SHY – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson October 3, 20230 Comments
Shy standing in a cloud of smoke

What’s it about? Sometime in the 21st century, humans with superpowers began to appear and an industry of costumed heroes soon followed. Anxious and awkward 14-year-old Teru, codename Shy, is Japan’s representative on the superheroic world stage. Can this extraordinary but perpetually nervous girl find the strength to be a true hero? And what does that really mean, anyway?

Marvel Cinematic Universe Fatigue is a very real affliction, but I still have a soft spot for superhero stories, especially when they have a sincere tone and a focus on characters. SHY could well fit the bill: while a looming world-ending threat is foreshadowed at the end, this episode is largely character-driven and centered on a sweet mini-arc where Teru deals with her fears of failure. There’s also a juicy hook of interpersonal drama at the very end of the premiere, but I’ll leave that for you to discover for yourself.

Despite its goofy premise—oh my gosh! This superhero is really shy! Cute?!—this isn’t a gag series, and while there’s plenty of levity here SHY also isn’t afraid to get a little dark. When Shy messes up a rescue, her failed attempt leaves one person seriously injured, and this haunts her throughout the rest of the episode. This is a world where heroes are pseudo-celebrity figures, so her screw-up is a very public affair that sparks endless social media debates and even some political questions about how heroes ought to be kept in check (think the beginning of The Incredibles, but with more Twitter fighting). None of this does any good for Teru’s already-in-shambles self-worth, and she retreats into a hole of self-loathing so deep she can’t even activate her high-tech hero transformation.

a depressed Teru. subtitle: There's no hero who can save every single person

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, and with the mantle of “hero” inevitably comes the question of “can you save everyone? If you accept that you can’t save everyone, then what’s the acceptable loss? How do you choose who you save?” These are big, potentially dark themes, but SHY still manages to balance its upbeat moments with its dour ones. It helps that nobody actually dies by Teru’s mistakes, meaning she’s haunted by her perceived failures without having to literally be haunted by the innocent girls who have perished to make this thematic point (as has unfortunately been the case for many superheroes before her).

Honestly, even if the outcome of the episode’s arc is predictable—Shy remembers why she wants to be a hero in the first place, gets her groove back, and does succeed in saving everyone—it’s uplifting and it’s fun. Teru/Shy makes for an endearing protagonist and I hope we get to see her grow and develop beyond her constant embarrassment and awkwardness, and get to show some of that heroic pizzazz in her everyday life. It could be a very rewarding character arc.

While Shy’s hero costume is a little skimpy (did she pick this design? Or did someone at World Superhero HQ decide not to give the 14-year-old pants?) the camera generally doesn’t leer. When it does, it pans more lovingly over her adult co-hero Spirit, who unfortunately slides right into that archetype of the cool older mentor whose alcoholism is played for comedy. Exhausting? Yes, but at least it doesn’t seem to be Spirit’s only trait; plus we’re introduced to yet another powerful female hero by episode’s end, meaning that our super lineup so far is all women, who all seem quite different in terms of personality, skills, and role. When you have a team with multiple female characters, none of them gets relegated to being The Girl!

Overall, SHY is off to a solid start: the characters are largely endearing enough to distract me from the head-scratching questions I have about the worldbuilding, and so far it’s managed to balance big thematic questions about what it means to be A Hero with fun action and uplifting moments. Most importantly (for me, anyway) is the earnest narrative focus on Teru herself, who I’m genuinely rooting for in both her school life and her heroic endeavors. There’s plenty of room for this to go off the rails and veer into either full silliness or full dark ‘n’ edginess, but this premiere gives me hope that it will stick that superhero landing and deliver a fun female-led action show with a strong emotional core.

About the Author : Alex Henderson

Alex Henderson is a writer and managing editor at Anime Feminist. They completed a doctoral thesis on queer representation in young adult genre fiction in 2023. Their short fiction has been published in anthologies and zines, their scholarly work in journals, and their too-deep thoughts about anime, manga, fantasy novels, and queer geeky stuff on their blog.

Read more articles from Alex Henderson

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