Review: My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)
Midoriya is born "Quirkless," that is, without superpowers. In a blazing turn of events, he inherits the power to be the strongest person in the world... for one second a day. With this unreliable, but undeniably mighty ability, he must use his creativity and cunning to survive at the most elite hero-training school. Even if that means taking down his best friend along the way.
13 Episodes (Approx. 260 min.)
April 3, 2016
Producer: Madman Entertainment/Funimatin
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Writer: Yosuke Kuroda
Starring: Justin Briner/Daiki Yamashita & Christopher Sabat/Tessho Genda
Distributor: Madman Entertainment/Funimation
Genre: Shonen, Superhero, Action
When I started watching My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia), I was horrified by the number of Shōnen tropes and cliches I encountered almost immediately. I thought surely there was no hope of my enjoying this series, and dreaded my commitment to reviewing it. I was especially disappointed, since I’d read on several forums that MHA was taking up the spiritual mantle Naruto left behind since its conclusion two years ago.
All of that being said… I’ve since watched the entire series in both its subbed and dubbed versions (which I never do), and burned through the manga until I was up to date. Rarely do I find a franchise this enjoyable.
My Hero Academia began as a popular manga published by Shueisha and Viz Media in 2014, which was greenlit for an anime adaptation to run in 2016. There are thirteen episodes, with a second season in development due to high demand.
Spiritual Content: No apparent religious or spiritual themes. In terms of science, there is a brief explanation at the beginning of the series about how those with superpowers are genetically and physically more evolved than humans who have no powers.
Violence: Typical superhero-bash-’em-up fanfare: cartoon violence, some blood, and the destruction of environments. The main character’s body is charred and broken after every instance of using his power. While not violent, one character vomits blood after overexertion, though this is played off mostly as a joke. A superhero named Bakugou is defined by his violent and explosive tendencies (appropriate, given his power is literally to create explosions).
Language/Crude Humor: Multiple uses of the words “a**,” “d**n,” and “hell” across all mediums, though this is subject to change depending on your translation. God’s name is used in vain in the “Oh my G**” sense, though not excessively.
Sexual Content: No open nudity, but a noteworthy amount of suggestive humor. Within the first few minutes, a woman makes a joke about her rear, and a character in the protagonist’s class makes constant jokes, remarks, or grabs at whichever female’s chest happens to be closest. He is a mostly irrelevant character and is usually reprimanded for his behavior. Another character’s superpower is invisibility, which is only useful for combat purposes if she’s in the nude. However, her ability is perpetually active so we never see anything, and we always know where she is in daily activity by her wearing of clothing. Yet another character is able to create items out of her raw body, which will sometimes tear through her clothing depending on the size of the creation. This leads to one instance where she loses over half of her shirt, revealing some more cleavage than usual, but nothing overly scandalous.
Drug/Alcohol Use: No apparent drug or alcohol presence.
Other Negative Themes: As this is a superhero series, there are villains committing acts of, well, villainy. This includes stealing, taking hostages, and threatening civilians. The protagonist has a history of dealing with aggressive bullies, one of whom suggests he jump off a roof and kill himself. An antagonist in the final couple episodes has an unhealthy psychosis circling around anxiety and idealistic vengeance on a cultural scale.
Positive Content: Chief elements of positive content are the tenants of hard work, being honest, sticking to your word, self-sacrifice, defending others, learning teamwork, showing bravery in the face of fear, believing in yourself, and, when possible, solving problems without violence.
“Men are not all born equal.”
Life is hard in a world of superpowers, especially when you don’t have one. Midoriya Izuku (last name first to keep with Japanese convention) is Quirkless, that is, one of the scarce few human beings born without a Quirk, My Hero Academia’s vernacular for “superpower.” From an outsider’s perspective, I think he could have it worse. Most Quirks are relatively useless, being either embarrassing or downright inconvenient (having a cube-shaped head, for example).
But you see, Midoriya has always dreamed of being like the great All-Might, the world’s most powerful hero, so you can imagine his devastation as a child when he never manifested a Quirk. Worse, his school bullies all did, including Bakugo Katsuki, who once called Midoriya his friend. While Midoriya possessed no powers, Bakugo had the flashy and useful quirk of creating explosions from his hands, thus giving him a superiority complex and disdain towards our tender-hearted protagonist.
Determined that one can still be a hero on brains and valor alone (unlike most shonen protagonists, MHA’s main character uniquely lacks the latter of these traits), the cowardly Midoriya inevitably puts himself in a situation too tough to handle. Convinced of his end, Midoriya is astonished to find his life saved by the world-class hero of his dreams, All-Might, and accidentally learns the secret to All-Might’s immeasurable strength. Hope in his dreams now restored, Midoriya sets down a path of conflict to see if he has what it takes to be a true hero!
…Cliche, right? I mean, like, super cliche. To the point it nearly induces pain.
Do not get caught off-guard. This seemingly artificial and simple story is made much more interesting by the emotions conveyed by the characters, and all the moving gears which went into creating the anime.
This anime is tone and character-centric, placing much more emphasis on these things than the narrative (at least as far as the anime has made it into the manga). At the same time, such a great number of characters were introduced in such a short period (Midoriya’s class alone has twenty unique characters) that there is no way to give them all proper attention in a mere thirteen episodes. In fact, while the manga fleshes out most of these characters more thoroughly, they are almost all irrelevant for the first season of the anime, save Midoriya, Bakugou, Uraraka, and Iida.
No, the priority of the first season is the establishment of a brand. The animators want you to understand this is an upbeat, quirky (ha), superhero anime, and everything goes to meet that end. The composition of the soundtrack is wrought with triumphant major key. Music alone could convince you of the importance of each event, with every track brimming in tones of emotion, overcoming, and engagement. Not only is the composition good, but its direction coalesces with the animation wonderfully, especially in the season-finale battle (which, for the record, I’ve literally watched over fifty times. In both languages).
On the subject of animation, My Hero Academia doesn’t skimping on its frame rate. Of course, less important scenes don’t get as much attention as the higher-octane ones, and you can feel a distinct budget-dump in the final battle which isn’t present in the rest of the series. This however, is par for the course in most anime, and can be forgiven considering the overall execution. The color palette is bright, fitting in with aforementioned branding, and stays true to the author’s original character designs. Bold, confident outlines wrap most character models, giving the series a strong comic-book vibe, though it’s not nearly as prominent as say, Attack on Titan. A lot of extra shading goes into the character of All-Might. I’m not sure why this helps distinguish him, but it works.
The voice acting in each translation is solid, though Midoriya’s voice in the dubs can be a bit grating since he is written to sound cowardly. Chris Sabat does the dubbing for All-Might, and gets my personal MVP award in this category. The casting for that character could not be better, as Sabat draws on his experience as such characters as Dragon Ball Z’s Piccolo and Vegeta, and Fullmetal Alchemist’s Louis Armstrong, to give All-Might a properly dominating aura.
The mangaka definitely knew where his priorities were in regards to the characters’ relationships, because MHA makes two relationships front-heavy. Midoriya’s relationship with his personal hero and Quirk predecessor, All-Might, and Midoriya’s relationship with childhood friend and rival, the brutal Bakugou. It is these two relationships which stand out the most in the first season of this anime. While it does feel a bit cheap having many extra characters in the peripheries and minimal details to support their relevance to the plot, it is probably best that these major players are used to set a solid foundation for the rest of the personal conflicts in the series.
One of My Hero Academia’s greatest weaknesses is its failure to establish a competent villain in the early game. It’s not until the finale that we taste anything like an external threat to our main cast, with most of the conflict up until that point being cultivated by their school obstacles and clashing personalities. Even when a supervillain antagonist of note does arise, their motives and potential are kept so vague that, even after seeing some of their power, we aren’t sure if we ought to fear them or not. These things are developed further in the manga, but that doesn’t save the anime from being docked a few points.
In terms of the Quirk system, it does not navigate any particularly difficult waters. Each individual manifests a Quirk before the age of four, and each Quirk has one related drawback. Midoriya’s case is particularly interesting, and one of the most appealing pieces of the story. Without going into laborious detail, as his ability is more technical than most, Midoriya’s (inherited) Quirk is that he’s the single most powerful person in the world… for one second per day. After activating his Quirk, called “One For All,” his body becomes broken. It is not a power which can be relied on to consistently help in times of need, and thus most situations are solved via creativity, strategizing, and teamwork. The author utilizes this handicap to foster interactions with characters which wouldn’t otherwise happen if Midoriya’s power were simple super-strength.
While the overall pacing is laudable, the series does suffer from quite a bit of exposition. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it could be better. The heavy-handedness of the exposition tapers off after the first several episodes, but it’s too pivotal to the world-building in the beginning.
Ultimately, season one of My Hero Academia held me in rapt attention more than first impressions would have anticipated. Having looked ahead in the manga (which is at season 4 or 5 right now, if we’re doing a rough approximation), I can say I’m profoundly excited to see where the anime goes and how it gets received. Because you see, even after I fell in love with the anime, I still wasn’t sold on the whole “spiritual successor to Naruto” thing for a long time. But those forum-dwellers aren’t just blowing smoke. MHA hits all the same notes that turned people towards Naruto, and is still managing to create a narrative fabric and identity all its own. In my heart at least, My Hero Academia is worthy to inherit the Will of Fire.
Plus, what other series can take a corny and nonsensical motto like “PLUS ULTRA!!” and immediately cement it as one of the most memorable anime quotes in recent history?
Only this one.
+ Interesting characters and character relationships
+ Quirk system is simple, but has a lot of room for creativity
+ Dubs have Chris Sabat, and subs are solid
+ Distinguishable art style
+ Consistently appealing soundtrack
+ Strong values of hard work, team work, and cultivating bravery
- Majority of side characters are overshadowed
- Front-heavy exposition
- Dubs are patchy
- Moderate content concerns
- Humor is hit-or-miss
- Main character motives feel a little dorky