Ivory Jaws

Note: This post discusses spoilers for Tiger & Bunny, A Certain Magical Index, and Hajime no Ippo.

In episodes 12 and 13 of Tiger & Bunny, the heroes of Sternbild City fight the powerful villain Jake Martinez. His telepathy allows him to read an opponent’s intentions and avoid getting hit. Out of the four heroes who face him, Jake only ever gets hit twice: Once by accident when Wild Tiger trips over himself, and then a second time when Barnaby is able to land a clean hit, but Barnaby’s attack is enough to defeat him.

Broken rib or no, one hit doesn’t seem like it should be enough to take down such a strong adversary, but Tiger and Bunny does a good job of making it obvious that Jake’s weakness isn’t just a glass jaw, but a side effect of his powers. Jake is so adept at using his NEXT abilities to avoid any and all attacks that he is simply not used to being hit, and so making contact shocks him not just physically but psychologically as well. Even Wild Tiger’s inadvertent flip kick has little force behind it and yet still gives Jake pause.

When I saw this, I immediately thought of another villain: Accelerator from A Certain Magical Index. Like Jake, he is the mid-series villain, and like Jake, he possesses a power which prevents attacks from reaching him. In Accelerator’s case, he can control vectors, so any punch or bullet thrown has its direction diverted or even reversed with little effort. In the face of Index hero Kamijou Touma’s ability-canceling abilities however, Accelerator’s face meets Touma’s fist repeatedly. Like Jake, he can’t take a hit.

I think there’s something a little satisfying about villains whose weaknesses are something so simple and basic that anyone could avoid them if only they were familiar. With both Accelerator and Jake, they rely a little too much on their abilities, so when those are negated they do not have the natural reaction time to make up for it. In a way, these antagonists are portrayed as members of a kind of ability-based ivory tower, where their privileged statuses make them vulnerable to the rest of the world, even if it’s not immediately noticeable.

Interestingly, Hajime no Ippo shows the other side to this trope, though without any use of true villains. In the world title match between Date Eiji and undefeated champion Ricardo Martinez, Ricardo lands a severe blow on Eiji, which he’s 100% confident will take Eiji down for good. To his surprise however, Eiji manages to recover from that punch, which leads Ricardo to conclude that the only reason Eiji could’ve possibly taken that hit is that he must have fought someone whose punches are as hard if not harder than Ricardo’s own. This, of course, refers to Eiji’s fight with the main character Ippo, who is characterized by incredibly brutal punches. Had Eiji not gained the experience of taking hits from Ippo, had the impact not been engraved into his body, the sheer shock from being hit in a completely new way would have finished the match with Ricardo right there.

Which is to say, in a Martinez fight, Jake definitely wouldn’t want to get hit by Ricardo.

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.