With Age Comes Grace and Also Less Punching

Back when I was watching the Chihayafuru anime, I began to associate the show in my head with the American cartoon franchise Ben 10. Even though their respective subject matters are worlds apart, both featured fiery tomboys of elementary school age whose later appearances would involve a time skip to high school where their hair is longer and their personality a little more mature. But where the transition for Chihaya felt right for me in the sense that she seems like the same character only older (and thus different in some ways but similar in others), Gwen’s change inBen 10: Alien Forcewound up seeming like an entirely different character to me. Not only her personality but even her character design turned out to be significantly different.

Of course I know why this is the case: Chihaya was planned from the start to have this age jump, as the episodes involving her childhood are mainly flashbacks and setup for the story proper where Chihaya starts her own karuta club, while there was clearly no original intention to have a time-skip sequel to Ben 10. When Alien Force did come around, it streamlined some of the elements of the previous series and in the process wound up as something of a break from its predecessor. At the same time, however, the fact that Chihaya is in many ways a similar character to Gwen just made me more aware of how this sort of transition can be done well.

By the way, Chihayafuru season 2 was just announced today, but I swear that my posting this is merely coincidence. If I had that sort of power I’d use it for better things, like a Fujoshissu! anime.

Heroman? What About Villainman?

Question: What’s the difference between Anpanman and Heroman?

The answer is, Anpanman has an arch-enemy.

I recently finished Heroman, the BONES collaboration with American comics legend Stan Lee, and while the show had some positive qualities to it, it fell flat overall, due in no small part to a long run of episodes in the middle which pretty much just meandered about. But in the list of things the show could have done better, what really stood out to me was how Heroman and Joey Jones never got a proper supervillain to call their own. Sure, Heroman and Joey have adversaries and rivals, namely the insectoid Skrugg and their leader Gogorr, as well as Dr. Minami and “Anime Flash Thompson,” but none of them felt quite right, even if two out of the three turned out interesting in the end.

Gogorr had the most potential to be an arch-enemy.  As a galactic conqueror that can augment and evolve his body for combat, he bears a great resemblance to Vilgax, the primary villain in the American cartoon Ben 10, but the main difference here is that, unlike Gogorr, I would most definitely consider Vilgax to be Ben Tennyson’s arch-enemy. With Ben and Vilgax, not only could you sense a greater degree of personal animosity between the two, but Vilgax’s actions directly cause Ben to get his powers in the first place. In contrast, Gogorr feels a little too distant from Joey both emotionally and thematically to be a proper nemesis. Another factor is that the way Gogorr is presented makes him feel a little too powerful to be an arch-enemy, too much of a Goliath to Heroman’s David, and too much of an Archmage to Heroman’s Goliath.

Left: Vilgax, Right: Gogorr

A lack of arch-enemies might seem like an odd thing to single out, and to be sure the inclusion of one wouldn’t have solved all of Heroman‘s problems, but the reason I’m focusing on the concept is that the arch-enemy is a near-integral part of what makes superhero stories feel like superhero stories, and as a show at least partially based on the American superhero concept, Heroman could have benefitted from such a character. On a more intellectual level, they provide a nice foil for the hero, holding up a mirror to the hero’s own abilities either through being the opposite or being the same (or sometimes both), but on a simpler level supervillains expand the world of the superhero by having a great evil that can be vanquished by a great good, highlighting both protagonist and antagonist. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Heroman needed a relationship with a villain on par with Superman/Lex Luthor or the Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom, but just having someone to stand in contrast to Heroman and Joey would go a long way in highlighting the “What does it mean to be a hero?” theme that persists throughout Heroman.

Various Thoughts Concerning American Cartoons in Japan

I recall at some point someone (possibly me) asking my high school Japanese teacher what animation she watched as a child. I think everyone was expecting an answer like Tetsuwan Atom or Candy Candy or something, but her answer was “Tom and Jerry.” She was apparently quite fond of it as a child growing up in Japan.

American cartoons have a long history in Japan, what with Tezuka idolizing Walt Disney, but today we’re at an interesting point in this cartoon exchange. Rather than American cartoons inspiring Japanese ones, or Japanese people being “secretly” responsible for American cartoons, both countries are well aware of the other’s creative exports, with anime becoming a fairly common word in English (is it that Pokeyman stuff?!), and American cartoons making their way to Japanese cable.

According to Craig McCracken, Spongebob Squarepants is a huge success in Japan, doing much better than his own Powerpuff Girls, which necessitated the creation of Powerpuff Girls Z to try and appeal to the Japanese market better. South Park has also found some popularity, and it makes me wonder if the appeal of South Park and Spongebob in Japan is the absurdity of their characters and situations.

I used to joke that I would start subbing “The Boondocks” into Japanese at some point. A lot of the humor of Boondocks, like South Park in its later seasons, is very political, using the (relative) innocence of children to illustrate a point about society, so I thought it’d be amusing to try and translate this aspect for a culture that is not intimately familiar with race relations in a country with so much history and diversity in this regard.  Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I found out that Boondocks had in fact been dubbed into Japanese. Still later, the second season of Boondocks was moved from a Korean studio to Studio Madhouse, one of the most famous animation studios in Japan. To what extent were the people watching on Japanese cable able to understand the deeper meanings involved in Boondocks? While I don’t really have an answer, I can’t help but wonder about this every time I hear Riley say, “Niigaa.”

Cartoon Network has its own station in Japan, and through it many old classics are brought to Japanese viewers, as well as newer shows such as Teen Titans and Samurai Jack, two shows which are inspired by anime to varying degrees. A more recent show to come out in America and to hit the shores of Japan is Ben 10, the cartoon by Man of Action about a 10 year old boy with the power to turn into different aliens who fights menacing aliens with the help of his grandpa Max and his cousin Gwen (pictured above). As far as I can tell, Ben 10 is not widely popular but it does have its fans, and some have even drawn fanart. Not surprisingly, it seems as if most of them are primarily fans of Gwen before anything else. I get the feeling it’s because she is surprisingly moe for a western cartoon character. Some call her “tsundere,” though something about that description doesn’t quite line up. Maybe a new term is needed.

“American Tsundere?”