While comic book superheroes such as the likes of Superman, Batman, and Spiderman define the genre for Western comics, anime is a different beast entirely. What character do you think represents the superhero genre in anime? Some of our writers discuss it in this article.
Ryuuko Matoi from Kill la Kill
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Jankenpopp: I don’t speak Japanese, but when my sister introduced me to Kill la Kill, she told me that Ryuuko’s Japanese was about as crude and disrespectful as it was possible to be. Whether you understand the language or not, that’s what immediately stands out about Ryuuko: her total disregard for authority or limits of any kind. She doesn’t let anything stop her on her way to avenging her father, and it only takes six months for her to get good enough with the Scissor Blade to stand up to Satsuki Kiryuuin. Against someone who’s spent her whole life training for war, that’s no mean feat.
But Ryuuko’s determination doesn’t make her selfish. She’ll go through Hell and back for a friend, even if that friend seems to attract trouble like a magnet in a schoolgirl uniform. With someone like Ryuko in her corner to fight superpowered school club presidents, Mako couldn’t ask for a better bestie.
5camp: Spare a thought for Ryuko’s voice actor though. Asides from being crude and disrespectful, she also yells a lot. The poor woman’s throat must have felt like she had swallowed shredded sandpaper after lengthy acting sessions.
HoyvinGlavin64: Also spare a thought for Senketsu. For an article of clothing with a rather creepy introduction, I really grew to like the guy as Ryuuko’s partner-in-asskicking.
Guardian Enzo: Not a lot to add here, as KlK isn’t a favorite of mine. I find it to be pretty demeaning to women, to be honest - but I know that’s a topic of considerable disagreement, ROFL.
freenightfalls: I agree with GuardianEnzo. Couldn’t care less about Ryuuko, but Satsuki on the other hand… well, she is more interesting.
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GuardianEnzo: To be honest I had someone else in mind until I saw the “Superhero Type” theme, and I’m still not 100% sure Gon qualifies under that description. But he’s aces in my book - a totally unique shounen lead who impacts everyone around him with his force of will and his purity of character. But that purity also makes him terrifying, and that’s what makes Gon so fascinating.
5camp: Gon is also rocking that sweet shounen protagonist ridiculous spiky hairdo.
Jankenpopp: Hunter X Hunter is near the top of my to-watch list. Depressing, brooding heroes are all well and good, but I like shows with positive characters who take control of their fate. A Gon or a Ryuko is someone I wish I could be more like.
HoyvinGlavin64: I don’t know if I have the attention span for 100+ episode shonen these days (lol), but I did like what I’ve seen of Hunter X Hunter. Togashi’s one of the genre’s better writers, loved YuYu Hakusho back in the day.
freenightfalls: Not sure if I’ll ever be able to finish Hunter x Hunter, plus I find child heroes too irritating for some reason.
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HoyvinGlavin64: Perhaps the defining trait that makes the superhero truly heroic is the moral strength to hold back their power. Superman could destroy or take over the world is he didn’t have such a strong conscience. Batman would be a fascist if he couldn’t resist corruption. Kenshin’s fighting ability is in the realm of slightly exaggerated real world giftedness rather than in the realm of fantastic abilities, closer to Batman than to Superman. But what makes him truly heroic is his willingness to stop fighting. We see how powerful Kenshin was when he didn’t hold back, in his dark murderous past as the Battousai. His commitment to a path of redemption, to atone for his past sins and use his sword to defend without killing, is inspiring.
Guardian Enzo: Kenshin would have been the next name on my list for this discussion. He’s about as close to a perfect protagonist as you can find, IMHO. Absolutely spot-on.
freenightfalls: There’s nothing else that I can add; I enjoyed his inner battles even more than the real, bloody ones.
Jankenpopp I’ve never seen Rurouni Kenshin, but it’s a good rule of thumb that a good hero knows not just how to fight, but when to fight. Even Goku forgave Frieza.
5camp I know this is kinda dumb, but what always put me off Kenshin is in the Japanese version, he sounds way too much like a woman. I get women play men quite frequently in dubs but Kenshin’s voice is just...a woman, ya know?
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5camp: Considering his introduction in Battle Tendency is of him reading American superhero comics, I’m sure Joseph Joestar would be delighted to be considered a superhero. His methods may be unconventional. He deflects laser beams with shot glasses, hits bad people in the face with bottle caps fired from fizzing cola bottles, and relies an awful lot on the tactic of running away, but he’s a fantastic hero all the same. Sure someone like Saitama from One Punch Man would be more likely to get the job done, but none with as much style and witty lines as Jojo. Neither would they look as good dressed up as a lady trying to woo some Mexican guards with Tequila and a kiss.
HoyvinGlavin64: Saitama wouldn’t look as good crossdressing, but Speed-O’-Sound Sonic on the other hand…
Been making my way through Battle Tendency and enjoying Joseph greatly. All the outrageous powers in Jojo’s are fun to watch and Joseph’s a bit more well-rounded as a character than his grandfather Jonathan, who was a more simplistic “good guy” archetype.
freenightfalls: His character and body proportions have always rubbed me the wrong way, dunno why :p But I guess that’s not the point here.
Jankenpopp I love heroes that fight with improvised weapons. Creativity is a skill like any other when it comes to battle.
Guardian Enzo I never quite got the fuss about JoJo, but I do find it to be amusingly subversive in its own way.
Saitama from One Punch Man
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freenightfalls: To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the superhero trope, but the first character that popped up in my mind when I saw the theme was Saitama. I am currently watching One Punch Man and I love it. Saitama’s cute dead-like eyes, bald head and plain costume are in contrast to his superhuman strength that is simply invincible. His reactions (or lack of them) are hilarious and make me laugh out loud, but that is not what makes him interesting. His ordinary existence, poor social skills and the possible vulnerability under all that power are the reasons that draw me to his character. The poor guy is often misunderstood and even labelled as a villain. I haven’t read the manga yet so I’m looking forward to every new episode with eager anticipation. Will he finally gain recognition and reach his goal? I have no idea, but I know that I will laugh my head off.
Guardian Enzo: I think Saitama represents the malaise afflicting young adults in Japan today - a sense of directionless life and a search for something meaningful. He’s obviously overpowered, but that’s not really the point - I think ONE is trying to subvert our shounen expectations here by making every battle an anti-climax and never asking why this guy got to be so ridiculously strong. Saitama walks the walk - I think he really doesn’t care about recognition or money. He just sees shit needs getting done, and someone has to do it.
5camp: I like that Saitama’s outfit is the lame old early 1900’s design, complete with red rubber gloves and a bright yellow jumpsuit that makes him look like he’s a bug exterminator rather than a superhero. Rather fits his lame aesthetic.
Jankenpopp: Enzo nailed it. Take away the superpowers and collateral damage and there’s very little that’s changed from Saitama’s life as a salaryman: he shows up, gets the job done and clocks out for the day. Like an average office job, fighting supervillains might be tedious, but it isn’t particularly hard or engaging for Saitama. He wants a challenge but can’t find one—great for comedy in a superhero story and relatable for anyone whose life isn’t really going anywhere.
HoyvinGlavin64: Making overpowered characters interesting is always a challenge. Major props to the writers of One Punch Man for pulling that off so perfectly with Saitama.
5camp: We’re lacking some old school superheroes guys. I would have picked Doronjo from Yatterman but she’s a supervillain so doesn’t really count. HoyvinGlavin64: Define “old school.” If you’re talking superheroes in the American comics style, Saitama’s about as close as anime comes (outside of the cast of Tiger and Bunny). If you’re talking about characters from older anime/manga, Joseph Joestar was created in 1987 (albeit best known from his more recent anime). I did consider Astro Boy, though. I’ve watched a lot more Kenshin than Astro Boy, but Tezuka’s original anime hero deserves note. I particularly loved Naoki Urasawa’s adaptation, Pluto.
Jankenpopp: “Superhero” is one of the broader terms out there anyway. You could reasonably apply it to any character empowered to do what a lot of people would like to get done, and then having to deal with the consequences of taking the fight to a formerly intractable problem. Light Yagami qualifies for the label, based on his Death Note...or simply on his intellect, which is enough for Batman.
HoyvinGlavin64: Light’s more of a supervillain than a superhero, though like most great villains, he thinks he’s the hero.
freenightfalls: Sometimes I prefer villains to heroes. To me, it’s more interesting to watch a character struggle with his or her inner demons and overcome them with the power of will and intellect, rather than using superpowers. However, I love supernatural anime as well, so I guess the mix of both is fine too.
About the Writers
Jankenpopp: Based in Atlanta since 2001. I got my start writing with Kingdom Hearts fanfiction (still do) and I’ve been editing and writing for various pop culture sites for almost two years now. My first anime was Dragon Ball Z, maybe Sailor Moon by accident when I was really little. My favorite is the Read Or Die OVA.
Guardian Enzo: I’ve been blogging for about five years now, but I’ve been an anime and manga fan for a lot longer than that. Having been lucky enough to live in Japan has only cemented my love for the country, its culture and people, food and history.
HoyvinGlavin64: I’ve been a fan of anime since Spirited Away blew my mind 13 years ago. I’ve written film and anime criticism for various websites and graduated from the Bard College film program last spring, where I somehow convinced Neil Gaiman to act in my senior project, “The Making of a Superhero Musical.” In January I will be speaking at Arisia on three different anime panels.
5camp: Been writing about anime for over 7 years and since they haven’t stopped making more, I can’t stop writing. My desert island anime is Legend of the Galactic Heroes because it would take that much free time to finally remember all the characters’ names.
freenightfalls: Just a moody girl who likes all sorts of Asian entertainment. My first anime was Digimon Adventure in elementary school and it still holds a special place in my heart. When I’m not watching anime or writing articles, I’m reading, drawing, working on my MA, aquascaping and shopping.