Japan features some of the most distinctive superheroes in the world, particularly in the Marvel Universe. The most famous is Sunfire, a mutant who stirs the same national pride as Captain America does in the USA. Shiro Yoshida has been a part of the X-Men, Avengers and Big Hero 6, highlighting his prominence. The character’s backstory has turned him into a symbol for post-WW2 Japan and I’m looking into Sunfire’s history to see what makes him so important.
Born out of tragedy
Sunfire’s story is tied to the atomic bomb attacks. His mother was exposed to radiation poisoning in Hiroshima, which gave Yoshida his powers. The character’s creator, Roy Thomas, has spoken about developing Sunfire.
“I wanted to add a young Japanese or Japanese-American whose mother had been at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, as a corresponding character to the X-Men, whose parents were, at that time, assumed to have been at the Manhattan Project. Stan Lee didn’t give me any good reason for rejecting the character – he didn’t want to, I think…I didn’t bring it up again, but when I came back to the book, with Neal Adams, I created Sunfire, wo is pretty much the character I had wanted to do some years earlier.”
“I didn’t make him an X-Man right away. By that time, Stan gave me a little more free reign. In fact, he was included in Giant Size X-Men #1, along with Banshee, precisely because I had gone around creating some international mutants, with the goal of expanding the team at some time. I thought the X-Men shouldn’t all be white Americans.”
After his mother died, Yoshida came to hate America, even though his father was a tolerant United Nations ambassador. Sunfire’s uncle, Tomo, convinced him to wage war against the US and he attacked the United States Capitol. Sunfire fought against the X-Men for the first time and was defeated.
Eventually, Professor X recruited Sunfire into the X-Men to rescue the original team from Krakoa the Living Island. After the mission, Sunfire refused to join the X-Men permanently, which showed off his attitude. Sunfire’s fierce independent streak came to define him, which could be compared to Japan’s self-reliant nature.
A representation of two eras
For centuries, Japan existed in a self-contained manner, relying on its own laws. After WW2, the country rebuilt itself into an economic powerhouse, improving its relationship with western nations. Sunfire’s interaction with American superheroes can be seen as Japan wanting to embrace western ideals. However, Yoshida is known for his pride, which has stopped him working with teams for a long period.
Therefore, Sunfire can be described as a mix of Japan’s two ideologies. The Land of the Rising Sun has been able to retain its own identity, while welcoming foreign influence as well. Sunfire is the bridge between the worlds and his heroism has inspired a range of Japanese heroes, such as Hiro Takachiho and Aiko Miyazaki.
Sunfire’s abilities make him one of the most powerful mutants in the world. He’s capable of absorbing solar radiation and releasing it as ‘solar fire.’ Yoshida has converted the energy into concussive blasts, radiation and a forcefield. At his hottest, Sunfire can burn at a temperature of around 1,000,000 degrees, releasing the heat as a supernova.
Despite his temperamental nature, Sunfire cares deeply for his family. He came to the aid of his half-brother, the Silver Samurai and joined up with Big Hero 6. He’s also worked with Wolverine out of respect for his cousin Mariko Yashida.
Sunfire’s membership on the Avengers has put him at the centre of American comics. This is huge from a cultural standpoint, as readers have been able to see a prominent Japanese superhero in the spotlight. Sunfire has influenced other characters like DC’s Kyle Rayner. Writer Alex Ross has said that Sunfire’s mask inspired Rayner’s original mask, which debuted in 1994’s Green Lantern #51.
I’d enjoy seeing a miniseries devoted to Sunfire that involved him protecting his homeland.
Sunfire isn’t the only Japanese superhero. Check out the history of Big Hero 6 to see how they became the country’s premier team.