So far within this series, I’ve led into every entry with “Perhaps the most succinct word on BLANK comes to us from BLANK”. However, today’s subject of analysis has no succinct word that would truly encompass the scope of Power. Power, takes many forms, has many uses, dictates possibilities that aren’t apparent at first. The question of how a person should use their power isn’t just one rooted at the heart of Shonen, but philosophy, historical study and some assert even the core of masculinity itself.
To that end, the 2000’s of Jump was something of a transition period. Where Jump was seemingly looking for the next big thing as the old guard of mid 90’s manga started to rotate out. Personally speaking this was a time I remembered relatively well as it’s when I really started to get into reading manga and Shonen Jump Alpha had the early anime community ghetto in a tailspin. In this time Shonen Jump’s foundation received a blow from a certain NisiOisiN who ran a mildly successful series from 2009 to 2013. A blow which to this day, no subsequent title before or after has managed to shake off and respond to. The quote goes as such:
“Hm? Oh now that you mention it you always did love those Shonen manga of yours. I graduated those by the end of grade-school.”
“Haha, I see. Girls find those manga childish. Don’t they?”
“Oh no, not at all. It’s just that they’re too advanced for girls as naive as I am. After all Shonen manga’s message to us isn’t friendship, hard work, and victory. It’s that those with power are the ones who win in the end. It’s the pinnacle of cruel realities.
You can have friends if you have power. You can work hard if you have power. You can be victories if you have power. That inescapable reality is the one we with power know and can’t tolerate.”
If you are a Shonen Jump author reading this line published in your magazine how would you respond? More accurately how could you? For all the romanticism and sugar-coating you could inject into a rebuttal would be buried under the powerful weight of this one reality. This one exchange, while far from being the only one to place power as the absolute in Shonen, was the only one to aim the reality at Jump itself. It was why myself and HxH2011DRA chose to include it as the lynchpin principle in our Shonen Aesthetic post.
While this post is, of course, going to be centered around Shonen I’m going to use this time to also talk loosely about Power itself.
What is Power?
Power is something of a loaded word despite it’s deceptively straightforward definition. “The ability to do something or act in a particular way” and “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events” are simple enough words as they leave the lips. However, the scope of what that entails pulls the imagination to its limits. What way do we wish to act? How much can we influence the people or world around us? What happens our desires for agency and influence brush up against another entity with a differing ideology? And where, in all of these broad questions, does Power determine what we are able to do? Let’s first start by talking about the many kinds of Power that exist in the world. Starting with the dominating type in Shonen, raw physical strength.
Nebuya completely missing the point that Shonen isn’t just a strength competition
Part of what motivates me to put physical power first is a quote from the Youtuber CraftsDwarf, “The Shonen Community doesn’t understand Shonen. They only understand Dragon Ball Z.” A fact that fuels at least a solid half of my writing career. I’m not looking to insult the Shonen community by including this quote, I do that enough in private. But for the communities power scalers, vs matchers and the like I can’t help find fixation a Shonen proficiency for macho brawling tad comical. I’m getting a tad bit ahead of myself here however.
Power in the form of raw physical strength is something Shonen Jump has drifted further and further from as years past. Compared to the beefy chunks of ham that are characters like Kenshiro, Jonathan Joestar, and cast of DragonBall Z representation and frequency have decreased. For reasons that aren’t particularly hard to imagine that’s an easy riddle to solve. The masculine ideal of old invokes ideas of stoic, macho, physically capable men. It’s an attractive image to attempt to live up to both in real life and gels well the battle and sports orientated Shonen. Seeing scrawny Jonathan Joestar undergo character growth into someone who could snap a tree trunk and defeat evil is a fitting heroic image. In sports oriented Shonen like the stellar but slept on Hinomaru Zumou seeing characters develop alongside their physical abilities works for their sumo competitions in perfect tandem for story progression. You might say men just innately desire to see each get swoll punch each other. If I could borrow a quote from the Blood Blockade Battlefront author Yasuhiro Nightow,
“Can you tell me why everyone comes here just to see blood? It’s not like they have to. You could see something similar any day on the streets of Hellsalem’s Lot. Am I wrong?”
“No. You’re completely right. Step outside and you could bring someone down with a single pull of a trigger. One push of a button and dozens get blown up. The world is full of efficient violence. But… Even though you could swing at each other with stone axes, slice each other with swords, shoot each other with magic, curse each other with magic, shoot missiles at each other… there is one form of fighting for which evolution is stagnant. No weapons. One on One. Doesn’t matter which species you are. All the fools still cling to those two rules. You see they want to see blood. Since the beginning of history, it’s a disease that’s afflicted everyone.”
– Leo and Gregor, Blood Blockade Battlefront
While you could subscribe to the idea that bare-knuckle fever is just part of human nature (I have) on the flip side of the coin that leaves it also being base. If the ideal power fantasy is one based on the capacity for physical violence where does that leave those unable to fulfill that role? It’s far from rare to hear a story of someone watching Dragon Ball Z as a child and then went on take up a physical sport. But, as with anything, if it sees success then it’s going to be emulated like a game of telephone. Gradually losing meaning until all that remains is a semblance of the original appeal. Perhaps this is the reason why in the recent third volume of Shonen Jump’s Exhibition Catalog the crowned King of Battle Shonen, Yoshihiro Togashi, comments that he feels much more at home with the less macho, modern Shonen Jump. He even mentions he intentionally doesn’t read battle Shonen. Although in true Trollgashi fashion he keeps up to date with WORLD TRIGGER.
The topic of Shonen Jump’s masculine ideals is not something I’m going to get into just today. That’s going to be its own opus of mine later down the line. For the purposes of this work though I’d like to bring up the idea someone who’s audio book I’m currently listening to, Thomas Page McBee. The first transgender Female-to-Male man to have boxing match in Madison Square Garden. The idea that men, lack archetypes to the types of men they can become is what will transition us beyond the topic of physical power.
At the end of the day, Shonen Jump has many things its authors wish to teach about life. Limiting the focus to just a narrow idea of getting stronger, even in actions, won’t cut it forever.
For someone not really into horror I find it funny that some Shoujo magic scares me
“People are our greatest asset.” Is a time-honored adage that isn’t getting any less true no matter how much edgelord philosophy you read. A simple reality is that there are limits someone can hope to achieve as an individual. You couldn’t reasonably build a pyramid single handedly anymore than you could play a competitive multiplayer based video game by yourself. Down to a biological level, humans are hardwired social animals. Despite that fact actually coming together in solidarity is a more complex feat than it sounds. Human are tribalistic by nature, they’ll ridgely stick to whatever they believe out of comfort regardless of truth as the human brain is more concerned with reputation over rationality. Moreover even casual disagreement triggers the automatic fight-flight-freeze instinct.
To be able to muscle your way through an obstacle solo can cut through a lot of issues. However, the ability to overcome prejudice, bias, instincts and stubborn adherence to tribalism and bring groups of people is much more powerful. For this reason many Shonen protagonists have this ability coded into their personality or sometimes even their powers. Luffy’s every goofy but headstrong nature has one in many allies over the course of One Piece’s 900+ chapter run. Yoh Asakura’s gentle and easy-going nature is one of particular stand out. By always keeping the mood light he becomes someone that’s impossible to hate. A trait that accounts for so much when it comes down to dispelling tensions. The examples for how Shonen protagonists bring people together are borderline endless but what’s important is that this is a strength that doesn’t have to come from intelligence or strength. Even the frail or the dumb can play this vital role. It’s an encouraging message. That even if you can stand on your own to feet you can still achieve results collectively.
Of course not everyone will be that easy to win over. One of my personal Shonen archetypes is the “Punk with a Heart of Gold” and not just because of the “Good Boi all along way deep down” factor. Character’s like Shaman King’s Ryu, Yu Yu Hakusho’s Kuwabara, or Jojo’s Josuke-Okuyasu combo can attract outsiders with their own outsider status and default fighters strength that does come standard the punk archetype. Ryu has an entire gang of outsiders that follow him around as leader when they would never listen to anyone else. More indirectly, Josuke’s restoration power is a good example of a power specifically designed to empower and aid others. Helps that Crazy Diamond can throw a punch though.
Conclusively speaking, the ability to influence people to your side, support them and build long-lasting connections will always be a valued talent in any age.
“You got a plan?”
“A plan? Didn’t you come here to make buddy-buddy with us?”
“There’s another term for a goal without a plan to back it up, and that’s ‘Pipe Dream’. You present me with a pipe dream, I’m not gonna be thrilled. So what if you expand your forces. How are you gonna control them to begin with? What sort of organization are you aiming for? It started with the Hero Killer, Stain. And then it happened with the Glee Killer Muscular and the escaped death row inmate Moonfish. All three were first-rate pawns at your disposal, but you lost them all immediately didn’t? Didn’t know how to use ’em? Plus, you can’t even handle the ten you have remaining properly, and yet you’re talking about expanding? What’s the point of amassing power you can’t control? In order to realize your goals, you need a plan. And I have a plan.”
An exchange between Shigaraki Tomura and Overhaul
To quote the actual IRL Overhaul, HxH2011DRA “Knowledge is not just information but how it’s organized into systems.” and there are systems for just about everything. Systems that delve into the fundamentals of knowledge are called “philosophies”. Systems that deal with the production, consumption and distribution of wealth are called “economies”. Systems that encompass various forms of self-defense and combat practices are called “martial arts”. We organize things into systems so that we have a clear way to utilize them. Whether they’re internally focused (philosophy), externally focused (economies, political ideologies) or materially focused (martial arts, science) having knowledge of systems and how to best navigate them is a huge boon.
In essence, with strong knowledge of the systems you engage with, you can set out a clear road map. You’ll be able to understand how to best utilize physical and social power. More over you’ll know how to the various ranges of power interact when clashing together. Characters of this ilk make the best leaders and teachers… and also have superpowers usually based in the eyes. Aizawa of MHA, Kakashi of Naruto, Akashi of Kuroko’s Basketball. The list goes on. If were to highlight two Shonen characters that put there are systems knowledge to good use it would be Chihiro of Hinamoru Zumou and Senku of Dr. Stone. Chihiro, being by no means a weak character, in the story joins the Sumo club to under Hinamoru’s influence. As a wrestler he wants to stand at the top of the MMA world but, as a Sumo wrestler his skills are lacking and he doesn’t have the time to really drill the core fundamentals into him. Instead he opts to mix in his wrestling training and the skills he’s observed from other rivals to bridge the gap. By drawing on his other experiences and utilizing creativity Chihiro can compete on the national sumo stage with his teammates. He falls squarely into someone who can use Systemic and Physical strengths but when it comes to learning he needs to rely on others for guidance. Senku by contrast could probably not even lift a log. But he does have access to just every scientific breakthrough in his memory which is probably handy. Lacking in comrades or strength Senku uses science to win over an entire village of almost 40 people so that he can restore humanity. And he does so in the more piratical manner, just showing all the benefits science can provide to their daily lives.
The reason I chose to frame this with a dialogue between Overhaul and Shigaraki is to highlight the often overlooked nature of this type of power. Particularly within the anime fandom within which I contribute which remains bizarrely apolitical to a fault. (For now anyway, I’m worried I’m going to start seeing right leaning anitubers pretend to have a grasp on politics when they can barely understand Japanese comics.) For all of Shigaraki’s charisma for which he can use to amass power and the myriad of powerful quirks he has at his disposal, at best he uses them inefficiently. I often like to frame characters on this Power/Social/Systemic grade personally. I find it to be clean way to judge what their role is within the narrative, aspects they lack, and where other characters come in to compliment them. No one character is going to have perfect stats in all three and banding together to make up for what each other lacks to overcome all obstacles is the essence of Friendship, Effort, and Victory.
However, what if there existed a Power so strong that it couldn’t be dwarfed even by using all everything at your disposal. A wall that couldn’t be broken, eroded, or side-stepped despite all efforts.
It’s rare but it exists. It’s the nature of Strength Absolute.
What is Strength Absolute?
“Strength to make the most learned techniques out-moded. That is strength absolute”-Toguro (artist image link)
The important takeaway from Strength Absolute is that it dominates on its own merits. Independent of any need for assistance. Strength Absolute is easy to oversimplify as just pure raw physical power. Instead of just a component. Togashi gave insight through Toguro on this implies that it requires an element of knowledge. This is because there exists many forms of strength. Even within the phenomenon of hysterical strength, where people can gain the strength to lift cars in a crisis, there exists a possibility to turn the tables on someone who is just “strong”.
Strength Absolute is made up of two factors. Will and Knowledge. The Will to keep your desire for victory and the Knowledge of how to carry yourself to victory. It was a lesson that Yusuke had to learn first hand from Toguro. A lesson that Bakugo was reminded of fighting in vain against Almight thinking he could win without taking risks. Two comparisons I enjoy drawing from here are Kuroko’s Basketball’s Murasakibara and Hinamoru Zumou’s Kuze Sosuke. Part of me feels bad for constantly referencing back to these two series… but when they stop being good I’ll stop using them and that doesn’t seem like that’s gonna happen.
Both Kuze Sosuke and Murasakibara Atsushi were gifted with great frames for their respective sports. As a general rule with sports, the taller the better. It gifts you an immediate advantage over other players, although the amount that plays a role varies from sport to sport. Regardless both of these giants are gifted. Murasakibara with his wingspan and huge frame despite being Japanese. Kuze Sosuke shares the aspect of a powerful frame but additionally is gifted with having a former Yokozuna as a father to coach him in Sumo. While both character’s win repeatedly they struggle in one aspect that proves vital for Strength Absolute. The Will to win, passion. Both for different reasons of course. To not spoil but where one manages to get a fire stoked in him and have a fight of his life. The other has to taste the sting of defeat before recommitting himself.
Strength Absolute exists as a core pillar to the Shonen Aesthetic. That power is an undeniable part of life. That no matter your romantic emotions there exists a stringent reality you will hit a wall that seems impassable. When that time comes if you want to pass it you have to remember only two words.