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Controversy strikes Chinese Ultraman animated film

It isn’t easy making an animated film. That’s why when a project has reached a point to be publicly unveiled, it’s often a time of celebration for the staff behind it. That is, unless you’re BlueArc Animation and the staff behind Dragon Force: So Long, Ultraman.

Last month’s reveal of the new CG-animated Chinese Ultraman feature, a partial spinoff of BlueArc’s 2012-2013 series Dragon Force, was met with a legal threat from series creator Tsuburaya Productions: “This work has been produced without our permission or supervision. In addition, the usage of the Ultraman character image, etc., in this presentation has severely damaged the Ultraman brand, and is utterly unacceptable. We intend to take decisive measures, including legal action, against the Chinese company that made this announcement and the persons involved in the production of the film.”

While it might be dimiss Dragon Force: So Long, Ultraman as just another example of disregard for copyright law in China, but the situation is far more complex than that. The film is officially licensed. Just not by Tsuburaya. The movie is the latest entry in a long legal battle the Japanese production company has fought for complete rights to the property.

A screenshot showcasing one of the Dragon Force characters in the film.

Keith Aiken detailed the ordeal in an article for SciFi Japan. The short of it is that a 1976 agreement of dubious authenticity claims Tsuburaya gave away rights to a number of characters and productions to a Thai company as compensation for an unpaid loan. The veracity of that contract has been questioned in a number of international courts. In China, the agreement was viewed as valid and the rights it presumed found itself in the possession of a company called UM Corporation. Through a partnership with TIGA Entertainment, UM Corporation granted the BlueArc Animation the ability to produce CG-animated Ultraman films in China earlier this year.

Wang Wei, BlueArc’s founder and director of the film responded to Tsuburaya’s threat, declaring he “will take the necessary legal action” to defend the film’s contract. Dragon Force: So Long, Ultraman is set to be released in mainland China on October 1st.

While it’s impossible to think this movie could wind up in the country, the original Dragon Force launched in Japan. A compilation film was released back in November 2013 to select cinemas in the country. It was based on a story from tokusatsu director Kazuya Hatazawa and starred Yuki Ono, Rikako Yamaguchi, Yuichi Nakamura, and Jun Fukuyama. In 2014, the Hong Kong-based Red Angel Media dubbed the film into English.

If you’re interested in an entirely legal Ultraman experience, William Winckler Productions is handling the English dub of three Ultraman Zero live action features.

BlueArc’s Kibaoh Klashers recently debuted across Netflix in most regions.

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