Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.
Sometimes, having a good heart isn’t enough.
There are times you push yourself. You get up, you fall again. You do what you can to support the people you care about. You protect them. Give them strength. You take the hits, cry when no one can see you, and keep persevering. Despite this, despite everything, when the going gets tough, the tough doesn’t get going. It stays. And as a result, you give more of yourself to a cause than needed.
Heroism is defined by the behavior of rising to the moment; of meeting a noble end, and fulfilling a higher purpose. There are three specific elements to heroism: the drive or purpose to accomplish your duty, the people you try to protect and save, and the power that you use to save and protect them. In balancing your power and drive as well as successfully accomplishing your goal, you become a hero; a status marked by either fame or glory. Sometimes heroes are born, other times they are made, or thrust into the role without ever wanting to be it in the first place. In both Gatchaman Crowds and Teen Titans, our characters are ‘heroes’ in a different sense. They are ‘masked’ and do not reveal themselves to the public, each having their own unique ability and using it for the greater good. They rise to the occasion. They save lives. They represent the best of humanity….
And yet, both shows would disagree that their cast are truly heroes. In Teen Titans, a lonely girl named Terra struggles to find her own place in the world. She’s a regular teenager girl who has the ability of manipulating the earth around her, and in her quest to become something greater, she finds the Teen Titans and joins them. For a while, Terra is given a home and family, even given people to protect and a purpose. Her motive is shared by her peers as they try to defend their city from evil threats, and in this sense, Terra almost becomes a hero herself. However, the one unchecked factor – the fact that Terra cannot control her power – eventually blows out of proportion, and Terra funs away from her friends, in fear of being rejected for who she is and thus losing her motivation to accomplish greater deeds for the sake of others. Instead, she turns to Slade, the main antagonist of Teen Titans. Devastated, betrayed and confused, Terra opts to ditch the other two factors of heroism and choose the one that she lacked all along. In losing sight of who she is and her friends and desiring for greater control of her power, she turns the scales of ‘heroism’ over and becomes the opposite: a villain.
What does this show? Heroism doesn’t exist because there are no heroes. Heroism implies you have to make morally right decisions all the time, and are accepted by the people you save. But people cannot reach that ideal state continuously. The disillusionment of heroism stems from the reality of these three components of heroism: that power is unchecked in both the individual and masses, that people are ultimately selfish, and will end up betraying you. Heroism is defined by certain moments; marked by when things take a turn for the worst. It is not a continuous attribution of behavior, it is sporadic. And thus when we label people as ‘heroes’ we imply that they will always make morally righteous judgments. That they will always sacrifice their own priorities for the greater good. What Teen Titan acknowledges however, is that when the idea of heroism is pushed – which is almost always in the case of humankind – it is pursued selfishly and turns into a self destructive behavior. Terra in her desire to become stronger and casting off the ‘weakness’ of wanting to be accepted and belonging somewhere for herself and not for others backfires and thus, she ultimately destroys herself.
Gatchaman Crowds continues this line of thought with Rui Ninomiya, the genius who created the social networking app GALAX that allows for humans to come together and work cooperatively. Rui seeks to ‘update’ the world – to create a bloodless revolution for the people and by the people. He does not believe in heroes. He only sees the potential of a crowd of individuals who share their power and balance it through cooperation and a selfless desire to help the greater good. Rui believes in a society where power is spread out evenly through GALAX and being checked in balance through the limited use of CROWDS, where people are interconnected to the point that everyone saves everyone else. With this, everyone would be heroes, but not in the sense in that you achieve a higher status; rather, heroism would be a common and regular goal and thus no longer become a distinguishable trait.
However, Rui’s disillusionment does not stem from inner weakness like Terra’s; on the contrary, it blossoms from naivety. Rui’s dream is even more idealistic than heroism. In seeking a peaceful world where justice is inherent in everyone, Rui forgets that not all people are as interested in heroic movements as he is. Society is unforgiving and cruel, as seen when Berg takes advantage of Rui’s vision as a chance for destruction rather than perfection when Rui is repeatedly beaten up by Berg in Episode 7 as he finally realizes that the power to accomplish his vision is out of human boundaries. In a sense, Rui was seeking to be a different kind of hero; the invisible one who seeks self validation through his own actions and beliefs. But Gatchaman Crowds denies even this kind of hero in favor of idea that heroes cannot exist in the current world; to battle corruption and faith consistently would requite a herculean effort that no normal being possesses. Power is a burden, self righteousness is vanity, and friendship does not last forever.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Bruce Wayne says in The Dark Knight. Terra falls right into this kind of truth (though following the latter first and then the former), and Rui seems to also fall on the side of villainy (though not consciously). To argue in the favor of skepticism, however, would be to undermine Terra and Rui’s importance in their respective shows. Maybe heroism can’t exist in the modern world because to consistently prevail against corruption and evil would require effort beyond human – and superhuman – capability. But just as Terra understands the consequences of her actions at the very end of her arc in Teen Titans and valiantly sacrifices herself to undo what she has wrought, or just as Rui Ninomiya has an honest belief that people can be good, both series prove to us that cynicism is just a form of ignorance and running away; in fact, in fact, it is only when we accept defeat at every point and give the cold shoulder to reality that we fail to overcome anything at all. That’s not heroic – that is a continuous, never-ending human struggle, and that is what both shows celebrate in the end. We may not win every battle as a hero or superhero, but the aim to never give up – a trait often stomped down on and called out for being ‘foolish’ – is actually what keeps the human power going. It is a trait which Ruis and Terra share and, in the end, makes them far greater than what they could ever envision themselves as.