My Hero Academia, One-Punch Man, and Eastern takes on Western heroism
As someone who loves watching cultural cross-pollination in action, watching the Japanese reaction to the modern mainstream superhero boom has been an extremely informative, entertaining experience for me. Specifically, after reading through what was translated of One-Punch Man a while ago and now working my way through the animated adaptation of My Hero Academia, I'm fascinated by just how much about the well-worn concept of cape and cowl-style superherodom can change when transplanted into another culture, or even with a simple shift in narrative focus to something a little more novel.
I could go on about any number of facets of this on my own: the differing media norms shaping these stories uniquely between cultures; the comparable inequity in East-to-West hero conventions; the benefit of decades of stories to draw from and distill that the new storytellers have... but I'm curious to see what you think and what you find interesting about these stories and those like them.
This is a really interesting topic! I was going through the same process when I started watching My Hero Academia (I actually posted here). I wanted to write a blog post for Plotist about how I felt after watching the first season, and I was looking for some feedback.
For me, the most striking thing about MHA is that it not only breaks with many conventions of western superheroes, but also with the tropes and structures of anime as well: fights last just one or two episodes, no calling the moves, no small talk while fighting, no flashbacks...
What got me hooked is that yeah, it still follows the pattern of the underdog becoming the greatest of all, but it does so showing a different type of character. It's not the typical tough guy who has been singled out, it's not sarcastic or snarky, it's not a hidden power that he has or some secret history, like in Naruto or Bleach. He's just a simple guy.
As with you, there are many things that I found interesting and there are many different angles we could use to discuss it, but I'll leave it with the single thing that made my jaw drop: the depiction of masculinity. Midoriya is not manly in a traditional way. He cries a lot, he shows weaknesses, he expresses his feelings and it takes him a lot of effort to stand his ground. And yet, he gets everyone's approval and praise; he is seen as the one true hero of the new cohort. Everyone looks up to him. In contrast, Bakugo, his antithesis, represents a more traditional view of masculinty, always being tough and taking everything to a violent end. While everyone appreciates Bakugo's skills, no one looks up to him and everyone fears him.
It's this inversion, where the "manly" character is seen as toxic, that got my interest. I really want to know how they are going to keep it up. I want to see if they can keep Midoriya as sensitive as he is now or they will make him tough up.
As I said, really interesting topic :)
@KNOKAFOKE I haven't yet watched either of these series, and honestly the art style of the cover of both was the main thing giving me pause. I might give 'em a whirl at some point, but I've watched rather a fair bit of anime thus far. Beyond that, I enjoy the superhero genre as produced by hollywood for the most part, and draw a large amount of inspiration from animation and motion pictures rather than reading. That said, I tend to gravitate towards culturally immersive content and shed my known in favor of what's presented, hoping that its a fair enough accurate depiction to be able to draw from it as reference in the future. There's plenty of division to be found, and I'm not even sure I can recall the cultural cross-pollination you speak of, perhaps I'm not as keen to it. The one that comes to mind is the adaptable outsider who becomes more effective than the purists they are integrated with, and that one bothers me. (The 13th Warrior or The Last Samurai) I really do enjoy those movies too, but the premise behind the story makes me groan a bit. It might be speaking of the strength of diversity and the acceptance of strangers, both of which I'm on board with, but might it also be suggesting that an established culture is fragile while insulated? I'm not sure I can agree with that. I'm not much of a film critic, only recently have I begun to judge the media I consume, so I've got a lot of room to grow in my comprehension.
@jaycano Ah anime fight scenes, so many of them follow that very script ^.^ There are a handful that allow the animation to flow and really depict the battle without so much gilding the lily, and I can appreciate them when done well. The conventional norm is pretty hard to do well, but it's established, so I suppose I usually give it more of a pass than I should. A few points of reference (for some good ones) Samurai Champloo has some really smooth fluidity in their brawls, Samurai X (Trust and/or Betrayal) may create some pauses in their battles, but when action is happening it tends to be swift and brutal, and while it's absolutely absurd, Shura no Toki has some splendid superhero-esque battles throughout (the MC is often so overwhelmingly powerful that it's over before people recognize what happened).
So, I'm an action junkie, that should be known. Also, I personally have to ignore the typical anime assertion that the MC is under the age of 20. To me their age is annihilated and they exist outside of such time, otherwise I doubt I could get into it. Similarly, I try not to think about the 'chosen one' implications so abundant in the genre. Honestly there are a few (Hakuoki and Peacemaker Kurogane among them) where the MC wants to help, but will never become the strongest/greatest, and will have to rely upon the people around them that are the ruthless bloodthirsty warriors of great renown. I personally enjoy those, and the premise, since it isn't calling the average to change the self and overcome the horrors of war, but rather to accept and understand one's self and others. (or such was my takeaway)
Your jaw-dropping moment intrigues me. I wonder if I'd gravitate toward Bakugo due to his strength, or if I'd be in the same boat as you identifying his double edged sword too dangerous to trust. The conventional notions of patriarchy are most definitely toxic, and I hate on men far more than women (although the whole human race is suspect at this point. . . >.>), so I'd hope that the storytelling was sufficient to give me the insight you reached, although I fear that at times I can't see some of the rather obvious corruptions of characters. I wonder, would you rather see Midoriya remain unchanged or endure sufficient experiences to force his mind/emotions to shift?
Personally, outside of the context of this particular anime, I'd lean towards a story of growth, evolution, or erosion. An unchanging hero doesn't often interest me as a flawed and jaded character of questionable ethics with a sufficiently developed backstory who is still on a path of self-discovery and change. And as I say it, I realize that I don't often hold the superheroes to the notion of growth and change, they're mostly just power-trip wish fulfillment, but it remains true. After all the special effects and funny one-liners, I'm more interested in the one moving forward against the storm, torn and tattered by the raging world they oppose.
@jaycano I completely missed your other thread! Sorry about that. I'll check it out momentarily.
As for using Midoriya and Bakugo as a means for commentary on masculinity, I completely agree. Actually, there's another pair of characters who I see working a very similar dichotomy on the adult end, specifically in their status as role models for Midoriya: All Might and Aizawa.
Naturally, as Midoriya has the literal same quirk as him, All Might's taken it upon himself to directly mentor him as his successor, but he's failed to take into account just how different of a person Midoriya is from him in his efforts. He extends all the hyper-masculine overconfidence and bluster of his public persona - which he's admitted himself to be a ploy for the benefit of both public security and his own nerves - into his private dealings with Midoriya in all but his most frail moments, almost unable to comprehend that someone with all his power (regardless of level of control) could still be so reticent or contemplative. He's effective as a source of inspiration, but the concrete value of his advice beyond strict mechanics of controlling One For All is always suspect. He wants Midoriya to be just like him, but can't come to terms with the idea that he can't use the same brute force he uses on everything else to make that happen, no matter how much Midoriya might want the same.
On the other side, Aizawa takes as hands-off of an approach to the whole matter as possible, and while this initially comes off as cold and uncaring his true intentions become clear when the sports festival rolls around: His only real directive to his class - and by extension Midoriya - was to figure things out on their own. He recognizes that no two people will be just alike, no matter how similar their quirks might be, and by being allowed to push themselves and find creative ways to stretch their abilities on their own his students come up with innovative ways to clear the challenges ahead of them and express themselves through their quirks. The down side, however, is that Aizawa offers no real emotional support or direct intervention outside of looming threats and ticking clocks; His aside with Midoriya during the quirk evaluation even got down to the academic equivalent of negging, regardless of how well-intended it might have been. He wants the kids to be themselves, but demands that they be the best versions possible of themselves or else.
@Occi Be warned that lately I'm more open to trashy shows than before, mostly because I can find something in them that keeps me intrigued. My Hero Academia is still very much like any other shonen anime: it uses most of the same tropes and archetypes, same plot structures, and defends the same type of social values. The two reasons I'm watching it is, first, because it's short and not too original, so it's easy to watch and comforting. And second, because there are certain things, like the depiction of masculinity, that makes me wonder how they will keep it up and how it will affect other anime.
I love stories of change as well, I like seeing characters grow and evolve to become better or worse people, it doesn't matter. It's one of the reasons I loved The Last Airbender (cartoons) and it's something I would like to see in MHA. Even if Midoriya becomes a tough guy and loses some his current charm it will be exciting to see, and I'm quite intrigued about how they will make it, if at all.
@KNOKAFOKE That's an interesting parallel you draw there! By how you describe it, it feels like the difference between raising a kid up until the 80s and raising a kid in the 90s and onward. In the old ways, it was all about shaping responsible adults being able to take care of society, while nowadays is more about helping people find what they can do for the world. All Might is quite old school, one of the first superheroes and represents the old model of superheroes. He's the Superman of the show, the supreme boy scout, with a very strict view of morals and how a superhero should behave. He recognizes some of that in Midoriya, and that's why he chose him.
Aizawa, on the other hand, has always been an outsider. He never participated in any superhero group and before joining the academia he was a vigilante. He's much younger than All Might, so his ideas of propriety and heroism are completely different, and doesn't agree with how society structured this line of work. He's kind of the rebel changing the system from within.
Oh, and about the other post, it's not important at all! I was just excited that someone had the same revelation I had, and this time I could prove that I'm not just saying it xD