What the Heck is a Spark Doll?

What the Heck is a Spark Doll?

The Ultraman series is usually known for stories and characters on a very large scale, with giant Kaiju, giant heroes, and colossal battles which erupt between them. However, one of the most notable additions to the franchise, beginning with Ultraman Ginga, proves that big things sometimes arrive in very small packages!

Ginga marked a new era of the franchise, referred to as the “New Generation”, and has many notable differences compared to previous shows. Among other changes, Ginga had a smaller season of episodes, and a smaller scope which focused on a group of young friends doing their best to juggle their own personal struggles along with a responsibility to protect the Earth alongside Ginga himself! It seems appropriate then that Ginga also introduced the “Spark Dolls”, or small, soft vinyl “sofubi” figures of many different Kaiju and Ultra heroes from throughout the franchise. 

These figures had long been a staple of the franchise’s toy line, dating back to the original 1966 Ultraman series! But Ginga went a step further by giving the Spark Dolls a special role in the show itself. They weren’t just vinyl figures, but represented the actual Kaiju themselves – and the Ultras! 

Ginga begins by telling the story of the “Dark Spark War”, a cataclysmic battle fought between the Ultra heroes from the Land of Light, and an army of Kaiju led by the fearsome “Dark Lugiel”. The Ultras actually were defeated in this war, but not for good. Instead, they were trapped as tiny toys, along with the Kaiju they had fought against. With the rest of the formidable powers of the Land of Light locked away, the duty of protecting the Earth against Lugiel’s attempts to totally exterminate all life fell to Ultraman Ginga, his host, Hikaru Raido… and a very tiny and very, very tired Ultraman Taro.  

As a toy line, the Spark Dolls revolutionized merchandise for the Ultraman franchise. Even though “sofubi” figures were already common before Ginga, the show turns them into items used by the main characters to transform into Ultraman, and even to take on the power of other Kaiju from their respective Spark Dolls! Fans at home could do the same, with their own Ginga Spark, and get unique, flashy lights and announcements for each different Spark Doll. 

In addition to vinyl toys, many of the toys released alongside past Ultraman series related to the defense teams of their respective shows. The cool jets, laser guns, cars, spaceships – and yes, even the drill tanks – were hot items for fans of all ages. Ginga had no defense team , but struck gold by incorporating popular, recognizable Kaiju and heroes into the toyline and making those figures an important part of the show’s events. The success of these toys has influenced the franchise even into the most recent series! Ultraman Blazar may not have fought with Spark Dolls, but the collectible “Stones” used in the show reflect the same sort of integration with the merchandise that Ginga pioneered. 

It’s not all just about the merchandising though, I really do enjoy how the Spark Dolls are used in Ginga as an element of the show. They wouldn’t be so popular if they were only treated as toys, and so many of the episodes in the series use the different Kaiju Spark Dolls in ways that emphasize unique personalities and powers of familiar monsters and aliens. Even Ultraman Taro himself became one of the best parts of the show, despite being stuck as a (mostly) inanimate plastic doll! It’s so hard to watch the show, and especially the comedy “Spark Doll Theater” segments without succumbing to the urge to go out, buy a bunch of Spark Doll figures for yourself, and imagine funny stories with them on your shelf. 

We here at Ultraman Connection enjoyed the “Spark Doll Theater” segments so much, we even made them a recurring part of the Ultraman Day streaming specials! 

Speaking of which, the Spark Dolls didn’t disappear after the conclusion of Ultraman Ginga either. Other aliens would use them for nefarious purposes in the Ginga S series which followed. Later, in Ultraman X , the defense team XIO would actually use them for far more altruistic goals. Instead of releasing Kaiju to rampage around the city, they would often use Spark Dolls to conduct research studying the Kaiju, in hopes of better understanding their natural habitats, behaviors, and developing better ways to coexist alongside them.

Despite their small size, the Spark Dolls have had a huge impact on the Ultraman franchise, both in, and out of the universe of the shows. They might just be toys, but their success helped to bolster the “New Generation”, and still influences how the shows are marketed and designed today. Maybe in the future, with new shows with different appeals to new audiences, we’ll see different toys which usher in a different new era for Ultraman. For now though, give some kudos to the Spark Dolls which provided the… well I suppose there’s no better term for it – spark needed to kickstart Ultraman in the modern day.