I know we’re all excited after hearing our old friends Fan Man and Shock Man will be in the upcoming Disney XD Mega Man cartoon, and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to blurt out some of my thoughts on the upcoming series.
Namely the prospect that I’m most excited about: Mega Man is going back to school.
It’s easy to be cynical about the premise, I know. It may come off as a checklist item for Jaded Marketing to Kids 101: kids can relate to having to go to school, so introducing a school setting makes your protagonist instantly identifiable to younger audiences. “School kid with a secret identity” heroes as youth power fantasies. They’re cliché. It’s a trope. And it’s one that Mega Man has already dabbled in a few times, with mixed success.
In general, school has been a theme in many Mega Man franchises. Attending school is a major part of Lan and Mega Man’s lives in Battle Network, while Star Force’s Geo is undeniably the closest a video game Mega Man comes to being a “student with a secret identity” styled superhero. The student trope is such a strong trend in Japan that Hitoshi Ariga had considered doing a High School AU version of Rockman, and later in the 2000s another manga artist by the name of Hinodeya Sankichi (probably best known for Coro Coro’s Splatoon manga) actually did put out a monthly comedy strip starring an assortment of Rockman characters as second graders for Fami2 Comics. Even the Ruby Spears Mega Man cartoon of the 90s had a robots going to college episode (because, why not?).
By far most of the comparisons I’ve heard are to the plot of the 2003 Dreamwave Mega Man comic, which has gone down in Mega history as one of the least appreciated iterations of Mega Man franchise (based entirely on my subjective experience where Captain N and Bad Box Art Mega Man seem to have more vocal fans than Dreamwave’s Rocky Light).
However, this new story doesn’t sound to me like it has that much in common with Dr. Light’s bizarre social experiment to put countless unwitting middle school students at risk just to prove he built a robot that can seamlessly infiltrate human institutions. This time Mega Man isn’t willfully deceiving classmates into thinking he is human. Per the synopsis on Capcom Unity, Mega Man is going to school because he is a school-aged robot, and going to school is just what school-aged robots do. In their world, robots attending school is normal. That’s what I’m excited about.
I want to what robot school is like. I want to know what robots study at school. I want to know why robots go to school in the first place!
Is robot school like a testing grounds, where robots practice doing tasks they were designed for before they go out into the workforce? Or do high-functioning AI robots, not unlike growing human children, explore different subjects and decide what they want kind of careers they want to follow? Do they take classes on human society and understanding all the weird things we humans do, so that they can better interact with us? Are they taught by robot teachers in real-world classrooms, or do they plug into a shared network and experience a virtual reality environment similar to MegaMan.exe’s cyber classroom? Is there one central robot academy that acts as a pillar of Silicon City’s entire society, a bastion of higher learning where they push the very boundaries of robotics and other scientific fields? Or are there many robot schools spread out across the entire world, as common as elementary schools are today? Does the technology in such a school make it feel magical and chaotic like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, or are robot institutions neatly and logically organized to the point of feeling alien to human beings, like the machine city of Zero-One from the Matrix?
Moreover, is this even a school just for robots, or do humans attend as well? Human/robot coexistence has always been at the backdrop of the Mega Man series, but there have only been a handfull of times where the details around this societal relationship really get expanded upon. The old reploid Andrew in the Mega Man Zero series talks a little about his experiences as a teacher for a classroom made of both human and robot students, but his stories really only provide vague notions of what their integrated society is actually like. It’s something that even the Archie series, with its increased focus on narrative and world building, hasn’t really touched upon. I’d love for these concepts to get a chance to be really explored in both silly, carefree and serious, thought-provoking ways.
Whether Silicon City is a completely robot-populated city or a human-robot hybrid utopia, I think it can work for Mega Man. When I think about the kind of world Mega Man (particularly classic) takes place in, I think of a world that’s full of fun and colorful robots. Take a quick read through the Mega Man Legacy Collection’s robot database, and you’ll see what I mean. There are robots for industry, sure. There are many many robots built for construction, for manufacturing, for agriculture, for surveillance and security. But the classic series is also full of robots for exploration, robots for entertainment and amusement. Robot actors, singers, dancers, artists, chefs, sports athletes, circus performers, robots for companionship, robot toys, robot pets, robots for the joy of having robots. Robots with personality and charm that blend style with function. Mega Man robots!
If you do as Man of Action suggests and distill all the many different iterations of Mega Man down to their essence, shaving off those elements that are strictly tied to the medium of video games, what you are left with is your power-swapping hero and the technological age of wonders our protagonist inhabits. Whether they’re humanlike robots or digital life forms or electromagnetic wave beings from beyond the stars, it’s the power of Mega Man’s supporting cast and the environment they share that makes their world charming and engaging. It’s a hopeful vision of the future, where even though technology may be misused and cause all kinds of trouble, that same technology can also lead to a solution. With that in mind, I’m going to be optimistic too, and hope that the Man of Action team polished off these distilled Mega Man elements into something that really shines, rather than allowing it to lay dull in mediocrity, wading in a glut of forgettable action cartoons.
If this show gives me slice of robot life that I am craving from this series, I will easily forgive whatever stock “I’ve got to keep my identity a secret!” situations and marketable catch phrases they brand our hero with. I will be having too much fun just by visiting their world to care.