Tag Archives: Japanese Animation

One-Punch Man: A Hero Forged By Boredom

Image result for One PUnch Man

When it comes to the crippling power of boredom, it’s easy to see how it can create deranged super-villains like Vandal Savage and hardened anti-heroes like Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty.” In the real world, boredom tends to inspire people in all the wrong ways. It can even inspire horrific crimes.

As such, it’s hard to imagine boredom being the driving force behind a superhero. That seems utterly antithetical to what a superhero is. As a noted comic book fan, which I’ve belabored many times on this blog, I know more than most people should about what makes a superhero. Boredom should not be on that list.

Heroes are supposed to be champions of all that is good and virtuous. They’re supposed to embody our highest ideals as a people. They raise the bar and set an example for others to follow. Their hearts, souls, and eyes are supposed to radiate hope, love, and everything else we associate with puppies and kittens.

However, it’s because I’m a die-hard comic book fan that I would know about a hero inspired by boredom if he or she even existed. Well, thanks to my love of comics and the extra free time that I enjoy between football season, I have discovered such a hero.

He’s not Superman. He’s not Captain America. He’s not even Wolverine, Deadpool, or Squirrel Girl. He’s not a product of Marvel, DC Comics, or any major comic book company from the past century. He’s in a category of his own, although not for reasons you might not expect. His real name is Saitama, but most know him as “One-Punch Man.”

Unlike most heroes, One-Punch Man is exactly what he sounds like. His story isn’t as convoluted as Wolverine’s or as generic as Superman’s. His powers are nothing fancy. As his name indicates, he has the power to defeat any foe with a single punch. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a giant, mountain-sized titan or some monster from outer space. No matter how big or powerful they are, Saitama beats them with just one punch.

If that sounds bland to you, then congratulations. You’re seeing exactly what the writer, who goes by the pseudonym, One, intended for you to see. Unlike other attempts to create iconic superheroes, most of which fail spectacularly, “One-Punch Man” didn’t set out to create an interesting, compelling hero. It was crafted as a parody, of sorts, to modern superheroes.

In the same tradition of Weird Al Yankovic, “One-Punch Man” took an established narrative and turned it into a joke, of sorts. It went out of its way to do all the things that traditional superhero comics avoid. It actually tried to create a hero who was bland, overpowered, and un-iconic. Whether by design or by accident, it worked.

It was created in 2009, but by 2012 the Japanese comic sold over 7.9 million issues in Japan and was later exported to the United States, where it was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2015. For those of you who don’t know, Eisner Awards are the comic book equivalent of the Oscars. For any comic, let alone one that started off as a joke, to be nominated is a pretty big deal.

Parody or not, “One-Punch Man” struck a chord. It might be due to the saturation of superhero movies or the ongoing frustration of comic book fans about how their favorite characters are treated, but a hero who basically spits all over the standard superhero narrative has a unique appeal. Given the success of Weird Al, maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised.

In utterly lampooning modern superhero stories, “One-Punch Man” makes boredom the primary catalyst. In a sense, it channels the power of boredom to create a character who breaks every possible rule for making a compelling superhero and it does it with the blankest of stares.

His backstory is not that compelling. He’s not some alien from a dead planet. He’s not an exiled god or a genetic freak. He’s not even gifted in any way. In fact, the first episode of the anime cartoon shows him as just some generic unemployed office worker who randomly encounters a monster. He defeats the monster, albeit not with one punch, and on the spot he decides to be a superhero.

If you’re hoping for a more compelling story than that, then save yourself the trouble and throw that hope away along with the leftovers and dog shit. That’s as compelling as Saitama’s origin story gets. The way he becomes so powerful is even less compelling than that, if you can believe that.

Saitama didn’t get strong through a genetic mutation, a crazy lab experiment, advanced technology, or even a radioactive bug. Saitama gained his immense power over the course of three short years and he did it through a very simple, very bland workout routine. In his own words, this is how he became the most powerful hero in the world.

100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and a 10-kilometer run! And I do it every single day!

Again, it’s every bit as bland as it sounds. The mere fact that everything in Saitama’s workout is nothing more than a set of basic exercises that almost anyone can do is so inane and generic. It’s so generic that people in the real world are even trying this regiment. Given the extent and utter unfeasibility of Batman’s training, it’s basically a joke.

That’s entirely the point, though. Saitama isn’t supposed to be the kind of underdog hero who defies all odds, pushes his limits, and overcome immense obstacles. He is the embodiment of a classic “Deus Ex Machina,” the proverbial god machine that so many stories utilize to resolve a conflict.

In nearly every writing class you take, and I’ve taken more than a few, you’re taught to avoid using the deus ex machina trope as much as possible. It’s not easy, even for erotica romance writers. I like to think I’ve avoided it for the most part in my novels, but I don’t deny the challenge is there. Even comic books struggle with this. Just look up something called the Cosmic Cube for proof of that.

However, whereas most writers avoid a deus ex machine, “One-Punch Man” doubles down on it. It even embraces it to some extent. It doesn’t craft classic superhero stories about how Saitama faces overwhelming odds, powerful enemies, and insane obstacles. He’s so strong that nothing really threatens him anymore. Every threat or enemy he faces is easily defeated with a single punch.

Instead, the narrative of “One-Punch Man” explores Saitama’s struggle with the sheer boredom of being such a powerful hero. He rarely raises his voice. He rarely gets excited. He’s never afraid, threatened, or agitated in any way. He often yawns in the middle of epic battles, much to the annoyance of his enemies and even his fellow heroes.

There’s no getting around it. Saitama is bored out of his mind. Beyond just being powerful, his reasons for being a hero aren’t that deep. He doesn’t have a deep sense of duty like Superman. He didn’t suffer a terrible tragedy like Spider-Man or Batman either. He’s just a hero for the fun of it. That’s the only reason he ever gives. Again, that annoys the hell out of his enemies, but that’s the point.

If you were to put Saitama on the traditional hero’s journey, it would be the shortest journey ever. Everything about Saitama’s backstory, powers, and motivations are bland. They’re intended to be bland because he’s supposed to be a parody of modern hero tropes, a walking joke of how every epic superhero struggle can be reduced to one proverbial punch.

While “One-Punch Man” does an admirable job mocking superhero traditions, sometimes too well, it also reflects the sheer impact of boredom. When someone becomes so powerful and so competent at resolving any conflict, it tends to get boring. Saitama is the perfect embodiment of this.

He might also be a warning sign, of sorts. I’ve talked a lot about the potential for human enhancement in the future, from smart blood to brain implants. While these advancements will do a lot to improve our lives and our bodies, it might also put us in the same position as Saitama.

What happens when it becomes overly easy to master a skill, overcome an obstacle, or achieve a goal? When you’ve got a body that can download knowledge, shape-shift, and make love to an army of sex robots, what else is there? How can you not get bored by all that?

Saitama lives in a world where nothing is a threat to him and nothing challenges him in any way. As such, he’s bored out of his mind. He’s only a hero because he still gets some fun out of it. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. For someone as powerful as him, he’ll take it in any way he can. It might not be the most noble reason for being a hero, but it is understandable.

Parody or not, “One-Punch Man” is a unique exploration of a superhero narrative. It purposefully breaks and mocks all the rules of a heroic narrative, but does so in a way that’s entertaining and quirky. You could argue that Saitama is the only hero forged and driven by boredom.

However, if superheroes are supposed to represent our ideals and hopes, then what kind of message does “One-Punch Man” tell us? If becoming so powerful and so competent leads to boredom, then what does that mean for our own efforts? In a sense, our limits keep us from doing so much, but they also keep us from getting bored. In the end, it’s hard to say whether that’s much of an ideal.

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Animation: A Possible Solution For Erotica/Romance Movies?

This is a follow-up to a post I did a couple of days ago on the future of erotica/romance in movies. It’s an issue that I find myself contemplating more and more with the success, financially speaking, of the “50 Shades of Grey” movies. Since it’s an issue that may end up affecting the industry I work in, namely that of erotica/romance, it’s one in which I’ll keep a close eye on in the coming years.

I’ve already laid out the unique challenges facing erotica/romance in cinema. Even with the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” those challenges are pretty daunting. We’re still a long way away from a sexy erotica romance movie getting as much hype as a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Given how that movie has the sex appeal of Chris Pratt going for it, it’s not  affair fight to say the least.

Fair or not, the obstacles for erotica/romance are still pretty daunting. Between its association with the porn industry and a society that is still horrified of the idea of women being excessively sexual, it really does seem as though this genre on which I’ve chosen to build my writing career has a long way to go.

At the moment, there is a sizable, but not exceedingly large gap to overcome. On one side, you have mature stories with erotic themes like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Showgirls.” On the other, you have porn and the poorly-acted skin flicks that only air after midnight on Cinemax.

Bridging this gap, telling a serious story in a movie with a non-gratuitous amount of sex, is the key. As the success of “Die Hard” and all its assorted rip-offs can attest, it only takes one solid movie to kick-start a new trend.

In giving this issue some serious, sexy thought, which I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at on this blog, I think there might be one avenue that erotica/romance can take. It would help circumvent some of the biggest obstacles that I laid out before and complement other emerging trends as well. It could even completely reinvent the way movies, sexy or otherwise, are told.

What is this sexy solution, you ask? Well, it already exists in a major way, but it’s due for a major leap forward. It’s this:

That, my friends, is high-quality animation from the video game, “Destiny: The Taken King.” Take a moment to admire it. Then, think back to how animation used to be. If you’re with me to this point, you’ve already made the overtly-sexy connections.

This may be the key. This may be the secret weapon with which to shatter the seemingly-impenetrable walls that keep erotica/romance relegated to midnight skin-flicks on Cinemax. Animation, namely the high-quality kind that companies like Pixar and Bungie pay top notch for, could be the key to making erotica/romance work.

On paper, it makes perfect sense. With animation, you overcome one of the biggest obstacles in producing a quality movie, namely finding actors and actresses that can both emote the necessary passion and not shrivel, literally and figuratively, when they have to get naked and make love on demand.

Animated characters don’t complain about mood, chemistry, or how their trailers are painted. They don’t age. They don’t get fat. They can look as beautiful or as ugly as a director wants them to be. They are, by default, the perfect medium for bringing a character to life. A number have already become quite iconic.

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Now this isn’t a wholly radical idea. In fact, it’s already an established industry in a magical land called Japan. There’s an entire genre of animated porn called anime porn. This brand of porn utilizes themes and stories so outlandish, so extreme, and so disturbing that even the worst moments in “Game of Thrones” cannot compare. Look up something called “Futanari” for proof. Be warned though, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Radical or not, Japanese anime has the same problem that our softcore skin flicks on Cinemax have here in the United States. The stories are flat. The acting and dialog is atrocious. The main point of these movies is to titillate and not enchant.

Pretty much every male character in an anime porn acts a certain way, just like every bleach-blond, big-breasted woman in a softcore porn acts a certain way. There’s no real depth. It’s just basic, bland, and blunt.

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That may be a product of sticking to a winning formula. Japanese anime porn has been around for decades, has an established fan base, and isn’t going to risk that fan base by doing something different. That’s just how an established industry works.

That said, it does prove that there’s a market for mature, animated content. We’re already seeing major studios attempting to tap that market beyond the usual “Simpsons” and “Family Guy” demographics.

In the past few years, new cartoons with mature things like “Archer” and “Bojack Horseman” have found a major audience. Even among younger audiences, shows like “Samurai Jack” reveal that there is a market for a more mature cartoon.

The timing of this growing market couldn’t be better because as this audience is growing, technology in graphics and animation is improving. Moreover, video game companies and developers are using those improvements to tell better stories. Some of these stories are every bit as engaging, dramatic, and emotional as movies. I know this personally, as I’ve freely admitted that the end of Final Fantasy X and Mass Effect got me choked up.

Major video game makers are already exploring deeper, more mature stories that don’t just rly on killing zombies or shooting aliens. Games like “Heavy Rain” utilize mature themes, a rich story, and intimate moments. Having played the game, I can say that this definitely strikes plenty of chords, including the sexy kind.

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So there’s a growing market for mature cartoons. The technology for graphics in animation is also improving and being refined through the $5.2 billion video game industry. What’s the hold up then? Why aren’t we seeing an animated “50 Shades of Grey” movie that isn’t limited to Jamie Dornan’s acting abilities?

As is often the case in the entertainment industry, it all comes down to money. That’s the simplest and most complete explanation. It’s safe to assume that if every major movie studio could replace every actor and actress with a 3D animated model, they’d do it in a heartbeat, thereby ensuring that they never have to work with Shia LeBeouf or Lindsey Lohan again.

The reason they can’t do that is because, as much as animation has improved, it’s still expensive. Toy Story 3, the current gold standard for animated movies, cost $200 million to make. For TV, the average cost of a half-hour animated show is about half-a-million and the cost of a top-quality show like “The Simpsons” is about $2 million.

For comparison sake, entire movies like “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” cost less than $5 million. Animation is also more labor-intensive, which requires a great deal of outsourcing, something the cast of a typical sitcom doesn’t have to worry about.

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As it stands right now, animation is not a preferable option for making movies, TV shows, or erotica/romance. It’s costly, labor-intensive, and affiliated with too many talking animals. However, that may be changing in a major way very soon.

This is where I try to channel my inner psychic and see a bit into the future. Granted, I’m about as much a psychic as I am a starting point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Don’t assume I know more than someone working at Starbucks, but at least trust me when I say I do try to see the forest from the trees and make connections where I see them.

While the cost of animation is going up, advances in computing power and AI are growing as well. Most are content to let AI’s run their schedule or make annoying telemarketing calls, but they can’t make are, right? That’s intrinsically human, right?

I’m sorry to say that our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think. Back in 2014, the University of Spain created, Iamus, a program that creates its own melodies. Not to be left out, Google followed suit with a program of their own in 2016.

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That’s all well and good, even if it sucks for the future Taylor Swifts of the world. That doesn’t mean robots can draw, right? Humans still have that on the machines, don’t they?

Again, our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think or feel comfortable accepting. In 2016, Google created another AI called “Quick Draw,” which can recognize simple doodles. A number of robots have even been able to produce their own artwork.

Granted, these works of art are a long way away from being Picasso or Elvis Presley. It’s a start though and, as our recent history with technology has shown, the pace of that technology will only accelerate. Given how slow and clumsy we humans are, it’s only a matter of time before they’re a billion times better at it than we are.

On top of that, the technology for computers to read our minds is emerging as well. This too is in the very early stages of development, but there’s a lot of money in technology, art, and doing things a billion times better. If a computer can make a movie like “Frozen” a billion times faster and a billion times cheaper, you can assume Disney will be all over it like Homer Simpson in a donut factory.

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This has huge implications for every art-based industry in the world, but what does this mean for animation and erotica/romance? Well, most importantly, it means at some point the cost of animation is going to come down.

Eventually, a future version of Google’s drawing software will be so advanced that it can do the job of 100 animators 100 times faster and a million times cheaper. That means movies like “Toy Story 3” no longer cost $200 million. They could cost only a couple million. That means episodes of shows like “The Simpsons” can cost less than a used car.

This opens up countless possibilities for new stories to be told, which don’t have to rely on the bloated budgets or corporate backings of major studios. Since AI is also developing to a level where it can mimic voices, it means that even the cost of voice actors will go down or be replaced altogether.

It won’t happen all at once. There won’t come a day when entire animation studios go out of business or new studios pop up overnight. These types of technology trends take time to develop. They never happen all at once. Cell phones took 40 years to get to where they are now. Modern TV took over a half-century. Expect this kind of technology to take a few decades at the very least.

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However, there’s a lot of money to be made. The rising cost of producing movies is creating a strong incentive to find an easier, cheaper way to create a similar product, minus all the zeroes at the end of the price tag. When there’s that much incentive, then economics usually makes it an inevitability.

That means the first real erotica/romance movie may not be the same live-action piece we saw with “50 Shades of Grey.” It may very well take the form of colorful, sexy animated feature that doesn’t require self-conscious actors or actresses to use body doubles. Maybe one of my own novels will one day take that form. I hope I live long enough to see it.

Again, that day will not be tomorrow. However, this may be the future of erotica/romance. In that sense, Jessica Rabbit may be less a cartoon sex icon and more a prophet. If so, she may go down in history as the sexiest prophet of all time.

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