An Informal Praise of My Hero Academia

My Hero Academia is the only long-running Shonen anime that I have watched since its beginning and that I’ve kept up with since. Most other shonen are too long for me to get past the barrier to entry, so getting in on the ground floor was a great feeling. It helped that Bones was producing it and that its premise was so appealing.

80% of the world’s population has superpowers except for our protagonist? And we’re promised that – somehow, despite that – he will become the world’s greatest hero? It’s a great premise with a classic long-term promise of what’s to come. Funnily enough, despite that premise not being entirely accurate, it captured people’s attention in no time. By 2017, it was one of the biggest anime in the world.

… And for some reason I’ve never formally reviewed it until now. And with each passing season, the prospect of rewatching previous seasons to go over them seemed rather ambitious given my already inconsistent binging capabilities. So I had resigned myself to never reviewing the series. But now, five seasons and two movies strong, with the third film in theaters at the time of writing, I find myself tempted to say “screw it” and do it anyway.

So here is my review of all of My Hero Academia before the new movie comes out!

2016 | Season One

I still vividly remember the first episode of My Hero Academia for how it effortlessly endeared me to the main character. Watching a kid in a world where his dream of being a superhero was almost seemed statistically assured realize he couldn’t be one was heart-wrenching. The artwork which at once was quirky and obtuse turned on its head and made me cry.

Izuku Midoriya is weaker and more vulnerable than most shonen protagonists, but it also gives him an appreciable perspective on life as he gets stronger. Akin to Captain America’s Steve Rogers, he “knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.” Deku is an analytical thinker who journals obsessively about the heroes he sees in everyday life. He doesn’t know how, but he hasn’t given up on the hope of becoming a hero.

When the number one hero All Might to Deku about his unfortunate physical state and the secret that he’s slowly losing his power, he has to reconcile with the loss of his idol that only HE knows about. Simultaneously, he’s introduced to the idea that he can become a hero in the place of All Might, which creates all kinds of mixed emotions.

See, after five seasons it’s kinda hard to keep the “twist” a secret. It’s not really even an expectation anymore. The initial appeal of My Hero was the idea of a hero without powers. That gets subverted pretty quickly and becomes “what if someone with no powers – in a world where they are commonplace – was suddenly given the strongest one of all?”

Pretty cool right? And what kept this idea from becoming stale was that the ability, an almost independent and sentient entity, is too strong for even Deku for the longest time. Across the first 13-episode season, Deku begins to use One For All, All Might’s transferred power but realizes quickly that using it will break his bones.

This comes AFTER he spent months training his body so that he could even accept the power at all. You can understand why I get so annoyed when people complain about Deku being weak or too emotional. This guy fucking rocks. He literally trained like hell so he wouldn’t fucking die and his reward was one and a half seasons of breaking bones every time he tried to use his power.

To compensate he would capitalize on his second strongest weapon, his mind. Deku using his smarts to overcome obstacles was at its peak in the early seasons when the alternative was intense bodily harm. And some people I know still had the nerve to complain about him crying a lot. Apparently, emotionally vulnerable protagonists are a bad thing.

The first season was the shortest, at a time where My Hero‘s success was not yet a certainty. What came after has such a grander scale that you could be forgiven for forgetting most of what the beginning had to offer. I recall the first episode fondly. I also remember the attack on the UA Academy training facility that capped off season one. One of many great opportunities to utilize a frankly insane number of characters.

The standout of the season was surely All Might versus the mutated homunculus known as a Nomu, one of a long line of creepy mindless villains. It was the first fight in the series that got everyone’s attention and placed it comfortably alongside its peers in the Shonen genre: having a fight that people will rewatch on YouTube for eternity.

2017 | Season Two

The sophomore outing of My Hero came out a year later, with double the number of episodes, double the hype, and very little in the way to outdo itself. It had all the components necessary to be one of the best shows of the year, in a year already packed with gems. And the best part was that they were starting with a tournament arc.

There are many shonen I haven’t seen and I don’t plan on claiming to be an expert. The appeal of a tournament arc is well documented and I’m a sucker for it as well. What I can say with some degree of authority on a narrative level with the assistance of some hyperbole, is that the tournament arc of My Hero Academia is fucking phenomenal.

It was the moment that the central trio of the show became clear. Up to that point, I thought it would be Deku, Iida, and Uraraka, but it ended up being Deku, Bakugo, and Todoroki. I could do a play-by-play of the tournament rounds from the final battles, but that’s been done to death as well. I’m interested in just how important having this arc so early was for the series.

After season one, there was already an insane number of characters. This arc was essential in explaining their motivations for being a hero, challenging their resolve, and challenging the viewer’s perception of them. Not only that, the stories surrounding the tournament made for a sheer fucking storm of competing emotions.

Iida’s brother has been attacked, how is this going to affect his mental state? Uraraka is questioning her strength and pushing on for her family. Todoroki’s troubled family history is coming to light and Deku is conflicted between beating him and trying to help him. And amidst all of that, Bakugo is just being a total fucking asshole the entire time.

There are moments in discussing this show (that – bear in mind – I love) where I need to take a sidebar to vent about things. Bakugo is an… interesting character. I like him now. I put up with him at the worst of times. But there was a long time from around season two through to the end of season three where my patience was wearing thin.

He’s just so exhausting, and – while I know this shouldn’t reflect on the show – the kinds of people that defend Bakugo tirelessly are the most annoying people on the planet. At least in my experience. So yeah, he’s a cantankerous bully that almost never seems to get punished nearly enough for being a bully. Despite what his archetype might imply though, he is actually intelligent and clearly works hard.

So again, he’s… interesting. But he’s nothing special.

I was far more intrigued by Todoroki, who went from a cool supporting character to best boy in only a few episodes. For all the bright colors and wacky artwork, My Hero started to introduce darker and more mature subject matter into the story. Abuse, neglect, family tragedies, and plenty of personal character struggles.

This is one of the best trailers Funimation has ever produced and whoever edited it needs more work.

This tournament arc was also the loudest and most potent display of Bones’ animation talent, notably Yutaka Nakamura, whose work on the fight between Deku and Todoroki cemented that fight as one of the best of the year. It was the perfect storm.

And the second half only continued the momentum, moving at a steady pace into another huge arc that defined the reasons so many people truly loved the series. “The Hero Killer Stain” might be the character for me that brought the show to new heights and raised the bar so exponentially.

While I’ve never reviewed My Hero, I’ve certainly written about it. A long while back I wrote about superhero societies in anime. In my section on My Hero, I talked about how Stain challenges the merit of heroes in a world like the one in the series. He questions if what we gain from a world of plentiful superheroes outweighs what we lose by looking up to only a few.

The logic makes sense. Stain’s existence introduces way bigger concepts to the story. He’s also understandably a shitty guy though since he put Iida’s brother in the hospital. So the second arc, in which everyone goes to shadow different superheroes, converges into a battle in the city as Iida seeks revenge, and Deku and Todoroki are seeking to prove themselves.

Deku finally learns to control his superpower… mostly. There will always be a time and place for him to subject himself to bodily harm, but it was immensely satisfying for him to have a baseline power to use effectively. “One For All: Full Cowling” is our first taste as to how Deku will be like as a full-fledged superhero.

Season two was twice as long and didn’t lose anything by extending its run. In fact, I would argue it was better than ever. Both halves of the season were excellent and neither felt inferior to the other. I feel this is worth mentioning because some two-cour seasons can be half-and-half. A really good or enjoyable half and then a middling to mediocre half.

2018 | Season Three

Season three isn’t bad. It isn’t. But not only was I a little overhyped, I think season three was one of the most taxing on my attention span. It must have been that way for others watching too because, by 2018, the dialog surrounding My Hero Academia started to change. While plenty stuck with it, there was a growing wave of negative opinions surrounding the show.

It hit peak popularity was the problem. It ballooned super quickly. As weird as it sounds, I would compare My Hero‘s third season to Rick and Morty‘s third season. Both shows got off to strong starts, really hit it off in season two, and then reached critical mass in season three. There was no shortage of haters ditching the hype train and calling it overrated.

It’s not like criticism wasn’t appreciated, but people were getting super tired of hearing about it. Happens all the time with big trends. Now, clearly, if the bold headers aren’t an indication, I stuck with it, but not without some issues.

All Might versus All For One.

That fight was one of those that was hyped up like a UFC match. Everyone was excited about it. It was gonna be the decisive moment in All Might’s career as he passed the torch to the next generation. I remember screenshots from the manga and people being like “Anime Only’s don’t know what they’re in for.”

… It was alright. It was no Deku vs Todoroki. It wasn’t even All Might vs Nomu. It had great dramatic moments and a solid conclusion. Frankly, though, the visual component could have been better. There was a standard set prior that wasn’t led up to for as much as the community hyped it up and it’s really hard to avoid that hype.

I mostly associate the first half with the Bakugo rescue arc and the All Might vs All For One battle. The second half I remember as the provisional license arc. I also remember being kinda bored. But to be fully transparent, I had to rethink my take on season three while writing this because looking back, there’s actually a lot of really cool shit that laid the groundwork for even cooler shit down the road. So why have I mostly been so dismissive of this season in particular?

Probably because the cracks in the series started to show themselves. Even a shonen with a yearly release schedule can’t avoid some bland-looking episodes now and again. Plus, I wasn’t the only one who started noticing an overabundance of internal monologues during battles. A show with incredible visual consistency was starting to lose its luster and it wasn’t really the show’s fault. The bar was set high, but I helped lift it there.

Season three has way more cool moments than I remember upon revisiting, but the problem was the hype going into it and the way that I started to feel sorta underwhelmed halfway through. Despite that, I will defend that the beginning of season three was legitimately incredible. Kota was an adorable character and Deku somehow managed to outdo himself in the self-harm department while also being an absolute badass.

(Sidenote: The third episode was storyboarded by Rie Matsumoto and she increases the value of whatever she touches. Please let her direct more stuff anime industry.)

The League of Villains took on a much larger role in the story as well. Some of the most iconic members made their debut. Dabi, Toga, Twice, etc. Though another issue I have looking back is that, no matter how cool the League of Villains were, their goals always seemed to elude my recollection. I can remember each of their attacks vividly. If you asked me to tell you the objective of each mission, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Sometimes it feels like My Hero Academia is overexerting itself; like it’s trying to tell a story bigger than itself but can’t quite convey the weight of it. It can handle character drama exceedingly well, but tackling larger social philosophy through the lens of superhero fiction is where it feels like it starts to lose me.

I will give it credit though, I think it gets better as the show goes on. It’s simply a matter of the story feeling like multiple kinds of stories mixed into one. You go in expecting one thing and find yourself invested in a story you didn’t think a show like this would try to execute. It’s a sign of great creative drive. It might stumble, but it rarely tries to be just normal and I respect that.

Amazing what a few paragraphs can do to clear one’s thoughts. Season three wasn’t bad at all. The issue was the time it came out and the expectations after season two. New viewers, absent of that context, might enjoy this season far more and get a lot out of it. But if you take my word on anything, believe me when I say that far better things are on the horizon.

2018 | The Movie – Two Heroes

Some of the inconsistencies found in season three’s visual may be explained by My Hero‘s most contested endeavor (as a franchise, not the character). In 2018, they released their first film. It was an exciting time. No major shonen is complete without occasional films with questionably canon plots.

Two Heroes is about All Might taking Deku and some of class 1A to I-Island. It’s part amusement park, part experimental quirk research facility. Deku meets All Might’s old friend from America, David Shield and things seem pretty festive until a terrorist attack forces the students to ascend the huge tower in the middle of the island to stop the leader and save Dave and his daughter.

I had the opportunity to review Two Heroes on the radio back in my Junior year of college, and in my review, I mentioned that despite all the fanfare of a cinematic event I actually found the production quality more akin to a TV special. I felt like the animation didn’t truly wow me until the grand finale because of course Yutaka Nakamura must be contractually mandated to work on the final fight of every film.

I remember amusing comparisons between this film and The Raid and I see where they’re coming from. All the characters have to fight up numerous floors, trapped in a huge tower with terrorists everywhere. All Might ends up indisposed, forcing the kids to take on the threat themselves. It’s a very fun premise but most of my fondest memories come from the very ending. I found the rest of it quite forgettable.

2019 | Season Four

The slight sense of waning interest in the wake of season three set my expectations a bit lower. Perfect then, to judge the next season on a more balanced metric. And sure enough, the fourth season came like a hurricane. It was my favorite season since two. And at a time with quite a few emotional films releasing such as Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, My Hero Academia got me more emotional than anything else.

Recall that I found the villains of My Hero to be somewhat iffy. Cool designs, good fights, but aside from Stain, few had motives or big scenes that grabbed me or stayed in my memory. Enter Kai Chisaki, AKA Overhaul.

He is – without a doubt – my favorite villain yet. This horrifying performance by Kenjiro Tsuda and an equally sickly-sounding performance by Kellen Goff in English sets an uneasy tone made that much more disturbing by his treatment of Eri, a young girl who he’s manipulating for her power. He’s so repulsive beneath a put-together crime boss exterior.

Unlike the League of Villains, which at that point seemed to have only an aim of chaos above all else, Overhaul’s evil plot is made very clear during the arc where he takes the spotlight. He’s producing a drug that can either counteract Quirks or enhance them and the heroes have to corner him and his organization, dealing with legal barriers in the way.

It strikes the best balance of the story’s far-reaching ideas and the core appeal of the series, creating some of the tensest battles to date. Furthermore, Overhaul’s power feels like it was made to be adapted by a studio like Bones. His frightening ability to destroy anything and reform matter bears striking resemblance to the alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist.

There’s so much going on in the first cour of season four that it’s genuinely difficult to pick which part to gush about first. Sir Nighteye might be one of my favorite characters in the series despite his rather brief time in the spotlight. Mirio makes an equally impressive presence and became many fans’ favorite hero.

But Eri… My god. She’s just the cutest little thing and it’s hard to hear what she goes through. She is the emotional heart of the arc. People always complain about Deku not changing that much as a character but I think watching him struggle to save Eri contradicts any notion that his character stagnates. Maybe during season three’s latter half, but definitely not by season four.

Eri isn’t just in danger, she’s been emotionally manipulated to blame herself when attempts to escape result in people getting hurt. Usually, it’s the people trying to save her. Overhaul only sees her and her quirk as a means to produce weapons. Mirio and Deku have to reconcile their personal desires with their responsibilities as heroes.

Animation by Yutaka Nakamura.

When the first half of season four ended, I knew I was in it for the long haul. Season three might have been when many decided whether or not to jump ship, but season four was a gift to all who stuck around.

I won’t lie, I was wary of how the second half would fare, but to my surprise, it managed to fit three smaller, concise arcs that pushed along some of the most interesting stories. It even understood that after such an intense opening salvo, some fun needed to be had among all. A school festival would normally not get me excited at all. Here, they hyped up a big musical number and even added tension thanks to an unsuspectingly deep villain and a brand new gadget for Deku to play around with.

From the beginning to the end, season four hit me right in my soul, letting me fall in love with all kinds of characters I previously couldn’t care less about, and introducing plenty more that instantly clicked. I teared up more than I thought I ever would watching this show. Maybe that sums up this season the best. It brings out the best things in the series that you may have never expected, or that you just forgot about.

2019 | The Movie – Heroes Rising

Heroes Rising was a big improvement over the first film. Despite having every member of Class 1A in the film, it hardly wastes any of them. The whole class is put on an island to help out the citizens living there. No villain, just good vibes. But then when villains do appear, seeking to steal power from a young boy living there, the whole class bands together.

There was some discourse about the movies robbing a lot of the animation quality from the show proper and I think I can understand the concern. It’s hard to get seasons that look as good as two when there’s a new movie with each season it feels like. And yet, it’s equally hard to complain about the results when the movie looks so damn good.

The coolest thing about Heroes Rising is that Horikoshi, the mangaka, wrote the story concept with the intention of this being the ORIGINAL ending of the entire manga. When you go into it with that mentality, there’s a certain dramatic finality that makes it special. The setting, the consistent action, and the scale of the villain’s power are as big of an endgame as you can get.

The villains themselves have really cool powers, but the blandest motivations. It wouldn’t have taken that much more to make them interesting. They act like villains, but they also don’t want to work with other villains because they see their cause as just. They want to reshape the world out of anger at how it judged them for their powers.

Heroes Rising succeeds as an entertaining, all-encompassing film and a celebration of the series up to that point, far more so than Two Heroes. That said, it still falls into old traps that non-canon anime films fall into. I’m of the mind that a film is technically canon until disproven in the main series. But there are still storytelling tricks used to make sure that nothing will change too much because of the film.

Heroes Rising is so big and so final that the ending has to pull some of that same nonsense we are used to in anime films. It’s certainly the moment that produced the biggest eye rolls in theaters, but it did little to mitigate the enjoyment had along the way.

2020 | Season Five

Some fans who have read the manga have described season five as “the last normal season.” That’s exciting. But I have to be cautious. That’s the same kind of excitement that preceded season three and that set expectations a little high. So forgive me if I’m cautious. None of this is to suggest I’m not still hyped though.

Season five continues from the bombastic finale of the previous by going back to basics for a school-sanctioned tournament. Class A faces off against Class B. It’s a wonderful opportunity for new introductions to wildly weird characters and a chance to see how everyone has evolved. That sums up this season perfectly, to be honest.

Season five is all about seeing how far everyone has come and even previewing what’s to come. Deku understands One For All’s scale more than ever and unlocks new powers. Even the villains get an arc all their own to conclude the season. And sure enough, it actually fixes a lot of my biggest problems with the villains.

The lack of an interesting motivation, the feeling that the organization is aimless, and the frankly unintimidating presence of the League of Villains. That entire image is shattered by the end of the season and I finally feel like there is a complex, supreme, final villain of the series. Well, “final” is pushing it. God knows when the end will throw at us. In fact, I’m not sure how far from the end we really are.

If My Hero Academia is about to change considerably, then I hope it doesn’t change too drastically. Season five’s ending is dark, but when the ugliness of the world hangs ever so oppressively over the characters, there is plenty of light to balance it out. I have faith that the series won’t forget this.

My Hero Academia is available for legal streaming through FunimationNow, Crunchyroll, and Hulu. The movies, Two Heroes and Heroes Rising, are available on Blu-ray and DVD from Funimation in the US.

I’ve wanted to discuss My Hero Academia for years but never knew the right time until now. You can check out my review of the newest movie, World Heroes’ Mission, over on Whoa! Anime. Check it out!

Thank you very much for reading and as always, see you next time.

One thought on “An Informal Praise of My Hero Academia

  1. I’ve kind of put My Hero Academia on pause for the moment as I was feeling hero fatigue during season 4. I do intend to pick this anime up again at some point but for now happy to just take a bit of a rest.

    Liked by 2 people

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