Stories shape the world. So it’s important to have mythical heroes, specific and unique to your culture.
A lot of pop culture comes from the west - that's a fact. British and American media pervade our social subconscious, that's why Game of Thrones, a continuing saga of white people murdering and fornicating, could become such an international sensation that even Asian politicians allude to the show, when embroiled in a very real scandal.
So it’s no surprise that many of us grew up with heroes dipped in western sensibilities - He-man, Rocky, Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Dr Who and Tom Cruise, just to name a few.
Okay fine, maybe Tom Cruise isn’t a fictional character…
In any case, growing up in Asia meant that we had our own set of heroes, and Asian ones to boot! They weren’t always all that much better, or relatable, and at least one of them was just terrible - but they were ours, and we loved them anyway. Because they were all unique, with many of them prone to the nuances of Asian culture, or exhibiting the idiosyncrasies of heroism from an Asian perspective.
A few have almost been forgotten, but some have endured in one form or another - and we are all the better for it! Our fictional heroes shouldn’t all be whitewashed and globalized into an indistinguishable potluck of non-culture. They deserve to be as diverse as we are, and take pride in their origins; so we can continue to have stories of greatness, in a distinct our distinct Asian Flavor.
Here is a list of the the top retro Asian heroes we grew up with and loved.
Rumor has it that our gigantic alien saviour was initially modeled after the Japanese dietary mainstay - the tunafish*. Thus the silver skin and the head fin.
Ultraman has been a mainstay of Japanese and Asian culture since 1966. Since it began, there have been no less than 38 official Ultra-people, and countless TV series and movies documenting the gigantic heroes battle to save the earth from alien invasion. A far cry from the first Ultraman, who primarily fought repurposed Kaiju from the old Kaiju movies (even a spray painted Godzilla).
You didn't grow up in Asia if you didn't wish for a golden star to stick on your head that would transform you into a kickass Red and Silver Ultra crusader!
*Okay fine, we started the Tunafish-Ultraman rumor... But come on, it's clearly there!
The Power Rangers were originally an iteration of a genre of Japanese TV show called Super Sentai series, with the American versions using the original Japanese footage of gigantic robots interspliced with re-shot rangers played by American teens.
Drawing its influences from the battle team cartoons (Gatchaman) and the giant robot genre (Mazinger, Getter Robo), the combination of the two was an immediate hit; not only resonating in Asia, but reverberating all over the world.
Giant Mech battles and spiffy team poses ignited the imagination of Asian children, and disemboweled the wallets of their parents when said children started whining for the toys.The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers solidified its popularity with western audiences in the 90's. Which is why you'll still hear the occasional Power Rangers communicator ringtone from the balding grown man in the supermarket.
It's morphing time!
An evil organisation called Shocker(!) kidnaps a motorcycling riding teen and turns him into an evil superhuman grasshopper robot… except he escapes to fight evil, with his ferocious jumping punch and jumping kicks. Cue evil android explosion. End scene.
Since 1971, everything about Kamen Rider has had a cultural impact, from his transformation sequence, to the motorcycles he rides to the squealing henchmen he battles. They remain popular not just because of nostalgia, but because the show was just so epically awesome and action packed, full of practical and imaginative special effects for a children’s television show.
Its spin-offs continue to enthrall Asian children and probably a throng of fanatically loyal adults all around the world. Not only did it see its Americanization in the 90’s with Masked Rider, the franchise it started continues on today.
Although, the current incarnation of the Rider should really be called Kamen driver since he drives a car. Especially if he’s going to be using a Mercedes Benz in the new movie. Details, people!