Last-Minute Otakon Panel Addition

Otakon asked me to do the Utena panel as well! So my full list of panels is now:

  • The Duel Named Revolution: Making Sense of Revolutionary Girl Utena: Friday 8/11 10:15 AM in Panel 4.
  • Break the World’s Shell! Apocalypse and Anime: Friday 8/11 4:30 PM in Panel 2.
  • Spiraling Back: Gurren Lagann 10 Years Later (new panel w/Viga!): Saturday 8/12 at 6 PM in Panel 8.
  • Fullmetal Alchemy: Saturday 8/12 at 9:45 PM in Panel 2.

 

Otakon 2017 Schedule!

I’m going to be presenting at Otakon this year, for the first time in more than half a decade!

My panels:

  • Break the World’s Shell! Apocalypse and Anime: Friday 8/11 4:30 PM in Panel 2.
  • Spiraling Back: Gurren Lagann 10 Years Later (new panel w/Viga!): Saturday 8/12 at 6 PM in Panel 8.
  • Fullmetal Alchemy: Saturday 8/12 at 9:45 PM in Panel 2.

I’m feeling particularly meta about that middle one–my first panel ever was a Gurren Lagann panel, with Viga, at Otakon 2008. We really are spiraling back!

I may also do the Utena panel if there’s a cancellation.

Animated Book Launch!

Animated Discussions front cover by Viga Gadson. Click to expand.

Animated Discussions, my new collection of essays on anime, is now available for purchase!

Distilled from years of writing, speaking, and paneling about anime, Animated Discussions includes:

  • Fullmetal Alchemist‘s use of  real-world alchemical traditions, from the wu xing to Jung
  • Anime apocalypses
  • Identity and narrative in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu
  • Narrative collapse and substitution in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Madoka Magica
  • The secret history of anime fandom in the U.S.
  • Utena, gender, abuse, and helping vs. saving
  • Trauma, heroism, and time travel
  • And much more, including a guest chapter by Charles Dunbar!

Excerpts here and here.

You can buy the book right now from these fine sellers:

More sellers coming soon!

Animated Discussions launch date and excerpt!

My latest book, Animated Discussions is finished and has been sent out to Kickstarter backers! It formally launches Thursday, June 15!

I am in the process of sending out review copies now. If you are interested in reviewing the book for your publication/blog/podcast/what-have-you, contact me here, via e-mail (froborr@gmail.com), or on Twitter (@froborr) and I will send you an ebook. I am also available as a guest for podcasts or can provide an excerpt as a guest blogpost.

Below is an excerpt of the book, a backer commission. I left it up to the backer whether it should be book-exclusive or not, and he chose for it to be posted publicly.

The Fist of God: One-Punch Man and the Menace of the Divine

Gods like a joke as much as anyone else.

—Terry Pratchett[1]

 

This essay was commissioned by Shane Martin DeNota-Hoffman through the Kickstarter campaign that funded publication of this book. His requested topic was “godhood in season one of One-Punch Man.” I have no idea what he expected, but this is what he’s getting.

One-Punch Man is a silly show. The story of an unemployed slacker and “superhero for fun,”[2] Saitama, a man so powerful that he can defeat any foe in a single punch—usually by causing them to explode into a ridiculous spray of gore. In the entire series to date,[3] only one opponent, the alien superwarrior Boros, survives multiple punches from Saitama, and even he died the moment Saitama shifted from using “Consecutive Normal Punches” to “Serious Series Serious Punch,” implied to be the first time Saitama has ever put forth any kind of effort in a battle.[4] Along the way to that final battle, Saitama’s adventures include taking an exam to be certified and registered as a superhero—he aces the physical but barely squeaks by in the written, resulting in him being classified as the lowest possible rank of hero[5]—scrambling to find street crime to foil because low-ranked heroes have to meet a quota to maintain their license,[6] taking advantage of grocery store sales,[7] and being picked on by higher-ranked heroes.[8]

Saitama is a complex character, or at least as complex as a 12-episode parody of shonen action series and superhero comics can produce. His primary motivation is the desire for combat: he wants, more than anything, an interesting battle with a challenging foe, and has descended into ennui since he became so strong that no one can stand against him.[9] However, he is neither a blood-drenched, gritty warrior, noble champion, nor tragic redemption- or vengeance-seeker, but a generally calm, lazy, impatient man. He knows he has nothing to teach the cyborg hero Genos, his self-declared “disciple”[10] and roommate,[11] so he just feeds him vague platitudes about patience and mindfulness.[12]

The only explanation the anime ever provides for Saitama’s abilities are his own: that for three years he did strength training consisting of 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and a 10 kilometer run, every day without fail.[13] However, the anime heavily implies that this explanation is mistaken, with other characters responding that, as intensive strength training regimens go, Saitama’s is nothing special[14] and speculating that his powers may come from some source even he is unaware of.[15] One staff member of the Hero Association even muses regarding Saitama’s record-breaking success at the physical exam, “It’s as if there’s a god residing in that body.”

This might stand as simply a hyperbolic way of commenting on Saitama’s absurd strength and skill if not for the fact that it’s one of only two references to gods in the series. The other is the threat-level classification system the Hero Association uses: Tiger for threats to human life, Demon for threats potentially capable of wiping out a city, Dragon for threats capable of destroying a large area including multiple cities, and finally God for threats to the survival of the human species.[16]

It is perhaps interesting, then, that so many of the villains which appear in the series can be understood as “nature’s wrath” type monsters. The first villain shown in the series declares himself such: he announces himself as Vaccine Man, born from humanity’s pollution, now out to destroy us.[17] Primed by that example, we can read the next monster shown—the first Saitama ever killed, before he began training as a hero—in a similar light: it claims to have once been a normal human, but after eating too much crab it became a crab monster, and is trying to kill a little boy who drew on its shell while it was sleeping.[18] As a species, we are devouring the oceans in our gluttonous consumption of this planet’s resources,[19] and here is a person punished for gluttonous consumption of seafood by being transformed into seafood. In turn, the monster rampages, targeting a child for mistreating it by attempting to kill them. Not even our children are innocent; they pollute, destroy, treat the natural world and other living things of this planet as toys for their amusement. Other monsters throughout the series take plant or animal forms or represent a part of the natural world rising to destroy humanity, including Mosquito Girl, whom Saitama turns into a bloody splatter on a wall; [20] the deadly seaweed monster Kombu Infinity, whom Saitama kills and uses as soup stock;[21] and the Deep Sea King and his fellow fish monsters who try to invade and conquer the surface.[22]

Nature has good reason to be wrathful in One-Punch Man: the series depicts a world which is almost entirely urban. The only rural or wild spaces depicted are bleak landscapes: a farm occupied entirely by dead cows,[23] a mountainside occupied by the headquarters of a monster-making scientist,[24] a barren canyon,[25] the bottom of the sea.[26] Even the fight between Hammerhead’s gang and Sonic, while visually taking place in a space with grass, trees, and large boulders, occurs while Hammerhead’s gang was moving from one skyscraper to another, visibly in the same city; [27] this is not a natural space, but rather a park, created for human use and human pleasure.

Indeed, a map of the world shows a single gigantic continent divided into cities, which cover it entirely.[28] The world of One-Punch Man is completely urbanized, completely conquered by humanity—and yet it is not conquered at all, rising constantly in rebellion. Humanity has attempted to subjugate nature, and nature is striking back with all the violence at its disposal.

Yet this progression of successively more devastating personified forces of nature is interrupted by the alien invasion that occupies the final three episodes. Boros presented, not as a force of nature, but as a foil and Shadow for Saitama.[29] Like Saitama, he was the most powerful fighter on his planet, to the point that no battle even required effort on his part. Like Saitama, he yearns to find a challenging opponent. Unlike Saitama, whose general passivity keeps his violence restrained until a challenger comes to him, however, Boros sought out powerful fighters to kill.[30] He invades Earth, destroys A City, and threatens to annihilate the Earth purely to satisfy his desire for combat. How does he fit in, if he does at all?

Nature and the divine are frequently equated in anime. Shinto shrines are often depicted as idyllic locations rich in vegetation, whether atop a mountain,[31] deep in the woods near a small rural town,[32] or in a city.[33] In Miyazaki’s famous film Princess Mononoke, the animal gods[34] of nature declare war on the polluting, forest-destroying humans of Iron Town.[35] The wrath of nature and the wrath of the gods are one; the most threatening of the monsters attacking humanity on nature’s behalf are called God-level threats because they are gods.

And perhaps that isn’t such a bad way to describe Saitama’s ability. Remember, the fight against Boros was the first time he had to put in effort; all the fights where he disintegrates giant monsters into ludicrous sprays of blood with a single punch are him holding back. His battles cause so much devastation that his entire neighborhood has been abandoned,[36] and during his training with Genos he annihilates a mountain.[37] Boros claims his final attack can destroy a planet; Saitama punches it back at him, suggesting Saitama’s “Serious Series Serious Punch” is even more powerful—if they were equally powerful, the punch would have simply stopped Boros’ attack, not reversed it. Even then, Boros insists that Saitama is lying about it being a close battle.[38] Saitama, in short, is potentially capable of destroying the planet, wiping out the human species; by the standards of the Hero Association, he is a God-level threat.

The idea of superheroes as gods is nothing new, of course. Superhero comics are often referred to as “modern mythology,”[39] ignoring the rather crucial difference that myths are believed to be true by the cultures that create them, not to mention usually associated with religion in some way.[40] True, Grant Morrison believes the superheroes of DC Comics are nonetheless gods and their stories a mythology,[41] but this is within the context of his belief that cosmic beings came to him in Kathmandu and showed him visions of the universe as a living being, and that his work as a comics writer is to help our universe to give birth to baby universes,[42] which is not really a metanarrative compatible with this book.[43]

Morrison describes Superman as “A man who was invulnerable to all harm,”[44] which, much like claiming that superheroes are gods, seems to miss some glaring inconsistencies. Superman is invulnerable to physical harm, true, but he can be hurt, and hurt badly: by harm to people he cares about, by exposure of his secret identity,[45] by the realization that he may be doing more harm than good.[46] Despite Morrison’s protestations to the contrary,[47] Superman would not be perpetually relaxed and confident; he knows pain, and therefore knows that pain is a possibility. After all, superheroes are born in trauma.[48]

But not Saitama. He is a parody of superheroes as much as he is a parody of shonen fighting anime characters; his strange combination of general unconcern with the world around him and driving passion for combat is an exaggeration of traits found in many shonen protagonists,[49] but his costume—pajamas and a cape—and the Hero Association are clearly parodies of Western superheroes, calling to mind organizations like the Justice League[50] and claims that superheroes were referred to as “long underwear characters” in the comics industry.[51] And as a parody of superheroes, one of his most important features is that he has no originating trauma; he simply decided being a hero would be fun and started training,[52] creating a marked (and very funny) contrast to characters like Genos, whose tragic backstory involves the death of his family, the reconstruction of his body, and a quest for revenge.[53]

Saitama is more like Morrison’s Superman than the one in the comics, TV shows, and movies: laid back, lackadaisical, comfortable in the knowledge that nothing can hurt him. However, Morrison’s Superman cares, and to care is to be vulnerable, to be open to hurt via harm to that which one cares about. The gods, too, care. That care makes them vulnerable, and vulnerability creates a space for fear, worry, anxiety, grief, loss, pain—and anger. The natural world they guard is being destroyed by overweening, rapacious humanity; plundered, then paved over and covered in skyscrapers, reduced to parks, or used as a dumping ground. That which they protect has been harmed, and that harms them; so they respond by harming humanity.

This brings Boros in line with the other monsters. He and Saitama both care about getting to have a good fight, and so both are vulnerable to the lack of such fights.[54] Saitama gets frustrated, upset, even angry when he kills a seemingly impressive monster too easily;[55] Boros has been hurting for a long time, driven by the frustration of being unable to find someone who can oppose him.[56] Saitama is that person, the reason a seer sent Boros to Earth to meet his match,[57] and so it is Saitama’s training to become a hero which has, ultimately, brought Boros to Earth. Like his ruined neighborhood[58] or the city destroyed by the debris of the meteor Saitama punched,[59] the destruction of A City is a product of Saitama’s desire to fight.

Saitama is a force of destruction, a God-tier monster who threatens the entire world. Compare his origin to the crab monster’s. That man wanted crab, so he ate too much crab and became a crab monster, punishment to humanity for our destruction of the seas. Saitama wanted strength, so he did too much strength training and became a strength monster, punishment to humanity for our power. Though he does not know it, he is a god, the instrument of our demise.

Fortunately for us—both as a species and as viewers—he’s also quite silly, and surrounded by a world that’s even sillier.

[1] Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies (New York: HarperTorch, 2000).

[2] “The Strongest Man,” One-Punch Man (Madhouse, 2015). Daisuki.net.

[3] As of this writing, a second season has been announced, but not yet released. “One-Punch Man TV Anime Gets 2nd Season, Game App,” Anime News Network September 25, 2016. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2016-09-25/one-punch-man-tv-anime-gets-2nd-season-game-app/.106871

[4] “The Strongest Hero,” One-Punch Man.

[5] “The Ultimate Master,” One-Punch Man.

[6] “The Terrifying City,” One-Punch Man.

[7] “The Obsessive Scientist,” One-Punch Man.

[8] “The Terrifying City” and “The Ultimate Disciple,” One-Punch Man.

[9] “The Strongest Man,” One-Punch Man.

[10] “The Lone Cyborg,” One-Punch Man.

[11] “The Ultimate Master,” One-Punch Man.

[12] “The Terrifying City,” One-Punch Man.

[13] “The Obsessive Scientist,” One-Punch Man.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “The Ultimate Master,” One-Punch Man.

[16] “The Ultimate Disciple,” One-Punch Man.

[17] “The Strongest Man,” One-Punch Man.

[18] Ibid.

[19] John Roach, “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says,” National Geographic News November 2, 2006. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061102-seafood-threat.html

[20] “The Lone Cyborg,” One-Punch Man.

[21] “The Terrifying City,” One-Punch Man.

[22] “The Ultimate Disciple,” “The Deep Sea King,” and “Unyielding Justice,” One-Punch Man.

[23] “The Strongest Man” and “The Lone Cyborg,” One-Punch Man.

[24] “The Obsessive Scientist,” One-Punch Man.

[25] “The Ultimate Master,” One-Punch Man.

[26] “The Ultimate Disciple,” One-Punch Man.

[27] “The Modern Ninja,” One-Punch Man.

[28] “The Ultimate Disciple,” One-Punch Man.

[29] See Chapter 10 for a discussion of the foil, the Shadow, and how they differ.

[30] “The Dominator of the Universe,” One-Punch Man.

[31] See the Misaki Shrine in most of the various Tenchi Muyo series, for example in Tenchi Muyo! Tenchi Universe: The Complete Series (Funimation, 2012).

[32] Such as the Furude Shrine in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, dedicated to the local god Oyashiro-sama. When They Cry: Season 1 (Section 23, 2016).

[33] For instance, the gorgeous and magical trees of Ms. Masaki’s shrine in “Sakura and the Shrine of Memories,” Cardcaptor Sakura: Complete Collection (NIS America, 2014). Additionally, although it is in a grotto rather than the more typical lush, green environment, the shrine Sakura’s class visits during their beach trip is nonetheless in a natural, as opposed to human, space. “Sakura’s Scary Test of Courage,” Cardcaptor Sakura.

[34] Technically speaking, kami, which are not quite the same thing as gods. For purposes of this discussion, however, they are close enough.

[35] Hayao Miyazaki (dir.), Princess Mononoke (Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2016).

[36] “The Terrifying City,” One-Punch Man.

[37] “The Ultimate Master,” One-Punch Man.

[38] “The Strongest Hero,” One-Punch Man.

[39] See for example the headline and interviewees in Archie Bland, “Comic book superheroes: the gods of modern mythology,” The Guardian May 27, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/27/comic-book-superheroes-the-gods-of-modern-mythology

[40] Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, “Myth,” The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997).

[41] Grant Morrison, Supergods (Spiegal & Grau, 2012).

[42] Ibid.

[43] See the introduction to Chapter 12 for discussion of why.

[44] Grant Morrison, Supergods.

[45] Both of which occur in Alan Moore, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (DC Comics, 2006).

[46] As happens in Mark Millar, Superman: Red Son (DC Comics, 2004).

[47] Grant Morrison, Supergods. I feel compelled to note that while I am fairly harsh on Morrison when he writes about superhero comics, his writing of superhero comics is generally excellent.

[48] See Chapter 7.

[49] The most familiar such character to Western audiences probably being Goku, the main protagonist of the Dragon Ball franchise. See for example Dragon Ball Z: Season One (Funimation, 1996).

[50] Like the Hero Association, a large organization with a shifting membership of heroes of wildly varying abilities and power, with facilities all over the world and a support staff of non-heroes, backed by a billionaire and headed by a small council, in at least one cartoon incarnation. Justice League: The Complete Series (Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2010).

[51] “Spider-Man!” Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962).

[52] “The Strongest Man,” One-Punch Man.

[53] “The Lone Cyborg,” One-Punch Man.

[54] “The Dominator of the Universe,” One-Punch Man.

[55] “The Strongest Hero,” One-Punch Man.

[56] “The Dominator of the Universe,” One-Punch Man.

[57] Ibid.

[58] “The Terrifying City,” One-Punch Man.

[59] “The Ultimate Disciple,” One-Punch Man.

Tomorrow’s liveblog chat thingy (poll)

So, there are a lot of events going on tomorrow, plus we have a choice about what to watch, so I wanted to present a quick poll to see what people want to do. There are a few options:

  • Postpone another week
  • Watch 2 episodes of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
  • Watch 1 episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Main and 1 episode of MLP Season 7
  • Watch 2 episodes of MLP Season 7

(Note: The first two episodes of Season 7 are a two-parter.)

Please comment with your preference (or if you don’t have one, please comment with whether you’ll be there tomorrow).