Is it useful to talk about privilege in the sense of superhero narratives? Is the “us-and-them” fear of the unpowered of an apparently unelected and unaccountable elite a useful thematic line of enquiry? The idea of a majority being forced to recognise the existence of a marginalised group is a strong allegory, and using fear of the unknown and the different to highlight society’s irrational prejudices. Doubly so if the source of the power is random genetic chance. The argument perhaps becomes inverted when one is talking about self-made heroes like Batman or Iron Man; there, there is a very real case to be made for the idea of the superhero as a rich person setting themselves up as an extrajudicial force. Indeed, the arguments behind whether or not superhumans should be regulated and registered drive many narratives in interesting directions; ideas of registration as a means of control and oppression versus the opportunity to create an organisation that can work together to help each other and be supportive.
There is a lot to like about My Hero Academia‘s opening episodes; it is a series which does something interesting with superhero origin stories and ideas of passing on the mantle of hero. I like generational hero stories and the idea that a title and duty can be passed on (indeed, stories where the role of, say, Iron Man or Spiderman can be passed on to a new incumbent offer interesting avenues for characterisation). I also like that it is a story that tries to deal with the idea that being a superhero is something ubiquitous and ordinary without using it as a metaphor for social divides in the usual sense. This is not to say social commentary by means of superpowers cannot be good; it is, after all, a key theme of the X-Men, and Concrete Revolutio.
Concrete Revolutio is a series which is complex, holding the cards of its main plot close to its chest; eight episodes in it is hard to see exactly where the endgame will be despite Shin Mazinger-esque flashforwards showing some dystopian, uncertain future where alliances made during the main episodic plots seem inverted and the utopia that the heroes want to fight for has failed. It is clear from these main plots that the hoped-for utopia is based on a faulty premise, but there is the hope that the characters will realise this; each story has their faith in the world shaken a little more, but how this ties into a future where their actions are framed almost villainously is as yet unclear. This is fitting; it is a series about the people who control the image of, and perception of, heroism and justice. It is a series that calls into question the popular perception of justice, and it is perhaps for this reason I find myself comparing it repeatedly to Giant Robo.
A photograph of Shimada, Shizuoka, a fictionalised version of which is the setting of these stories.
Source: Google Maps
This is the follow-up to What’s Her Name? Lovely Chaser!, the first part of this series of short stories intended to take a more grounded and human view of the primary-coloured super-robot genre. What I think has been the preoccupation in writing these is presenting the children as children – not the sometimes hyper-irritating perky heroes of a super robot series, but – to continue with the mecha-anime analogy – sometimes well-meaning, sometimes spiteful children like Al from War in the Pocket. The personalities – and insecurities – of the three children at the centre of these events are becoming clearer. Keiko is unsure if her putting on a spiteful and harsh facade is really her. Yuuya sees his fantasies of being the anime hero dissolve. Daichi simply doesn’t know what to do – he’s trying to be mature but is still a child. The three children are set against Lovely, who is both naive and empirical. She has a vague concept of wanting to help, but does not – at this stage – really understand what she is fighting for. This seemed to offer a very interesting opportunity; the AI that wants to learn about humanity is learning it from children, whose worldview and life experiences are lacking. She sees petty disagreements writ large socially, sees insecurity about trivial things and – in something that will likely be returned to – sees her points of contact with the world immensely prejudiced about her because of their conflation of reality with fiction. I think Yuuya may in time become a more prominent character; something about the ultimate sci-fi nerd being unable to disconnect an actual living alien from his preconceptions of what an alien is and what a super-robot is is particularly interesting.
As to the fight between Lovely and the disaffected dock-worker, there are a few things that I was thinking of when I wrote it. It was, plainly put, intended to homage the opening scene of the Patlabor movie. That is a great scene in a film about industrial decay. It suited perfectly this story, about a super-robot in a world that does not necessarily need them. Thinking about how it played out – with the teacher being taken hostage and the students simply put in peril of being stepped on by someone who does not know they are there – that was a scene that I wrote to suggest some things about Daichi’s priorities. Saving the adults is something that happens in the process of saving other students. Daichi would have these priorities – saving the person he knows best would most likely be how he would tell Lovely what to do.
Much as the first story built to this, this – setting up Daichi as the temporary hero, the boy who saved his “damsel” – builds to a sequel I intend to write. Meeting Lovely, being given the power of a super robot in their hands, seems to be playing to a boys’ fantasy – they can save even the girl they claim not to like, and the unpopular teacher, and be the big heroes. But Lovely is, ultimately, a woman herself. Keiko also has a Machine Stone. What is implied in this story is that the boys are happy to have Lovely around but don’t really listen to her. That’s a dynamic that could go in interesting directions.
I came comparatively late, as an anime fan, to watching Full Metal Alchemist; for a long time it had been something I was aware of as being the series about the strange robotic knight and his child companion, and I gathered it had some alternate-history elements from seeing fanworks of imperious caricatures in fancy uniforms. When I finally got around to beginning it a few months ago, choosing the remake, Brotherhood, over the original series, I was incredibly impressed with what it offered as a piece of, ultimately, superhero fiction. The setup is archetypal old-fashioned superhero origin story; two children carry out a dangerous experiment to harness forbidden power, it goes incredibly wrong and they end up changed, with the changes giving them incredible power to do good or evil. The framework may be fantasy rather than super-science, with alchemy and necromancy replacing cosmic radiation or mysterious particles, but at the heart of it the Elric brothers are old-fashioned superheroes.
The previous article in this series focused on how Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure explored the idea of responsibility in use of super-powers in its first arc, culminating in the final showdown to apparently defeat Dio and lay to rest the destructive rivalry that had erupted into a much grander plot. By establishing its protagonist as someone for whom the “right thing” was the avenging of past wrongs and for whom super-powers were a means to fight a supernaturally-enhanced rival on even terms, it effectively ruled out the idea that one could abuse the Ripple; it was the positive energy to Dio’s negative energy and its use restored balance.
As mentioned in the previous article in this series, Kill la Kill draws in some ways on the aesthetic and ethos of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a long-running manga series that recently received an animé adaptation. What defines Jojo within a crowded martial-arts genre is its combination of incredibly potent superheroes and villains and somewhat restrained fights; there is a theatricality to the action which eschews widespread, apocalyptic carnage in favour of a much more strategic and methodical choreography. From the earliest episodes, in which the first hero to bear the name “Jojo” learns his powers from the mysterious Zeppeli in order to fight childhood bully turned vampire lord Dio, there is a refreshing focus on responsibility in the use of power that remains important throughout.