#3. A Powerpuff Girls Villain Pays Homage to the Series' Japanese Influences
Cartoon Network Studios
When I first saw The Powerpuff Girls on the old Cartoon Network, I really didn't get it. Then I discovered Japanese TV shows and the concept of satire, and suddenly everything clicked.
Cartoon Network Studios
"So it's like stealing, but OK?" -Me, circa 1996
The huge eyes, the giant monster fights, the Sailor Moon-esque juxtaposition of superheroism with the mundane problems of everyday life: That stuff made a lot more sense once I realized it all traced back to Japanese television. Sure, the satire wasn't especially clever or anything, but it made me feel smart when I first understood it all those years ago. Then I found out about the show's other super obscure references that I'd missed and felt stupid all over again. (The Powerpuff Girls turned out to be a real emotional roller coaster for me.)
Take Mojo Jojo, for example -- one of the series' chief antagonists who happens to be a superintelligent green monkey in go-go boots:
Cartoon Network Studios
You'd have that face too if you had that much Rule 34 made about you.
At first glance, he looks like any other '90s supervillain, right down to the dome housing his cartoonishly oversized brain. But when designing the character, series creator Craig McCracken actually based his look on two characters from old Japanese TV shows that most Japanese people don't even remember. For instance, the green simian/space magician look was based on Dr. Gori, the main villain from the 1971-72 Fuji TV series Spectreman.
"You damn dirty ape!" -NOT an actual quote from the series, if you can believe it.
Embodying the tokusatsu genre made famous by Power Rangers, Spectreman was a show about a super cyborg fighting the monsters created by the mad scientist Gori (think an illegitimate love child of Rita Repulsa and Dr. Zaius). The series also had a heavy-handed environmental message, which luckily never made it into The Powerpuff Girls, unlike the costume of the main hero from another Japanese TV series: The Kagestar.
It's like if Deadpool and the Red Ranger had a special needs child.
Recognize the spiral pattern on his head? According to McCracken, the heroic Kagestar's helmet served as inspiration for Mojo Jojo's brain jar. Was it a subtle indication that there's still some good in the villainous monkey? Actually, considering that The Kagestar's main villain was a Nazi scientist called Dr. Satan, it's a safe bet that its influence on the cartoon didn't go past the wacky helmet design.
And since we're already on the topic of ripping off Japan ...
#2. O-Ren Ishii's Kimono References the Movie That Inspired All of Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino is something of a hero of mine, because he managed to make millions of dollars by filming the daydreams I used to have during boring math classes. I first became aware of this in 2003 with Kill Bill, which told the story of Uma Thurman revenge-murdering a bunch of cartoon caricatures with a katana, like when she kills Lucy Liu in a snow-filled Japanese garden.
The gun dragon was unfortunately cut for budgetary reasons.
What's interesting about that scene is that, well, have you ever wondered why Liu's O-Ren Ishii was wearing a white kimono before Thurman's Beatrix attacked her? Sure, it looks stylish as hell, but in Japanese culture, white kimonos are usually reserved for priests, brides, and the dead, so it doesn't make sense for O-Ren to wear one ... unless she was planning to marry that crazy girl with the ball and chain before Thurman interrupted them, like in all those fan-fics I've written.
The ball and chain feature prominently during their wedding night scene.
There might be a perfectly rational explanation for her attire, and it's that it was a nod to the 1973 revenge flick Lady Snowblood, a tale about a 19th century woman seeking bloody vengeance on the men who killed her family, aka the backstory of Thurman's and Liu's characters. Tarantino never made it a secret that the movie influenced a huge portion of Kill Bill, right down to the costume O-Ren wore and her snowy battle arena, which mirror scenes from Lady Snowblood.
The umbrella also features prominently during the wedding night scene.
It might not be the exact same outfit, but the connection between the two movies is definitely there. On the other hand, the part where Thurman chops off the top of O-Ren's head all Hannibal style? That shit's entirely on Tarantino and whoever failed to send him to a child psychiatrist back when there was still time to help him.
#1. Darth Vader Is Meant to Look Like the First Costumed Supervillain
Masked heroes have been a part of Western culture for hundreds of years, but for the longest time they were mainly resigned to punching your run-of-the-mill criminals who refused to put on silly costumes and call themselves things like Sergeant Death or Doctor Dick-Stab. This all changed in 1938 with the release of the Republic Pictures serial The Fighting Devil Dogs, which introduced the world to the Lightning, whom some call the world's first costumed supervillain.
And his sidekick, Bald Hitler, who apparently had the power of super molestation.
The serial tells the story of a bunch of Marines taking on the costumed leader of a terrorist organization because he was trying to take over the world using light-based sci-fi weapons, and because Hitler still needed a few more years to classify as a credible villain. By now we've of course seen a million villains like the Lightning, but he allegedly started it all and inspired such famous baddies as Doctor Doom, Cobra Commander, and especially Darth Vader.
Republic Pictures, Lucasfilm
"Inspire" is one way to put it.
The famed Sith Lord has actually gone through many changes since the first draft of Star Wars. Initially he started out as a human general, then a Sith named Prince Valorum, before Ralph McQuarrie and George Lucas started playing around with the idea of a character that needed a respirator. This resulted in initial sketches where Vader resembled Dark Helmet from Spaceballs ...
... or something akin to a Sith version of a Stormtrooper:
Who was also a Las Vegas stage magician.
The next sketches, however, show Vader much closer to how we know him now: sporting a slicker helmet, darker armor, and a proper cape, exactly like the Lightning in The Fighting Devil Dogs.
Lucasfilm, Republic Pictures
In the end, lightning kills Vader, so it all worked out.
It's generally accepted that Lucas and McQuarrie used the Lightning as the basis for their final Vader design, probably thinking that, hey, the entire movie already started out as a ripoff of another old movie serial, so if they can't be original, they can at least be consistent.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.