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The Wonderful 101 Remembers That Superheroes Should Be Wonderful


Adi Tantimedh writes;

So. The Wonderful 101.

You might have heard of it. It's a superhero video game made by cult Japanese developer Platinum Games for the Wii U, the games console that no one is buying. I don't even know if any of our readers have it. Anyway, I was over at a friend's place, he had a Wii U, and had downloaded the demo for the game.


Based on the 30-minute demo, I think The Wonderful 101 is hilarious.

You play the game by controlling not one superhero but an entire team of heroes by moving them around the landscape and having them gang up on and beat up enemy armies and robots together. Putting a different hero up as the lead enables the whole group to form a giant weapon to wallop the baddies with, whether it's a gun, a sword or a whip. The oddball cultural stereotypes are so ridiculous they can only be funny: a fat French sniper gun hero, a Russian hero who wields a big hammer, the heroine is "The Queen of Rage" who looks like a dom and whose weapon is a whip. And all the characters are drawn in that cute, big-head-small-body Chibli style to indicate this is all rather silly and tongue-in-cheek and family-friendly and should not be taken particularly seriously.

It feels like a superhero team Grant Morrison might think up after consuming too much sugar. It even includes in its play mechanics a recurrent theme in Morrison's superhero stories: the ability to turn civilians into temporary superheroes who become part of the collective of costumed heroes that make up the titled 101, a mass of bodies big enough to bring down a big enemy.


It might surprise people who aren't familiar with manga and anime that Japan has its own superhero tradition separate from America's. it began, interestingly, in 1963, separately from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launching the Silver Age of superheroes in American comics, and hit critical mass in the 1970s with the launch of Cyborg 009, 8 Man, Skull Man, the Ultraman series, the Kamen Rider series and the Super Sentai ("Super team") genre that the West would later come to know as the Power Rangers series. The 70s was Japan's own Silver Age of superheroes, and many of the series are still running today. The Wonderful 101 is a homage and a comedy distillation of the Japanese super team tradition, even if the characters themselves are Western and the setting is Fantasy America.


The idea of controlling not one but an entire team of up to 100 superheroes strikes me as particularly Japanese. There's a greater emphasis on social cohesion and everyone joining in Japan society. The way the heroes transform into their costumes is very much part of the henshin ("transform") tradition of the Japanese superhero genre. Having lots of heroes combine to form a big weapon is also part of the Japanese tradition of "transforming", and here the more heroes you have in the team the bigger and more powerful giant weapon they become is a marriage of theme and gameplay. This is the super team as actual society itself banding together to fight giant robots. And there's a story in the game as well. From the looks of the trailer, it's going to include the usual subplots of team member rivalries, the leader who has to prove himself, the upstart kid member and so on, all standard conventions in the super team genre, only extra funny and absurd because they have big heads and tiny bodies.


What got me thinking here is how this game makes superheroes silly and fun instead of gloomy, angsty and serious as American comics and movies have been lately. Where DC Comics have stopped even pretending to publish comics for kids, you have this Japanese game and the continuing manga versions of established series like Kamen Rider and others that are still successfully selling to kids and keeping their readership and TV audience numbers. They understand that to keep their audience, you need to keep growing it, including attracting them when they're young rather than just appealing to a dwindling number of nostalgic 45-year-olds. Most of all, they remember that superheroes should be about ridiculous joy and fun.

I'm not encouraging you to buy a Wii U to play this game, but its gleeful, deliberate idiocy amused the hell out of me.

Yes, let's become a giant whipat

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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