This awful story reminds me of my own doubts as a writer. Mark Millar’s amazingly derivative and average story couldn’t be saved even by the hands of the intellectually superior Japanese screenplay writers. Super Crooks is a painful reminder that Americans don’t know what they want as entertainment. Spoilers for this terribly boring story will follow. Spoilers also for every series that will be mentioned in this article, because I just can’t help but compare it to other series.
Super Crooks is an amazingly stylish animated series with one good character, Kasey, and a great opening. That’s all that is good about it. Johnny Bolt is a terrible main character; it isn’t even just the fact that he never had a character arc or grew as a person. After claiming to be done with the life of crime, he immediately rejoins his friends in criminal escapades right before his wedding and lands himself in jail for ten years. In fairness, his recidivism makes sense as he was clearly rationalizing his actions, but it reminds me of why I can’t stand most superhero or even supervillain stories anymore.
My problem with Johnny Bolt is my problem with most of the “relatable” main characters in both Japanese Anime and Manga and American Comics; “relatable” is just a buzzword for being stupid. All the monikers of “he’s us” or “he’s like me” whether it is Johnny Bolt, Izuku Midoriya, the innumerable Harem Protagonist Anime characters, or any generic Hollywood action flick reminiscent of the story beats of Transformers; they’re all so appallingly boring and make people wish the story was smarter and had a real plot. The female-centric Hollywood fics are hardly better with the girl being as plain as possible so audiences can pretend to be them; it’s an utter waste of time. The beginning of Super Crooks begins with one of the dumbest ideas; Johnny decides to impress people with his superhero skills that he has little control over by flying above a public pool with his lightning powers. I don’t even have to say how that stupidity went, because you already know what happened. That is why these “relatable” stories are fucking boring. Predictable checkmarks to achieve predictable endings. Stories involving only good and evil aren’t deep or meaningful, they tell no deeper truths, and they have nothing of value to contribute besides making me bored. I don’t find the stupid main character relatable at all. It just reminds me of what “could have been” with an unimpressive and utterly vacuous story. It is just an empty rehash derived from other empty rehashes. A person who wants only an empty rehash is someone who never wants their brains challenged. I despise the simplistic good and evil narratives, because they do nothing more than support human genocide and yet people act as if teaching children to be more comfortable with committing genocide should be celebrated. Oh, and if you doubt for a moment that people aren’t comforted into committing genocide via good and evil narratives, ask yourself where the politics of tribalism comes from. Whether it be Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Hindus, Black people, Asians, or so on; externalizing evil as an enemy force makes people feel comfortable in desiring to wipe it out and this is taught to children as if such binaries are wholesome to believe in. Jews portrayed as evil by Nazis, Native Americans portrayed as rapists and murderers by America’s Hollywood, or Indiana Jones racist and pro-imperialist movies. A consequence of this sheer Western stupidity is the fatuous and meaningless “analysis videos” claiming deep characters in fiction were secretly never good people in order to justify their tragedies. Examples range from Homura from Madoka Magica to Walter White from Breaking Bad.
Some readers may claim that I have a favorable bias for Japanese media above Western media, and who in their right mind wouldn’t considering how utterly dull and pretentious Western media often is, I’ll give examples within Western media to add to my next point: intelligent main characters give so much more depth, nuance, meaning, and reasons of discussion than any narrative of good versus evil ever could or ever will. This is intrinsically due to the parameters of the limitations in focus, scope, and meaning. Good and evil is just that; it has nothing more interesting to say about a topic outside of any unfortunate implications. Yet, unfortunate implications don’t make talking about a story fun, but annoying and dull because we implicitly compare it to the fuller depth of what it could have been. The fact being intelligent is seen as evil by most good vs evil narratives says a lot for how utterly stupid it is. Whereas intelligent characters give broader understandings, meanings, depth, and analysis to the worldbuilding, character motivations, settings, and interpersonal relationships; stupid characters reduce everything down to checkmarks to have the same drivel repeated ad nauseum. To be clear, I am not suggesting a character be perfect, such as the “overlord” tropes in common in certain harem anime where the main character is simply the best or most perfect at everything. An intelligent character struggling against another intelligent character is where the fun really happens when being engaged in a narrative: Steins;Gate’s Okabe Rintaro facing enemy corporations and governments and his interpersonal relationship with Makise Kurisu, Death Note’s Light versus L, Code Geass’s Lelouch vi Britannia and his various conflicts due to enacting a rebellion, Walter White versus Gustavo Fring in Breaking Bad, Isaac versus Carmilla in Castlevania the animated series, 90s animated Spider-man’s introspections on various topics, the 90s Batman animated series and subsequent Justice League and Justice League unlimited expansion of the show, the finale of the Superman animated series, and Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. The sheer depth and breadth of these narratives; the many other characters within some of these stories with their own interpersonal conflicts as either subplots or their relationship to the main character, and so much more adding nuances. Obviously, I can’t get into a tenth of each series and the full capacity of their nuances because there is so much to talk about in their respective narratives. But this is what I mean, the fact anyone who has seen these shows can discuss so much, even the intriguing subplots, expresses this point without my need to say much of anything. Smarter characters can have human flaws, such as Walter White’s ego in Breaking Bad or Rintaro’s indecisiveness during key moments of Steins;Gate, but they give so much more weight and fulfillment with their actions when they act self-aware than when it’s stupid for the sake of moving events forward down a predictable path. Some viewers act as if there is a binary between emotion and logic, but such ideas come from the pathologies of Abrahamic idiocy, a glorified desert cult could never offer the full breadth of moral conflict and often engages in reducing it to simple binaries. Plot conflicts are also poisoned into talks of prophecies and Armageddon like scenarios to reformat all conflict into banal saving the world scenarios with stupid characters, whereas smart characters have an active goal that conflicts with the greater narrative such as the conspiracy to create a giant transmutation circle by the main villain in Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood.
The most contemptuous part of it all is that many Westerners act as if prophecies, hero stories, and good versus evil is all that any narrative can be; it shows how devoid of imagination they truly are. Always seeing anything beyond their genocidal outlook of good and evil as somehow comporting to some hidden agenda or evil intent, when it really asks them to take a step back and re-examine what they assume – without evidence – to be the truth. The desire to run away from life instead of exploring its depths is so fucking boring and I will never understand what such people get out of only being told the same boring fucking story repeatedly. It’s like forcing oneself to live in a Groundhog Day scenario. What the fuck is the point? Where’s the imagination? The wonder? The desire to observe and see interpersonal conflict with multiple right answers depending on the perspective? I sometimes think people who only want the genocidal binary of good versus evil have never wanted to really assess and experience the complexities of life. Acting as if it is all a nausea and not a fascination to be explored, interpreted, shared, given an opinion on, and debated. Even worse, many act as if they have some deeper truth within them, when all that they really have is surface-level vacuity that instantly acts as if its being attacked by evil forces simply for being criticized and instead interprets any criticism of their banal perspective as forces of evil trying to change them. It’s so pathetic that I’m often tempted to laugh at the idiocy. If the West goes back to good versus evil binary stories, it’ll be all the worse for it. Western civilization lacks the maturity of East Asian narratives and has only recently been able to compare their media to East Asian narratives.
Forced assimilation like Super Crooks will never work. When browsing Netflix, I had found a series claiming to be following Aztec / Mexica and Mayan mythological culture, yet there was a prophecy (despite, to my knowledge, neither culture ever having such a boring concept) and Mictlan (the location of the underworld in Mexica myth) being a euphemism for Christian hell and Mictlantecuhtli (the ruler of Mictlan) treated as a euphemism for Satan. It was disgusting. Abrahamic barbarianism further imperializing even Native American myths due to a complete lack of ideas. I’ve seen somewhat similar, albeit arguably less objectionable, issues with adding diversity to various fantasy media works. The problem is a euro-centric model imposed where it just doesn’t apply. That Netflix show featuring Native Myths was only surface level bullcrap to impose a Euro-centric model. The very essence of imperialism in artform. Diversity suffers from this too. Allow me to explain: In the Witcher, there’s black guardsmen in gold-platted armor; in Arcane, a fiercely Machiavellian Black woman as an empress; and in an upcoming Harry Potter game, they’re adding a Black girl in an 1800s British Magical school. The cultural osmosis is adding diversity in casting, but not a diversity in cultural or social ideas from either African or Black American culture. The concepts are entirely derived exclusively from European-centric cultural history and intellectualism. Nothing from the massive continent of Africa or the influence of Black Americans in these fantasy stories. A Black guardsman being fiercely loyal is great and arguably nothing more need be added, a Black Empress being Machiavellian is something I derive deep pleasure in, and diversity in an 1800s Magical British school . . . unless JK Rowling suddenly reveals Magicals were far less racist than we thought, it doesn’t really fit to ignore the racial discrimination of those times. However, there’s nearly nothing exploring other cultures, their concepts, their philosophies and so on; that is such a shame. To be clear, just having a Black character doesn’t mean they need something of African iconography or philosophy to exhibit, but the fact there’s a complete lack of it is striking. In fairness, there is the fight scene between Ekko and Jinx from Arcane that arguably undermines my point insofar as Black American culture being given influence. Japan has stories like Berserk which have a European setting, the US has already done homages to Japanese cultural concepts with stories like Avatar. The only other thing that comes close is Black Panther, which is an excellent Marvel film. Yet, in most fantasy, why is there still a lack of interest in other cultures? It is such a shame. Diversity is a great step, but it seems as if there remains untapped potential in exploring fictional concepts outside of the Western traditions. The Ekko vs Jinx fight scene is a good step in the right direction though. Nevertheless, the problem is why I find forcing stupid concepts like prophecies onto other traditions that never had it to be an egregious waste of time. It’s literally trying to force other cultures to assimilate to idiotic and banal narratives that never applied to them in the first place. Of course, people can choose to write what they want, however they want, and in whatever way they want; but I am just so disappointed that we still can’t move forward. Why does the West continue to struggle with ideas?
I think the “relatability” aspect plays a major foil to allowing any meaningful exploration of different cultures. If people are “like us” then they’re not able to show a different perspective at all. Treating good and evil as a universal seems to just be a detriment to that and creates narratives of forced assimilation on cultures that had no support for such pathetic concepts. It reduces the depth and breadth of different viewpoints to show a Eurocentric model with “diversity” as window-dressing. Obviously, I’m not against actors, actresses, and voice actors getting better roles and not having to face any discrimination for being who they are, but it is such a shame that we still solely rely on the Eurocentric perspective. It gets tiresome. To give an example of what I witnessed in Spider-man game reviews; it is genuinely great that Miles Morales gets his own game that features a house filled with food, cultural iconography, and discussion on his two heritages. However, the explanation of the main conflict features almost the exact same stupid fucking bridge collapse scene spewed ad nauseum since those shitty, worthless Sam Raimi Movies, which are among the worst Spider-man adaptions ever created in all of media. The lack of ideas in plot need not be said. It comes back to “relatability” – they offer a diverse cast, perhaps some diverse background perspective in an Americanized fashion, but the main story is the same dismal, boring crap that we’ve been forced to imbibe. The character is “relatable” but they’re not also given their own personal goals, personality, and reasons for making their choices. It’s just copying and pasting an diverse character onto the same boring story; often even the same fucking setting and conflict like the stupid Spider-man games. Stories featuring a diverse main character seem to just automatically become about “relatability” without any real assessment on the character as an individual. This bizarre binary makes no sense and such a demarcation is usually within stories where the setting is supposed to represent the real world. For fantasy stories, I’m more open to have an anything goes attitude, but it gets tiresome when it’s always all so . . . euro-centric. A fantasy genre, of all things, should surely have more to draw from in terms of inspiration and sources. For all those reasons and more, relatability comes at the expensive of writing a richer narrative, often conflated with pro-genocidal Western Good vs Evil narratives, reducing characters from having their own depth in a binary, and stories are all the worse for it. A diverse cast of characters should have their own purpose and there’s surely more to offer outside of the haze of eurocentrism.