This week I had the pleasure of speaking to TokuSHOUTsu streaming channel editor, consultant, and producer Mike Dent. Mike went from being an Ultra-fan like any other to upwardly mobilizing in the production world, notably working as a director and producer on Ultraman events such as Ultraman Day which won best virtual event in 2021! History repeated itself when Mike scored a second Ultraman Day show, this time in 2022 and teaming up with Ultraman Connection to make the special, well, extra special.
Mike Dent is living the dream of many Ultraman appreciators and was kind enough to give us insight on how he got there and what Ultraman has meant to him throughout his career. Mike’s journey began in Milwaukee in the early 1990s, introduced to Ultraman through his father who grew up watching the original series. His only access was through a bootleg tape of the classic Ultraman series that he watched until it literally wore out.
Mike was drawn in by the visual storytelling. Intricate sets, immersive cinematography, and unique character design, all of which created a one-of-a-kind world that he knew he wanted a part of. He still reminisces on some of those first impactful sequences: Gomora trashing the Osaka Castle, Alien Baltan’s first big appearance.
“There was more imagination in the Ultraman series than I had seen in any other show at the time. They were willing to take more risks. Ultraman plays with the impression of reality. The stories are just grounded enough to latch onto, but they also embody the beauty of imperfection.”
Enamored by the distinct nature of the show, Mike felt a calling towards his own future. Like many of the human protagonists in the Ultraman series, Mike knew Ultraman was bound to lead him on a voyage of his own.
“Watching that tape was the first step in an adventure I’m still on. Those first episodes led me to my local anime store where I discovered the world of tokusatsu and it altered everything. I developed a lifelong passion.”
While distinct aesthetics and epic battles are enough to pull anyone in, I had to ask Mike what was so special about Ultraman? What was it that he related to on a level deep enough to pursue it for his whole life? Who were the Ultras that spoke to him on a fundamental level?
“Out of all of the Ultras, I relate to Ultraseven the most because throughout my life I’ve felt like a man without a country. Being mixed and socially awkward and growing up where I did was a challenge. I didn’t have many friends my own age and the friends I did have didn’t share my interests. I was always stuck in the middle and Ultraseven represented a similar experience.
“Orb struck a chord with me too and not just because he’s the cool drifter type. I liked Orb because unlike the other Ultra series, which oftentimes focus on the Ultras powers and endgame, Orb is focused on the journey of self-discovery. It’s this idea that the strongest thing in the universe, the thing that can take down ancient evil, is just being yourself.”
Understandably, once he had been pulled in, there was no turning back. Mike fully followed his passion, creating a podcast with a focus on spreading the word on tokusatsu (live-action Japanese special effects movies and TV shows), co-founding the Tokusatsu Network, and working for Otaku USA magazine. His affable personality, nerd-rocket humor, never-say-die attitude, and sheer showmanship propelled him through it all.
Even in the work he currently does for TokuSHOUTsu he continued to climb the ranks, beginning as a coordinator for Ultraman events, moving into co-writing the scripts, then giving notes to the actors. Before he knew it he found himself in meetings with Tsuburaya Productions being referred to as a director.
“It’s crazy to be in the place that I am. One moment I was working on my podcast and blog and the next moment I’m in direct dialogue with high level members of the company that created one of my favorite shows. All those years of building up my knowledge have finally come to the fore. I have to keep shaking myself and reminding myself that this is real life!”
Behind the scenes of Ultrathon 2021
Mike searched for opportunities, and even made some of his own, all in the pursuit of digging deeper and finding more. But dedication and interest aren’t the only traits that pushed Mike up the ladder. His love of connection, both to other fans and to the material motivated his success.
“I love to share what I love with people. In recent years especially, I think the Ultraman fandom has been rallying a sense of community. There are people I know who I’ve been telling for years to watch Ultraman and didn’t initially. But now that it’s more accessible, all of those people are watching the series, coming back to me and saying, ‘I should’ve started watching when you first told me to!’ I’m so happy that more people are at the party now.”
I asked Mike how he introduced newcomers to Ultraman and he explained that the best way to engage anyone is through the “sample-platter” method. While the instinct might be to sit someone down and show them the entire series chronologically, Mike has had better luck with creating a queue of the best episodes from each series to hook in potential noobs.
This would include, for example, episodes that are representative of their respective series, fan favorites, personal favorites, and episodes that showcase the characters and Kaiju authentically. Mike explained that the Ultraman franchise is especially compatible with this method of putting-people-on because of its variety.
“I love the fact that Ultraman can do anything in terms of storytelling. One episode can be a touching piece about prejudice, one episode can be about a lazy monster that makes it so no one wants to work anymore, one episode can be a musical. Ultraman uses all these forms to explore so many themes.
“Some Ultra series, like classic Ultraman, are borderline anthology shows, which I love. The best series are the ones where there are multiple directors offering different voices. You can have an episode by a fan favorite director, but you might also have an episode by a director you don’t know, and that episode might be the one that totally blows you away. A good Ultraman episode keeps you guessing and offers variety.”
Ultraman is a sandbox of infinite creative potential while reserving thematic consistency and that balance is what keeps Mike, and frankly most of us, coming back every time. Mike and I took a moment to express our gratitude for the opportunities Americans like us have had to see Ultraman content that was previously limited.
“It’s been a delight to see the expansion of Ultraman. If my younger self showed up now and I told him that you could buy Ultraman stuff so easily now, he’d spontaneously combust into a fire ball of excitement.”
While accessibility is important in exposing new people to amazing content, it’s equally important toward satiating the inner child in many of us who yearned for more when it wasn’t as readily available. Things we wanted but couldn’t get our hands on (like the Ultraman Taro box set in Mike’s case) we can have now and it’s never too late to enjoy it!
The feelings we experience the first time we see a piece of media that speaks to us can stay with us forever. I saw this phenomenon in Mike as he got choked up recollecting a resonant scene.
“In the final episode of Ultraman Ace, Ace looks at all the kids—who have been through all this duplicity, all this conspiracy, these kids who are just completely ruined—and he just says, ‘Don’t ever lose your kindness.’ I try to live by that even on my hardest days. No matter how many times I’ve been beat up, no matter how many bad experiences I’ve had to deal with, I find that never faltering on kindness has opened the door for so many opportunities and made me so many friends. I will always be thankful for that.”
Mike Dent is a powerhouse (and he’s hilarious by the way), and the model embodiment for what an Ultraman fan can be. Find him through the links below and make sure to stay tuned here at Ultraman Connection for more!