Super Hero Time


I have noted a difference between American comic book superheroes and Japanese tokusatsu superheroes. Tokusatsu is a term for live action with special effects, like in the Godzilla movies. Not only is there a difference in the form of media, there is a difference in the way they are presented. In the United States, we have superheroes from DC and Marvel. In Japan, many of the superheroes come from Super Sentai and Kamen Rider.


In American comics, the series lasts as long as how much time, money, and motivation are put into it. Batman: The Animated Series, for example, has lasted for four seasons. Both Super Sentai and Kamen Rider change their series every year; basically every season. The same can be said with many Japanese anime. Some anime last for only twelve episodes. While American superheroes, for the most part, never change, Japanese superheroes constantly change. There are always new characters, new motifs, and new locations.


Unlike most Marvel and DC superheroes, most superheroes from Super Sentai and Kamen Rider are not that concerned with keeping their identities secret. In many of the Kamen Rider shows like Kamen Rider W, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Fourze, and Kamen Rider Wizard, the Riders change in front of innocent bystanders. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of media attention for the superheroes either. It could be that the Japanese have a different way of viewing superheroes. Americans could be concerned about the identity of the heroes that protect them, and the Japanese prefer to respect the hero’s identity. Either that or the Japanese just want to ignore the issue. Though there are some cases when innocent bystanders will protect an American superhero’s identity. In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker takes off his mask while trying to stop a runaway train. The passengers promise him that they will never tell anyone who he is, and even stand up to Doctor Octopus.


The mission of the superheroes differs as well. DC and Marvel superheroes have a career that lasts most of their lifetime. Super Sentai and Kamen Rider superheroes have a career that lasts less than a year. Also, their opponents differ. American superheroes have a wide variety of enemies from common thugs to criminal masterminds. Japanese superheroes always have monsters for enemies; they are never human (though in Kamen Rider W and Kamen Rider Fourze, the main antagonists are humans that are able to temporarily transform into monsters with special devices). Another notable trait of Japanese superheroes is that they do not fight regular crime like Batman or Spider-man does. They only fight when the monster is located.


In America, superheroes usually use costumes in combat. In Japan, superheroes “transform”, or “henshin”. It’s not really much of a transformation, as the hero’s suit just materializes around their body. The Japanese always uses a special device that allows them to transform. Some American superheroes like the Hulk or the Thing have a form larger than the average human. Japanese superheroes are always humanoid and human-sized.


One of the things I like most about Super Sentai and Kamen Rider is their strong morals. DC and Marvel have morals, but they are not as focused on. Also, in some comics, there is always some form of sexual intercourse. Super Sentai and Kamen Rider does not display any form of sexual intercourse, though there are some sexual scenes like breast touching, but this is mainly for comical purposes. Despite being aimed mainly towards children, both television series have parts that most American parents find inappropriate. For example, in Dekaranger, one of the characters catches a bullet. In Power Rangers: SPD (Dekaranger’s American counterpart), the bullets were changed into laser beams, causing the character to do the impossible by catching it. There is also some blood in the Japanese shows, something that many American parents, understandably, dislike. This may look like Japanese parents are being irresponsible for allowing their children to watch shows with guns and blood, but the truth is that it’s all about how that child is raised.


There is a lot to compare and contrast between American superheroes and Japanese superheroes. Personally, I am not a big fan of Power Rangers (it was okay during the first ten seasons, but now I find it cheesy), and I wish that American children can be exposed to Super Sentai and Kamen Rider the way they are, and not an American adaptation. Americans and Japanese have different views of superheroes, and it is rather enjoyable to compare and contrast the two sides.

  1 comment for “Super Hero Time

  1. cmccrzy
    April 8, 2013 at 12:23 am

    You bring up some good points here, but I disagree with a number of your points. For starters, you mess with your scope too much. In your opening, it sounds like you want to write about Japanese superheroes in general, but throughout your post you jump between the general and the specific characters from “Super Sentai” and “Kamen Rider”, as if these two refer to the same thing. You also neglect to define “superhero”, which is problematic because that definition can be rather broad.

    Are you referring specifically to only “Super Sentai” and “Kamen Rider”? Or are you referring to Japanese live-action supeheroes in general? Or are you referring to every single Japanese superhero, including those in live-action shows/movies, manga, anime, and video games? You switch between these numerous times, and it is hard to keep track of your argument or what you’re talking about.


    blockquote cite=”Not only is there a difference in the form of media, there is a difference in the way they are presented.”>

    America, Europe, and Japan have had comics since at least the 1800s. Japan has a history with comics going back centuries earlier. While live-action superhero shows might be more visibly popular in Japan, America had live-action superhero shows about a decade before Japan did, and has continued to have them off and on ever since. Most recently, the US has featured shows like “Smallville” (Superman), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Arrow”, “Witchblade”, and “Heroes”. America has also had numerous live-action superhero films, from the old Superman movies in the 40s and 70s up to “The Avengers” and the up-coming “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel” films. America has also featured numerous animated superhero shows ever since the first Superman cartoons in the 40s, while anime started up in 1917, yet did not come into its own until the 60s. Show like “Ben 10” are currently on-going, while other shows like “Young Justice” only ended this past month. New superhero shows have also been announced, like the next season of “Legend of Korra” and the return of “Teen Titans”. As far as medium goes, I see no difference. As for presentation, the only thing I can see you seeing differently here is that the ones in Japan look cheesier or that live-action shows are more popular, which is arguable. American superhero shows and comics have had quite the fair share of cheese and popularity. “Heroes” was incredibly popular when it was airing and “Smallville” ran for ten seasons and is still running in comic book format.

    Yes, many of our heroes in America come from DC and Marvel, but there are other companies producing well-known heroes, like Disney, Nickelodeon, Universal, Top Cow, Warner Bros., Dark Horse Comics, and numerous independent companies. You are also comparing apples and toasters when you compare two companies to two TV series. If you were to talk about Toei, Studio Ghibli, Kodansha or Aniplex or any other big name company that produces numerous superhero shows, this would be more comparable. Are you talking about who gets watched/read the most? And if so, then where: America or in Japan? Some hard data on what the Japanese watch/read the most would be rather interesting, if you have any. As a manga/anime fan, I always find it interesting to see what the Japanese themselves actually prefer to see. Over here, though, I have a reasonable suspicion that, when asked about “Japanese superhero”, the first thought in most people’s heads would be “Power Rangers”, “Sailor Moon”, “Bleach”, or “Dragon Ball Z”, and not the two shows you mention. A more avid manga/anime fan would probably say “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” or any of the Gundam series or “Tiger & Bunny”. Ignoring their individual popularity, there is the sheer number of manga and anime superheroes created every year. Most superheroes (number-wise) do not come strictly from your two TV shows.

    Your second paragraph also sounds a little off. I don’t understand the purpose of the first line, or how it relates to the rest of the paragraph. I was hoping that you would go into how the length of Japanese manga/anime are decided, but you didn’t. Just about anything outside of contractually obligated items last based on how much time, money, and motivation are put into it. I think this paragraph would make more sense if you didn’t say “American comics” and then skip immediately to an animated series, which is not a comic. While American TV shows often last for numerous seasons, this is not always the case. Numerous series are cancelled every year after a half-season or one season alone. Anime can also extend beyond twelve episodes. “Bleach” has 366 episodes and four OVAs, “Sailor Moon” has over 200 episodes and three OVAs, “Naruto” has over 500 episodes and seven OVAs, “One Piece” has 588 episodes and two OVAs, and the list goes on and on. I understand that you’re not saying superhero anime only last for short amounts of time or go on every year, but your language is rather vague and I don’t really get what type of point you’re trying to make. My point is that length is a changeable thing in both countries, and does not strictly define either.

    While you might make a good point about how Japanese stories tend to avoid the problem of secret identities a little more often than the more popular American superhero stories, your sentences are too vague to really state anything. I could name a number of examples where secret identities are an important aspect of the anime: “Corpse Princess”, “Sailor Moon”, “Bleach”, “Trinity Blood”, “Busou Renkin”, “Romeo x Juliet” (which is interesting because it is a European “love” story put it into a fantasy-adventure universe with numerous anime tropes), “Darker Than Black”, “Kiddy Grade”, “Tiger & Bunny”, “Seto no Hanayome”, “Fate/zero”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”… It would help if I knew what you meant by “superhero”, because the term can be applied rather broadly, from characters given special equipment to help them fight, to people with special genetic abilities, to magical powers, to really good martial art skills and so on. Before you start to limit, remember this: one of the most well known superheroes in America is Batman – a hero without any supernatural powers.

    While the subject of the secret identity is an important one in American comics, it is not the central focus of every comic story. Oftentimes the focus is on the monster of the week, some normal human problem facing the protagonist, like getting a date for the prom or finding a job, or some international conspiracy or galactic war. It is still interesting to note that Japan does seem to tend to teeter a little more towards the “don’t care” part of the secret identity thing , but that’s not an end-all definition for the country across the board.

    The media attention bit is also rather wrong, for the most part. For instance, in “Sailor Moon”, most people recognize the titular character when she shows up. Kids emulate her. People talk about her. During many shows featuring battles in cities, screen-time is devoted to TV coverage of battles or the aftermath of battles. Scientific postulations on events are given. If there is little to no media coverage, the explanation given is typically about a government cover-up, like in “Darker Than Black” or “Fate/zero”, where the government tries to keep the populace out of the loop and calm.

    In your next paragraph, you bring up the opponents differences. Yes, American superheroes fight a plethora of different opponents, including machines, non-humanoid and humanoid aliens, mutants, humans, magical constructs, zombies, obstacle courses, masterminds, metahumans, animals, nature, and so on. But so do Japanese superheroes. Sailor Moon fights numerous aliens. Hei (“Darker Than Black”) fights numerous assassins, metahumans, and a worldwide secret society. Makina (“Corpse Princess”) typically fights numerous kinds of zombies and magical constructs. Éclair (“Kiddy Grade”) fights humans, machines, and metahumans. Ichigo (“Bleach”) fights hollows, arrancars, Quincies, and humans. The Servants in “Fate/zero” fight each other, and they are the physical manifestations of legendary heroes. The characters in “Evangelion” fight angels, or whatever you want to call the machine/magic whatevers they fight in that series. I question what you mean by “regular crime”. I’ll use your examples to explain. Batman and Spider-man have had quite the career paths. In “Justice League”, Batman often left with the team for missions on other worlds. He’s fought Gorilla Grod, the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, man-eating plants, alien armies, and let’s not forget that he’s helped lead the Justice League as one of the Big Three on numerous occasions.

    Spider-man’s first real mission in the “New Avengers” comics is to go with the group to the Savage Land, where they fight a guy who turns into a pterodactyl, SHIELD troops, some dinosaurs, and the local populace. He’s involved in numerous battles with other metahumans during Marvel’s “Civil War”, messes with time during numerous interactions with Steven Strange, and helps fight to restore reality during the “House of M” event. I believe that by “regular crime” you are referring to rescuing cats in trees and stopping bank robberies. While the big-name heroes have done this, and on occasion still do this, the focus has moved to bigger problems, because comic readers simply don’t care about cats stuck in trees and strollers running in front of out-of-control cars or buses of nuns running into trucks full of dynamite. They care about terrorists and aliens and government conspiracies and human rights issues.

    Your “monster location battle decider” ignores the fact that this is a sort of military strategy: pick a target, and send a suitable team to deal with it. As such, it has been replicated in many, many superhero shows. Recent examples include “Generator Rex”, where Providence would find hubs of bad Evo activity and send Rex in to deal with the problem. He didn’t patrol to look for enemies. His boss found them for him. SHIELD, the X-Men (finding new mutants), and the Avengers also frequently follow this formula. “Ben 10” also revolved around the idea of his vacation being interrupted by alien invasion of some sort. He didn’t patrol – he just ran into problems. The same could be said for most of “Sailor Moon”, “Wolf’s Rain”, and “Casshern Sins”. The Justice League also typically functions under this ideology – someone heading all superheroes and sending them to strategic problem areas gets things done faster and in greater quantities. Yes, the idea of patrolling is a common trope in American comics, but so is military style fighting.

    Using a costume is not the opposite of a transformation sequence. Yes, Sailor Moon has a transformation sequence, but she also wears a sailor fukuu. The transformation sequence is also a rather debatable concept. In American superhero stories and manga and anime, the idea of “suiting up” has often been related to the transformation sequence. Superman must pull off his civilian clothes to safely fight crime anonymously. Spiderman must put his mask on. Green Lantern is one of the closest to having a transformation sequence (light typically covers him in the form of his suit). The sequences where gundam pilots prepare for combat has also been compared to a transformation sequence of sorts, and those robots have been compared to costumes. While the fact that using an item of some sort (or a piece of a costume to complete it) to transform is rather common in Japanese superhero stories is rather interesting, this aspect is not lost in American superhero stories, nor is it universal in Japanese superhero stories.

    If you want morals central to the story in American comics, then either you are not looking deep enough at the ones we have, or you have not read the old ones. All the cheese back in the day often revolved around morals like “eat your veggies” (“Popeye”), listen to your parents, go to school, don’t do drugs, etc. Current comics often focus on the importance of truth, schooling and studying, trust, family, loyalty, the definition of love, safety, hubris, and fear. Just because someone doesn’t walk into the middle of the screen at the end of the story and say “And that’s why recycling is important” (“Captain Planet”, ”He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”, “Super Friends”) does not mean that there are no morals or that morals are not an important aspect of the story.

    “In some comics…there is always some form of sexual intercourse” makes no sense. If you mean that there is sex in comics, well yes. A number of comics feature sexual encounters, rape, making out, kissing, physical touching in a lustful fashion, etc. We do have pornographic comics and animated television. Japan has hentai, and oversexualization in superhero stories in Japan is a big problem. Just watch “Corpse Princess”, “Sailor Moon”, “Sword Art Online”, “Busou Renkin”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “Kiddy Grade”, and so many others. For some reason, creators think that porn belongs in a locale where that is not the purpose of the story. This is a problem in both countries. I suggest you go take a look at the eschergirls tumblr if you have an interest in this. I find it interesting that you talk about “breast touching” immediately before a sentence about this genre being “aimed mainly towards children”. While I don’t really know about the live-action series, this is entirely wrong for the majority of animated television shows and comics. Yes, there are many things that parents might find inappropriate with these things. That’s partially because children don’t pay for them – adults do. So creators market principally towards adults. There are all sorts of other reasons, but this is one of them. You really need to stick to how things are different between the countries, and not that American parents take issue with Japanese superhero stories because they have blood in them. They do that with American comics, films, TV shows, and video games, too. Are Japanese parents more okay with their younger children watching the more violent stuff? It would be interesting to see a study about this. Otherwise, Japan has access to a great deal of completely non-violent, non-bloody things to watch and read.

    If you tldr’d this, please focus your scope next time, try not to generalize too much, and stick to a topic that you can detail a lot. I would have liked to read an article on the differences between “Kamen Rider”/”Super Sentai” and say one of the Superman or Batman shows, or maybe how they defy numerous American superhero tropes. But that’s not what this is. Comparing Japanese and American superhero stories in an interesting thing, and deserves more focus.

Comments are closed.