Welcome, one and all, to another OWLS post! If you missed the last one, or you aren’t aware of the groups, OWLS stands for Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect. Basically, we are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Each month, we will look at a specific theme. If you want to know more, please do click on the logo in the side bar.
Now, I missed the April run. What can I say? Sometimes life gets busy, right? I’m back now though, and the theme for May is ‘Movement’. But what do we mean by that? Let’s take a look.
We join movements, organizations, and systems that align with our own personal values and beliefs. Sometimes we join these groups because they believe in doing good and making positive changes in society. However, these movements can turn sour when a dictator arises or behind the good intentions, there’s a hidden agenda of oppression. It is in these groups that individuals start to shape their identities by questioning their values and beliefs or conforming to the system. This month, we will be examining “real and/or fictitious” movements, organizations, or systems in anime and other pop culture mediums, and the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and society.
So, let’s explore this a little.
Movements, organizations and systems exist in all walks of life. Whether it be a political party, a social movement or even just a fandom based around a shared interest, we’ve all seen them, and the chances are that we’ve all been part of at least one in our lifetimes. Where problems arise is that such groupings are often surprisingly fragile. Fractures occur because these structures are based around one overall view or philosophy and the fact is that individuals are not truly as black and white in their own belief systems. When you consider not only the myriad of things that make up a person, but the changeable nature of our beliefs as we grow, it’s easy to see why groups can be both safe havens and red flags.
This is something that I think is particularly well illustrated in IDW Publishing’s run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was always a fan of the series, dating way back to my childhood in the 80’s and 90’s when we had the cartoons, action figures, and Archie imprint comics. The most recent Nickelodeon CGI-based series was really good too and provided something that was child friendly but still interesting enough to entertain adults. With these newer comics though, things have taken quite a different route. Since beginning in 2011, the series has been far from child friendly in terms of the themes that it covers. It also does a fine job of presenting things that feel like they fit well with the modern world’s real issues, including this month’s theme of movements and how they affect society.
As such, I wanted to talk about the changing nature of two of the different factions therein, what they stood for, and how that’s altered over the series so far. As a pre-warning, this will head into quite a few spoilers, and will cover events from issue one, right up to Karai’s Path, which was released in March 2018.
First up, I want to discuss The Foot Clan. Synonymous with villainy in pretty much every Turtles universe, we first need to explore the history of the clan in the IDW storyline. This being the case, we’re going to start many years before the events of the first issue, and head back to feudal Japan.
The group was born out of the ambitions of one man: Takeshi Tatsuo. Takeshi was the retainer of a lord, but his ferocity was such that he was feared by all, including his master. This seemed likely to be his downfall, as the lord that he served sought to rid himself of the man by setting a trap that would see Takeshi faced with an entire army.
The plan failed. Takeshi slaughtered all who stood in his way, losing his right leg along the way. The injury should have been enough to finish Takeshi off, but a sorceress known as Kitsune found the ambitious warrior and save his life. From here, Takeshi sought to placate his desire for power, and so formed the Foot Clan, their name taken from the bloody foot print that his restored leg left behind. Under Takeshi’s leadership, the clan became a home to those who sought power and that were not afraid to kill for it. They committed multiple atrocities through their time and spread fear wherever they walked.
That was when the first fracture happened. You see, the Foot Clan was built around the simple premise that brutality led to power. This was not a view held by two members of the group, Oroku Maji and Masato. Viewing the clan as unnecessarily brutal, they turned on their master and slayed him, drawing the ire of Kitsune as a result.
From there, the Foot Clan changed. With Masato at the helm, they became well-respected warriors; feared, but for their skills rather than their ways. Even so, the overarching view was that this version of the clan was tamer in comparison to their origins. This would change again in but a few short years. Kitsune had cursed Oroku Maji to father the reincarnation of Takeshi Tatsuo. And so, when his son Oroku Saki was born, he sought to teach the child love and compassion. No matter what he tried though, the boy displayed a seemingly insatiable need for dominion over others. When the boy then met Kitsune and had the memories of his past life unlocked, he murdered his father and his master, and seized control of the clan once more.
The clan became bloodthirsty once again and used their combined strength to propagate dominion over all others. Even with this return to their old ways though, the simplistic need for power was not enough to satisfy all those who joined, and Oroku Saki’s childhood friend Hamato Yoshi soon became another fracture. He had battled his own wild rage and become a better person for it, and so when ordered to slaughter innocent civilians, he refused. Determined not to tolerate insubordination, Oroku Saki marked Hamato Yoshi, his wife, and his four children for death. Though the Hamato clan fled, the Foot were relentless in their pursuit, and the execution was carried out eleven years later, cementing the clan’s reputation in the process.
But power is fleeting. And Oroku Saki knew this. And so, he engaged in a quest for immortality. A quest that led to his suicide and immersion in mutagenic ooze, while his spirit awaited awaking by a descendent.
This is where Oroku Karai appears. As the centuries marched on, those that remained in the clan still believed in power as the ultimate goal. So, when the world changed, so did the clan, and by the time that Oroku Karai was born, assassinations and spies had been traded for lawyers and businessmen. The clan may have transformed into a corrupt business conglomerate, sure, but it was still built on the foundations of power. When Oroku Karai learned of the clan’s ninja origins though, she wrested control from her father, resurrected Oroku Saki (now known as The Shredder) and handed control over to him.
The cycle began again. The Foot Clan rose to be a powerful army of the night, and spread tyranny based around Shredder’s desire to dominate all others. The simple promise of power drew in those that wanted it, and alliances with other power-hungry groups soon formed. The ninjas were joined by street thugs, mutants, and even scientists. And Karai became conflicted.
She had chosen to resurrect the clan because she saw no honor in the corrupt ways of her father and wanted to restore the Foot Clan to the way that it once was to fix this. She was not above crime, but she was adamant that the group could still live by a code. The more that Shedder muddied the waters with outside assistance and a blind thirst for revenge on Hamato Yoshi and his children (now resurrected as Splinter and The Turtles), the more that she began to doubt the direction the clan were taking. Her actions soon led to the rival Foot and Hamato clans seeking to resolve matters in the honorable way, and the ensuing battle ended with Shredder being beheaded.
Oroku Karai handed control of the clan over to Splinter as she had seen the qualities of a true leader in him. What should have been the latest in a long line of pendulum swings for the clan led to something else instead though: Splinter continued the fear driven rule that Shredder had established. While there was now more reason and control to the clan’s action, they continued to be brutal in their ways, even going so far as to execute their enemies. In the end, this drove the Turtles from their father.
So, after a lengthy-run through of the clan, how does this play into the general theme of the topic? Well, you can see from the repeated switches back in forth in leadership, that despite a constant drive for power, the way the clan operates has changed with each new leader. Those who joined up were doubtless unhappy with their lot in life and sought to improve their standing by being a part of something greater. With each incarnation of Takeshi Tatsuo though, power was all, and outright domination was his greatest weapon and primary goal. This meant that the power the members sought came at the price of following a tyrant. Takeshi Tatsuo was a dictator, driven by his owns selfish quest, and in the end, there was always someone to rebel.
The exception to the back and forth of ideals came when Splinter took over and broke the cycle. Here, instead of instigating major changes within the clan, he sought to control the increasingly world around him by continuing to act brutally. He had his reasons, of course, but in this instance, it was the movement that changed him, rather than the other way around.
Now, the Foot are not the only group in the universe to use somewhat less than legal means to achieve their goals. Not all these groups are strictly bad guys though. Let’s look at The Mighty Mutanimals. The group was formed by Old Hob and Slash, and while both had the same underlying reason to do so, their ideals differ. You see, mutants in the IDW TMNT universe are not well treated. When not forced to hide in the shadows, most have been subject to torture, and many have suffered severe injuries both during this mistreatment and in battles with opposing groups. In a lot of cases, mutants are seen as either tools of destruction or vermin that must be exterminated.
With this threat hanging over mutants, the group was formed to act as a safe haven. In essence, the group is built around the idea of creating a world where mutants are an accepted part of society. Where things get a little messy for them is in how the members go about this. For Old Hob, the Mutanimals are an army. The mutants that he himself creates, and those that he rescues from research labs are tooled up and given missions that are not only riddled with potential violence but designed to kick back at those that Hob sees has the oppressors of his people.
In a way, this is understandable. Old Hob was thrown on the streets and forced to live as a stray cat by an angry human and was mutated by accident during his homeless days. When he found a refuge with Baxter Stockman, he was used as a weapon against the Turtles, and when his usefulness had waned, he was shot and left for dead. Hob has seen some of humanity’s worst traits firsthand, and he understands how those in charge view him. He has had to fight most of his life, and this is just another example of where the only solution he can think of is to meet violence with violence. Yes, he cares about the other mutants, and he wants them to feel safe and be free of suffering, but for him, this is best achieved by making mutants the dominant species.
On the other hand, Slash’s journey has taken a different path. After his creation, he lived in captivity, and the treatment he received by his ‘owners’ left him living in constant pain. Like Hob, he was used as a weapon. Also, like Hob, he was eventually left for dead. It was then that the two met and, despite essentially being a mindless monster, Slash had enough sense to tell that Hob wished him no harm. And so, he followed Hob loyally. Eventually, Slash injected himself with Splinter’s DNA, resulting in his mind clearing and him being able to think and communicate clearly. With this came change further understanding for the big guy.
Slash was no stranger to violence, and he was certainly aware that it was necessary at times. He is not however as mercenary as Hob. As such, when he finds Hob stockpiling weapons with the assistance of Casey Jones’ vicious father Hun, this becomes a point of contention. Hob had claimed to be destroying the weapons rather than selling them. On top of that, Hun was not only representative of the sort of person that the group were meant to stand against, but was someone that Slash considered an enemy.
In the end, though he remains on good terms with all members of the group, Slash cuts ties with the Mutanimals. And the other members? They lose some faith in Hob but choose to stay anyway. After all, where else would they go?
When you look at the group and their formation, it could be argued that the Mighty Mutanimals are a movement born of necessity. Each of them has been mistreated by society and have nowhere else to go to feel safe. What makes them interesting is that, although they all want the same thing on a base level, they each have differing views on the best way to achieve this. For Hob, he is instigating a ‘do unto others’ approach with a view to his people taking a spot at the top of the food chain. For Slash, I think he simply wanted a place to call home and would do what he needed to ensure the safety of himself and his friends. The other members don’t have the answers. They do remember how they were treated though, and at least two of them are suffering with PTSD. As it stands, they’re going along with Hob, likely because at this point, his seems like the only way to remain safe.
In a way, the group are an equal rights movement. Due to the world that they inhabit though, there are no marches or pushes for political revamping, there is only the daily struggle in an unkind environment. With both Hob and Slash present, you feel like there’s a balance between Hob’s sadly necessary hostility and Slash’s not wanting to push things too far in the wrong direction. With only Hob left to lead the group now though, there’s always the possibility that they could end up going down in a blaze of glory rather than achieving the safety that they want. On top of that, their actions don’t do anything to make the general world think that mutants are anything other than the monsters that they fear they are, thusly making their methods a little counter-productive.
When you compare these two groups, there are a lot of similarities. Both have leaders that are vicious and have a penchant for violence. Both take part in illegal activities and spread fear the general population. Both feature a mix of human and non-human members, allies and enemies. Neither group has fully achieved their goals, and both have failed to have a positive effect on either society or their individual members’ standing therein. Despite these cross-overs in actions though, Old Hob is not a dictator like Shredder. His intentions are less selfish, but his life to this point has jaded him and left him misguidedly following the same self-destructive path that the former head of the Foot did.
Where they differ is the way that the group adapts to changes. For the ancient ninja clan, they first saw a flux in ideals depending on who was at the helm, then eventually became so ingrained in their own belief system that their new leader was forced to change himself rather than change the clan on a large scale. For the Mutanimals, they haven’t seen a full change in leadership as yet, but the balance in ideals has changed. Even so, they remain rigid in their stance, standing firm together. Mostly.
Only time will tell if either group manages to become more than they are, or even come close to achieving their goals. What they do do though is act as a reminder for the real world. Sometimes, we encounter monsters who wish to spread fear and bend the world to their line of thinking. Other times, we create the monsters ourselves by the way we treat others. Groups, movements, organizations, systems; they can be born for many reasons, and can stand for many things. In the end though, it is how those within act that dictates whether they affect society positively or negatively. Remember, we are not a simple species, and so it is unlikely that any group based on a single simple ideal will be in line with all that matters to you. The trick is to understand when alternative paths are required, both for the group and for you as an individual.
And there you have it. I hope you all enjoyed that! Feel free to comment below with your own thoughts on both this post and the theme in general. In the meantime, Mel over at Mel In Anime Land is up next, so please do check their post out. The full schedule si below: