New episodes of My Hero Academia are on Funimation.com: episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.
Izuku finally gets his superpower, and while this episode focuses primarily on only him and All Might, the episode still emphasizes that to be a superhero depends on more than just yourself: it depends on mentorship, community, and teamwork. Plus, the series continues to raise some important questions about common tropes in the superhero genre, such as legacy characters, the dangers of training child sidekicks, and the dangers of the kind of body manipulation combine in superhero transformative origin stories.
If there has been a moment of hesitation I have had approaching My Hero Academia, it has to do with its seeming solution for Izuku’s lack of a superpower. In a world where 80 percent of the world’s population has a superpower, or “Quirk,” Izuku (Japanese: Akeno Watanabe; English: Justin Briner) is in the minority, and the way he is bullied for his lack of such an ability seems allegorical to bullying surrounding disabilities. When the solution therefore becomes All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat) offering his power to Izuku, it seems like a process of modifying Izuku to have him fit into the norm in this world.
In Episode 3 of the series, “Roaring Muscles,” All Might tells Izuku that, while he may hide a lot, he never lies–which is, at best, a paradox, and, at worst, yet another lie. All Might has already been shown as someone with much to hide, not only his claim that his smile is simply a mask to project confidence despite his hidden disability, but as he reveals to Izuku, the fact that his superpower is not in-born but inherited. That fact reshapes some considerations in this series, in which antagonists like Izuku’s classroom bully Katsuki think they are superior due to having been born with Quirks while people like Izuku lack them. At least the show does not let Izuku think less of All Might for not being naturally born a superhero, and at least this show has avoided the rather offensive almost eugenics approach to bestowing superpowers onto people as has occurred with Marvel’s the Inhumans since its comic book inception all the way up to its television adaptation on Agents of SHIELD.
It is not that Izuku has ignoble reasons for desiring a superpower: it can be offputting to hear him say that it is “cool” to save other people, but the previous episode made it apparent that he meant it, that he has the intention to help as many people as he can, with or without powers. Like a lot of the best superhero stories I see in serialized format, they tend to benefit by acknowledging important questions–even if they defer answers until later. Thank goodness this show has such optimism, energy, and joy to make the journey to those answer entertaining.
All Might giving Izuku his strength-enhancing superpower One For All–by having Izuku swallow one of his hairs (?!)–seems like a pragmatic decision emerging out of a desire to keep the child safe: it is dangerous to let him be a vigilante do-gooder if he lacks the strength to protect himself. And All Might makes sure that Izuku trains his body physically, not only to be able to handle the significant changes, but to make sure that Izuku has the stamina, the dedication, and the patience necessary to use these powers responsibly. The benefit to Izuku’s training in this episode will pay off in subsequent ones: it is shown that Izuku applies his knowledge about what his body can do in school tests and is aware of how much damage he can cause if he is not careful with the application of those abilities.
And the show also demonstrates that Izuku’s work takes ten months of effort: this is one case in which a narrative timeskip comes across not as annoying but as pragmatic. There are some timeskips necessitated by realities in production: live-action TV shows and film franchises do timeskips to explain how characters look older after the summer hiatus between TV seasons or the years between the first film and its sequel. Other times, timeskips seem to exist just to get to the next plot point, at the cost of character development: I think Naruto is a pretty bad offender, especially when it still has extensive flashbacks to what was skipped in the series, whereas the animated series Young Justice skipped considerable changes in the status quo, even killing off characters off-screen, at the cost of showing how characters changed with time. Thankfully, this timeskip for Izuku is to show some realities to a workout regime to give the boy some muscle, while still moving the plot forward to the next point, that being Izuku’s enrollment in superhero school so we can finally meet all those students and teachers shown in the opening title sequence.
The training of Izuku also has similarities to a number of origin stories among superheroes, whether Steve Rogers’s basic training in Captain America: The First Avenger, throwing himself over the (dummy) grenade to prove he had the ethics to be given such power, or even Disney’s Hercules, where an obstacle course changes a lanky teenager into a more toned fighter. And like Rogers’s actions, there is a bit of Arthurian legend tossed in as well: All Might is giving Izuku his power because he proved himself with a notable task, Arthur removing the sword from the stone, Izuku being the only person to rush to rescue Katsuki (and that’s not even considering that Katsuki has bullied Izuku since childhood).
Even though All Might’s action seems practical, I feel ambivalent. All Might is shaping Izuku into a legacy superhero, someone else to take on his power of One for All. That is a dangerous idea: Izuku is still an impressionable child, and All Might shows awareness of that fact (perturbed in a later episode when he sees Izuku has modeled his superhero costume around All Might’s appearance, without his consent).
More recent creators have looked with some hesitation at the idea of adult superheroes bestowing far too much power onto their children sidekicks: consider revisions made to the origin stories of Robin and Bucky so that it is not as creepy that Batman and Captain America are creating child soldiers in their wars against crime and supervillainy, in which the children are given the option to turn down this opportunity, or the adults refuse to have the children join them on missions (Greg Weisman’s Young Justice as another example).
But All Might’s actions, bestowing a superpower onto a child, seems more similar to the wizard Shazam bestowing his powers onto Billy Batson to make him into Captain Marvel. Judd Winick and Josh MIddleton’s Superman/Shazam! First Thunder has Supes admonish Shazam for transforming Batson into a superhero, before such a child could be prepared for the shocking changes to body and responsibility he would experience. (The excerpt of Superman and Shazam’s conversation is popular on Reddit and Tumblr.)
I’m ambivalent what to do with this moment, since I know much of what happens in the more recent episodes and in the original manga: Izuku is going to struggle with these powers, and he is going to pay some penalty for taking on more power than All Might should have given him. But Izuku also is not using his power recklessly, embodying the cliche “with great power comes great responsibility.” My Hero Academia, like a lot of truly excellent superhero stories, raises these questions about ability, prejudice, and power without giving simple answers and without letting characters be denied agency or responsibility for their behavior. And it’s not like All Might is inflexible: upon seeing how he has overexerted himself but wants to quicken his path, he revises Izuku’s workout regimen to be more realistic.
Another benefit to how the show represents All Might’s superpower, One for All, is that it is an egalitarian approach that emphasizes superheroism not as an individual effort but as a communal one. All Might explains his power is passed on through generations, an accumulation of all the skills gained by one person and bestowed onto another, so that each generation adds something new to the power. It is almost like an evolution metaphor without the problematic social Darwinist, elitist, or eugenic attachments, but only because this show so far makes a big deal out of collaboration and decentralized leadership rather than propping up only Izuku or All Might as the lone savior. (Shameless plug: I brought up similar topics about showing collaborative superheroing as one benefit to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers for Screenings Images of American Masculinity in the Age of Postfeminism.)
Even as this show’s second episode ended with Izuku saying this is his origin story to be history’s greatest superhero, and as arrogant as that statement can sound, the episode shows that such victories depend on other people. That is why, after so much attention to Izuku working on his own in the landfill, it is encouraging to see the show demonstrate that being a hero does involve working with other people, not in isolation. The episode concludes with Izuku meeting a few of his new classmates, such as Ochako Uraraka (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian) and Tenya Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum). And the next episode will show that, if not for ???’s gravitational powers to lift the robots, Izuku could not have managed to knock them down–one instance of their teamwork that builds upon in future episodes that partner Ochako and Izuku. It’s a cliffhanger without much suspense, but it is an appreciated ending that this show demonstrates that superheroism, as All Might said about the civil responsibilities about superheroes, depends on communities.
- Star Wars drinking game. Take two sips for two references this week: All Might’s training facility is at the Dagoba Municipal Beach Park (at no point does he make Izuku carry him on his back), and Izuku’s school is called Aldera.
- Sub vs Dub: The writers definitely changed the dialogue so that All Might’s transformation. It goes from the Japanese’s “Oh my…Oh my…GOODNESS!” (actually said in English by Miyake) to the English’s “Holy…stinking…SUPER CRAP!” (camped up by Sabat). Since the joke in the Japanese is that All Might is speaking in English, I get that Funimation revised the line to have All Might go full-on Armstrong, but the change is a bit jarring. But at least hearing All Might in English screaming “Stop nerding out!” was a good translation revision.
- I didn’t talk about as much about the ending. In both the Japanese and the English, Sakura and Christian, and Ishikawa and Tatum, bring the right qualities of joyful and super-serious suitable to Ochako and Tenya. Christian already is a veteran of acting, almost none of her roles sounding the same: her range includes Kaname Chidori in Full Metal Panic, Nami in One Piece, Medusa in Soul Eater, or the Narrator in Ookami-san. Meanwhile, Tatum is a powerhouse talent, and given his role as Kyoya Ootari in Ouran High School Host Club, of course he would suit Tenya.
- And speaking of performances, Izuku’s scream, whether by Watanabe or Briner, is chilling.
- The training montage at a landfill is classic in superhero stories, whether Mr. Incredible training in The Incredibles at a scrapyard, Virgil Hawkins demonstrating his abilities to Richie Foley in Static Shock, or scavengers like the Ninja Turtles finding supplies in landfills. Even Captain America: Civil War has Tony Stark finding out that Peter Parker does dumpster diving to recover old computers and electronics.
- I also appreciate how this show undermines its serious moments with gags that don’t seem out of place, since the jokes tend to emerge out of its choice to have Izuku narrate episodes: Izuku narrates that he cannot imagine what could be more shocking than his mentor saying he can be a hero, only for All Might to shock him with the offer to bestow his power directly onto him. Or when All Might ends his speech imploring Izuku to take on his legacy by apologizing for getting ahead of himself. Or when he interrupts his explanation of One for All by taking cell phone pics (with Izuku’s tears even showing up in the pic) and telling Izuku his body, without proper training, can explode from One for All. These jokes are in contrast to shows that simply imitate Whedon-speak (I’m glaring at you, Agents of SHIELD) or adding chibi jokes that clash with the serious tone (glaring at you, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood).
- The show so far also has done pretty good at cold openings, likely drawing upon similar construction in the original chapters of the manga: start with a pseudo-cliffhanger (All Might offers his power to Izuku), then cut to something else (the opening title in the anime, a color splash page in the manga), before undermining that cliffhanger with a caveat (All Might reduces his remark from an offer to only a suggestion, at least until Izuku proves himself capable in body and spirit to accept the responsibility of a superpower).
- We need trigger warnings throughout for the blood coming out of All Might’s mouth.
- This episode also introduces All Might’s ugly suit that he will wear as a teacher at the Academy. Couldn’t he wear something else that was nicer when he went on Anime David Letterman’s show? Then again, he also is wearing an old-fashioned swimsuit, seeing as he is a character out of the Golden Age of comics.
- Wait, had they shown All Might’s wound looks like a flower in the previous episode? I wonder how that detail foreshadows the identity of the supervillain who inflicted that injury onto All Might.
- All Might interrupts Izuku’s rambling with gratuitous English: “Nonsense!”
- All Might has Izuku’s heroism start by doing civic service to clean up a beach. Truly, he is our anime equivalent of Captain Planet. It’s hilarious to see how steeped in the Golden and Silver Age this series is, having All Might be such a Big Good that he even sets aside time to pick up trash.
- Here’s hoping the show has more changes in character designs, similar to those changes to Izuku after his ten-month workout, and Izuku’s mother from his childhood to teen years.
- Speaking of which, doesn’t Izuku’s mother find it weird that her son gains superpowers and is hanging around with Old Man Yugioh?
- If All Might passes his on One for All through his hair (a Samson reference), then does that mean someone else could take his hair and gain his power? Imagine the show having an army of villains who have taken his hair–and the damage they could do.
- I am trying to write a separate post, but I can’t resist remarking on the latest subtitled episode of My Hero Academia, regarding its origin story for the antagonist Katsuki. The arguments so far have been a bit simplified, simply saying that Katsuki’s origin story is that he is an “asshole.” While I won’t dispute that point, I do dispute how simplistic that explanation is. Rather, My Hero Academia has made Katsuki a complicated character, showing that his dickish behavior actually emerges from low self-confidence, shame, a desire for love and attention, and a feeling of inadequacy unless he is constantly praised. In other words, Katsuki seems like a realistic examination of problems that have happened with the “everyone gets a trophy” style of child care. I’m not going to say whether that approach is good or bad; I am going to say that this show is managing to approach that topic with a lot of sympathy towards Katsuki and without letting that explanation at all condone his abhorrent and dangerous behavior. It’s a good balance, acknowledging Katsuki’s frustrations and pain but also criticizing problems with hands-off approaches to dealing with violent children.