Story Telling in the Hydra Era

A man who loves swimming and diving loves the shallows and their particular beauties as much as he loves the depths. Likewise, a science fiction fanboy like myself likes the shallower parts of the speculative fiction cosmos, including comic books and manga, cartoons and anime.

I recently, at the request of a reader (to whom I am grateful), watched an anime called BOKU NO HERO ACADEMIA (My Hero Academy) which seemed at first to be a simple story with a charming premise. Similar to SKY HIGH, or, for that matter, to HARRY POTTER, the plot revolves around a prestigious school to train youths with superpowers. The main character is a boy named Deku who since earliest youth has idolized and sought to imitate the Superman figure of the piece, named All-Might. The problem is that, while in this world most people by school age develop some sort of quirk or superpower, large or small,  Deku is a powerless, untalented and quirkless.

I hesitate to say more, for fear of spoilers, since nearly every expectation I had for the expected formula for this type of tale was outsmarted by the writer, and he took me by surprise again and again.

For example, the usual formula would be to have all good characters encouraging Deku and only evil ones discouraging him, and the fellow would become a hero like Batman, with no powers, but overcoming that lack through sheer persistence and brains.

Not at all. Instead, neither his mother, nor the superhero himself All-Might tells him his dream is achievable: he should join the police force instead, if he wants to help people.

Yes, he does eventually get a quirk which enables him to take the entrance exam for entering the prestigious hero school, but at a steep price, and under the burden of a terrible secret.

Deku’s heroism is portrayed as something that comes from his character automatically, before he has time to think about it, and, oddly enough, it is portrayed as a spirit of self-sacrifice: a courage that never thinks about one’s own safely. Hence his heroism is, at best, a mixed blessing.

This is a remarkably thoughtful and mature take on the topic of what makes a boy into a man, or a man into a hero.

Deku is also mocked and tormented by his neighbor and childhood friend, Katsuki, who has a useful military-style quirk, and who is obsessed with outperforming the weaker boy. Again, the formula would be to have Katsuki be a mindless bully, but I was pleasantly surprised when the bully is otherwise and talented and hard working student, making more like an antihero than a villain.

Deku on his first day at school is confronted by an impossible task: he has to throw a baseball farther than a human can throw it, or else he will be expelled, but for reasons I dare not explain for fear of spoiling a clever plot twist, he dare not call upon his quirk and its terrible price.

How he resolves this impossible paradox is simply one of the cleverest things I have ever seen in a cartoon, but once he did it, it seemed obvious in hindsight. That is the mark of superior writer: the superior writer both surprises the reader and makes the reader after the fact think the surprise inevitable.

The secondary characters are charming and three dimensional, and the villains, who are truly villainous without any redeeming characteristics, include one of the creepiest-looking I have seen in many a year: a psycho with severed hands clutching his face and limbs.

More to the point, instead of falling into a formula once the main line of action is established, the manga (I read beyond what has been made into anime) goes deeper into the past of All-Might and his strange quirk, and the supervillain whose equal and opposite quirk opposes him, and, at the same time, the political and police work ramifications of some of the high-powered super battles come on stage.

All in all, it is a well crafted, inspiring, heartwarming and heartwrenching story. It is ongoing, so one cannot say how it might end, but it was refreshing to see something that praises heroism, sees the unrealistic theme in a somewhat realistic light, but never dips into cynicism.

Let me mention by way of contrast and example one other thing I liked about the anime.

In the animated cartoon HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. the premise is that the Hulk has gained enough intelligence to gather to himself a team including the Red Hulk (General Ross having experimented on himself) A-Bomb (Rick Jones having been exposed to gamma rays) and She-Hulk (Bruce Banner’s cousin) and Skaar, a barbarian with a mysterious past. The series sets a deliberately lighter tone with Rick Jones making comedy relief remarks to the audience (he is recording his Hulk adventures for a podcast).

Hulk is, for the most part, blissfully free of political correctness. However, in one plot arc, he is flung backward in time to prevent the Leader from using Dr Doom’s time machine from altering the past.

Arriving in turn of the century London, of course they run across vampires. But, when Rick Jones, fan of old horror movies, equips the team with vampire hunting regalia, a crucifix is not among the tools. There is instead a wreath of garlic cloves, a silver dagger, and a vial, not of holy water, but of ‘anointed water’.

Likewise, arriving in 1942 Europe, the war taking place there where Captain America fought was not against the Nazis, but instead against Hydra. Not a single swastika is anywhere in evidence, and Red Skull, not Hitler, is the leader of the enemy forces. A similar thing was done in the Captain America movie (not a single reference to Nazism present) and in the online multiplayer game City of Heroes of glorious memory (all the neonazis being fought by superpatriot heroes were transformed from Nazis into Italian Fascists).

The time period is referred to as the HYDRA ERA.

As best I can guess, the laws of Germany forbid any depiction of any Nazi symbolism in movies or games, and so even America corporations abide by the censorship decisions of Teutons, who broke the spine of Europe with the Reformation, and have been hard at work trying to trample the remains since then.

Americans have become cowardly and craven enough to crave censorship now, not in the area where it is needed to protect the innocent from shocking or lascivious images of sex and violence, but in the areas of religion and politics where the enemies of the Left, the One, True, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and the National Socialists German Worker’s Party, are so hatred and so feared by the Left that the Left cannot tolerate even to speak their names or show any images referring to them. Mohammedanism is likewise never named as an enemy out of fear, puling fear, unmanly, jelly-boned, quaking and goofy fear.

Reading a tale about a fearful boy who overcomes his fear and, against all odds, builds himself by long, hard work into a hero is such a relief compared to the foetid and poisonous moral atmosphere of modernity.

Part of the appeal to me is that the writer is Japanese, and so the things I particularly despise about modern Leftwing writing are absent. The Japanese have besetting sins of their own which crop up in their pop culture, to be sure, but those don’t both me for the same reason a man who is drowning is not worried about being burned to death. If I were Japanese, I would worry about my nations ills and regard the America sins with a equitable calm remote distance imparts.

It should come as a shock to no one to discover that the rules of writing for teens or children are the same as the rules for writing for adults, since the rules of story telling come from the basic, indeed, the metaphysical reality of how the unseen world relates to the seen world. In the unseen world, we have creation of paradise, the fall of man, the advent and crucifixion of Christ, the salvation of man, and the second advent and day of judgment, when the innocent shall be vindicated and the wicked punished. All adventure fiction follows this same three act movement of fall, salvation and vindication.