3, 2, 1, killshot! Let's discuss One Punch Man!


October 10, 2012

Spirit Showdown #1: The Driver

How many times have I used the phrase “I fancy myself a writer” in the past?  Let’s see…I think it’s coming up on…just about…ah, yes, fifteen thousand times.  And by fifteen thousand I mean eight.  And by eight I mean probably eight.

It’d be easier to call myself a writer if I had any credibility (i.e. a legion of devoted fans who await my fictitious gospel and launch assaults with a wave of my hand), but for what it’s worth, just being able to talk about stories, and analyze stories, and come up with stories has to count for something.  I’m not an authority, but I think at the very least I have the potential to be.  I mean, I’ve put more than a little thought into my stories.  One day when I was eleven I started daydreaming, and then I never stopped daydreaming.  That’d probably explain why I’m not an architect.

And what was I daydreaming about?  Well…


video

All right, so sell this guy in ten words.
From a child’s imagination comes a hot-blooded hero -- simple, yes?



You’re not very good at being brief.  What’s your design philosophy?
I came up with him back when I was eleven or so.  “I’m gonna write a novel!” I said, wide-eyed and pencil-twirling.  “I think I can do it in 125 pages, so other kids can read it for their English classes.  And it won’t be boring like other books -- it’ll have sword fights and magic and legends…it’ll be great!”  And it would have been, at least if my Nintendo 64 hadn’t gotten in the way.  Well, either that or it would have been a putrid pile of manatee shit.

That said, you can tell this is a guy made by an eleven-year-old kid.  He’s certainly changed over the years (just as I have), but at a base level he has a lot of the same traits: brave, noble, idealistic, fun to be around…well, you see him, don’t you?  He’s smiling -- smiling, of all things!  How very incongruous with today’s fictional climate!  Isn’t that right, Kratos?


Gaaah!  Don’t hurt me!

As you’ve probably guessed -- if you’ve seen some of my other posts -- I revile anything that’s excessively dark and gritty.  I can see the merit, and gritty =/= bad; it’s just that ever since Christopher Nolan’s Batman films came around (and before then, I suppose), too many people want to make their stories and worlds -- and of course, their characters -- as nasty as possible.   This guy isn’t.  He’s not dark, he’s not edgy, and the only time you’ll see him (and by extension his story) get gritty is when he’s swept up in a sandstorm.  That’s not to say he’s all smiles all the time, but the purpose of this character isn’t to have him bogged down by particulars.  Does he have them?  Yes, undeniably so.  In fact they’re a key part of his character and story arc.  But what’s important to him and his story at large is “moving forward” -- learning to overcome whatever roadblocks exist in one’s life.  Deias’ role, period, is to be an exemplar of that.

He’s a hero, a role model, and a beacon of hope…if not immediately, then he’ll campaign to be one over the course of his journey.

Ah, so in other word’s he’s got the spirit of…
Yup, you guessed it.

GUTS!

Guts, huh?  Care to elaborate?
Gladly.  Guts -- courage, passion, zeal, drive, a desire to affect change, and change oneself.  It’s the spark of a hero; it’s the engine that has the potential to move even the most middling of men into new realms, be it to claim legendary status or cement oneself and his society as heralds of a new age of hope.  It’s heat, encapsulated and used liberally, all for the sake of a brighter tomorrow.

…I should probably dial back the ham a bit.  Let’s talk about something else.

Fair enough.  So how about some context?
Ah, right.  World-building elements.  Those are important too, last I checked. 

So, hypothetical situation.  You’re an average Joe living out your life in the not-too distant future, doing things that not-too-distant future people do (like answer calls with your eyeballs).  Just when you’re about to head to the store to pick up some Zetta-Quality Space Bread™, your neighborhood goes nuts.  Or to be more specific, your town goes nuts.  Or to be more specific, your planet goes nuts.  Imagine if you will an atomic explosion so widespread that it affects everything you know -- and it causes dozens of natural disasters all across the globe, all at once.  Blizzards.  Tsunamis.  Earthquakes.  Thunderstorms.  Hurricanes.  Volcanic eruptions.  And of course, no shortage of detonated weaponry, if only by circumstance.  We’re talking about catastrophes on an unprecedented scale and frequency, the likes of which practically reforms the face of the Earth.  Given that, what do you do?  Here, I’ll give you a bit of time to think.


Time’s up.  If your answer was “die”, then congratulations, you’re right!  Also, doomed.

To say things are bad in this hypothetical future would be an understatement.  But just in case you haven’t bought it yet, know this: not only is more than ninety percent of the population (and the society they built) effectively gone, but then, suddenly, everything goes black.  No sunlight.  No starlight.  Not even the wreckage of the landscape.  Just darkness.  Smothering, globe-shrouding darkness.

Thankfully, it doesn’t stick.  Unfortunately, the sunrise that follows ensures that Earth -- dramatically changed from its current state -- is plunged into a new dark age.  You’d think that the fraction of the population left would pull together to survive, but without technology, solid communication, resources, and in some cases not even solid land to stand on, it’s not long before the new dark ages lead to clan warfare and struggles for survival.  And diseases.  Can’t have a dark age without diseases.


Thankfully, that doesn’t stick either.  In the middle of a war, nearly a century after the world’s blackout, a divine being appears in a column of light.  She calls herself “Avalon”, and declares that she will usher in a new age of peace.  With her loyal subjects by her side, and a gleaming sword of light, Avalon’s efforts drive the world toward brighter days, and her presence alone actually helps re-fertilize the earth.  Thanks to her efforts (forceful as they could be), barely a half-century passes before she and her subjects are known as the “God-Kings”, and the earth is made hospitable once more.  And with their task done, Avalon and the God-Kings vanish into the annals of history, never to be seen again.  Humanity will have to rebuild without their help -- a struggle that the goddess knows they can handle.

So Earth faces an apocalypse…and the only salvation comes from divine intervention?  Not very guts-like.
Now just hold on a minute.  Who said anything about that being where the story starts?

You mean it isn’t?  Then what was the point of that?
Ensuring that every post I make is absurdly long.  I like to be thorough, you see.  And besides, context is important.

So how about giving the real context, then?  Like, the stuff that’s actually relevant?
It’d be harder to convey my point if I didn’t give a bit of backstory.  See, even if Avalon and the other God-Kings are gone -- and have been for hundreds of years -- their presence is still felt in day-to-day life (and as these things tend to go, they play a part in the story later).  For one thing, they’ve got an entire religion centered on them and their exploits.  For another, even though the story is ostensibly set in the future (albeit one that’s not THAT much more advanced than our society -- remember, we’re talking about recovery from a near-extinction), there are still people that do as the God-Kings and clansman from the dark ages did and take up training in melee weapons.  And third, there are now people called “Drivers”. 


Not like that, though.  Well, not often.

In a nutshell, they’re people with enhanced capabilities; they’re stronger, faster, tougher, and in some cases even smarter.  But more importantly, they’ve received the “blessing of Avalon”, as some would put it -- they have control over an element, and can use it at their leisure.  There are Drivers that can command water, Drivers that can control wind, Drivers that can instantly forge metal, and even Drivers that can ride the lightning.   And they’ll need that power against a certain threat.

One of the less-adored effects of Avalon’s efforts was the emergence of the “Virals” -- half-machine, half-beast monstrosities that emerge from the earth itself.  Their motives?  Unknown.  Their numbers?  Nigh-infinite.  Their lethality?  Unquestionable.  It takes the efforts of Drivers the world over, organized into unofficial militias (better known as “guilds”) to protect the innocent from danger.  The Virals are a constant threat, but as long as there are heroes to fight against them the world will remain safe.  Still, it’d be a disaster if the creatures united under a single commander in a bid to ravage the planet.

Oh wait -- that’s exactly what happens.


In the midst of a battle between two world superpowers, a column of dark flame appears on the battlefield.  With an entrance reminiscent of Avalon’s first appearance, Veyron descends, and with her angelic wings a-fluttering, she forces the fight to a stand-still.  But she doesn’t stop there.  She makes a proclamation to the world, broadcasting her announcement across every channel: the world is coming to an end, and only she can save them.  But, only a chosen and blessed few can be saved.  In order to decide who lives and who dies -- who comes with her on her Ark, and who goes down with the planet -- she wants them to fight.   She wants the spirit of battle and warfare to spread across the entire planet, not just consign itself to excised territories.  She wants them to kill one another, wherever they may be, whoever they may be.  If they do, the strongest will earn the right to be saved.  If they don’t -- if anyone puts up resistance to her -- then she’ll command the Virals as she sees fit, and slaughter all dissidents.

Naturally, the heads of state aren’t having that shit.  After calling for a ceasefire, they redouble their efforts in stopping Veyron and her bio-mechanical forces -- armies and guild members alike begin mobilizing, hoping to secure their future on their terms.  But with a force on a scale and global presence the world’s never seen before, and with the clock on the planet itself ticking, is there anything that can be done?  Is Earth facing its final sunrise?

Only one way to find out.  It’s time to drive on.

...With guts!


What, still not feeling the heat?

Wait, you’re still there, right?

…Oh, sorry, are you done?  I just figured I was here to hear about a character and his story’s spirit, not a thousand words of setup for a story you haven’t even written yet.
But it’s important!  Trust me; I’m working toward something here.

Are you really?  I’m starting to have my doubts.
Look, would it make you feel better if I started talking about the hero now?  I think I’m in a good position to do so.

Oh, you mean the thing you said you’d do from the outset?  Nooooo…you’ve still got more babbling to do about the flowers that started to bloom, or the speed of the average glacier.
You’re kind of hard to please, aren’t you?  But if it’ll make you feel any better, let’s talk about Deias a bit.

Yeah, about that -- what’s with the name?  Sounds a little too similar to “Deus” for comfort.
That’s intentional.  Plus it's not his real name, obviously.  It's actually...well, I'll get there when I get there.  But let's get back on topic.

Remember, it was because of one verifiable god (or goddess) that the world ended up getting back on track, and because of a second goddess that the world is supposedly on its last legs.  There’s a current here that’ll be explored in-depth, but for now just remember this: “Deias” is an anagram for “ideas”.  Even if he was the best in the universe, it wouldn’t mean anything if he didn’t have a reason for it.  And because of that, he does his damnedest to fight for what he believes in -- living according to strong principles, helping others, and taking down baddies as needed.

But it helps that he IS the strongest in the universe, right?  Or at the very least becomes the strongest?
Far from it.  If anything, he’s the weakest character in the story.


If you know what this is, you know what I'm getting at.

Oh, this should be good
He’s a Flame Driver, which -- as you can guess -- gives him the power to create and control fire at will.  As a compliment, he’s got some serious sword skills earned through years of training; the physical prowess his training and natural ability afford him make him a very competent fighter.  And --

Wait a second.  So he carries around a sword?
That’s right.  Pretty common practice in-universe…though I admit it’s partly because melee weapons are a lot cooler and manlier than guns.

Okay, so if guns exist in his world, why doesn’t he use one?
Simple.  1) Because he knows that using a sword is a lot more complicated and difficult than using a gun, which earns him the respect and admiration a hero deserves (remember, “ideas”).  2) Because he doesn’t want to dishonor the teachings of his master, who he idolizes.  3) Because he can cover himself fairly easily by virtue of his pyrokinesis -- he’s got flaming bullets that never run out, and he never needs to reload…well, assuming his stamina holds out.  4) Because of personal reasons, things from his past that'd take another few thousand words to explain here.  5) Because if these two went to a firing range, one of these guys would get a bull’s-eye dozens of times before he even nicked the target:


So he sucks, then.
Yes.  And in more ways than one.  See, there’s a sort of idiosyncrasy to Deias -- even though he’s got his powers, and his skills, and he does get better as the story progresses, he’s constantly outclassed.  He’s the jack of all trades and the master of none.  He’s got a strong offense, but there are characters that can hammer with piledriver-equipped fists and girls that can whip up hurricanes when they get a little antsy.  He’s got a good defense, but there are characters that are nigh-indestructible thanks to bringing up rocks to guard, or otherwise dispatching enemies before they even get in a ten-foot radius.  He’s fast enough, but there are characters that zip around and litter the field with swords of ice, or can outright fly.  And compared to Veyron (or a fair number of her soldiers), he and his friends aren't much.  The baddies' overall stats are through the roof -- even taking out one of them is a miracle in itself.

But what Deias lacks in raw power, unique abilities, or even specialized stats, he makes up for it on two fronts.  First: fundamentals.  He gets stronger as he fights, that much is a given -- but more importantly, he’s learning.  He’s figuring out what he needs to do to reach the next level.  He’s putting himself through rigorous training while others are sleeping the night away, devising new strategies and techniques.  He even figures out how to fight against opponents -- even those who are practically gods -- in the middle of a fight.  This becomes a plot point on multiple levels; he not only begins to develop his understanding of the opponent, but ends up finding an exploit that may very well save the entire planet.   



And the second front?  It’s obvious: guts.  The reason he’s able to face off with super-beings and survive (even if it does end with him getting brutally battered) is because he will never, ever, give up.  I know that’s a common thing for heroes, but I just want to reiterate how important it is for him to stand and fight.  He carries no shortage of burdens throughout the tale, but soldiers on regardless.  If there’s someone in the line of fire, you can bet he’ll stand his ground, and clear a path to safety.  He doesn’t give a shit about what you throw at him -- he’ll find a way to win, no matter what.  Think of it this way: he’s standing up to bullies so you don’t have to.  And when he does so, you start to realize that maybe the bully’s not as tough as you thought.

Sounds like he’s hard-wired to be some kind of knight in shining armor.
Like you wouldn’t believe.

What do you mean by that?
Deias has…er…issues.  Lots and lots and lots of issues.

Now I’m motivated.  Tell me more.
You want the good first, or the bad?

You can have good issues?  Well, whatever -- start with the good, then.
The most obvious thing is, to paraphrase Bob “Moviebob” Chipman, is that Deias is a good guy.  You’d think that because he’s a fire-elemental, he’d have a short fuse; in reality, getting him to lose his cool is nigh impossible.  That’s not to say he never gets angry, but he’s a “speak softly and carry a big stick” kind of person.  He knows anger will just lead to him saying and doing stupid things, so he’s long since learned how to control it and use it properly.  But temper (or lack thereof) aside, he’s an incredibly nice and friendly person.  Humble, if a bit too reliant on self-deprecation; earnest, if a little overbearing; pure-hearted, if a little naïve; as important as it is to strike out on his quest for justice and brighter days, he knows that he can’t rest until he puts a smile on a single child’s face.  (Quite literally; his relationship with a girl he meets is a major part of his character arc, and their friendship spans the course of several years.)  Basically, he’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having around.


But…he’s also the kind of guy you can’t help but feel sorry for.  His luck is terrible -- he’ll get bitten by dogs, smacked by falling pipes, hit by cars, and in one instance struck by lightning.  He’ll bear his bad luck with a smile, but it’s not uncommon to see him ragged and smoldering at the end of any given day.  Also, being a Flame Driver comes with a certain weakness (multiplied tenfold in his case): a decent amount of water will knock him flat on his ass.  He can’t swim, gets seasick easily, can be utterly crippled by strong enough rain, and even in the midst of a fight a good splash can shut him down.  It certainly doesn’t help that he doesn’t own much in the world besides his sword, his clothes, and a half-empty duffle bag with a meager array of knickknacks.

Fortunately (?), he’s a bit of a dork.  He’s a die-hard fanboy for the Task Force X franchise -- think Power Rangers, only…called Task Force X -- and goes starry-eyed at the mere sight of any memorabilia.  He knows more about the behind-the-scenes drama in the costuming department for Season 17 than he does about women -- notably, because he’s fantastically oblivious to their charms, mindsets, or even basic knowledge about them. 

So in a nutshell, he’s a nexus of hilarious mishaps.

That’s a lot of meaningless information to digest.  So, what about --
Oh, and also, he’s a fantastic cook.  He can make a bowl of noodles like you wouldn’t believe.


…Are you done?
I think that’s everything.  Oh wait, I forgot -- he’s terrible at math and science, but surprisingly adept in the humanities.  You can thank his master’s teachings for that.

Now are you done?  
Yes.  More or less.  I kind of feel like I’m leaving a lot out, considering that I’ve only vaguely touched on his six crazy comrades, but --

Focus, please.  Now what’s this I hear about his issues?
Oh, right.  Those.

Okay.  So I know I’ve kind of painted Deias as a straightforward hero at first, and a bit of (i.e. a major) goof more recently.  But there’s a reason for that.  Because if I do my job right, you’ll see firsthand how much being Deias is suffering.


Being a hero and saving the day is important to Deias.  Very important.  Part of that is because he’s got a genuinely noble spirit, which is fine.  But there’s also a part of that based on his numerous past failures.  Remember when I said his luck is terrible?  Yeah, that’s not always played for laughs -- people have died just because he was around.  Even if he’s doing his best, even if he’s done everything right and kept his missteps to a minimum, he’s seen numerous friends die and been to several funerals too many.  You can think of his heroism as a kind of coping mechanism for his survivor’s guilt -- among other things.

Deias uses a lot of self-deprecation -- but even if it’s a way to show humility, it’s also a way to emphasize his mindset.  He’s not perfect.  He knows that better than anyone.  And deep down, it tears him up inside.  Remember, this is a universe where godlike beings can change -- and are changing -- the world according to their whims; his powers and skills aren’t much better than parlor tricks compared to Avalon or Veyron.  There’s an intrinsic weakness to him no matter how strong he gets, and knowing that he can’t compete with the gods of old (or the present), or sometimes even his combat contemporaries means there’s a big gap between what he wants to be and what he is.

Just to hammer it in, this is what he wants to be.


This is more or less what he is.



And Veyron’s dead-set on ensuring that anyone who tries to be a hero is going to have a hell of a bad time.  Her proclamation that the world’s going to end and the battle royale she’s hosting makes the world wish that there was still a war going on.  Tensions between the Drivers and (the more numerous) normal humans rise rapidly, as do relations between countries and guilds and armies and governments and even civilians.  The Virals wreak havoc upon the world at Veyron’s command, crushing resistance and inciting desperate survivors to start fighting for their place on the ark.  Battles start raging all over the globe, from neighborhood skirmishes to outright civil wars.  Desperate peoples all over the world begin subscribing to Veyron’s way of thought, to the point where cults and religions start forming around the dark goddess.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the planet starts to physically crack under the pressure -- proof that Veyron’s words hold no shortage of truth.

It’s a bitter lesson, but one that Deias and company learn all too soon: saving the world requires much more than good intentions and sword skills.  The world is quite literally falling apart; how is anyone supposed to fix that?  Deias doesn’t know, but it’s in his nature to at least try…meaning that he’s put through hell trying to save everyone he meets, protect his friends from imminent death, uphold his noble beliefs in a world that’s slowly beginning to discard them, defeat enemies leagues beyond even the strongest Drivers, and worst of all, do all of that while keeping a smile on his face.  He’s forcing himself not to crack, but it’s obvious that he’s pushing himself further than any human should ever go.  (And it’s heavily implied that he’s overtaxing himself with his powers/training, to the point where it’s shortening his life span.)  It’s not a question of when he’ll break, but rather how badly he’ll break.

The answer, of course, is triumphantly


Yeah, like that.  Only with his soul instead of his body.  And actually, with his body, too.

You don’t say?
You don’t sound very impressed.

Should I be?
It’d make me feel good about myself.

Come on.  You and I both know where this is going.  Don’t even try to hide it.
Heh heh…yeah, I guess you caught me.

Just because Deias gets broken doesn’t mean his story ends there.  Well before that, he’s constantly helping others; he’s constantly driving people to do their best, and fight back, and be able to wear smiles on their faces.  What he’s doing isn’t pointless -- it seems meager in the grand scheme of things, but every act of good he and his friends do comes back to help them in a big way by story’s end.  But even with that in mind, it’s Deias himself that finds the strength needed to overcome his despair.  Okay, he gets a little help from some people he’s met, but even a mental crashing-and-burning isn’t enough to stop him.  If he’s got a problem, he’ll get over it.  If he’s taken a beating, he’ll get back up.  If he’s lost, he’ll come back twice as hard as before, and win.  If everything he knows is crumbling around him -- his world, his allies, his friends, and even himself -- he’ll do everything he can to patch it up, and even make it better than ever.  Why?  Because he’s driven to be the best hero he can be, for everyone’s sake.  It’s a hard road, and he learns that over the course of his journey.  But it’s one he’s chosen, and one he’ll keep going down for as long as he can.  He’ll fight, and he’ll fight, and he’ll fight for as long as it takes -- call on him, and he’ll be by your side, helping you move towards a better tomorrow.  Helping you, and everyone else, realize their potential and become something more than what they are now, or what they were back then.

That’s what it means to have guts.


Sounds like both of you have got a lot of work to do.
Yeah, no kidding.  Pretty much everything I’ve mentioned is only in the first third of the actual story.

Well, you’re nothing if not ambitious.  Care to give a hint of what’s in store?
What, you don’t mind spoilers?

Someone out there might, but not me.  Just hit the main points.
All right, let’s see here…spoilers...spoilers...spoilers...

He gets betrayed by someone very close to him, stabbed in the heart and thrown off an airship and left for dead.  He ends up finding a way to save the world, but it’s only a temporary fix and it’s heavily implied that it’ll do as much harm as it does good.   He becomes the most wanted man of another planet and lets himself get imprisoned to save his comrades.  He faces off with a swordsman who is so insanely powerful, he’s as dangerous as Veyron and Avalon -- verifiable goddesses -- put together.  He has to find a way to stop an epidemic from spreading across Earth, as well as rally Earth’s forces against an ex-comrade who’s robbed an entire planet of its free will and converted them into his own personal, unquestioning army.  He has to lead an assault against a parasite the size of the moon before it tears Earth to shreds with its bio-mechanical tendrils and a sword the size of California.

Oh, and he forms a travelling performance troupe with his friends to raise morale.  They specialize in their own brand of Task Force X knockoffs.


…You’re serious?
Yes.  Oh, wait, one more thing.  Deias is meant to invoke the specter of Street Fighter’s Ryu. 


No surprises there.  What about it?
Ever heard of Evil Ryu?  Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…that kinda happens to him.  Only worse.  Much, much, much worse.



Please.  Clenched teeth and a change of hairstyle aren’t enough to prove --


…Okay, that might do it.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t last.  Deias is still a goofy, hard-working altruist.  He’s got some serious work to do, but as long as he -- and everyone around him -- holds on to their guts, the world is certain to see even brighter days ahead. 

So everyone’s after a happy ending, huh?  Guess I can’t fault them for that.
How could you?  Acting on guts is nothing but admirable.

As long as you don’t overdo it.
True enough.  But in any case, lots of guts > no guts at all.

So I guess that’ll do it for now, huh?  Well…I can’t say I’m 100% in approval, but you did give it a good shot.  A for effort.
Would it help if I posted his theme song?

No, not really.
Too bad!  Metal time!


You really know how to tick me off, don’t you?
I aim to please.

You’re doing a bad job of it.
I didn’t say “I aim to please you.”

You’re a cheeky one.  But on the plus side, it looks like it’s finally over.
Oh, on the contrary, my friend.  I’m afraid it’s only just begun.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting, I can't wait to hear more about this project of yours.

    Also, it seems your internal voice is gaining independent sentience. Might want to keep an eye on that, bud.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Also, it seems your internal voice is gaining independent sentience."


    Since when were you under the impression that it was my voice? Why, it could be anyone out there...heh heh heh...

    ReplyDelete