Successful modern day superhero anime have gone far and beyond simply throwing superpowered beings into battles, and have started to incorporate bigger risks, permanent consequences and important themes such as how heroes’ actions affect society — surpassing typical shonen fare.
These are perhaps best exemplified in the recent My Hero Academia (2016-Present), Gatchaman Crowds (2013-15), and Tiger & Bunny (2011, with movies in 2012 & 2014). All three exceed where characters are concerned and what they have to deal with on a daily basis such as how they’re viewed by the public, and that they’re conscious about their powers and how they can destroy what’s around them — it’s a tad more than just “I wanna be the strongest!”, and each feels like a breath of fresh air.
Superhero anime need great action scenes but that’s not all, and society is one of the biggest factors in the superhero anime of today. In worlds where superpowers are commonplace, there’s more to do than just protect people. Gatchaman especially focuses on this with its second season, Insight, being very politically driven, showing the public being easily swayed by various promises (sometimes empty), and sweet words — something that seems to especially resonate in the last couple of years. Despite their superpowers, the real skill that the Gatchamen show is in giving power to the people to make their own decisions when presented with facts. In reality, Insight doesn’t have a whole lot of action.
You’re probably thinking that you don’t want politics or deeper topics in your superhero anime, and that you mostly just want to see bombastic battles with cool power ups but with how the political climate is today, I feel that shows like these are needed — and not only that, but they’re damn good. My Hero Academia’s All Might has the public believe and depend on him, but once he passes his power over to protagonist Izuku Midoriya it’s the beginning of the end for his superhero career.
All Might beings to lose his powers, and the way he deals with this is remarkable, because he still wants to be a superhero despite life not working out that way for him. It’s poignant and it isn’t everyday that you see the biggest hero lose — sure it might not be against a villain, but it’s the one battle that he can’t overcome.
Tiger & Bunny has their heroes participate in a game show where points are awarded based on heroic acts, but Wild Tiger doesn’t care about that because he just wants to protect the innocent. This one again deals with heroes losing their powers and being forced to hang up their capes, but also features an easily swayed public who chase the flavour of the month.
Two things that these three shows share in common is superheroes and how society reacts to them, and that’s what makes them stand out. You’ll get your traditional superhero aspects such as grand battles and awesome abilities, but it delves deeper by making more human actions heroic too. These shows also have a big focus on family, showing the heroes in their downtime when they’re not quashing threats.
I’m not here to preach politics and the like, but it’s a theme that’s tackled well across these three shows and helps them to go above and beyond standard superhero fare. These motifs are more relevant than ever and mix in surprisingly well with a concept that’s so fantastical, leading to a beautiful blend that’s both magical and grounded. It’s a trend that seems to link together some of the more critically well-received superhero anime as of late, and for good reason — they each approach it in a fresh way that feels distinctly new, even in the mire of the “superhero overload” of recent years.
Sure, it’s something that may one day be driven into the ground, but for now I’m really digging the idea of superheroes and society coming together and look forward to seeing how over studios will tackle it.
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