This is one of those posts where I really have no idea where it’s going to go, but I already promised I was going to write it, so it’s a little too late to back out now. Let’s boldly go where no internet critic has gone before, and crap on Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman.
That’s weird. I mean, I only talk about anime, manga, and video games, so I’ve never really discussed a superhero movie or even Western comics that much. The reason is simple; I really hate a lot of the superhero swill pumped out today. Kevin Feige is actually a public menace, but that’s not important right now.
How does this relate back to anime? Well, I was rewatching Mob Psycho 100 because the third season is coming out this fall, and it got me thinking about Superman. If you’re familiar with Mob and Clark Kent, the similarities are obvious. They’re unassuming people blessed with godlike powers who still manage to be good in spite of that
I have heard so many times that Superman is ‘boring’, or that he’s too powerful, and that’s idiotic on its face. Bad stories are rarely that way because of the ideas they contain, but rather their execution. Plenty of people already love an omnipotent and incorruptibly good character, and Mob Psycho 100 is a far better representation than Superman has ever gotten outside of the comics.
Few creators are as capable of dissecting the superhero mythos as One, if you couldn’t tell from his work on One Punch Man. It’s just as obvious in Mob, as long as you’re not looking for spandex.
Middle schooler Shigeo ‘Mob’ Kageyama would really like to get good grades, be popular, and maybe even get a girlfriend. He’s not flashy or especially talented at anything, so you’d be forgiven for not realizing he’s a walking psychic nuke. Compared to the ostentatious Espers we see running around, he’s just another face in the mob.
That appearance, however, is by design. After a childhood accident, Mob lost his hold on his emotions and let them out on other people in a dangerous way, even hurting his little brother Ritsu. After that, he resolved to get a grip on his powers, shoving his emotions so far down that the casual onlooker might believe he feels nothing at all.
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that this sort of repression can’t last forever, especially for the lovely little tumultuous time we call puberty. Mob becomes increasingly involved in the world of psychics, where anyone who can bend a spoon thinks their power makes them gods. They don’t know that a thirteen-year-old in a bowl cut is going to make them look like novices, though.
If not for the pacifist philosophy he learned from his master, Mob would be terrifying. Reigen Arataka is many things: fraudulent spiritualist, legitimately talented masseuse, and a surprisingly deep well of wisdom for the young psychic. It’s thanks to Reigen that Mob avoided the pit trap that many espers fall into; their powers don’t make them special, or better than anyone. With that in mind, Mob’s going to teach that lesson to a school bully, even his little brother, and way too many emotionally-stunted adults.
But how does this relate to Superman?
It’s clear that Zack Snyder doesn’t really get what Superman is about. It’s obvious that the director loves Christ allegories, and sees Superman as a godhead, far removed and unreachable by humanity. His relationship with his father is marked by blatant apathy towards human life, his relationship with Lois Lane is marked by the blatant absence of chemistry, and he just kind of always looks annoyed and inconvenienced when he has to help people.
That’s stupid. Wait, sorry, that was wrong; that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and Zack Snyder forced me to write it down. First, that’s idiotic because Clark Kent is a human in every way that counts. Superman is a means for him to use his powers to help people. His parents raised him to be kind and to believe that he should help others, and what’s more, he wants to do it.
Clark can be awkward and bashful, because that’s who he is as a person. It’s a product of his upbringing as well as his strength. It isn’t just that he can punch through steel and probably fight the sun and win, but he has a profound respect for his fellow man. He’s relatable because he grew up with a family and went to school like the rest of us; he isn’t meant to be put on a pedestal or deified.
The other reason it’s wrong is because this take isn’t just untrue to Superman, it’s also the worst interpretation of the superman archetype. Snyder already butchered Doctor Manhattan by carving out what made him compelling with a dull spoon, but there’s still way more versions of ‘realistic’ or ‘evil’ takes on the character.
You’ve already seen Injustice, or Superman Red Son, or maybe Brightburn, or Omni-Man, and everybody and their mother already knows about Homelander. These stories and characters are different interpretations of what would Superman be like if he was raised differently, or turned out evil, and I’m sick of it. There’s room for that kind of subversive writing, but it’s time to pump the brakes when we’ve gotten more evil Superman than good Superman.
And I’m not crapping on The Boys or Invincible or any of that. It’s just that pop culture has been saturated to the point of bursting with these maniacs, and it all stems from that central issue; people think Superman is boring.
This debate practically does not exist in anime, that a character who is good is uninteresting. There’s plenty of protagonists who are morally upright people, but Mob’s different. Unlike Deku, he was born with his powers, or the fact that he has powers at all, unlike Emma. Mob doesn’t have the tools to get what he wants even if it’s a challenge, unlike Hinata, and while he’d probably like to touch some boobs like Denji, that’s not his only goal.
Mob is a nice kid who realized his powers won’t help him be the person he wants to be, and the only way to fix that is to put in the work. The other psychics haven’t come to that conclusion yet, and that’s what puts them at odds with our hero. Almost everyone Mob fights eventually becomes his friend or starts working with him.
His closest friends are Ritsu and Hanezawa, both espers who picked a fight with him. It’s only after witnessing his incredible strength firsthand and seeing he’s still a kind and humble person that they realized they were being jerks. It sounds like some Saturday morning cartoon crap, and it totally is, but it’s the most believable example of a shonen protagonist winning over his enemies I’ve seen in anime.
It’s just really hard to lose a fight to someone so pure-hearted and walk away still evil or arrogant. The espers in Claw have deluded themselves into believing the world has a pecking order that they’re at the top of, and it’s cathartic to see the rug get pulled out from under them. After that, they’re free to reexamine their values and become better people.
Usually, I land on the side that it’s okay for heroes to kill villains. Exceptions like Batman exist, but you need a reason for why you don’t kill, not just “but that would make me as bad as them!” What I like about Mob Psycho is that he doesn’t kill people because he is uniquely qualified to take them down a peg and force them to become better. Superman is much the same; if you have that kind of power, killing your enemies feels needless.
In the end, I love Mob because he doesn’t need to grow or change in the traditional manner. Typically, your protagonist begins with at least one major flaw or view that needs to be corrected by the course of the story, but Mob has already been taught that lesson. How he grows is how everyone ought to.
He puts himself out there, tries to make new friends and gets out of his comfort zone. Mob doesn’t join the occult research club because he already knows psychic powers don’t help with anything but inflating your ego; instead, he joins the body improvement club because that is where he is lacking. It should be impossible, I mean, everyone told me that Superman is boring because he’s too nice and has too many powers, so why is Mob an immensely fun character?
Huh, maybe everybody was wrong about Superman after all.
There’s this article from a few years back that made the rounds recently, talking about how DC and Warner Bros. don’t know what to do with Superman anymore. To start, you could hire someone who actually likes the character and wants to see him faithfully represented in movies. Or just keep the guy who thinks Superman is emotionless Jesus and Batman is the Punisher but without any of the nuance or social commentary that makes the Punisher interesting, your choice.
Usually, in stuff like this, the guy behind it tells Warner Bros. that his schedule is wide open and he can totally write the next Superman movie. Unfortunately, I’m not a screenwriter, so I probably shouldn’t. It’s just that when I say that I could make a better Superman movie than Zack Snyder, it’s because the bar is somewhere in the lithosphere.
Instead, I’d like to use this outro to talk to the people who’d actually like to see Superman be a good person. I mean, people made enough noise on Twitter to actually bring the Snyder Cut into existence, so anything is possible as long as you keep harassing social media interns. So, get out there and please don’t do anything like that. It was really dumb and I’m sure those interns don’t think their sanity was worth a 4-hour movie on HBO Max.
Instead of spamming hashtags on Twitter, you could be following me @ExhibitionOtaku, where I’ll be talking about the new season of Mob as it airs. You could also follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress to get notified about reviews of the fall’s best and biggest anime. If Superman were handled by a competent writer, he’d tell you to do that. Until next time, thanks for reading.