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Freeman shows religion behind iconic heroes

By Amanda Vuocolo

Renowned voice actor and mythology scholar Crispin Freeman offered wisdom on life, mythology and anime on the evening of Wednesday, April 16, at Mayo Concert Hall.

An expert and fan of anime, Freeman presented his lecture highlighting the differences between American and Japanese storytelling. “Giant Robots and Superheroes: Manifestations of Divine Power” is one of Freeman’s many topics from his Mythology and Meaning series of lectures.

‘Gundam’ is a Buddhist vehicle. (AP Photo)
‘Gundam’ is a Buddhist vehicle. (AP Photo)

According to Freeman, the purpose of the lecture was to explain “why Americans talk about superheroes and the Japanese talk about robots.” He did so with the help of an interactive PowerPoint presentation featuring text and video of crucial scenes from Superman and Astro Boy.

Freeman’s formalist analysis of Eastern and Western storytelling revealed that their respective story arcs are often derived from religious tradition: American superhero stories tend to have a Christ-like protagonist, while Japanese giant robots often represent Buddhist vehicles to enlightenment.

Freeman cited the Gundam franchise as a perfect example of a Japanese giant robot story. In this series, Gundam are gigantic mechanical suits that are piloted by humans. According to Freeman, the Gundam storylines feature these giant robots as “yana,” or “fairyboats,” which are metaphorical vehicles to enlightenment in Buddhist tradition.

Freeman’s most conclusive example to support his argument revolved around one climactic battle scene in the Gundam series in which the protagonist, Amuro, left his Gundam in order to survive while his opponent remained inside of his suit and died.

After the presentation, Freeman opened the floor to a robust question-and-answer      session, which covered female hero stories, dragons and Western themes in anime.

When questioned about his own knowledge and success, he replied, “In order to be an authority, you must author your own life.”

Freeman concluded with a mantra. “Amuro did it, you can too!”

This event was sponsored by the Japanese Club, the Department of World Languages and Cultures, The International Studies Department, the Society for Creative Endeavors and the Asian American Association.


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