In the previous article, I looked back at the figure of the hero based on Dragon Ball and One Piece, but if those two works are no longer heroic manga for the older generation, what kind of new heroes are being portrayed in “Shingeki no Kyojin(進撃の巨人)” and “My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)” which are popular among the new generation? That’s how I started to write this article.

Today’s table of contents

  • An enemy too strong. Despair in the face.
  • Are heroes getting weaker?
  • Society in which heroes have become a profession
  • Hero is a troubled being

Too strong enemy and faceing despair

A human who is eaten by giants. A villain with a superpower called “Quirks”. A demon that won’t die unless you cut off its head.

These are just a few examples of the enemies in “Shingeki no Kyojin(進撃の巨人)”, “My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)”, and “Kimetsu no Yaiba(鬼滅の刃)”. What these have in common is that the enemies are intensely strong.

The fact, that the enemies are quite strong may be a trend in manga for boys(shonen manga) these days. In typical heroes of the past, readers were assured that no matter how strong the enemy was, the hero would eventually defeat the enemy and win, so even if there were scenes where the enemy was strong and the hero was tormented, readers read story peacefully. In many comics, the hero was awakened potential superpower, hero was overwhelmed the enemies.

However, haven’t some enemies emerged recently that are so strong that we find it difficult to read them with peace of mind?

It’s not that the enemies were weak, but I don’t think there were any particularly strong enemies. However, in recent manga, the enemies are so vicious that it makes you think, “Aren’t they too strong for that? Kibutsuji-Muzan(鬼舞辻無惨) is too strong to defeat, right? But what is the background behind the recent manga where the enemies are drawn so ferociously that it makes you think “Isn’t that too strong”?

Despair hero faces

When I first read about the “Shingeki no Kyojin(進撃の巨人)”, the thing that shocked me the most was that people could be eaten so easily. Isn’t it soooo scary, no matter how many times you see it? It’s scary.

To begin with, people dying has always been depicted in manga, but perhaps due to the influence of dramas(“The Walking Dead”, “The Game of Thrones” etc..), more and more manga are depicting death in a rather grotesque manner. I wonder if death has ever been depicted so blatantly in a manga for boys and girls, and the way it was depicted in the book, it was so shocking that I, as a reader, despaired just as “Eren” despaired in the comics.

Even in “My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)”, the main character, “Midoriya Izuku(緑谷出久)”, was born with no superpower called “Quirks”(個性), even though many people are born with superpower(個性). This is a truly sad incident for him who yearns to be a hero like “All Might”, it is absolutely despair in his childhood.

I think there are many hero tales that start from a negative situation where they are not blessed, but rather have weaknesses, and rise up from them. These heroes go on with their various troubles, but I feel the characteristics of the hero manga of the late Heisei(平成) eras and early Reiwa(令和) eras in “the fact that the enemies that stand in their way are depicted as abnormally powerful (violent)” and “the fact that they start from a negative situation.

Are heroes getting weaker?

The answer is no.

The heroes are still as strong as ever. Rather, the enemy has regained its true strength (and the story has gained more depth for a manga work).

Here, I would like to delve deeper into the way heroes are portrayed in the new era, using “My Hero Academia”, which started serialization in 2015, as a representative work.

Let’s start by sorting out what kind of work it is.

“The story is set in a society of superhumans who have superpower called “Quirks”(個性),(個性). I’d like to share a rough synopsis.

What would the world be like if 80 percent of the population manifested superpowers called “Quirks”? Heroes and villains would be battling it out everywhere! Being a hero would mean learning to use your power, but where would you go to study? The Hero Academy of course! But what would you do if you were one of the 20 percent who were born Quirkless?

A society where heroes have become a profession

The day has come when heroes are depicted as a profession. I wonder if it is that unusual, or if there were such manga in the past? It pains me to say this without knowing the history, but I think this was a watershed moment in shonen manga.

The reason for this is that My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)” is

He is held up as “Jump’s new hero” by Shueisha(Publishing company), and is officially recognized as having legitimate genes of values of Weekly Shonen Jump”.

(Eto, 2018)

This has a great deal to do with the fact that “heroes” are a part of the story. In my opinion, there was a change in the way heroes were perceived in the fact that a work that gained a reputation as a representative Jump manga that followed in the footsteps of works like “Dragon Ball”, “One Piece”, and “Naruto” depicted heroes as a profession. In her paper, she wrote that the author Horikoshi was described by the director of the anime adaptation, Nagasaki Kenji, as saying that “this work is the royal road to Jump, but it is somehow new,” but Horikoshi himself was unable to give a good answer to the question of “newness,” and Eto shows “newness” instead.

In the author’s view, the most important “newness” that “Hiroaka” brought to “JUMP values” is the clear positioning of the “hero” within the framework of the “royal road” as a symbol of a savior motivated by a highly universal religious ethic.

(Eto, 2018)

As for the details of the novelty pointed out by Eto, I would like to add that “it has freed heroes from their curse. We have broken away from the conventional idea of heroes as “strong, cool, and…” and have been able to depict heroes in a variety of ways. The movie “The Dark Knight” is one such example create a new image of hero.

What kind of curse(binding) is it?

This is a curse from the typical way of depicting a hero.

In My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)”, there is a typical hero, the American comic style “The Hero All Might”, but although he is a muscular hero in front of the public, he is portrayed as a skinny, scrawny figure when not in battle.

The muscular appearance of Deku’s master, “All Might”, is actually maintained by forcing him to act as a “symbol of peace” in order to stabilize society (Hiroaka, Vol. 1, Episode 1). The society, too, is unreliable, having gained security through the skinny endurance of an individual.

(Eto, 2018)

The interesting thing about My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)” is that it depicts heroes as more than just cool people, as a manga that details the parts of heroes that they don’t normally show.

From another point of view, some of the people who work as “villains” who are blessed with special abilities to be able to save people if they want, depending on how they are utilized. However, they don’t act as good, they act as evil.
In other words, it is interesting that those who could have been heroes turn against society as villains, highlighting the instability of society where good and evil are like two sides of a coin, and one wrong move can make one a hero or a villain.

Hero is a troubled being

Because it is such a world where things can go either way, good or evil, and because the students are in the adolescent stage of high school, the characters in My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)” live (and work) with their problems. Some of them are worried about their lack of individuality, some are worried about their relationship with their parents, and some are impatient with the speed at which their friends are growing up. In this comic, heroes have problems that we would not be surprised to find ourselves having. It’s a moment when you realize that they are also human.

In a special society where 80% of the population possesses superhuman abilities called “individuality” (20% are normal people with no individuality, and the main character, “Midoriya Izuku(緑谷出久)”, was one of this 20%), just having superpower does not make them a hero. They can only call themselves professional hero after studying a specialized course at an educational institution for training to become a heroes, and obtaining a professional hero license. After obtaining the license, they belong to a “hero office”. I guess it is like an “entertainment agency” in the real world. Each hero office has its own color, and there are offices that honestly aim to help people, and there are even offices that are treated as idols by TV and mass media.

In such an environment, the key question will be, “How do we differentiate ourselves from other heroes?” will become an important point. If you don’t think about it, you may find yourself out of a job as a hero.
Individuals need to not only improve their abilities, but also think about their positioning in society and how to appeal to the public. How can we not be troubled as we face the things that wear our hearts out in the real world? That’s how Eto describes the situation.

He has mastered the art of delicately and dramatically depicting the inner conflicts of the modern ego.

(Eto, 2018)

Calm Awakening

I think that Psychological conflicts are becoming an essential requirement for heroes. And the fact that there are many readers who sympathize with such heroes means that readers are living with the same problems in reality as well (It is natural, isn’t it?). It could be said that heroes are also human beings living with their own problems..

“Dragon Ball” and “One Piece”, which I have introduced so far, are manga that teach us the importance of teamwork and growth through hard training, based on the three principles of “friendship(友情), effort(努力), and victory(勝利)”, which are values of Jump.

On the other hand, My Hero Academia(僕のヒーローアカデミア)” show us a new attitude of the characters to face their deep worries and hesitations, and how they grow through the process. I think that the importance of growth has shifted to the process of self-reflection on how to deal with oneself, one’s peers, and society, rather than simply growing up through fighting enemies and training.

If I were to update the values of Jump in a modern way, it would be as follows.

Friendship (which arises in the process of overcoming worries and doubts)
Effort (to overcome troubles and doubts)
Victory (won by overcoming worries and doubts)

People living in today’s world are all troubled. Our heroes are troubled, too. Perhaps this overlaps with the situation of us, who are accustomed to a long, long recession and have to constantly face an uncertain future.

I think that the heroes of the new era will awaken when their worries and hesitations are cleared up. This is different from “Son Goku(孫悟空)” of Dragon Ball, who awakened as a Super Saiyajin out of anger after Krillin was killed. There are times when emotions directed at others, such as anger or sadness, can trigger an awakening, but today’s heroes go deep inside themselves and are awakened by something they see beyond their doubts. It’s a gentle awakening, I think.

If we no longer live in an age where reading a heroic comic can make us feel refreshed, isn’t it more modern for a generation of readers to grow up alongside the story as it progresses, just like “Midoriya Izuku(緑谷出久)”.

If this is the case, it is my sincere hope that “Hiroaka” will become a long-lasting manga like “One Piece” and grow together with the younger generation of readers.

・”Nihilism and Ethics Today in “Shonen Manga” as Romanticism: “Shingeki no Kyojin” and “My Hero Academia”,” Eto, Yasuna, 2018, Keio University Hiyoshi Bulletin


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