It's ANIME WEEK here at Behold the Geek! And since I'm a huge superhero comic book fan, I thought it would be fun if I shine the spotlight on anime superheroes, and the parallels they have with the Western comic book heroes you and I are familiar with!
Read more about superheroes in anime after the jump!
A superhero, according to Wikipedia, is a type of stock character possessing "extraordinary or superhuman powers" and dedicated to protecting the public. They have a secret identity to protect their loved ones, colorful costumes and even more colorful enemies, and of course an overwhelming hunger for justice.
Using this definition, let's see if anime has its own breed of superheroes!
Superheroics in comic books is more or less a "boy's club", with male superheroes more often outnumbering their female counterparts. It's interesting then to see that in anime, female superheroes aren't just plentiful, they're mad popular as well!
Superheroines of all shapes and sizes abound in anime, and there's a good chance you and I grew up watching at least one of them! If you're a 90's kid, you probably remember Super Boink, a hilarious anime about a girl who transforms into a superhero pig (!) with a cape, or Sailor Moon, the quintessential magical girl who inspired an entire generation of superheroines!
There were also high-tech heroes like the girls of Ryusei Sentai Musumet (whose powers came from outer space much like modern Green Lantern's) and Moldiver (who reminds me of Terry McGinnis' donning of the Batman mantle in Batman Beyond), who used their powers (along with a little bit of fanservice) to protect their city and the world from colorful villains.
Of course, we shouldn't forget the grandmommy of them all: Go Nagai's Cutie Honey! This sexy superheroine dealt with dual identities, fought super-powered enemies in the name of peace and justice, and rocked quite the iconic costume! It's safe to say she blazed the trail for all the other heroes mentioned before her!
A TEAM EFFORT
Much like the X-Mens and the Justice Leagues of comic books, anime had its share of superhero crime-fighting teams!
One such team is Science Ninja Team Gatchaman from the 1970s. These bird-themed heroes kicked evil henchmen ass by the truckload, and they had a bitchin' jet that turned into a flaming phoenix of doom (imagine what the X-Men could do with a flaming SR-71 Blackbird!). Not only that, but their designs had their roots in Western comic books by way of character designer Yoshitaka Amano!
There was also Shotaro Ishinomori's Cyborg 009, which starred ordinary people cursed with extraordinary abilities fighting mad scientists and evil organizations. I especially loved Joe Shimamura's (the titular Cyborg 009) godlike speed powers...who wouldn't want to move so fast everything looks like it's in slo-mo? Cyborg 009's popularity has even crossed back over to comic books, with Archaia Entertainment recently releasing an original graphic novel based on these super-cyborgs!
THE WESTERN CONNECTION
With anime being as big as it is, it was only a matter of time before the comic book world came to anime!
In recent years, American comic book companies like Top Cow and Marvel saw the popularity of anime and found a way to tell their superhero stories in a brand new light. Heroes like Witchblade, Iron Man, the X-Men, Wolverine and even Blade got their own anime series, all of which were set in Japan and were inspired by anime genres like horror and mecha.
And of course, there was Tiger and Bunny.
In case you don't know yet, I LOVED Tiger and Bunny. It was a deliberate attempt by Japan to homage Western comic book superheroes, and they did it in a way that was both affectionate and glorious. It made use of many familiar Western comic book tropes, right down to the alliterative names made popular by DC and Marvel (Kotetsu Kaburagi and Barnaby Brooks, Jr. took a page from Peter Parker and Billy Batson in the naming department). As a superhero fan, 'getting' all those little details they put into this anime was what made watching Tiger and Bunny so great. Stan Lee would have been proud!
Speaking of Stan Lee, he was responsible for another superhero in anime: Heroman. But whereas Tiger and Bunny brought superhero tropes to anime, Heroman brought anime tropes to the superhero genre. Main character Joey Jones (another alliteration!) and the robotic behemoth Heroman fought alien bugs in a hilariously stereotypical version of America. It was a fun little anime, and it holds the distinction of having the first anime cameo of Stan Lee!
While the examples above may not be exhaustive or the be-all, end-all when it comes to anime superheroes, I was surprised and happy to know that the superhero genre is alive and well in anime. Not only that, but Western comic book superheroes and anime have a storied history, inspiring each other in exciting ways. Both lend their quirks and awesomeness to each other so easily, and we as fans are left all the better for it!
Got something to say about superheroes and anime? Then leave me a comment via the comment box below and let's talk about it! Meanwhile, stay tuned for more anime fun as Anime Week continues tomorrow here at Behold the Geek! Thanks for reading!