Caught up in the superhero craze

  • Lifestyle
  • Saturday, 12 May 2012

In each of us, there resides a superhero, waiting for the right time to emerge.

SUPERHEROES and their awesome powers have always had a hold on kids. Who would have thought that the exploits of our childhood heroes sometimes stays with us even as we outgrow such childish fare?

For instance, the Ambassador of Japan, Shigeru Nakamura may be 63, but his fascination for superheroes is undimmed by the passage of time.

When Nakamura was at the Kingdom of Characters exhibition at the National Art Gallery recently, all it took to make him smile was the mere mention of Ultraman. The staff of Japan Foundation of Kuala Lumpur were certainly surprised when he gamely struck a playful pose next to this most famous of superheroes to have emerged from the Land of the Rising Sun.

“For me, Ultraman is a symbol of justice,” Nakamura beamed.

Nakamura also confessed to having other favourite superheroes, apart from Ultraman. When he was growing up in the 1950s, his favourite superhero was Tetsujin Gou 28, a giant robot so big and strong that it could pick up battleships with one hand.

“Tetsujin taught me good will always overwhelm evil. He was more realistic than Ultraman because he had the human touch. He got his orders by remote control from a boy who won him in a competition,” he explained.

Nakamura said Japan’s history may have played a part in the country’s popular “character culture”. After the trauma of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the humiliating defeat in World War II, the Japanese turned to comics for relief. The popularity of comics grew, and this became the foundation of the manga industry.

Later, with the advent of television (in 1962, Japan recorded a total of 10 million TV sets) and the computer, the flourishing genre was taken to another level – with movies, animated series and video games.

The superhero phenomenon, also huge in the US, seems to be catching on in Malaysia with the emergence of BoBoi Boy, a fully Malaysian-made, 3D animation by Muhammad Anas Abdul Aziz and Mohd Nizam Abd Razak, which airs on TV3.. (Of course, before that, we had Cicak Man on the silver screen in 2006.)

Nizam, the managing director of Animonsta Studios, said he always wished he had super powers when he was growing up. It was this childhood fantasy that helped in the creation of his character. He said he and his partner had to excavate childhood memories to create their superhero.

Growing up lonely made Nizam decide on the power of flight for Boboi Boy. Nizam, who lived with his grandparents in Malacca as his parents eked out a living in Kuala Lumpur, remembers missing his folks terribly. It did not help that his best friend at the time had also moved to Lumut, Perak.

“I always thought if only I could zoom across the skies at lightning speed, I could at least pay everyone a visit,” laughed Nizam.

He also gave his character the ability to become invisible due to his own personal experience.

“Coming back from school, I had to pass a lane where the village bullies hung out. I might have wished to become a fighting machine but I dislike violence, so being able to slip pass unnoticed was the ideal way of avoiding them,” he added.

Boboi Boy’s incredible strength, though, was Anas’ idea. Anas, 29, who grew up in Bangi in a single-parent family, said he was always told to move aside whenever some heavy lifting was needed. He was a scrawny kid.

“They’d say things like, ‘Anas tak payah lah, lembik’, and I thought if I could lift up a car with one hand, that would show them,” he said.

Detailing the process of making Boboi Boy, which debuted in March last year, both men said they took a look at popular models like Batman and Superman but decided that these were too adult. What they wanted was a wholesome character that appealed to the children.

“For this reason, we decided that Boboi Boy should have some kind of weakness so that children could relate to him. One of them is being forgetful, a common adolescent characteristic,” said Nizam, 29.

The decision to bring Boboi Boy to life cost Animonsta Studios RM150,000 in the first six months. Their first break came when TV3 and Disney Channel gave them the nod. The men then approached the Multimedia Development Corporation for funds, and were awarded a RM1.96 mil grant.

Today, Animonsta Studios has a stable of 40 staff whose sole goal is to keep BoBoi’s character and all his superpowers vivid and alive.

Like the two animators, Izzat Al Hakim Azman has a job that relates to a childhood reverie. Just being familiar with the superheroes can be “empowering”, he said. A former librarian, the 25-year-old saw a recruitment ad by DC Comics Superheroes Boutique looking for a store manager, and – being a comic fan – he applied for this dream job, and landed it.

“I had no experience in the retail line but I knew superhero literature. Focusing on this strength, I impressed the boss during the interview. In the end, I got the job,” beams Izzat.

While it’s impossible for mortals to leap tall buildings in a single bound or run faster than speeding bullets like their heroes, Yusmiruddin Mohammed Yussuf, 34, of DC Comics Superheroes Boutique in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur proves that in each of us, there resides a superhero, patiently waiting for the right time to emerge.

Two years ago, the father of two was going up the mall’s escalator when he saw a pickpocket fishing out a wallet from an unsuspecting female shopper. Without a second thought, Yusmiruddin gave chase and caught the crook. On returning the wallet, a five-year-old, who witnessed the whole thing called him Superman.

“I don’t know what made me chase after the thief. What if he had a knife? But at the time, all I could think of was to return the wallet,” recalls Yusmiruddin, whose favourite superhero is – yep – Superman.

The retail assistant opines that one does not have to go to the lengths he did to do good. He cites his late father, Mohammed Yussuf Mahyuddin, who played football for the Selangor FC in the 1930s and represented Malaya in the Asean Cup finals, as an example of a real-life hero.

“His presence at my football matches in school was enough to make me want to do better,” recalls Yusmiruddin.

But for some, superhero worship is serious business, indeed. To cosplayers, Leena Zawawi and Rushenthrarajan Sharma, this means “becoming” their favourite characters by donning the costume and adopting the mannerism. Die-hard fans are known to spend thousands on costumes, with no effort spared in trying to attain an uncanny likeness to the real thing.

But cosplayers agree that the first thing one has to do is to find a character that goes with one’s personality.

Leena, 22 and still a student, said she settled on Hone Ana (Bone Lady) from the Jigoku Shoujou (Girl From Hell) anime series because she felt a bond with the eerie but confident character. Of Chinese-Arabian parentage, Leena said a large part of her first 14 years in school were spent in solitude because the other children did not want to speak to her.

Although she has outgrown the awkward phase, the experience, she said, made her a good judge of character, a quality that Hone Ana possesses. When asked if she would consider a change of character in the future, Leena joked that she would like to be Bat Girl but, unfortunately, does not have the body for it.

As for Sharma, 22, a senior law assistant, he dresses up as Amagini Reimei, a character from Hakuoki Shisengumi Kintan, originally a game designed for Playstation and Nintendo. According to him, it helps to take his mind off the unpleasant aspects of his day job, which mainly deals with divorce cases.

“As Reimei’s main job is to help the hero pursue his lady love, the character balances me,” said Sharma.

Coming back to reality, Sharma believes that within everyone there lies a special “power”.

For him, it’s the ability to memorise, word-for-word, the contents of a document after the first read. He credits his father, a university professor with helping him develop the skill.

It’s not exactly the kind of ability one might deem to be “super-heroic” but at least Sharma looks the part when he’s all suited up.

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