Crossposted from NoScans_Daily.
With the publication of Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance, some more of the wackiness regarding the Super Young Team of Japanese-Wannabe-American Heroes has risen through the internet.
I thought I'd add to the kafuffle with an unorganized generally off the cuff reaction to this.
To preface, I am a media student who happens to like cultural relativism and supernatural/human settings. My favorite films come from 3 different countries (Japan, United States and Yugoslavia). My knowledge of Japan is pretty good, but I'd be an idiot to say I could survive there without a translator.
So, without further dismay and warning off, here are my thoughts.
There are several key concepts that appear to be behind Morrison's Super Young Team.
1) They are Japanese kids who are obsessed with an Aspect of American Culture (Super-Heroics)
2) They are apparently being treated as a J-Pop Idol: Quickly Disposable.
The thing is, these concepts are in line with Japanese culture.
Despite how Americans are portrayed in their media (IN AMERICA), they do take a lot of our pop culture in (Hence the phrase "We're big in Japan"). They are often quick to rally behind a concept or person (often called "Instant Fanclubs") and take things in really frakin weird directions (Cobra Ice Cream? Mayonnaise Bars?). That's exactly what the Super Young Team is doing. However, direct copying is something else.
I guess you might call them the Dojinshi of Superheroes.
The second aspect is present in Japanese Heroics as well. The idea of a hero falling and a legacy taking his place and continuing on is one that permeates their media. With Mecha shows, it is often with an Upgrade or New Mech. Other times, the hero is outright killed and replaced (Kamen Rider). Still other times, the hero is forced to return home and replaced by a new one (Ultraman).
Hatori Hanzo, made famous by Kill Bill, is noted in that he is always the son of Hatori Hanzo--and all Hatori Hanzos are played by the same actor.
Heroes growing old and being replaced sneaks into the culture as well in the oddest places. J-Pop Idols is one of the best known places for this to happen, where the industry uses young girls as face singers and then discards them after a certain period of time (akin to American Idol, really). Actors in Japan have this too if they become "Too Famous" (as being an Attention Whore in Japan is considered morally wrong), which is why many turn to Voice Acting.
The concept of "Christmas Cake" is another example of this. The concept basically means that an unwed woman over the age of 25 is unwanted by single men. Many anime series have "Christmas Cake" characters who (for comedy) lament their status.
So if its all in line with Japanese culture, why is it pissing off so many fanboys and fangirls?
Here, there are also 2 reasons:
1) The deluge of Anime and Manga in the American market has shown the audience how Japan views its own heroic characters.
2) How Japan actually functions militarily.
I'll answer #2 first, as it’s shorter.
Japanese Gun Laws are among the strictest on the planet. The police usually carry a baton and a 5 shot snub-nosed revolver at the most. Only SWAT has access to heavier weapons.
These laws developed from the Sword Laws of older times. This has lead to a rather strange market in Japan for hyper-realistic model guns and air-soft guns for people who still enjoy guns. That and the paperwork to get even the simplest hunting rifle is pretty damn tough from what I understand).
What does this mean? It means that in the advent of Super-humans, the Japanese Police and the JSDF would be getting them registered almost as soon as they appeared. Because of their desire for cultural conformity, they would accept it quite easily in all probability.
In fact, many early heroes in both film, literature and manga worked this into their story. Super Giant--the first Japanese hero put to celluloid, worked with the police almost exclusively. So did Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), and Gigantor/Tetsujin-28's controller often worked for the UN. Ultramen (though often keeping a secret identity) worked for an agency (always changing its gorram name) that fought the monsters and aliens that appeared on earth--which Ultraman was sent to help with.
Many heroes, however, were also rebellious people fighting secret wars--if only for a time. And there are a fair share of "Evil Bureaucracies" that heroes find themselves entangled in as well.
Japanese Heroics and Superhumans have a rich history--second only to the States in terms of output, possibly surpassing them even.
Which brings us to the first problem: that American Audiences expect to see Japanese Heroes similar to what the Japanese have presented for themselves.
But how does it compare, really?
There are very few direct corollaries between Japanese and Western Heroes. There is no Spider-Man for Japan (though there was a Japanese Spider-Man which more or less proves the reality of the Super Young Team by itself), nor is there a Nanoha for America. However, many heroes do seem to fit the Green Lantern motif (alien space cop on earth).
These Archetypes include:
The Robot or Cyborg -- Heroes that gain their powers from Machines in their bodies or by being machines. Examples of note include Kikaider and Astro Boy.
The Mecha Pilot -- A human who pilots a giant robot or anthropoid armored vehicle for their heroics. Can be sub-divided into 3 categories: Real Robots (where robots are just machines and tools); Super Robots (in which they might as well be a Superhuman's Super Suit); God Robots (where the robot is a mysterious being unto itself). Examples include:
Real Robots: the Gundam Franchize, Code Geass, Patlabor.
Super Robots: Mazinger franchize, Getter Robo franchize, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
God Robots: RahXephon, Neon Genesis Evangelion (which is sort of the Watchmen of Anime*), Space Runaway Ideon
The Magical Girl -- A girl with Magical Powers which she uses for the Benifit of others...usually. Has the subgroup of Magical Warrior which is far more of a Super heroine than many magical girls.
Magical Girls: Sally the Witch, Cardcaptor Sakura, Kiki's Delivery Service
Magical Warrior: Cutey Honey (who really gave these girls their nearly-nude transformation sequences), Sailor Moon (which is liberally sprinkled with Sentai concepts), Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise (which is essentially "Magical Girls as Super Robots" by series 2)
The Sentai - Literally, "Task Force". Best known via "Power Rangers." Over 40 years strong with dozens of examples, I think it's well known enough to stand without examples. The point is, they're a team and use teamwork maneuvers to defeat enemies. Who usually explode when they die--for some reason.
Henshin Hero - Henshin translates as "Transform" and Henshin Heroes use an item or power word to change from one form into another superhuman one. Examples include the Kamen Rider franchize, the various "Metal Heroes" (which were a minor, now dead subgenre), Guyver, the Ultraman franchise, and even Japan's first Super Hero Space Giant did this. If you stretch it a bit, Go Nagai's Devilman could also count as such a hero (as he does have two forms).
The Fighter - the Shoenen Staple. A hero whose chosen form of combat is slowly honed through hellish training to defeat his foes and rivals (who often become friends at the end of it all). Doesn't matter if that form of combat is battling monsters/Children’s Card Games, Kung Fu or baking bread, it's always SERIOUS BUISNESS. This type really shows most Shoenen Manga's roots as Sports Comics (whereas western heroes developed from Detectives). Examples include Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Mahou Sensei Negima in the "Fighting with Martial Arts" category alone. It's extremly popular here in the west.
The Heroic Bleeder - Frankly, this is adopted from the Chinese in the 70s, but has become rather ubiquitous in many anime series. A sort of modern Noir with lots and lots (and lots) of gunplay, often (but not always) with clear cut heroes and villains who all use guns in epic duels. Girls feature prominently as heroes in these. Examples include Grenaider, Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon.
(I'd mention Phantom Thieves, but they're ubiquitous worldwide. Nor will I mention Unwanted Harem, Gaming Anime, Hentai, Magical Girlfriend stories as--while they may contain heroics and heroic characters, those aren't really the point now are they?)
There are Heroes that do not fit these archetypes, but these are the most common iterations.
The Super Young Team contains NONE of these established archetypes. That's probably why people are complaining so much about them. We know what heroes from Japan look like since the mass introduction of many of these characters into the comic-reader's literally consciousness. It creates a preconceived notion of what they're "supposed" to be. And things that deviate from expectations and 'normalcy" are rarely met well by fans. We aren’t the nicest bunch when it comes to change, afterall.
Furthermore, the heroes that do pay homage to these older archetypes, Big Science Action, are a sign that Morrison did do some research (or just remembered things from his childhood). It contained many of the archetypes here, and blatant shout outs to others.
But no magical girls and only a single mecha, two of the more popular forms…
Finally, the linear notes in Final Crisis Sketch Book reveal another part of the problem:
"Together in the ruins of Tokyo, young Dai Yokohama and his master fought the three COLONIZERS (all the monsters we see him fight look like "real" versions of POKEMON creatures, as if nature had actually created Pokemon horrors to run around causing real devastation):"
My second major fandom was Godzilla. Still is one of my main fandoms. I've written a lot about Godzilla in relation to Japanese culture, the symbolism of Kaiju and why they are truly distinct from monsters created from different cultures.
In Shinto belief, there is a concept which roughly means that each and every thing--object, living thing, geological feature, place, etc. has a spirit to it. The bigger these things are, the more powerful they are. It ranges from ghosts and goblins to outright gods. Kaiju, in essence, were minor gods of destruction and had that level of power and respect behind them. From Grant Morrison's rough description of his Colonizers, we can generally get that he doesn't understand that the monsters are not just beasts. Pokemon itself is actually very good with this, having many of the more powerful Pokemon be rare, hidden beings of great power which get respect for that power.
Here, Pokemon is used as a derogatory, to describe characters that are "cutesy" and childish. The concept of Kawaii is pretty big in Japanese culture and doesn't have the negative connotations that its direct translation (cute) does in the west.
If he doesn't get a hero's adversary and misses something huge within Japanese culture, is it any wonder that there's a hollow sound to the creations for that nation he puts forth?
To quote the opening scene from the finale of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Anti-Spiral: Your actions are baffling, irregular. Why do you resist us so? You were a virtual life form that was spliced into the genome of the spiral race. When the remnants of that spiral race rose up in rebellion against us, you would be awakened and become our messenger. THAT is your reason for being. The fact that you were born to and loved by a spiral warrior is nothing more than a coincidence. There is nothing special or unique about you. It is quite a rare thing for a messenger to be this recalcitrant. The reason behind your defiance, and the reason behind their obstinace--determining those could give us the key to destroying all spiral life forms.
Nia: No matter how deeply you probe my body, you will never understand!
Anti-Spiral: We have no need to understand. We only need to know.
Nia: Then you may as well give up, because you will never be able to defeat them. He will come, you can be sure of that!
I am now picturing Grant Morrison as the Anti-Spiral. And that's terrible. He knows, but does not appaer to understand the culture he is writing about, which is part of the source for the general misgiving these characters exude.
But those are my thoughts on the situation.
And, for Legality, a Japanese character who got better treatment, and J. Johna Jameson.