Any Doctor Who fan will tell you one of the joys of the series is when a past Doctor shows up to aid (and usually bicker) with the current Doctor. Despite having 13 (or really 15 or 16 depending on who you ask) Doctors at this point, team ups have been relatively few. Usually it’s only a major anniversary that gets that kind of crossover. But if you happen to be an Ultraman fan, these kind of team-ups happen pretty regularly. That doesn’t make them any less special, however. Perhaps none of the crossover Ultraman movies feels more like a glorious love letter to the fans and the history than Superior 8 Ultra Brothers, now out on Blu-ray from Mill Creek.
Note: like most Japanese titles, this movie has several translations. Mill Creek uses Superior 8 Ultra Brothers, but the literal title is Great Decisive Battle! The Super 8 Ultra Brothers, and other releases have it as Superior Ultraman 8 Brothers. So, you know, call it whatever you want.
Since 2019, Mill Creek Entertainment has released pristine complete box sets of most of the Ultra series shows. Of the 31 official seasons that exist, the distributor has released 23, plus a few other specials and things. It’s incredibly impressive how quickly all of these have found their way to fans in North America. And since I’ve become a voracious consumer of these releases, a movie like Superior 8 filled me with the exact same fuzzy feeling that the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” did in 2013.
The greater Ultra universe deals a lot with parallel dimensions, which this movies focuses on specifically. The idea here is “Ultraman” as a concept can persists in the human hosts even in universes where it’s a TV show. Kind of funky, but it really works. It brings together four of the Showa era Ultras with four from the Heisei era. It’s legitimately a melding of generations, bringing together many different cast members.
The Showa Ultras in question are: the original Ultraman (1966-67); Ultraseven (1967-68); Ultraman Jack (1971-72); and Ultraman Ace (1972-73). The Heisei ones are: Ultraman Tiga (1996-97); Ultraman Dyna (1997-98); Ultraman Gaia (1998-99); and Ultraman Mebius (2006-2007). Mebius was the most recent new Ultra at the time. It’s especially interesting, then, that it’s not Mebius who takes the lead in the film. It’s stead it’s Tiga, and specifically his human host Daigo (Hiroshi Nagano), who drives most of the action.
The movie begins in 1966, on the very day of the premiere episode of Ultraman. Three young boys, Daigo, Asuka, and Gamu, run through their town, excited to check out a brand new TV series. We come back to these children later in the film, as adult Daigo remembers a time when the three met a young girl with red shoes at the very moment they all wished about what their futures might hold. This is key to the journey of not only Daigo in the movie but seven of the eight Ultra Brothers.
In nearly all of the Ultra shows, and certainly all eight of the lead-up series for the movie, a main character in human form works for a space/science/defense agency that investigates alien and paranormal activity. While there are many characters on those teams, it’s the main hero who turns into the Ultraman. This is either because they ARE an Ultra in human form (Ultraseven specifically), or usually because the Ultraman has fused with the human. For Earth-protecting reasons, you see.
That is one of the few immutable constants about the series. What makes Superior 8 Ultra Brothers so interesting is that it supposes a universe in which none of that is true. There are no giant monsters to fight, so none of the human hosts need to work for any such alien defense force. As such, their lives have largely been normal, often unfulfilling. Daigo wished to be an astronaut but is now a tour guide in Yokohama. Asuka wished to be professional baseball player, but gave up after high school. Gamu wished to be a scientist who could build great space traveling ships, but didn’t quite make it either.
As a grown-up, Daigo begins having strange dreams, in which giant monsters attack and elder members of the community become Ultramen. That can’t possibly be true, right? Well, wouldn’t ya know, the lines of dream and reality blur and a real Ultraman, Mebius, arrives to do battle with a real kaiju. After taking his human form, Mirai Hibino, Daigo takes Mebius around to see the Ultra Brothers, except in this universe, they’re all just old guys. But surely the spirit of Ultraman can break through!
This is not a movie with a lot of twists and turns. You pretty much know from the title that all eight people will turn into Ultramen by the end to fight ever enormous monsters. This doesn’t make it any less enjoyable when it does happen. Before that happens, there’s a surprising amount of drama and pathos as the mysterious villain wreaks havoc on Yokohama and Daigo and the others question their life choices.
Superior 8 Ultra Brothers has so many lovely meta moments as well. Each of the four Showa Ultras’ jobs in this parallel universe reflect the real actor’s passions and post-acting life. The lead actress from each of the shows are there as well, and where applicable, the real life children of these actors play their kids in the movie. It feels like a family affair all around. Especially exciting for me is a brief cameo by kaiju movie legend Kenji Sahara reprising his role as Jun Majome from the Ultraman precursor series Ultra Q.
Anyone who has kept up with the Mill Creek releases as I have will find this movie an absolute treat, a reward for following these stories for season after season. But even if you have never seen an Ultraman series before, the movie gives enough context, and it’s standalone enough, that you won’t have any trouble enjoying it. Not to mention all the great practical effects work and suitmation, which is a hallmark of all Tsuburaya Productions.
Bottom line, I think Superior 8 Ultra Brothers is a great introduction to the franchise. If you’ve never seen any before, this will give you a taste of eight different shows. It also works as a fantastic celebration of, at the time they made it, 42 years of one of Japan’s most enduring shows.