If there’s one thing I love in a superhero story, it’s a good secret identity plotline. I can’t explain why, exactly… maybe I just like dramatic irony, maybe it contributes to the power fantasy, or maybe I find “identity” to be a strong core theme. Whatever the reason, I love those stories, and that plays a big part in why I enjoyed translating Dengeki Stryker so much.
First, let me be clear what I mean when I talk about “secret identity plotlines.” It’s not enough that the hero possess one. I’m talking specifically about stories where the secret identity is an “issue” and maintaining it becomes a major nexus of storytelling. Here are the requirements I consider more or less necessary for a story to feel like a “secret identity story” to me:
1.) The hero’s relationship to other characters changes based on what identity he’s assuming at a given time
2.) The hero must occasionally employ problem-solving to preserve his identity while saving the day
3.) Any time the hero reveals his secret identity to someone, that revelation is given signifiant dramatic weight
Unfortunately for me, I’ve found that for whatever reason, these sorts of stories are pretty rare in Japanese superhero entertainment. Not that they’re non-existant (there’s a reason Brave of Legend Da Garn is my favorite mecha series), but most tokusatsu and anime pay lipservice to the concept without really making it an issue. Either the villains are on a power level where they don’t have to care, or the hero mostly hangs out with people who already know his* identity, or… well, the story just isn’t about that.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this approach. A superhero story doesn’t have to be about identity, and introducing that element when you don’t have anything to say about it is more likely to get in the way of what the story is actually about. When a story wants to be about hope, or fighting spirit, or legacy, or corruption, or the power of science, adding in a secret identity plotline for its own sake is likely just going to confuse things.
But when you want your superhero story to be about identity, that’s the time to break out the alteregos — and that’s where we come to Dengeki Stryker, a story that is so thoroughly about identity that it’s almost kind of mind-boggling.
Yamato is a boy who trades his memories — fundamentally, his entire identity — for those of the comic book character Dengeki Stryker. When Stryker awakens in Yamato’s body, he (now Stryker) believes that he has time-traveled and (apparently) metamorphosed into the body of a young boy. He decides to continue to live his life — Yamato’s life — as though nothing has changed, so that he can fulfill his mission of protecting Japan.
On the way, he has a number of adventures, mostly revolving around his identity or someone else’s. Just about everyone in the game has some aspect of themselves that they’re hiding, that they aren’t aware of, or sometimes both, and the pathos comes out as these previously unknown selves are revealed, cross paths and intertwine. I won’t get into it in depth because… well, the game’s just not out yet, and that wouldn’t be fair.
Still, as you explore both routes of Dengeki Stryker’s full game, keep the word “identity” in mind. Who is Yuuki Yamato, really? Is he the boy born to the Yuukis, Daisuke and Hiromi? Or is he the man they raised to adulthood? Is the Dengeki Stryker of our story the same as the character in the manga? Or has he been fundamentally altered by living Yamato’s life?
And as for the memories that he traded away, what are they worth on their own?
*I say “his” because, ironically, Japanese superhero entertainment for girls does tend to push the secret identity aspect to the fore with regularity. I’m not completely sure why, but I imagine this is due to it evolving from the earliest Magical Girl shows like Himitsu no Akko-chan, Mahoutsukai Sally, and Minky Momo, which were all about characters using magic to disguise themselves to better help people solve everyday problems, rather than to battle evil.