Astro Fighter Sunred – Playing the Role of Hero and Villain
I recently blew through both seasons of Astro Fighter Sunred and enjoyed both (though I prefer the first season). It’s very much in the tradition of the absurd meeting the mundane that you see in anime every so often (like Cromartie High School or this season’s Nichijou or whatever). The base of the show is the evil organization Florsheim (led by Vamp, the dude with the helmet and killer mustache/beard combo in the above screenshot) battling Sunred (pretty obvious who he is lol). But these battles are always anticlimactic (Sunred is guaranteed to beat the shit out of whatever monster Florsheim throws his way), and they are surrounded by characters — including the Florsheim monsters — living normal lives. They work normal jobs, go on dates, attend community meetings, and a few monsters even go clubbing at one point, haha.
And that’s where the absurdity comes in. Everyone (with one notable exception that I remember off the top of my head) plays everything straight. For the citizens of the town, every monster may as well be a human. The audience can never forget the fact of their appearance (not to mention their alignment), which makes a lot of what happens so damn funny. And there’s something about how Sunred plays with roles and appearances that not only amused me but that I also found somewhat interesting.
One of the early twists in Sunred is in Vamp and Sunred’s roles as villain and hero, respectively. They’re introduced in a normal sentai fashion — Vamp is the cackling villain, scheming for world domination and preparing to unleash a terrible creature that will destroy Sunred once and for all. Meanwhile, Sunred is in full red armor, posing on a mountain like a badass while lightning flashes behind him. Then you get to the actual meat of the episode, and the series pulls the rug out from under the viewer.
Vamp is actually a decent fellow. He’s kind to all of the monsters in his employ. He’s a pillar of the community, helping his neighbors whenever possible. He’s an excellent cook, and if he visits your home, he’s sure to bring along a tasty treat. He can sew like a bro, and his cleanliness is second to none. Hell, he even makes sure that Florsheim pays its taxes properly and keeps detailed records of all the organization’s transactions for that very purpose! No matter how you look at it, Vamp is a stand-up guy
and also my waifu; do not claim.
Sunred, meanwhile, is a bastard. He’s rude and crude, swearing constantly and berating everyone around him. When he’s not blowing all his money on pachinko, he’s lazing around in the apartment of his girlfriend, Kayoko. And the money he gets for pachinko? It all comes from Kayoko, whom Sunred shamelessly mooches off each day. Sunred is also a violent, impulsive character who beats the shit out of each Florsheim monster without hesitation.
In any other story, Sunred would be villain and Vamp would be the hero, which is, of course, the joke. And I think a lesser series would stop at that, but what really strikes me about Sunred is that it pulls a double subversion of sorts by making it perfectly clear why Vamp is the villain and Sunred the hero.
Even though Vamp is a great guy, there’s always something off about him, and this is why: He is out to kill Sunred and dominate the world! That’s why he’s the villain! I don’t know if this is intentional on Sunred‘s part, or just me thinking too much, but Vamp reminds me a bit of some politicians — on the outside he’s this great person, but there’s a streak of corruption running through him that will manifest itself eventually, whether it’s through an extramarital affair, a conflict of interest, shady deals under the table, or whatever.
The difference between Vamp and most politicians, however (and what makes him ultimately trustworthy to the community), is that Vamp makes no secret of his desire to kill Sunred and take over the world. Everyone who knows him also knows this fact, and I think that endears him to people. They know there aren’t any secrets when it comes to Vamp; the guy is an open book. Hell, Kayoko even badgers Sunred into helping Vamp with plots that are meant to kill Sunred! (Though I think she does this because she feels sorry for Vamp, and because she trusts in Sunred’s power to the point where she’s confident nothing Vamp could conceive would kill Sunred.)
Sunred is of course the classic Jerk With a Heart of Gold. No matter how big a prick he is, Sunred can be counted on to do the right thing (it just takes a lot of cajoling lol). He actually comes off to me like a light-hearted Watchmen sort of character: An irascible bastard with his own vices and who makes very human mistakes, but he is also heroic when he needs to be. That is who he is. Actually, Sunred is so godlike in his ability that he also comes off to me as a sort of mythical figure who has been in the game so long that he has grown tired of his role, but at the same time, he knows he must fulfill it, which is why he remains a hero.
So Sunred is a silly comedy, but the way it frames its heroes and villains gives it surprising depth in its characterization. Vamp and Sunred aren’t simplistic heroes and villains — they’re people who have been cast into those roles for clear reasons, but remain who they are regardless of those roles. It’s crazy how Sunred can take such stock character types and make them feel real and somewhat interesting among such silliness and absurdity.