju named Emi and she turns out to be a 35-foot pink dragon who’s not only hyperactive but also tends to cry a lot and is prone to acid reflux. The movie even throws in lots of toilet humour as we see Emi puke, poop and spews massive bodily fluids. It’s cute at first to watch a famous superhero like Ultraman have to deal with an unlikely worst nightmare of his life: babysitting. Seriously, I think it should have been called Ultraman: Adventures in Babysitting instead. Because the bulk of this movie is spent with Ultraman struggling to babysit a baby kaiju for the first time.

When he’s not in his alter ego, he’s a young man named Ken Sato, who is a star baseball player. He has a floating round-shaped robot assistant Mina (Tamlyn Tomita) to assist him in taking care of Emi back home. The movie also addresses his strained relationship with his father, Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe) and his mum (also voiced by Tamlyn Tomita) has been missing.

Elsewhere, the movie slips in a subplot related to Ami Wakita (Julia Harriman), a TV journalist and a single mother, whose little daughter’s a big fan of Ultraman. Wait, there’s more: Dr Onda (Keone Young), who spearheaded the Kaiju Defense Force (KDF) in a mission to destroy kaiju and this includes Emi. He’s been trying to track down the baby kaiju but too bad his story is mostly sidelined in favour of Ultraman and Emi. It doesn’t help either when Dr Onda, the main antagonist of Ultraman: Rising is nothing more than your garden-variety, subpar villain. Except for a scene that benefits the movie to a certain extent but I’ll talk about that later.

For an Ultraman movie, the story is unfortunately burdened by its heavy-handed narrative approach. The movie’s nearly two-hour length feels like it stretches out too long to the point it overstays its welcome. I get that the story attempts to wring out a coming-of-age/parenthood angle involving Ken/Ultraman reluctantly taking on the responsibility as a father figure of sorts for the baby kaiju, Emi. The thing is, Tindle, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Marc Haimes, could only muster surface-level storytelling that doesn’t delve deeper into the father-son dynamics. A more nuanced narrative polish would help since the movie often succumbs to a typical melodramatic route.

Back to the villain, the movie manages to come alive during the action-packed third act in a showdown against Ultraman. The animation is both vibrant and dazzling as Tindle and co-director John Aoshima take their cues from manga and anime. I also love the fluidity of the action sequence which deserves equal praise. The overall cast, namely Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita and Gedde Watanabe provide decent voice works.

Ultraman: Rising is currently streaming on Netflix.