Look at any of Japan’s most prominent genres and you might notice how self-referential the country’s media is. The tropes and visual iconography seen in classic Mecha like 1988’s Gun Buster can be seen mimicked in everything from Gundam to other classics like Gurren Lagann. I think of this as a cultural signature of Japan that they love to pay homage to the art that inspires new works. It’s about embracing new while not forgetting the old.
This past fall, SSSS Gridman hit the scene, especially committed to capturing the magic of classic Tokusatsu beyond visual cues. In the same vein, a new series on Netflix appears to have the same intentions, though arguably more accessible than Gridman. With sci-fi directors Kenji Kamiyama (Stand Alone Complex) and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) helming the series, I was dead set from the first trailer. Here is my review of the Netflix Original Series, Ultraman.
Towa no Quon’s upwards trajectory in quality is not a perfect one. It was marred in its beginnings by mediocre storytelling and inconsistent animation quality. It only won me over when it began to truly… well… begin.
But what a pair of sequels three and four were. The main cast shined as a team, Quon became more compelling and Epsilon stole the show in some surprising ways. One cliffhanger later, and it was time to see if Towa no Quon could stick the landing with its last two entries.
After the first two films left me unimpressed, I went into the subsequent entries with lowered expectations, yet an open mind. After all, the drought of trailers available for the series didn’t really give me much to build an idea of what awaited me. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t see the potential for the series to save itself. Sure enough, the third film, The Complicity of Dreams, was the first truly great entry in the series.
After watching Star Driver, I didn’t think that Bones could surprise me like this again. I like to think that the studio couldn’t have had any more hidden gems to uncover, partly cause I don’t want to be known as “the blogger who never shuts the fuck up about Bones.” But a short series of films?… How the actual fuck?
Towa no Quon, a six-part series of short films, was previously only known to me by an animation cut by Yutaka Nakamura in a MAD. So obviously I looked into it and, after much delay, am finally giving it a look, since not a ton of people talk about it. Perhaps an omen, as the back of the box claims it has the potential to be remembered as “a classic” and after watching the first two films… I don’t see it.
A couple years ago, DC could undoubtedly be called the kings of animated Superhero film and TV. The old WB channel shows like Batman or Superman and the golden age of Justice League and the DC animated films from the 2000’s were my childhood. Early 2010 animated shows like Young Justice pushed the envelope further and DC was on top compared to even Marvel’s best successes.
Sadly, recent projects have been of mixed quality. Films like Gotham by Gaslight and Killing Joke are held back by their writing or uninspired artwork. Even worse, it is likely that future DC cartoons are fated to be relegated to DC’s new streaming service. Not all is in vain though, as Kamikaze Douga’s new animated feature, Batman Ninja, has managed to break this monotony, creating one of the most visually captivating films the studio has made in years.
It’s a criminal understatement to say that Superheroes are pretty big in America. The Marvel Cinematic universe alone has been releasing some of the highest grossing films every year since 2008, having released 16 films at the time of writing. Superheroes and what they stand for are integral to American pop culture. America isn’t the only country with superheroes, but it is safe to say it popularized them by creating some of the most iconic heroes ever made.
So it’s interesting what happens when artists from other countries craft stories about Superheroes. How do they view superheroes and what kinds of stories do they make about them? British comic artists like Alan Moore opt for a more grim take on superhumans in alternate timeline stories like Watchman or even in established properties like Batman: The Killing Joke. But recently, Japan has made a few Anime that have captured the superhero market of America in a big way.
One Punch Man by Studio Madhouse and My Hero Academia by Studio Bones are two of the most popular Anime of the last three years. Both produced by credible high-profile studios and both garnering a fair following in the US. The former a viral hit and the latter an ongoing shonen series that is essentially a textbook guide for how to do a shonen series right. On top of all of that, these shows are fantastic superhero stories.
There is a reason I chose to analyze these two series through the lens of superhero fiction rather than say the shonen genre like most people do. The most monumental difference I notice between these two Anime and superheroes in the west is that the government doesn’t just coexist with superheroes, but actively regulates and monitors them.
Keeping this in mind, what would it be like to live in the worlds of these shows or even be a hero in one of them? Are these societies and their systems stable? Most importantly, what do these shows do with the superhero genre that isn’t too common in American superhero fiction? Continue reading →