Holding Out For A Hiro

Curator's Note

Hiro Nakamura, salary man, otaku, “superhiro,” superfan, has emerged as the most popular character on NBC’s new Heroes. Here are a few reasons why.

Hiro represents a role model for the series fans, who are more apt to recognize themselves in his giddy excitement, goofy enthusiasms and recurring references to Godzilla, Star Trek, Kitty Pride, and Peter Parker, than in the depressed and anxious responses of the other characters. Fans in American popular media are often represented as immature, out of touch with reality, and psychotic, yet Hiro is so far one of the few characters who grasps the big picture and he does so because he reads comics. Pay attention to the advertisement for X-Ray specs he flips past here, a reminder of the empowerment and transformation fantasies comics have long offered readers.

Hiro enjoys the power to cross cultural borders. Hiro embodies Japanese “soft power” — that is, the global influence of Japanese cultural goods. By some estimates, manga outsells American comics by a 4 to 1 margin in the United States market. (Similarly, Mohinder Surresh appears on the show at a moment when India is engaged in a concerted effort to open the American market to its own comics and animation.) What do people make of the use of a Bhangra-inflected score underneath the scenes of Hiro running through Manhattan?

Hiro also enjoys the power to cross media borders. NBC chose this character as the first person narrator of a fictional blog that provides back story for the series. Just as he can read about his own experiences in 9th Wonders, fans can read more about his back story by reading online comics at the official NBC website, one of Heroes’ many extension strategies.

Comments

Jason Mittell's picture

I definitely agree that Hiro

I definitely agree that Hiro feels like a truly original TV character. But I had a feeling of loss & disappointment in the “flash-foward” moment when he returns from the future to warn Peter - in his future “Hero” persona, he (will have?) lost his otaku charm, his sense of wonder, and even his Japanese-ness. It was almost posited as Hiro must shed what makes him unique to become a Hero…

Kathleen Fitzpatrick's picture

I was interested in the same

I was interested in the same moment that Jason notes, and particularly in the ways that future-Hiro, by becoming a superhero, has come to conform to western ideals of masculinity, not only replacing his nerdy glasses with a soul patch, but also losing his geeky, hyper self-presentation and leaving in its place an Eastwood-like laconicness. Is it in the nature of superheroes that they must become western tough guys?

I noticed future Hiro has a

I noticed future Hiro has a slight resemblance to Neal Stephenson’s lead in ‘Snow Crash.’ He too is named Hiro (last name - Protagonist). His avatar in the Metaverse wears a black leather kimono - the western equivalent? Black leather duster. Hiro Protagonist also, in the real world, carries a katana and wakizashi, which you can just spot on Heroes’ future Hiro. He’s not just an amalgam of past Western archetypes; he’s got pieces of near-future science fiction all over him.

Avi Santo's picture

Great clip and conversation

Great clip and conversation starter, Henry!

I agree that Hiro’s gleeful embrace of this comic book device is rewarding to oft maligned fans, it seems to me that this is largely put forward within the series as A) a marketing strategy for promoting the Heroes commercial intertext as a pleasurable blurring of mediated and lived experiences and B) re-aligns the brand with a particular authorial voice even as it encourages fan engagement with the intertext. In the same way that Morrison’s authorship was key to reviving the Animal Man brand, the 9th Wonders reference calls attention to the roles played by the show’s producers (Dennis Hammer, Bryan Fuller) in setting up a mystery for fans to solve.

I much prefer Alan Moore’s take on the Supreme comic book (itself a rip off of the Superman brand) that investigates the ways that the superhero brand is constantly being rewritten to negotiate shifting cultural and institutional anxieties over the commodification of heroism. In that run, Supreme’s return to earth is interrupted by a visit to the Supremeverse, where he encounters previous incarnations of himself and realizes that his own “history” is merely a tweaking of the formula to meet changing social norms and industry constructions of the superhero audience. Now, if Hiro could recognize the way his identity is socially constructed, I’d be all over that.

Jonathan Gray's picture

I must admit to being at

I must admit to being at first deeply disappointed by the character. What I saw immediately was a very tired stereotype of an East Asian male: small and physically weak, effeminate, without sex appeal, coded as a geek, and there for comic relief. Given how parochial American TV often is, it seemed a shame that one of its few non-American characters was going to be a William Hung caracature, in other words.

I’m still conflicted by the character. On one hand, he’s easily one of the more likeable figures, and this likeability reduces his “foreignness,” Otherness, and even turns his “geekdom” into something of a strength. In a storyworld where genetic superiority and being a hero seems otherwise limited to Americans, he’s an important exception, especially since all signs point to him leading this Justice League of America and Japan. On the other hand, it’s a sad sign of the poor state of television’s faith in its audience’s ability to embrace foreign characters that the two Japanese characters need to be the comic relief (or that, for instance, for all their similar fleshing out after-the-fact, Lost’s Sayid and Jin need to be introduced as an Iraqi torturer and a Korean gangster respectively).

OK, how about this. I just

OK, how about this.

I just did some googling to figure out the bhangra song. It’s a traditional song called “Jatt Ho Gaya Sharabi”, about a Jatt (Punjab male) who goes on a drinking spree, and the mayhem that foolows. This track is a remix by Panjabi MC. Panjabi MC, a British Asian, does remixes of Punjabi folk songs such as this one (ironically, he was sampled by Jay-Z last year, though not this particular song).

So. I think we’re seeing a wonderful example of the layers-upon-layers of sample culture here; Heroes is “sampling” Hiro Protagonist (maybe), Panjabi remixes (associated with Bollywood in the form of the movie theater Hiro stops in, though I’m not sure this particular song is from a Bollywood movie - correct me here), and copyright/property culture itself. Hiro stops to leaf through the comic he’s just “stolen.” That’s even better - given the current hysteria over copyright (including the lawsuit involving the first Heroes episode, which was pulled and then edited over a lawsuit by a manufacturer of garbage disposal units) - the idea that Hiro has “stolen” cultural material is subverted by the fact that he did in fact “pay” for it, with Japanese currency.

I think the most interesting

I think the most interesting thing about the show and its place within a culture of comic books and graphic novels is what is missing…and for me, what is missing is the word “mutant.” The show plays with the homo-superior storyline that has been at the core of the X-Men series since the early 60s, but the word “mutant” is not part of the show’s vocabulary.

Of course, this may be simply because the show’s creators do not want their program to feel too derivative, but in the X-Men comic the term “mutant” has led to interesting connections between the comic and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, and later to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and beyond. Perhaps because of the vocabulary the show does use, I don’t see HEROES making the same kinds of connections…at least not yet.

Oh, and if in my distracted state of television watching (putting my daughter to bed, answering email, cleaning my oven) I have missed the show using the term “mutant,” well…as Roseanne Rosanna-Dana would say, nevermind.

Avi Santo's picture

I find the show's assertion

I find the show’s assertion in an era of continued boundary blurring that some folks are just genetically predisposed to greatness a bit troubling. As opposed to the X-Men, whose mutant abilities have often been allegorically established as both gifts and curses for those who possess them, the heroes we are asked to identify with on the series are those that enjoy their specialness. I have nothing against discourses of pleasure or critical celebration of difference, but the genetic link is the troublespot for me. Though admittedly an oversimplification, for the most part, heroism is not defined as an act of courage or valor on the show, but as a genetic sequence and a choice of whether to use it or not.

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