With season three now starting Jack takes a look at the series with enough charm to counter superhero-fatigue
By Jack Gracie 21 April, 2018
Hi and welcome back to Reel Opinions! So it's been a while since I covered any anime stuff and that's because I kind of just got burnt out on trying to keep up to date with all the seasonal stuff and trying to put out reviews for the channel, and I think it just led to me being really sick of all the mediocrity of all the stuff that comes out season upon season.
So I'm doing this review for three reasons really:
- Because it's something I've already watched
- Because it's relevant again and,
- Because this is a show that kind of just gets me excited to watch stuff again.
I'm hoping if I talk about it a bit then it's gonna make me more enthusiastic in myself to go and watch more stuff and start bringing reviews back onto the channel again, because they always tend to do much better than anything else we cover.
The show that I'm covering is My Hero Academia or Boku no Hero Academia or however much japanese you want to put in it to feel good about yourself. I'm covering season two, but really I'm just covering the whole show up until this point as season three just started two weeks ago.
If you don't know anything about it the series takes place in a world where 80% of the population have developed quirks, which are essentially just like X-Men mutant powers, and so because of this, they have naturally developed superheroes into society. They are not vigilantes in that they are accepted by society but also they work independently. They have their own agencies and they are paid by the government depending on how many people they save or how much stuff they protect, etc, etc. So it's a very optimistic system and that's kind of the groundwork for the rest of the series as it's a very upbeat and optimistic look at superheroes and superheroes in society.
The story follows Deku who is a middle school kid who is born without a quirk,he's one of the 20%, and because of this he's kind of been the underdog his whole life, kind of picked upon and weak, he idolizes the best hero of them all, All Might, who is effectively the Superman of this world - nothing can touch him. Deku aspires to be a hero one day despite not having any powers. If he sees someone in trouble he will jump into the fray and one of these situations leads to him eventually meeting All Might. This isn't a spoiler by the way, this is just setting up for the entire show. All Might reveals to him that his power is the only power in the world that can be passed on from person to person, so All Might passes on his power to him. Deku, now filled with this unimaginable power, has now got the chance to try out for Hero Academy, which is the superhero training high school.
The best praise that I can give this show is that it's a very good Saturday morning cartoon. It doesn't do anything particularly, completely different. It doesn't go completely wild, but it does everything that has been done before very well... and with enough of a twist they just makes it that much different. For instance, Deku has essentially the most generic superhero power of all, in fact maybe in the whole show, which is just super strength - but the way they put the twist on it is that because he has not had powers ever in his life, and this power is more than he can possibly control using, just 1% of the power is enough to break his bones and leave him permanently damaged. So it's not a case of, flick the switch, now he's the most powerful character. It's about him slowly learning to adapt this power to his body and slowly learning to use it bit by bit and using different aspects of it. Like applying the strength to different parts of his body. Because of that it means that he still gets a progression despite the fact that you know he has the strongest superpower and it's not only that he is being beaten down by other people around him when he gets into fights but also that he's beating himself down in order to progress himself and so I think that he becomes quite compelling despite the fact that he can kind of fall into protagonist problems at times, which is just because he's the central focus of the series he doesn't tend to have as much characterizations as those on the fringes.
Another example of a power that's done slightly differently is that his school antagonist, his best friend turned bully, Bakugo, he has fire powers. Again, very generic thing, but it's not completely as his sweat is kind of like nitroglycerin, so he controls explosions. When I say powers I don't mean-- you've probably already seen in the clips that I'm showing, but it physically changes them as well. Even for a kid show it's not afraid to go into some of the weirder things like there is the person that has the ability to move any of their body parts to another part of their body. Which is just... freakishly fascinating. The idea that he can move his eyes to his palms to look around corners or move his ear to his foot to listen out for footsteps. There's someone that has headphone jacks for ears, and people that are born with mechanical parts embedded into them, like exhausts into their legs. It's making them physically different, which makes it much more entertaining to watch.
I've kind of talked about the design of the characters but I will also say that all of the characters themselves are admittedly trope-y, but with just enough earnestness put into them that you grow to enjoy them. It's because of these characters that I think that it just pushes the enjoyment to another level when it comes to the fights, which are by far the best bit of the show.
Season one, I watched it and I honestly was not too fussed about this show. It felt like it was going a bit too slow for my taste and it hadn't really done enough to separate itself from generic superhero-ness, coming into the second season I was just more watching it because I had watched the first season and I was willing to drop it. Then they get into the sports festival arc. They start pitting the characters against one another and it becomes 10 times more interesting and much more enjoyable - where every episode is two characters facing up against one another. They continue to combine their powers in interesting ways and they clash their personalities alongside the physical battles in ways that made the show so much more compelling in that I was watching it and finishing the episode and thinking "Oh, I enjoyed that way more than I thought I was going to. I'm way more into this show that I thought I was."
That is why, again, I compare it to an idea of a really good Saturday morning cartoon. I was looking forward to this every single week for season 2 because I could just sit down and I knew I was going to get 22 minutes of a fun action series. Where you get really stellar animation, well-developed characters - all of the characters are fundamentally kind of set in their ways because that just is the way that Shonen tends to lend itself... The person has to have a very firm mindset in order for it to be meaningful when they change it, and so it does tend to lead it to a bit of over-monologuing, which can bog down a lot of Shonen shows. But, that again is why I come back to the idea of it being a good Saturday morning cartoon. If you watch it week by week then I think that the monologuing would be maybe not as bad and I think that it maybe provides a bit of a pacing break between the action, which is nice. If you were to binge it all in one go I think that it could get quite bogged down in these moments. So the show got me back interested with the battles against one another and then that arc ended and I was disappointed, only for it to continue improving on what it already had with the introduction of the villain, Stain.
Which, again, is the perfect example of take something that has been done a hundred times before and give it a twist. Because he is a villain and he is asking "what does it mean to be a hero?" There's already comments writing "Argh but that's already been done in this film, that film, blah blah blah..." but what I mean is that he knows he is a villain, that's the whole interesting factor of it, is that he is a villain that believes in heroes and he thinks that there are too many fake heroes about with the fact that they have become essentially like public servants and through that he is disgusted by so many weak heroes that he wants to draw out the strongest heroes and he wants people to be doing it not because they can make money doing it, he wants to push to make true heroes a thing again... and he's doing that by becoming a serial killer. Which, again, in the kid show is kind of darker than you're expecting - and the serial killing ties into his very interesting quirk. This alone is interesting enough but then it leads to him coming into combat with the kids. The eventual fight is a tiny bit dragged out for my liking, but even though it is a kids cartoon you can still worry for the state that the characters are going to get in, because it's willing to go slightly darker than the usual show.
I think you could argue that the show is just kind of silly and maybe you could also argue that it's a bit overhyped, and not as good as people think. But for me personally, while I do find that some episodes definitely vary in quality and some episodes don't even need to exist like recap episodes. Ultimately I still found it fun to come back to every single week, which I can't say for a lot of shows, and consistently entertaining and consistently well produced for something that, again, is a kids show. It could just be a very slapdash adaptation of the books but it is trying to be the best that it can be, and like I said it's all covered with this optimism that just makes you really excited to watch it.
I think there is a reason why this is becoming the next big series out of Japan and I think that if anyone is interested in the Marvel films or at the very least interested in superheroes and is put off by the Marvel films. I've repeated it so many times in all the podcasts and everything - I like superheroes, but the Marvel films, I just do not find them interesting anymore. I don't get excited for them anymore. But this... gets me excited again and this makes me happy to watch superheroes and see interesting powers. I missed flame powers, ice powers, stuff interacting with one another and actually having interesting combinations every week and always trying to find new ways to make it fun - as opposed to just increasingly bigger people punching each other.