The 1980’s were an uncertain time; as fears of economic collapse, turmoil abroad, and the ever-present threat of nuclear war lay heavy on the minds of people the world over. But despite that fear, many welcomed the horrors of the era with open arms, capitalizing on people’s fears with waves of films, TV shows, and video games in which larger then life heroes fought very transparent avatars of these same fears with a flurry of punches, kicks, and snappy one liners. And perhaps there was no greater icon of the era then then the various Mohawk-sporting, football-armor-wearing thugs that seemed to pop up to be beat down by the heroes of cheesy action flicks and anime alike.
Today, however, these same thugs wait wearily in line outside the local unemployment agencies of Japan, their once rebellious hair combed aside, their tattered clothing replaced with business suits and dress shirts, and their threatening tattoos hidden behind makeup or even removed entirely. It is a sad sight to see so many who were once so highly in demand without work, but the market for garish underlings has vanished much like the warmongers who inspired their antics in the first place.
To explore the phenomenon in depth, Anime Maru sat down with one such thug in his home in northern Japan.
“Back in the 80s and early 90s, everybody was excited. Every story needed some punks for the hero to beat up, and we were just the thugs to take the job!” said Yuji Ozawa, a man in his late 40’s with the number 666 tattooed on his head.
“We all were waiting for the nuclear war that would reduce civilization to a wasteland where the strong preys upon the weak. But as the year 2000 came and went; people stopped even thinking that the world was going to end, and anime no longer needed thugs to fill their post-apocalyptic worlds.”
According to a study by the Japanese Ministry of Labor and Nuclear Holocaust, available roles for thugs and delinquents in TV shows have decreased by 86% since the year 2000, a rate of decline even faster than the Macross franchise over the same period of time.
“Sure, there are some minor roles that are still available, but they are few and far between. Usually it’s to look threatening before getting beaten up by some magical girl,” Ozawa tells Anime Maru. He admits he has not been steadily employed since the year 199X.
Times have been hard on the heroes of the era as well, with even icons like Kenshiro, the last master of the Hokuto Shinken school of martial arts, hanging up their post-apocalyptic hats and taking on less glamorous work as the decades wore on .
“Yeah, it wasn’t just us thugs that got hit hard when the year 2000 rolled around and the world didn’t turn out to be a cratered hellscape,” Ozawa added.
“The good guys took it pretty bad too. Remember Kenshiro? You know, the guy with a face like a freaking stone statue? He was called the Savior of the Century’s End! But last I heard, he took that martial arts training of his and opened a massage parlor and school. Supposedly he’s doing pretty well for himself, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s happy just going in nine to five and teaching wispy twenty-something girls techniques meant to kill people.”
As opportunities continue to dry up, prospective thugs are forced to transition into other roles. “I’ve been trying to follow the trend. I’m working on being a zombie and I have an audition lined up,” Ozawa boasts with cautious optimism. “I just hope it goes better than that time I tried to be a school idol.”