Posted by: panzer magier | March 23, 2014

How Many Power Ups Does It Take to Write a Story?

There was a time when I thought that I could shoot Kamehameha out of my hand if I tried hard enough. I would cup my hands together and concentrate my focus into the palm of my hand. Instead, gas came out of my other end. It was not quite the Kamehameha I had envisioned, but I guess I did succeed in shooting something out of somewhere.

It did not take me too long to realize that I cannot actually shoot Kamehameha (or any other beams of pure energy) out of my hand, but I still loved my hot-blooded action series. The characters, in the face of crushing odds and superior foes, stood firm and drew out 120% of their strengths out of themselves through will, perseverance, and crappy sorcery. I could not shoot Kamehameha, but I still looked up to these two-dimensional heroes by avidly pursuing their adventures.

One day, a formidable foe bore fruit in my mind; people refer to this abomination as “common sense”. My world changed, and I begin to see things differently in a way that is not induced by mushroom poisoning. In my new sight, one of the very first questions that crossed my mind was: what exactly are they all fighting for all this time?

I could swear I have seen this Maverick somewhere before…

I am sure that comic authors have a proper storyboard in their mind when they begin to draw a new story. However, at some point, most of these authors loose sight of the end, and instead become engrossed in the means. After all, what is an accomplishment without trial? Thus, the shounen genre gave birth to a template. Under this template, characters are forced to forever grow stronger in the face of progressively stronger enemies.

These enemies are too strong. Gotta get stronger.

->     New enemies just showed up. Gotta get stronger.

->     New boss appeared. Gotta get stronger.

->    Final boss takes the stage. Gotta get stronger.

->    Hidden boss comes out of nowhere. Gotta get stronger.

->    Ultimate boss actually existed. Gotta get stronger.

->    Author appeared in his own comic. Gotta get stronger.

->    I’ve been putting weight on recently. Gotta get stronger.

俺たちの戦いはこれからだ(笑)

When the process of obtaining strength becomes the main focus of the story, you effectively have no story. Your characters will be bound in an infinite quest of growing stronger, and the only thing that can actually free them from their curse is the popularity poll. At the same time, the moral message of your story will also become incredibly simple and platonic: when you are in trouble, just get stronger. Sure, there is all that stuff about friendship, trust, and bonds too, but you have to get stronger first before any of that stuff actually amount to anything.

Is this really the message we want to be sending to our posterity? Get stronger first, work out the consequences later? I would like to think that life has more to offer than that, but perhaps this kind of “common sense” is too early for the intended audience of shounen comic, and the rest of the world probably does not care either. Just as I have moved on from this genre, perhaps the rest of the world will too, at some point. Well, I am sure that shounen genre will still be around as long as the Big 3 of WSJ keeps going, which probably means forever.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go get stronger.

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Responses

  1. Have you read One Punch Man? It’s the best anti-shounen manga ever. He is literally able to destroy all of his enemies in one punch. It’s amazing.

    • One Punch Man is pretty deep stuff. It seriously probes the meaning of heroism and justice, and presents all of those thoughts in an easy-to-digest genre called ‘gag comic’. Yeah it has some anti-shounen themes as well, but they are more of a btw thing, and it is still fundamentally shounen, although you could make an argument for seinen.

      Clearly this article does not apply to One Punch Man, because Saitama is the most op anti-hero ever, and the focus of the series is clearly on something else other than getting stronger. I’m still waiting for Garou arc to finish in the original. It’s been like a year. orz


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