In light of recent themes addressed in Gatchaman Crowds, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about heroes, superheroes, and their ilk, arriving at the realization that multiple anime series offer a specific personality drawn, quite literally, to dreams of being a superhero. A character who communicates more easily through visual arts than the spoken or written word all too often expresses themselves through dreams, and drawings, of heroism or saving others.
I personally love this idea – not coincidentally because it is near and dear to my heart – because it ties into ideas of how various people communicate in different ways. If one is unable to communicate properly through speaking or writing, they are often more likely to project their desires into visuals. It just so happens that, all too often, these visuals are ones of heroism or traditional superhero values. In asking the question, “Why?” it’s possible to set an interesting framework through which to view these more artistically-inclined personalities.
The Pretty Cure Franchise:
The Pretty Cure, or Precure, franchise has two main examples of artists who dream of heroism, beginning with Yayoi Kise of Smile Precure! pictured in the opening image above. Yayoi is an artist who idolizes superheroes prior to her knowledge of their existence or her subsequent transformation into a superhero (Cure Peace). Of all the Smile Precure! heroines, she is the one who accepts her position as a hero more for the ideal rather than a sense of obligation or duty. This isn’t to say that Yayoi’s emotional resonance with being a precure is any less valuable; however, she makes it well-known through her art that she idolizes superheroes, and when called upon to be one she carries that ideal as a “warrior of justice” with her.
Yayoi’s desire to be a superhero is easily defined in contrast to her every day personality. Admittedly, she is a crybaby and painfully shy. She uses her art to express an ideal of who she would want to be, rather than who she sees herself as. The hero, especially a costumed one who transforms, allows her to escape her own reality – additionally, her self-imposed feelings of inadequacy – and become someone powerful who can help and communicate with others through easily-understood superior actions. Following her transformation into Cure Peace, Yayoi continues to idolize superheroes without necessarily seeing herself as one, in spite of the fact that she is to others. In episode 41, while drawing her own manga, she creates the character, “Miracle Peace” as a manifestation of her own goals as Cure Peace to protect her friends and the city. Where even her own transformation into a superhero cannot inspire Yayoi from her natural tendency to shrink into the background, she draws strength not only from her precure friends but her own art, which depicts one whom she wants to become. One can draw a clear line from her inability to express herself in every day life to both her idolization of superheroes and what the represent, and additionally the way she attempts to relate these ideals and desires through visual media. As she is unable to communicate well at all – the series makes a point to show her awkwardness not only in her precure form, but also in her attempt to make a joke on April Fool’s Day – Yayoi sees the superhero as a figure that, were she able to communicate more clearly, could possibly represent her own hopes and dreams.
Where Yayoi’s heroic desire is realized not only through her art, but eventually recognized through her actions as Cure Peace, Heartcatch Precure offers a less insular example of Kenji Ban, another manga artist who draws superheroes. Specifically, he idolizes the established in-universe heroines: Cure Blossom and Cure Marine. In his attempt to understand and praise their actions, he draws manga of the two that additionally inserts himself into their world. It’s important to first note the differences between Kenji’s situation and Yayoi’s. Kenji is shown to not only want to become a precure, but his manga also depicts an insert character (who suspiciously looks exactly like himself) as the romantic interest of both precure. Additionally, the characters within the series see Kenji as a completely different person in appearance than who he actually is in personality.
Heartcatch establishes Kenji as one who looks the part of a delinquent, but has a caring heart. Kenji already has visible power over his classmates, who are terrified of him due to his looks, so he draws on the idea of a superhero to become one who is able to inspire and lead others through love rather than fear. Like Yayoi, he uses his own idea of what a hero is to overcome that which others would assign to his character, in spite of the fact that the traits being assigned are vastly different. For Yayoi these traits are feelings of inadequacy, being a crybaby, or perceived physical weakness, where for Kenji it is perceived physical strength, an inherent meanness or disregard for others’ well-being, and a stand-offish nature. Kenji wants to be a hero to become closer to others as his physical appearance naturally isolates him.
The series plays with Kenji’s desire to become a precure, going as far as to show him imagining himself as Cure Fire. When he is “scouted” by Popurri and the other fairy partners to become the third precure, his reaction mirrors Yayoi’s in that both are eagerly willing to take up the mantle of being a superhero because the ideal represents something that they are unable to accomplish in every day life.
Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince:
A more recent example of a character whose superhero idolization manifests itself through images is Izuru Hitachi of Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince. As early as episode two, Majestic Prince makes it a point to show just how poorly Izuru communicates through words. When asked in a press conference, “How did you feel?” Izuru holds up his own drawing of a super sentai hero and says, “I felt like this.” unable to communicate his emotional pride or gratitude in any other way.
As his team eventually warms up to him, one constant of Izuru’s personality remains: his overwhelming desire to be seen as a hero like the ones in the manga he reads and draws. He best expresses his own desires to help others, and to be a “good person” through the ideal of a hero. Like Yayoi, Izuru’s actions as Red 5 of Team Rabbits can be seen by others as outwardly heroic – in fact, they’re seen more obviously, due to the fact that Izuru is publicly a fighter pilot, while Yayoi’s role as Cure Peace remains in the dark to the general public – however both still rely on drawings of superhero manga to communicate their thoughts to others.
Specific to Izuru’s situation is the fact that his memories were wiped prior to his entry into the MJP Program and his genetic modification. The brief flashes of memory and recognition that he does experience are always induced by visuals and he, unwittingly at first, additionally expresses what he can vaguely recall by drawing it out on paper. In lieu of having memories of his past, Izuru fills this empty space with super sentai manga and the idea of being a superhero. For Izuru, the superhero represents an ideal to work towards or to become rather than the more escapist meaning that it has for Yayoi and Kenji. Unsure of what his own personality exactly is due to his memory loss, Izuru wishes to fill this void with the potential to be a hero for others.
This is where the character of Hajime Ichinose, of Gatchaman Crowds, is applicable. Although she is not a super sentai mangaka, Hajime expresses herself through actions and visual comparisons rather than words. It’s telling that her only art expertise is in collage, which allows one to cut and paste various things, combining them to arrive at a different meaning than that of the separate pieces. When trying to describe or communicate, she uses hand gestures, or attempts to compare one thing side-by-side with another to achieve the emotional meaning of what she wants to say.
Hajime wants to be a hero, but she doesn’t necessarily ascribe the same ideal of a superhero to her own actions or the actions of others, like Izuru, Kenji, or Yayoi. One could say that Hajime wants everyone to be heroes to one another, as her definition of a superhero is the same regardless of whether you are an ordinary person, the town fire chief, or a member of the G-Crew (who act as stand-ins for the ideal superhero archetype). In episode five, she transforms without permission in order to help save others because, “That’s what heroes do.” not specifically superheroes, but heroes in general. Additionally, she ascribes to the school of thought that heroism can be found in anyone. For Hajime, it is not about overcoming weaknesses that she sees within herself (although it may come to pass that this too informs her actions) but defying the perception of her audience, both in the viewers of the series and the in-universe characters whom she interacts with on a daily basis.
In all of these examples, there are consistent themes of becoming more than who you appear to be, and overcoming one’s own weaknesses to protect others. There is additionally a thread connecting all of these character in their inadequacy to express their emotions in a more straightforward way – through speaking or writing – than visuals or actions. There are times when we all want to become something more than ourselves, to protect friends, family, or simply to feel superior for a moment in light of our own vulnerability. These feelings are only compounded when one already has difficulty expressing their own emotions or feelings to others, and perhaps this can shed some light as to why artists specifically are shown to idolize or exemplify the ideal of the superhero.