On Philosophy and Kamen Riders

So, when I was in my final year of undergrad, I had to take Philosophical Ethics, for it was a university requirement.  Our teacher made us read philosophy by Aristotle and then Nietzsche, and would have us write essays to show our understanding.  In order to minimize plagiarism, he told us to write about a TV show of our choosing, making the essays unique.  When it came to Nietzsche I was a little stuck for some time, and eventually asked the teacher if it was okay to do it based on an anime or tokusatsu.  He was somewhat down with anime, so once I explained tokusatsu he said it was okay.

The result is what you will see after the jump; the best non-thesis essay of my college career, rivaled only by my paper on Hawking Radiation for laymen:  How Kamen Rider Kabuto, the series, demonstrates themes discussed by Friedrich Niezstche.

((Note:  Contains mild spoilers for Kamen Rider Kabuto.  You’d best avoid this if you intend to see the series already)) In Nietzsche’s writings, “On the Genealogy of Morals”, he discusses the ideas of Ressentiment and Creativity, and the origin of the notion of ‘good’. The conflict between Creativity and Ressentiment can be seen in many TV Shows and Films, but I find Kamen Rider Kabuto to be a particularly good example. In addition to discussing this conflict, the show also touches upon the idea of the Ubermensch, another product of Nietzsche’s philosophies. I will now attempt to show just how illustrative this 21st-century Japanese show is of the thoughts of this 19th-century German philosopher.
When describing his own ideas of the origins of morals, Nietzsche is quick to reject the traditional origins of the notions of Good and Evil. Rejecting the claim that “good” was given as a name to actions that were desired by society, he suggests that the idea of Good was made by the nobles. As it is the nature of noble people to distance themselves from the ignoble, they refer to themselves as good, or pure, while the ignoble are pitiable and bad. This forms the basis of the Master Morality, which the strong abide by.
On the other hand, the weak and downtrodden hate their oppressors. They hate their superiors because they use their power, usually hurting the weak as a consequence. Instead of growing out of weakness, they create their own morality to villianize the strong. As Nietzsche put it, they “make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey. ”(Nietzsche) So, then, the situation becomes reversed, and the strong become bad. The morality of the downtrodden, or Slave Morality, goes further than that, and qualifies the strong as ‘evil’, as opposed to the Master version of bad, which means pitiable. Nietzsche uses the conflict between the Jews and Romans around the time of Christ as an evidence for this. Then, of course, the weak become ‘good’. The idea of weakness as a ‘good’ quality makes the weak happier about their own situation. Since the weak are coming up with this morality, of course they want a morality which comforts their own situation.
This brings us to the conflict between Ressentiment and Creativity, which is an extension of the conflict in moralities between the Slave and the Master. Ressentiment is the essence of the slave morality, and it is what keeps the slaves as they are, unable to advance. Ressentiment is the feeling of dislike for those ‘better’ than ourselves, compelling us to paint the noble in this negative light. The weak build a morality in which they “compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. ” (Nietzsche) Rather than driving themselves to be stronger, they tell themselves the state they are in is good enough, and paint up some sort of karmic revenge to damage the prosperous, making their prosperity not seem to be worth it. In short, Ressentiment is about being convinced one is fine as-is, and that those who are not like us are bad and will suffer for it.
Conflicting with Ressentiment is Creativity. Creativity is described as a ‘will to power’, in other words, the mental resolve to become stronger. Rather than be complacent, the strong posses the drive to become stronger. In fact, this is how strength is gained in the first place, by having the will to take it. The complacency of Ressentiment prevents the weak from taking strength, which is why they remain weak. This isn’t to say that strength is easy to obtain. In fact, Creativity represents the mental fortitude to overcome the challenges preventing one from gaining strength. The Master Morality is related to Creativity largely because of seeing weakness as negative and pitiable. Those who have Creativity see their own weaknesses as negative, thus wishing to surpass them and become more good.
The culmination of Creativity is the Ubermensch. While the Ubermensch is not a topic discussed in “the Genealogy of Morals”, it is very relevant to our analysis. Ubermensch can translate as “Superman” or “Overman”. It is a person, or set of people, that are simply Superior. The Ubermensch is ‘over’ us; on a higher level. So, the goal of society should be to reach that state, to become the Ubermensch. This requires great Creativity, and can be seen as a goal to which all Creativity is the means to. When you better yourself, you surpass what you were yesterday, passing over your previous self. You’re able to do more, or do it better. To Nietzsche, the Ubermensch represented the absolute peak, but in fiction we think of anyone who is sufficiently above what normal humans can do. On the subject of idealizing the strong, we move to our analysis of actors in rubber suits.

Japanese Culture is, more so than the United States, rife with Ressentiment. In the United States, it almost feels natural to see someone come up with their own morality such that whoever they are is fine enough, on an individual basis. The fact that this behavior is seen as acceptable is the manifestation of Ressentiment. However, in modern Japanese culture, going against the flow and being different is ‘bad’ and looked down upon. The mediocre masses are considered ‘good’, and anyone who disrupts the flow is generally ignored. In any society, the youth are prone to rebellion from the morals of their parents. Thus we find that a lot of media oriented towards the youths and young adults of Japan have their fair share of individualist overtones. In one particular series, Kamen Rider Kabuto, we find a clash between the individualist and society with plenty of symbolism Nietzsche might be able to appreciate.
Kamen Rider Kabuto is a live-action show for children, teens, and young adults made in 2006. It shares similarities to Super Sentai (better known as Power Rangers in the US) in that it relies largely on people in jumpsuits fighting against monsters, with lots of special effects placed in. However, instead of a team, Kamen Rider usually features a singular protagonist, or small group of independent parties. The series starts anew each year, with a completely new cast and new story. While Kamen Rider and Super Sentai both air within the same hour, Kamen Rider’s targeted age demographic is significantly higher, ranging into young adults. The stories of these heroes in Japan are considerably more deep than the Power Rangers programs we in the U.S. Have been accustomed to. Despite the story having several levels, only the major premise is necessary for an understanding of Nietzsche’s relevance. Basically, seven years before the series starts, a big rock fell from earth, messed up part of Japan, and brought with it insect-like monsters that can also shape-shift into humans. The secretive paramilitary organization, ZECT, combats these aliens, but has also prepared a special system only a select few people can use, allowing them to turn into Kamen Riders to fight the bugs.
The protagonist, Souji Tendou is the essence of what Nietzsche refers to as the Ubermensch. He lacks the modesty of the common Japanese man, and sees himself as highly important. His personal catchphrase, a possible interpretation of his name, is “He who walks the path of heaven, the one who will rule over all.” This arrogance is not unwarranted; he is an exceptional human being with a wide variety of skills. The arrival of a meteorite seven years before the series motivated him to be something better, for he knew he had a great destiny to fulfill. During those seven years before the series, he passed up on post-highschool education to better himself and become the best he could be. This is also in line with Nietszche’s idea of an Ubermensch, in so far as having the desire to go above and beyond what he was yesterday. We begin the series with this very confident, skilled man as the protagonist.
The idea of the Ubermensch further takes form when you take into consideration the fact that the show is, more or less, about superheroes. The ability to transform into a masked hero in a high-tech suit can be superficially seen as akin to being an Ubermensch. Through means unknown to us through most of the series, Souji has possession of an object called the Rider Belt. When Souji calls forth for it, the high-tech ‘Kabuto Zecter’ flies to his location, and when he attaches the Zecter to his belt, he is immediately wrapped in high-tech body armor, becoming Kamen Rider Kabuto. In this state he is able to properly combat the ‘Worms’, the enemies of the show, on a one-on-one basis. This is not a task just anyone can do, which is why this system was developed in the first place. The organization who built the Kabuto Zecter, ZECT, has made mass-production suits for their personal army, but their efficiency in fighting Worms is severely less-so. Just by having the ability to become Kabuto, Souji is on a higher level than normal people.
The ability to become a Kamen Rider is limited to a small group of people, further distinguishing the status. As it is revealed in the supplemental piece “Kamen Rider Kabuto Hyper Battle Video“, the Zecters respond to certain people based on their excelling in certain emotional characteristics. Kabuto Zecter resonates with Souji’s self-confidence and skill, which is why it comes when he calls for it, allowing him and no others to become Kabuto. The audience is given an inkling of this concept earlier in the series when TheBee Zecter stops responding to Sou Yaguruma when he abandons philosophies of teamwork (to which TheBee responds) for selfishness and anger at Souji. So, for being exceptional in his greatness and self-confidence, which are inherently signs of his creativity, Souji Tendou is able to reach this Ubermensch state. But, Souji’s creativity is openly countered by other characters, so it is necessary to stop and inspect the character who serves as a foil for our protagonist, Arata Kagami.
Compared to Souji, Arata is a much more normal individual. In many ways, during the early series, he personifies the slave morality contrasting to Souji’s master morality. Arata sees Souji’s high level of confidence as arrogance. Souji insists on always doing things his own way, and Arata sees this as a bother. Souji’s egoism and showiness, even the mere fact that he’s good at something and can display such a skill (like cooking) prompts Arata to complain. Furthermore, the two are not friends, at least not until the end of the series. Souji specifically refuses to be Arata’s friends, for the sake of Arata’s own growth. It is for this reason that, during the series, Arata and Souji always speak to and about each other on a last-name basis. In Japanese this signifies a more distant, formal relationship. When Arata doesn’t want Souji’s friendship, he says things like “Who’d want to be friends with that stuck-up jerk”. At other times, however, Arata badly wants to be friends with Souji and dislikes how distant Souji is, despite the fact that he will frequently exchange this distance. In all of these examples, Arata displays Ressentiment for Souji.
However, Arata himself is not completely bound to Ressentiment and the Slave Morality. He is more of a self-repressed individual. This is most easily seen by his shaky relationship with Souji. Arata envies Souji’s creativity, his willingness to take power. He wants power for himself, and to be independent. Several times in the series, Arata’s father, a police chief, requests his son join the police force or ZECT’s military division. Arata rejects this, preferring to do things his own way, having a part-time job with ZECT’s intelligence team, and another part-time job at a cafe. At the Cafe, he usually finds himself unable to properly express his affection for a chef working there, despite that being why he’s working there to begin with. He also has a strong sense of justice, and wants to be of help fighting the enemies plaguing Japan. The first time Souji becomes Kamen Rider Kabuto, Arata had acted on his own in an attempt to become the hero himself, only to have this opportunity stolen by the more-worthy Souji. This serves as a key point for their relationship, and why the idea of slave morality does not completely apply to Arata. Because of his envy, Arata can only think of Souji as ‘bad’, not as ‘evil’ as the slave morality dictates. Souji represents the greatness Arata wishes he could achieve, so Arata cannot truly hate him.
Eventually, Arata is able to overcome himself; able to become an Ubermensch. In order to combat the aliens, Arata attempts to harness the power of the so-called ‘strongest’ rider, Kamen Rider Gatack. His first attempt is unsuccessful; and he gets beaten up by the Gatack Zecter in the process. Despite this, he insists on continuing to try. Whether you see his goal as altruistic, or as branching from a desire to surpass Souji, the process is about bettering himself, and becoming more than he was before. By surpassing his limitations, Arata eventually becomes Kamen Rider Gatack, the Gatack Zecter responding to Arata’s desire to be straightforward in his actions. Arata isn’t mimicking Souji, nor does he try to for most of the series (with a few exceptions). When becoming his own Ubermensch, his own Kamen Rider, Arata follows his own path in life, and continues to conflict with Souji, even when both are working toward a common good. However, Arata has overcome his sense of Ressentiment to reach this point, for the Ubermensch represents Creativity. Despite everyone having told him to give up when pursuing the Gatack Zecter, he refused to give in to the societal Ressentiment that had been holding back his actions earlier. Instead, he has embraced Creativity, making Arata himself, without Souji, a character representing a clash between Ressentiment and Creativity.
The only inherent problem with the story, from a Nietzscheian perspective, is the de-emphasis of Slave Morality and Master Morality. Souji takes himself to be Noble and Good, but he does not look down on those beneath him. Furthermore, as we have shown, Souji is not painted as ‘evil’ by those ascribing to Slave Morality, at least those whom we see. The hate felt for Souji by Sou Yaguruma is related to a direct interference, and Sou takes matters into his own hands rather than spend time painting his opponent as evil. Aside from that, Ressentiment and Creativity are both well-represented by Arata and Souji, the two focal characters. Furthermore, the idea of the Ubermensch is tackled on multiple levels, making Kamen Rider Kabuto (the show) a good example of Nietzsche’s ideology.

Works cited:

Kamen Rider Kabuto Prod. Atsushi Kaji, Shinichiro Shirakura, Naomi Takebe, starring Hiro
Mizushima, Yuuki Sato, Ishinomori productions and Toei, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.veoh.com,
translated by TV-Nihon.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Nietzsche Channel – On the Geneology of Morals: Preface and first Essay.”
The Nietzsche Channel. 2009. 24 Apr 2009 <http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/onthe.htm&gt;.

Information about Ubermensch gathered from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubermensch

Original work created/submitted 4/27/2009


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One Response to “On Philosophy and Kamen Riders”

  1. La Sale de Famine Says:

    Old post, yes, but a good enough one to warrant a post of praise and some laughs.

    Good essay though I find that Nietzsche can be applied to a whole crap load of shows and the like now. So eh, mainstream nihilism has failed me.

    What was your show concerning Aristotle?

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