Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Japanese live-action superhero Ultraman. Godzilla, meanwhile, celebrated its 60th birthday last year. Producers of consumer goods are seizing on these two monumental events by releasing special lines of merchandise with the branding of the Ultraman series - a favourite of the young and old for a half century - and Godzilla, the one and only kaiju (Japanese for monster).
'Ultra Eye' replicated
Dan Moroboshi, the protagonist in the television series "Ultra Seven," a sequel to the "Ultraman" series, uses an eyeglass-shaped gadget called the "Ultra Eye" to turn into the eponymous hero. Aoyama Optical Co., Ltd., which is headquartered in Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, has produced eyeglass frames which resemble the Ultra Eye.
The item, named "Ultra Seven & Black Ice" (¥50,760 (S$556), tax included), was made in collaboration with the producer of the series, the Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd. (Shibuya Ward, Tokyo) and released in April. The frames are handmade by seasoned craftsmen using lightweight but durable material. The red and silver colors and the somewhat angular form are reminders of Ultra Seven himself. It was wildly popular with fans when it was released and sold out in about a month. Emboldened by the demand, the manufacturers have increased production.
Who made the sake?
The Ultraman series was created by the late Eiji Tsuburaya, the founder of Tsuburaya Productions. Ninki Inc., a sake brewery in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, near Tsuburaya's hometown, has brought "Ninki-Ichi brand Earth Invasion" junmai daiginjo sake (¥1,542, tax included) to the market. Junmai daiginjo is top-quality sake made only from highly polished rice. For promotion purposes, the brewery has created an accompanying story line in which "Alien Mephilas" and two other monsters - all villains from the television series - make the junmai daiginjo together.
A share of the money earned by the sake goes to children who have suffered from the Great East Japan Earthquake and to other causes through the Ultraman Foundation, a charitable fund partly run by Tsuburaya Productions.
For all ages
Tsuburaya Productions and its parent company, Fields Corp., launched a new licensing business in April, which they call "A Man of Ultra." The project targets adult fans and consumers who might think flashy character designs are a bit too much. They have signed licensing contracts with 17 companies, including apparel makers, which have accepted terms to develop designs linked to the Ultraman series, but not replicate the actual characters.
One such licensee is Japan Blue Co., Ltd. of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, known for its made-in-Japan "Momotaro Jeans" denim brand. "A Man of Ultra and Momotaro"-branded sports jersey with "TARO 06" printed on the front to indicate that "Ultraman Taro" was the sixth hero of the series went on sale June 8.
3 generations of fans
Why are Ultraman and Godzilla-related merchandise gaining fresh prominence all of a sudden?
Hiroshi Fujita, a business producer in the Intellectual Property Division of Tsuburaya Productions, provides some answers. According to Fujita, the Ultraman series consists of 16 separate television series, each featuring a different hero, and has been shown on and off for about 50 years. A brand-new series called "Ultraman X" is to be released in July.
Against this backdrop he says: "Ultraman has been deemed 'Japan's hero' and is loved by three generations, which means there are adult enthusiasts as well. It also has fans worldwide. 2016 will mark the 50th year since its first broadcast and would be a great opportunity for its popularity to grow once again. That is why Ultraman-related goods are starting to show up."
In the meantime, Godzilla, which has become a Hollywood star, also has a strong fan base abroad. It celebrated its 60th birthday last year and will see a new Toho-produced movie released in 2016. It will be the first Japanese Godzilla release in 12 years and is certain to make news.