Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet Train

By the mid-to-late 1980s Superheroes were all over Japan, even if the Japanese still didn't call them Superheroes. 

Henshin Heroes, Cyborgs, Aliens, and all many of Supernatural types roamed the Japanese airwaves; from television to movie theaters, from comics to video games. Many had colorful outfits. Most had amazing powers or else high tech or magical weapons and vehicles. Few however received the coveted title of Superhero. 

The real reason for this is that the name was linked, in the mindset of both Japanese Creatives and Fans, with American Comics. Rarely was a Japanese Hero seen in the same light as Superman or Batman because, simply put, Superman and Batman are from the United States.

For those familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, do you consider them Anime? They weren't made in Japan and so they technically don't qualify as Anime even though they share many of the same qualities as Japanese animated TV shows. 

At the same time, Japan couldn't resist the lure of the American Superhero for long...

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I personally recall a number of interviews with Japanese creators, in both Japanese and American Pop Culture magazines, mentioning the influence of Western comics and comic book characters on their writing and art. Notable among them was Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama who noted that the idea for Dragonball Z came largely from combining his two favorite works of fiction: the famous 16th Century Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' and DC's Superman comics. Kia Asamiya, whose real name is Michitaka Kikuchi, is the creator of Silent Moebius, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Steam Detectives. He is a self-proclaimed Batman fanatic and is the owner of a number of props from the first Tim Burton Batman film. 

The 1986 Sci-Fi Action-Comedy Anime 'Project A-Ko' features a 16 year old, female heroine attending high school with a rich, technological genius who builds powered armor and giant robots as well as a friendly, though immature girl who turns out to an alien princess. A-Ko herself possess Super Strength, Superspeed, Superhuman Jumping Ability, and some degree of Super Durability if not Invulnerability. It is hinted at the end of the first film that she may be the daughter of two very well known parents...

On first watch I assumed this was Clark Kent and Lois Lane
but another shot I couldn't find show the woman wearing wrist
bracelets similar to none other than Princess Diana!

A-Ko is the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman!

I also recall an ongoing Light Novel story that appeared in Hobby Japan magazine around this time. I might be wrong about the magazine but I clearly remember the story as explained to me by a Japanese friend: In the USA a boy attends a high school for Superheroes but his 'power' is that he's really smart and builds a suit of armor like Iron Man. Unfortunately, most American Superheroes in the setting have powers and the school can only teach him so much. Luckily - it seems - he gets a scholarship to attend a prestigious Superhero school in Japan where most heroes are technology based. 

Unfortunately he is ridiculed by many of his Japanese classmates as he 'only made Powered Armor', which they view as nothing special. Also, he doesn't really speak Japanese. Thankfully he makes friends with a few other misfit students and changes his armor into a sort of Power Suit / Mecha combo. While testing the Mech Armor out he accidentally stumbles into a real crime scene! He ends up saving the day and is swarmed by Japanese reporters who want to know more about him. He tries to answer but as soon as he speaks English that label him a hero from America and the papers end up calling him, 'The Great Gaijin'!

The Great Gaijin was a favorite of mine and also a completely obscure and overlooked entry in the American/Japanese Superhero crossover genre (I can't even find references to it on the internet). However, I bring it up because long before the present day Superhero Anime and Manga, long before the MCU broke the Japanese box office, here was an Iron Man type hero, from America, going to a High School for Supers. 

Which brings us to...

Today, the influence of American Superheroes on the Japanese Pop Culture market is no longer underground, hidden as Easter Eggs, or subtle for that matter. A public love for many American Superhero movies, animated series such as Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman, and of course video games like Marvel vs. Capcom is evident in some of the most popular Anime and Manga titles out there. 

My Hero Academia, One Punch Man, and Tiger and Bunny are all series that focus on American style Supers, though each has a very Japanese take on the Western costumed crimefighter. As with other Anime and Manga that tweak, twist, or turn genres on their ears, these titles excel for much the same reasons; Superhero stories true to the topic but with their own unique identities and a point of view we in the US might not immediately think about. 

Now the question is, "How do Japanese Game Designers and Fans translate this clear love of Superheroes - American or Japanese - into their Tabletop RPGs? Do they even do this?"

The answer is of course yes but the forms these games take can be as different from what we're used to as their series are from our comic books. 

See you soon - same Chojin-time, same Chojin channel!

Barking Alien


  1. The Great Gaijin. That is amusing on so many levels. Too bad you haven’t been able to find references to it...sounds like a great premise (one that would work fine today).

  2. You are killing it with this series of posts on superheroes in Japan. Really great reading; thank you!

    1. Oh wow, thanks Jonathan! Really, that means a lot. More coming soon.

  3. I have to admit, I'm curious about how Japaneses make their superhero games. I don't think I've seen one. Unless Night Wizard count as one.

    1. Some of them are exactly what you'd expect. Some...definitely not. Heheh.