State of the anime

As I have said extensively about the superhero genre is that it’s creatively and practically stagnant and moribund. People will get overdosed on superheroes in their lifetimes even if they’re hardly ever read the original comics. In a few years time, lots of people will really hate superheroes and that hatred is going to destroy the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the CW. I’ve sat through several X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman cartoons growing up. Several years later, I see that the genre even outside of comics is already approaching a dead end with the severe lack of truly original superhero stories and characters.

I don’t dislike superheroes but their presence is tiring. Unsurprisingly, its trajectory is similar to where the Japanese animation and comics industries have been heading. Somebody at 2Chan.us posted a translation of a series of interviews featuring the mastermind behind Love Hina. He goes on stating that even Japanese comics editors aren’t above their own mistakes. They’d make a series run longer than what the creators expected. The creators of Naruto and One Piece never intend their series to run this long and might have wanted to have them end shorter than at present. Heck Naruto got continued with the adventures of the protagonist’s son.

He even talks about a work for hire practise becoming a possible alternative with different creators doing their own takes on familiar franchises. I think this is already being done to stuff like QTaro, Pokemon, Fist of the North Star, Evangelion, Saint Seiya and Gundam to varying degrees. Superhero media has been doing this for several decades without end. It’s also a way to stunt the industry by driving away original voices that might create the next Superman in terms of lore and recognition among the public. Even turning Arrow and Flash into big franchises will never replicate the power that Superman and Batman have over people.

Then we get to stuff that’s practically incomprehensible and repetitive. Somebody said that both Japanese cartoons and comics are the most cliche-ridden media and that’s painfully true. A lot of those stories feel so unoriginal that you could point out that Naruto is based on Hunter x Hunter, which is based on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures which is based on fashion magazines and musicians. It’s almost inbred in a sense. While Attack on Titan seems original enough, some anime are reminiscent of older stories like what Kuroto’s Basketball is to Slam Dunk. Other anime contain in-jokes and references that only makes sense to wizened anime fans.

A good example would be Kill la Kill, full of weird fanservice, obscure anime in-jokes, stereotypical characters, nonsensical battles and parodies of magical girl transformation sequences. Kill la Kill only makes sense to people who are already familiar with anime. That’s where superhero comics have been at for decades and where superhero programmes like Flash are heading for if the producers are this careless. It’s also a coincidence that both industries have shot themselves in the foot by deciding to cater to a niche fanbase via the instigation of niche markets.

OVAs and dounjinshi/fanfiction are to anime and manga as what the Direct Market and never-ending continuations are to superheroes. These days they can’t exist independently of their niche audiences even as some strive to appeal to a more mainstream audience. This speaks volumes about the irrelevance of superheroes and anime, despite their influence on people. Besides outside of Japan, many more people read romance and young adult novels than they read manga. In the like manner, superhero media is being killed by the overwhelming ubiquity of the Internet. Who is going to keep enjoying that stuff? Inevitably it lies in the diehard fanbase, which makes such stories all the more insular.

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Let the purging begin

Did Geoff Johns rip off Warhammer 40k?

A few years ago there was scathing criticism of Geoff Johns’s work on Green Lantern from the folk at Hooded Utilitarian. It’s one of those comics blogs that I used to go to with a myopically critical eye on comics. Geoff Johns isn’t exactly what I’d like to call a very good writer as his habit of taking themes too literally sometimes goes against the characters he works. When it comes to characters that work best with thematic subtlety like the Flash or Green Lantern, it becomes too much of a take on their powers instead of the characters that get them. In the case with Green Lantern, he introduced the emotional spectrum corps with corresponding colours but I have the odd suspicion that the Red Lanterns are ripoffs of something.

You guessed it they’re ripoffs of Games Workshop’s Khornate Berzerkers just as The Butcher is a poor man’s Khorne. They’re blood-red with wrath and they’re from the Warhammer 40k games. Mind you Warhammer 40k already has its Red Lanterns Corps before Geoff Johns and DC got to it. While I don’t play Warhammer 40k myself but because my cousin is into it and having read the comics myself Warhammer is like the Inquisition but set in the far flung future. You know, characters who live and die for a divine power always up against chaotic forces. You’ve got Khorne but also Nurgle, Slaneesh and Tzeentch. Also the Warhammer cross is a Balkan Cross with a skull imposed on it and the Commissars dress like some Nazi figures.

It’s like Geoff Johns took Khorne and his Khornate Berzerkers then got rid of the original religious connotations as Warhammer 40k is based on Catholicism of some sort. You know the line: Burn the heretic, kill the mutant, purge the unclean. Similar things can be said of various witchhunts during the Middle Ages and Renaissance as any European would’ve known by now. If the Green Lanterns had any real motivation other than willpower, especially with what their godlike powers could do to dissidents and opponents it would’ve been pretty similar to what’s been going on in Warhammer. Either we make Green Lanterns into glorified space inquistors going their way to purge evildoers or we get a sissified version of Khornate Berzerkers (the Red Lanterns themselves).

It would been kickass if Geoff Johns was actually influenced by Warhammer 40k, probably going so far to turn the Flash into a glorified Khornate Berzerker that the DC Universe needs. Unless if it’s a “shared” trope, Red Lanterns Corps is going to be a poor man’s Khornate Berzerkers whether if the people admit to it or not.

Why I despise “adorkable”

There is nothing wrong with relating to a certain fictional character though I feel as if it’s usually the adorkable characters that are often interpreted as such by avid fans. Even if it’s not always the case it’s like as if these audiences can’t relate to anybody else who shares their experiences. It might even be a case of the writers not being able to create genuninely relatable characters who especially aren’t glorified fans of any sort.

Sort of like what Hayao Miyazaki said, you need to interact with people other than yourself to make your works livelier or at the very least have different interests and hobbies. There is nothing wrong with a non-stereotypical nerd character. But I don’t feel strongly connected to any adorkable character at the moment and the times when I tried too are brief and has left me suspicious.

There lies another problem with adorkable characters, they’re ultimately rather boring because they either usually don’t feel like ordinary people or stop being so genuinely normal altogether. Not all Canon Sues are adorkable but a good number of adorkable characters are Canon Sues. With a good number of Canon Sues being adorkable, it’s not hard to see why I fail to relate to them.

I once wanted to look up to a character when I was a real fan but ever since outgrowing the feeling I feel more comfortable relatable to pop stars like Britney Spears and Taylor Swift to be honest. Sometimes I relate better to musicians than I do with adorkable characters and that says something. Some of them could be geeks but I relate to pop stars due to their hobbies and life experiences.

Adorkable characters are, in my opinion, annoying when there is little anything else to them other than being glorified geeks. Real life adorkable people do exist like Daniel Goddard but I wonder how many fangirls go after him post-Beast Master. Perhaps not too many as Goddard is pretty mainstream these days. And singer Peter Andre got bullied growing up but not too many geeks relate to him even if we go by certain stereotypes.

Adorkable characters aren’t bad in and of themselves but would an audience better relate to somebody like Peter Andre because of his life experiences? Would they do the same with pop stars? I think that’s common in celebrity fandom outside of geeky circles but it’s also a noteworthy example considering that some of the more relatable characters in fiction weren’t big geeks either though your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, the problem with adorkable characters is that it’s easy to shoehorn characters in nonthreatening weirdness but not when that character is genuinely relatable despite being unlikely. Some people can relate to a pop star or a ginger or an albino when having had similar experiences. That’s being relatable in a way adorkable fails to be. In other words, compassion wins while feigned awkwardness doesn’t.

Homogenisation and Fan Entitlement

I said that the superhero genre is perilously in decline for several reasons but the biggest ones like fandom entitlement, homogenisation and oversaturation. I’ve already talked about oversaturation at length but let’s observe the other two in depth. The superhero genre is also declining real badly because of homogenisation. In the past, there were several publishers of superhero comics and many of them have been lost to time. Several others however have been bought by DC and Marvel which in turn get bought by much bigger companies. Then you get a dilution of the same character. Most of the time, dilution happens to strengthen the brand’s trademark. In the case with Black Lightning, due to copyright disputes with the character’s original writer DC created a substitute in his place in the Super Friends cartoon as that character got diluted in pop culture, eventually becoming a meme.

The superhero genre is repetitive as it is homogenised to a great extent. There isn’t much room for original characters or even radically different takes on familiar characters. I can understand why people fear radical takes on something familiar since I felt the same way too. It’s just that with superhero comics and any medium and genre that gets adopted by a niche audience, it gets harder to do something new and original. Take a look that what happened to the animation and comics market in Japan, they peaked due to a boom and then begin declining as the younger population dwindles in size and influence. Editors would keep a series long to secure the remaining readers even if it’s against the cartoonists’ original intentions and can be prone to inconsistent quality.

Eventually the stories become repetitive as they’ve overstayed their welcome. While this isn’t exactly the case with Japanese comics and cartoons in general, various franchises like Hunter x Hunter, Dragon Ball, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures, Fist of the North Star, Sailor Moon, Gundam, Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Cutie Honey, Devilman, Naruto and Evangelion have been getting reboots, spinoffs and continuations of sorts. On one hand that’s recognising their legacy and on the other, that’s milking them for what’s worth and left of everything. Even original anime have plots that suspicious remind audiences of older stories. Superhero stories are practically no different in this regard.

With homogenisation comes fan entitlement. Fandom in general has a tendency to be entitled over its obsessions though thankfully that’s generally not the case with media that has mainstream followings like pop music and even romance novels. I could be wrong about that but you’re more likely to encounter entitled, obsessive followings in nerd subcultures if Bronies are any damning indication. Arrow is a view of fan pandering/entitlement where some fans keep on telling the writers to make their favourite pairing come true even if it’s at the expense of the story’s intended direction. And when the witers succumbed to it, Arrow suffered. Now they’re going apply the same disastrous formula to the Flash.

What would make fans even more entitled is a certain character that acts like a glorified self-insert Mary Sue. In my opinion, that’s fine to a certain extent but not when it’s presented as glorified and self-congratulatory. That’s too close to Mary Sue territory if the character has or gains special skills and stuff especially when done too carelessly. There’s an anime franchise called Pretty Cure and in one iteration, it features a glorified geeky self-insert named Cure Peace. There’s a version of that character type found in superhero stories to varying degrees. Sendar of Ganriki talked about the dangers of self-selection in anime where you have a fan to score points with an audience composed of fans and not for the better.

That tendency disappears if you go back several decades ago. It says a lot about such media being done by fans for fans in the manner that’s like a fan fiction industry as Gary Groth puts it. There is little to no connection with not so obsessive fans over time as the diehards want more of the same thing. One cannot exist without the other even if it’s not a good connection at that. And that’s what I fear for superheroes.

Is the superhero genre dead?

The superhero genre isn’t dead but one of the reasons why it’s dying is not because it’s becoming politically correct. It’s dying because it’s repetitive. Almost every character and story is a rehash of older ones. Mind you both Monica Rambeau and Miguel O’Hara predated Kamala Khan and Miles Morales by many years. A female Captain Marvel is nothing new if you ask both Monica Rambeau and Mary Marvel. A female Spider-Man is nothing new either, in fact there are several Spider-Women like Arana, Silk, Gwen Stacy, May Parker and Jessica Drew.

I even noted that several storylines in the Flash are actually rehashes of older storylines, some of them from other comics like Superman and Batman. The idea of a relative of the Flash being demoted to a real Other isn’t anything new. That has happened to Supergirl, Superman’cousin in her late 80s reappearance. Much like what became of Bart Allen recently, she turned out to have no real relation to Superman in a way and was confrontational with him I think. Likewise the idea of the Flash’s friend turning evil isn’t anything new either. Swap Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon for Frances Kane and Manuel Lago and you’d see a similar pattern.

This repetition is also found outside of superhero comics where both cinema and television replay the same storylines with altered details. Jean Grey looses her mind and becomes the Phoenix. Barry Allen avenges a loved one. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman after losing his relatives. Superman is sent to Earth. A black person with electricity powers. Even if it’s not always the case but given that these are common observations in superhero media, it’s not hard to see why superhero stories have gotten stale and repetitive. The question is whether or not repetition is killing the superhero genre.

Some writers compare this to inbreeding in the sense that there’s a loss of genetic diversity that makes an organism sterile in the future. A kinder description would be repetition but it still decribes a similar sentiment. In this case however it’s increasingly easy to feel fed up with superheroes. The reasons may vary but when it comes to people like Alan Moore, Max Allen Collins and Darwyn Cooke, they pointed out that superherores are essentially childish and silly. Making them serious and mature/edgy seems misguided and haphazard. I feel the same way growing up with superheroes on television.

There were superhero stories for adults before but historically speaking for every Spawn, Adventures of Lois and Clark, Blade, Constantine and Smallville, there’s a Heroes, Misfits, Stripperella, Hancock, Darkman, Mystery Men, My Ex-Girlfriend’s Super and Unbreakable and many of them are intended for older audiences. They themselves get outnumbered by kiddie fare like Sky High, Danny Phantom, Captain Carlos, Teamo Supreamo, El Tigre, Power Puff Girls, Electro Woman and Dyna Girl, Harvey Birdman, Space Ghost, Freakazoid and The Ripping Friends. These two get outnumbered by every DC and Marvel adaptation in history.

There are still superhero stories aimed at youngsters but original ones are increasingly few and far between on television and in cinema. Even Big Hero 6 is a loose adaptation of the comics series of the same name. Just like with what happened to superhero comics, superhero television and cinema is increasingly aimed at older audiences. It gets worse if that audience is already familiar with superheroes since childhood. And over time that genre gets too niche and self-referential. That’s like how we get there from the 1990s Flash series and DCAU to Young Justice to the 2010s Flash and Arrow. The latter two are increasingly influenced by their fandoms.

It might a bad thing in the long run as most viewers don’t care about fan theories and pairings. Arrow is a notorious example where a fan pairing became canon, thus ruining the quality of the series. The Flash could be next if the producers aren’t careful. And when you have a genre or medium that’s heavily defined by its fandom it becomes stagnant and incomprehensible. Take a look at what became of superhero comics following the 1980s. They’ve become incomprehensible and even repulsive to many. With the original comics, we’ve already seen the inevitable decline and the genre in general seems like it’s begging to die.

Oversaturation and the use of lousy gimmicks has already destroyed the superhero comics market. Similar things could happen to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and the CW if they’re not careful. Otherwise it would spell the end of superheroes for good.

The end is nigh for the CW

As I said before that when it comes to superhero oversaturation in the media we’re actually seeing the inevitable decline. There were superhero stories outside of comics before. There were Batman, Superman and Shazam movie serials before. Then there’s the Superman radio play that debuted Jimmy Olsen proper. Then you’ve got countless superhero programmes that were mostly aimed at children as well as original ones like Electro Woman and Dyna Girl, Danny Phantom, Sky High and El Tigre. Then there’s a number of original superhero stories for adults like Mystery Men, Heroes, Misfits, Hancock and My Ex- Girlfriend’s Super. I excluded Mutant X as it was loosely based on the X-Men comics because both of them involved mutants the Marvel Way but you get the point. Right before Arrow and Flash 2.0 showed up, you’ve got Superhero Squad Show, Iron Man (this time he’s a young lad), a 2010 Spiderman cartoon featuring a bespectacled Gwen Stacy, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and a new Fantastic Four cartoon.

Right now there’s Avengers Assemble, Beware the Batman, Teen Titans Go and Spectacular Spider-Man. These are some of the superhero stories that I can think of that actively appeal to youngsters and general audiences. The same can’t be said of Arrow and Flash despite the fact that many of the characters’ televised predate these two and those early appearances took place in children’s programmes. Even that’s not always the case, the Ruby Spears Superman cartoon predated the Adventures of Lois and Clark in the same manner the Bruce Timm Superman cartoon predated Smallville. The kiddie version actually tends to predate the adult-oriented one, most especially if you observe superhero comics’ trajectory from disposable kids’ stuff to awkward nostalgic nightmares as they headed straight to the comic book specialty store. That’s pretty apt if you read up on the history of the Direct Market.

For example Black Canary made her first televised appearance in the rather campy Legends of the Superheroes specials which was tied to Super-Friends, which marked the Flash’s first televised appearance. Before she appeared on Smallville and Arrow, she made appearances in the DCAU and Young Justice cartoons. It still follows the pattern of the entire trajectory of the superhero storytelling industry beginning with comics. It’s also telling that since adults aren’t the intended audience for superheroes and usually even somebody who’s sympathetic to supers will tire or outgrow of them anytime soon, superhero media is increasingly targetted at diehards complete with trivia referencing easter eggs crap and stuff. That might have taken place as early as the DCAU and even Adventures of Lois and Clark go. Since I said that Arrow and Flash are at the tail end of superhero oversaturation, there is a danger that they’ll get affected by some backlash which results in their abrupt ends. Arrow is already declining in ratings and quality if it weren’t for heavy fan-pandering. The Flash is next and the end draws nearer to superhero stories than ever.

Will the Flash and Arrow end unexpectedly?

Someone on Moviepilot commented on the crossoever episode between the two related programmes. He said that there’s a possibility that they will decline so badly that the network would have to cancel both of them. Consider what he outlined:

Come up with a idea for a programme, then you add in actors who are good looking but might not be competent in acting, give everyone a love interest (or as I’d like to say create hamfisted romances that make no sense with no real progression and development), abandon each programme’s good parts and make everything into a glorified soap opera.

One might argue that superhero comics themselves are like soap operas, complete with hamfisted melodrama and stuff. Characters coming back to life are nothing new in superhero comics but this is beginning to infect superhero programmes. It can be argued that an early instance of the revolving door of death outside of comics would be what happened to Tim Drake in the DCAU cartoons. He started out as a misguided kid but got straightened up until the Joker took advantage of him, he even became the Joker himself. While the real Joker might have passed away in Batman Beyond, he lives on possessing Tim from time to time.

There could be many other instances of it happening outside of DCAU though I don’t remember what really happened growing up watching superhero cartoons on the telly. This is beginning to infect the CW programmes beginning with the return of Sara Lance. In the Flash we saw the death and resurrection of Cisco Ramon. Barry Allen himself has returned from the grave in the comics. If it’s not bad enough, both programmes could pull in hamfisted retcons explaining away plot holes. It’s just like what happens in superhero comics. But because superhero television isn’t anywhere as insular as superhero comics yet, these two could be a change for the worst.

Another problem lies with fan pandering. Superhero comics did pander to the fans before but they didn’t heavily pander to them until the instigation of the Direct Market. You not only have no-prizes for certain plot holes but also variant covers, favouritism and shout-outs to a narrow readership. The earlier DC productions did pander to the fans, most especially with the DCAU to an extent. It wouldn’t get really heavy until there were more programmes featuring the same characters who all appeared in kids’ cartoons like DCAU again. This is where it gets tawdry. Much like what happened to superhero comics, superhero television could abandon children anytime soon.

From what I’ve seen there’s a lot of Marvel themed merchandise for kids. The DC ones tend to be either based on the classic versions or are pricey and inaccessible. It also says a lot about the marketing department at DC. Considering that the Flash used to appear on kids’ shows, it seems like DC doesn’t know what to do with the brand now that it’s being used to pander to adults. It gets worse when you have an adult audience that grew up with these cartoons now that DC is trying to pander to them rather awkwardly. Arrow ended up pandering to the fans and now its quality and popularity suffers.

Heck Arrow could end anytime soon and the Flash will be next. I even have a feeling that the CW versions of the same superheroes that used to be on kids’ shows not too long ago will not have the same staying power as Superman and Batman do. While they do have long running comics but outside of it they’re practically second stringers. No wonder why it look a really long time for Green Arrow to get his own television series and why the first Flash series isn’t that well-remembered either. Both Flash and Arrow are going to be worse off because they’re at the tail end of superhero oversaturation.

Growing up, I watched a lot of superhero cartoons most of them being adaptations of either DC or Marvel. I even watched two X-Men movies in the theatres. I could say that superheroes were always popular on television and cinema though they were primarily marketed to kids. Then the manchildren came and we’re seeing the first signs of oversaturation. I think oversaturation is going to help end both programmes as we’ve seen the same characters and stories before. Once the Ant-Man movie hits the cinemas, people will eventually stop liking superheroes and the CW cancels Arrow and Flash for good.