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False Expectations, Real Results: How Fiction Impacts Fitness

While some say it’s impossible to look like a superhero, others say it’s impossible to stop trying.

The Witcher, The Witcher plot, The Witcher cast
Image: Netflix

It’s no secret that everyone wants to look like a superhero these days. Up to the mid-2000s the actors playing heroes and fictional characters just looked like normal healthy males who might’ve played sports.

As each movie tried to one-up its predecessor with the actors’ looks, the standards for a “superhero physique” would increase. While this may have had negative effects, like increasing body image issues, it would also create a subculture of fans that used these physiques and abilities as inspiration for self-improvement.

Anime’s Appeal

Credit: Toei Animation

Anime is by far the most influential type of media in gym culture. While Marvel and DC have been setting new standards for fitness for almost a decade now, series like Dragon Ball have been around to inspire gym-goers since the 90s. It could be said that shonen anime caters to fitness enthusiasts because almost every story in this genre has its characters train to get their abilities.

Protagonists that start out weak and talentless will consistently push themselves until they become incredibly powerful towards the end of the series. Even if the series involves magic, the writing still finds some contrived way to show the characters exercising. It’s practically a trope at this point.

Credit: Studio Pierrot

Personally, I find Black Clover to be the most motivating out of the new generation – it takes the idea of physical training in a magical world to the extreme. Without any magic of his own, the protagonist can wield incredibly heavy swords that nullify magic thanks to years of exercise.

YouTube Fitness: Revenge of the Nerds

In 2015, One Punch Man was released – and it changed the YouTube fitness community forever. While it was a fun, fantastically animated parody of superhero media, the third episode went viral all over the net. It exposed Saitama’s daily workout routine: 100 push-ups, 100-sit-ups, and a 10 kilometer run. Millions of people across the world then decided to try it out.

Credit: The Bioneer/Youtube

A lot of people started to go viral thanks to this challenge. It represented a resurgence in fiction-inspired fitness. Since these videos gained traction, a lot of the associated channels saw the benefits of trying the workout and went completely into fitness content.

One of the most famous YouTubers in the “fitness nerd” community, if you want to call it that, is Jaxblade. He’s a certified personal trainer and has stated in multiple videos that he used Dragon Ball as motivation to withstand bullying and improve his body. He has a variety of workouts that are all modeled around the physiques and abilities of different characters.

Credit: Jaxblade/Youtube

Journey to the West

Unlike a lot of anime-inspired Youtubers, The Bioneer is far more interested in comic book superheroes. He’s currently trying to create a real-life Batman with a program called “Prep Time.” The Bioneer collaborated with parkourists, strength athletes, and MMA practitioners to write the 2022 version.

Credit: The Bioneer/Youtube

The majority of his channel is inspired by the character, and he’s had multiple iterations of a “Batman workout” that changes in response to the newest depiction of the character.

Batman’s a normal human that fights against beings with godlike powers. He’s written to represent the mental and physical peak of human potential – as if every Olympic gold medallist in history were fused into one man. Batman’s either a determined and powerful dark knight, or an unhinged insomniac who’s more animal than human. Depends on which movie you’re watching.

Credit: HBO Max

Speaking of movies, a lot of interviews with actors now center around how they got to look like their characters in the movies. Magazines publish videos about how stars train, what they eat, and how long it took them to reach their goals. Health and fitness has become incredibly important in movies and TV, with body transformations like Ethan Suplee’s making massive waves. The same goes for Chris Pratt, who turned from the chubby comic relief character into a big-shot action hero after he lost weight and packed on muscle.

Written By

I'm a Business of Cinematic Arts major and a senior at the University of Southern California. I enjoy playing video games, reading comics and manga, and watching anime and movies. I love writing about topics surrounding the film and television industry, and the meanings behind many successful stories.

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