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Breaking the Narrative Episode 106: Diverse Superheroes Already Existed. Lies You Say? Check This Out!

This previous week has seen a lot of dust stirred up with some old classics being brought up again in the forms of Netflix dropping Neon Genesis Evangelion and dropping the bombshell of a live-action remake of Cowboy Bebop. Both are seminal classics to be sure, and both are open to in-depth talks, obviously.  However, that would be an easy one for me to tackle here with the shitshow of bad parenting, mentoring, and dysfunction that is EVA and the brilliant space western full of deep esoteric philosophical ruminations that is Bebop. Anyone who has read me for oh so long knows full well that I prefer tackling things in at least hard mode so… I’m talking about neither of these! Instead, I’m going to pull out something that seems random, BONJOUR HEROES! The spring 2011 superhero seinen anime by The Big O creator Keiichi Sato, Tiger & Bunny, is my subject this time around.

“What the fuck? Why???” Well I think we should start the birth month of the late great Stan Lee, who would have turned 96 on the 22nd, with a tribute to the type of world he influenced!

“Hold on… didn’t someone named Hajime Yatate create The Big O? Why are you lying to us?”

Oh, I thought it would take a Gundam article to touch upon this little known fact. While Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate are coined with the creation of Gundam – Hajime Yatate is a group pseudonym used for the planning team at Sunrise Studios. It’s a strange part in Japanese Copyright Law that’s used so no smaller creator who added to the original author’s work can’t go “Hey you can’t use this part that I put in anymore! That’s mine. Give me my cut, or else I’ll sue!” In many ways Walt Disney Studios uses something much similar, though a little broader in scale save for Studio Ghibli works (that’s a story for another time). Basically there if you make something while working for Disney they own it – not you. Hence why I would never suggest you work for them if you want to have proper accreditation and royalties for your art. Let’s Hammer This In!

“Ok ok Alex, so we are talking about copyright laws this time?” Did I neglect to mention? We are talking about how new unique superheroes can be successful and ‘diverse’ as the regressives like to put it!  How do I mean? Well let’s look at the cast of heroes for a moment shall we?TNBHeroes
“But aren’t most of them white??” No, not at all! We have a Brazilian hero, a Chinese hero, three different European Americans, an African American hero, and a Russian along with a Japanese American. Sternbild City where this takes place much like Gotham City is a New York City analogue so it is set in America. That’s another reason I chose this series because it shows it can be done in the setting of Western comics as well. Even still I want to break another narrative as well – when it comes to heroism ethnicity, gender as well as expression of such means absolutely nothing! Anyone and everyone can be a hero at one time or another.  But first we need our full setting.

We already know our city basis but what about the superpowers and how heroes interact with their charged protectorate? Well all superpowered individuals are referred to as NEXT, a group of humans who have started to evolve similar to how mutants do in Marvel’s universe. NEXT mostly only have one power for their lifetime and it’s only started during the prior 45 years within the series, with only one person ever having a second power. However, that one person has been shown to be all but insane implying that there is a catch to evolving too quickly. More on this soon. As for the interaction, the Heroes are not only all sponsored a la Mystery Men’s Captain Amazing but superheroism is entertainment a la the reality television show HERO TV. The performance and popularity of the Heroes are all rated and ranked. Stats are covered under strength, skill, dexterity, adaptability, and popularity. So who are our Heroes?

The first two we are covering today have to be covered together, as they are our titular pair. Tiger and Bunny also known as Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (Wild Tiger) and Barnaby Brooks Jr. (Bunny).  The whole reason of them being paired in the first place is due to them having the exact same NEXT ability known as “Hundred Power.” One thing that is noticed about powers in this universe is each one is a double edged sword. This is a brilliant example of that. This power increases the user’s physical capabilities one hundred fold…..for about five minutes. This includes healing and the like. However another aspect is, its shown that older NEXTs may have their powers diminish over time. This is depicted with Kotetsu’s powers getting temporarily stronger then starting to decline in how long he can use them, eventually going down to one minute since Kotetsu is about in his 40s.  Whether this is due to natural aging or due to overuse of abilities is unknown. “Wait, did you just spoil the series?” No because that happening isn’t a major factor in the story – watch the show!

Our next Hero is the Idol Heroine Karina Lyle (Blue Rose), brought to you by Pepsi NEXT. Yes, this is where that came from!  She shows herself to be the typical teen idol type, with a heart as cold as her Ice Manipulation ability. Yes, she is female Iceman, except with some key differences in how she manifests her power and her aesthetic as a singer. Also her blue hair is a wig, not dyed with blue contacts. This is so she can hide in plain sight out of costume, as they do still mostly stick with secret identities. Only a couple of them are public with their identities due to their lack of wishing to deal with paparazzi, though to be fair, the public ones would be fully public anyway, which we’ll get back to in a minute.  Katrina’s equipment is funded by not only her sponsors but her singing career, as she is also signed to a record label promoting her music. Hey, this way our Heroes always have a soundtrack!

Moving forward we are going to heat things up with the Pyrokinesis Maestro Nathan Seymour (Fire Emblem – DON’T SUE US NINTENDO, TALK TO BANDAI). As said before, some would be publicly known figures regardless. This is how things our for this boisterous Hero. As the owner of his own sponsor company Helios Energy he is a cross between RuPaul and Elon Musk. Basically a genius in drag with control over flames an appreciation for the feminine. Using feminine pronouns in the original Japanese Nathan here is a bit of an Okama which we’ve touched upon before. However, his approach is specifically drag, as he is demonstrably homosexual. Though he isn’t above having himself considered ‘one of the girls,’ he knows he is a guy and wants a piece of the guys, and isn’t afraid to be a ‘flaming homo’. I do think the pun is intended as well.  So this is an example of an openly gay black man who is more than comfortable with his sexuality. Like I said – RuPaul meets Elon Musk, because as you can guess he is in control of essentially solar and geothermal energy concerns and oil fuel alternatives and the like. He isn’t just a ‘pretty face’ powerhouse – he has the brains to boot.

Moving on, we have “King of Heroes” Keith Goodman (Sky High.) He is the epitome of the All-American Hero that has for two years straight been on the top of his game using his Wind Manipulation to not only fly as his moniker denotes, but minimize the damage towards the city and try to take out criminals with the least damage possible. This concern towards his surroundings is what costs him the most in his activities, as he allows himself to be taken out before taking out others and ends up needing to be saved later on by his fellow Heroes. Ironically most often he’s saved by Tiger, who previously got the most collateral damage showing more concern over the safety of others than the minimization of costs. Sky High is an example of what holding back too much can do.

Now as if to go in the opposite direction we go with Antonio Lopez (Rock Bison), The Bull-Tank of the West Coast. I swear I am not making these titles up. It’s all in the material. Lopez is, in essence, Kotetsu’s best friend, as they had been friends since their high school days. Considering that his power is Impenetrable Skin which makes him much like Luke Cage, this is kind of appropriate, because you have Rock Bison the immovable object and Wild Tiger the Unstoppable Force. The big weakness that Bison carries is more based around the fact that while he can walk out of anything unharmed he can only have peak human level strength. What use is being crushed under a mountain unharmed if you can’t lift the mountain? Like I said all of these things are double-edged swords

Going onward, we have the Lightning Kung Fu Master Pao-Lin Huang (Dragon Kid,) an avid tomboy whose power of Lightning Manipulation has some very precise rules that need to be followed in order to wield it effectively. First and foremost the ability has to be activated in order to protect one from electrocution. Also, the energy has to be redirected through her hands, as the absorbed electricity has to be released, otherwise it could damage the user’s body just as any other severe electric shock would. Having this being used by a relatively inexperienced and hot-headed person can lead to obvious issues. This is not to knock on her gender, either, as I’d expect a young boy to have the same issues as a young girl in this regard. It’s the young aspect that leads to them flying off the handle and misusing the ability in a way that hurts themselves, even with the patience and discipline training martial arts typically provides. This is partially why she uses a metal staff, as it helps ensure she discharges the collected electrical current.

Finally we have the Hidden Hero Ivan Karelin (Origami Cyclone.) The funny thing here is at first he just seems to be a comedy relief character who is only there to be a walking advertisement. It’s only when you find out that his NEXT power is ShapeShifting, copying a person down to their voice, that the seriousness of his nature is revealed. However, if copying a fellow NEXT he cannot clone their powers which would give him away. This is why he is portrayed and equipped as a ninja, because for all intents and purposes he can constantly hide in plain sight if he so wished. Even more impressive is when he is able to shift into inanimate objects like blending into a  brick wall. Keep in mind that this is his only power. It means effectively he is an ordinary man in all other aspects and is extremely fragile compared to the rest of our cast.

This is something that needs to be noted as a difference between all these Heroes we’ve depicted here and the typical Western superhero. Other than their singular power they are for the most part regular human beings. In one episode it seems like the Hundred Power fully heals Kotetsu. However, even days after the fact he is still in full agony, because while he is healed out of risk of death, not only is it possible that he simply used up natural cell regeneration, therefore shortening his lifespan, but he is still going through agonizing pain. So here, the risks to the lives of our protagonists are more effectively displayed. That’s part of why there are only two women among the main cast, that thought of Male Disposability. This is what is also diminishing the worth of the attempts at new superheroes of atypical description. To be genuine heroes they have to be put at risk. This is what makes Batman ultimately more interesting than Superman. It’s possible to genuinely kill Batman. You need a force of nature to kill Superman.

This is something I’ve noticed about all considered heroes, both in reality and in fiction, a complete disregard for their own safety in the long run. You see, this is more an overview of characters than an actual review, as I’m wanting to show what good superheroes look like rather than promote a particular show. Though the show is a good one with interesting developments overall. That’s why most real heroes I’ve met have lost something – either something while serving in the military, putting their lives on the line to save others, or losing their lives in the line of duty. Its easy to play hero when you are nigh invulnerable – its hard to keep up with the will necessary to become a true hero.

Now I’m sure you wonder why I made sure to mention Stan Lee earlier in comparison to this author. If you watch both The Big O and Tiger & Bunny it should become obvious via the bombastic and colorful nature of these stories, not to mention the penchant of these creators to tackle bigotry from a unique direction in their properties.  In the end though, I hope this not only showed what good heroes look like but showed what about real heroes make them compelling people – that willingness to go against normal biological imperatives, like self-preservation, for the sake of another. That is something that, as noted here, is actually rare among women. I hope the next one is as interesting of an approach as this one is. If you would like me to go more into this series please say so in the comments below, until then Please Remember to Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.