REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 4, “Start Line”

 

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.


“Start Line” points out why being a self-sacrificing superhero may be admirable but not without significant flaws. My Hero Academia also starts to turn to its ensemble cast, as the episode makes an important emphasis that superheroism depends on collaboration, not only the sole actions of one person.

Episode 4 of My Hero Academia has an apt opening, as Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner) thinks about taking his “first step” into the school for superheroes, U.A. “First step,” or “Hajime no Ippo” is a common phrase for anime, especially when you can easily make a pun on it: “ippo” can refer to “step” or be a person’s name, as with Ippo Makunouchi in the boxing manga and anime Hajime No Ippo (dubbed in English under the title Fighting Spirit). But Izuku’s flaw tends to be over-thinking and embarrassment by his seeming weaknesses. As someone who only recently gained a Quirk, he sees classmates like Iida (Japanese: Katio Ishikawa; English: J. MIchael Tatum) and others judging him as nervous, unprepared, and potentially slowing down their progress–or, in this competition, perhaps being someone who can be easily eliminated. Before Izuku can take his first step into the Battle City, he is distracted by peer pressure and late at starting the competition.

Then Izuku is too frightened to attack even a one-point robot. So he is too afraid to earn the points he needs to gain entrance in this competition–so what kind of a superhero is he if he is too afraid to face a threat?

Simple: because a superhero is not only about destroying a city in a superpower fistfight (unless you went to the Zack Snyder school of bad superhero writing). Being a superhero means doing the right thing, and that sometimes means saving someone else.

My Hero Academia repeatedly turns back to this idea of Izuku being too late to take action–except when it counts. When Izuku acts on instinct, it tends to be in protection of others, first with Katsuki in Episode 2, now with Ochako Uraraka (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian) here in Episode 4. It is this tendency that convinced All Might to take Izuku on as his apprentice, and it is the willingness to save others that lets him gain enough points in competition to receive admission to U.A.

Izuku’s willingness to let himself be hurt for someone else is a classic trope from superhero narratives. The turn in The Avengers was Steve Rogers challenging Tony Stark: Rogers has been willing to throw himself on top of a grenade, and he mocks Stark under the assumption that he has never had to sacrifice himself to save someone else. Stark’s journey throughout the films has been about how everyone else sacrifices themselves for him, with Phil Coulson being the latest victim. These are competing forms of superheroism: do you give up yourself to save someone, even if that means you cannot save more, or do you accept that you are only human and cannot save everyone? Both arguments have their value–and both arguments demonstrate what makes Izuku admirable, and what makes him foolish.

Self-destructive tendencies for the sake of saving others is not celebrated in My Hero Academia. The horrific images of Izuku’s broken limbs is enough to show that a price is paid for being a superhero, regardless of narrative convenience like having the school nurse heal injuries with a kiss. While episodes up to this point refer to Izuku as a hero for being willing to die to save others, later episodes will have characters rightly castigate Izuku’s unpreparedness to find another way to save others without harming himself. Yet for someone who has been bullied so long as Izuku has, his self-sacrificing nature is apt: this is a character who seems to think his value to others is what he is willing to give up. This tendency risks making Izuku into a doormat, and it is to the credit of this show that they figure out that flaw almost immediately: Izuku stops accepting Katsuki’s abuse very quickly, and it’s not because Izuku now has a Quirk but because at his core he is in competition with himself to be a better person.

In determining how to admonish Izuku for his self-destructive and self-defeating attitudes, My Hero Academia benefits in adaptation from comics to animation for seeming to have really through out its problems and fixed them quickly in the process of production. I tend to praise this show for taking a more optimistic view to superhero conventions, but I don’t think that praise is undue when the show largely anticipates problems and addresses them almost immediately in subsequent episodes. This is all the more surprising when considering this show is animated and has no time to change details in mid-production, unlike live-action shows that tend to be in production shortly after their season premieres and hence can respond throughout the season to fans’ complaints–whether making Jay Garrick into a serial killer in The Flash, drawing out the mystery of who died in Arrow, or whatever Agents of SHIELD is trying to do with itself. (Something about Inhumans, I guess?)

There is some narrative convenience in having Izuku pass because the teachers did not give him the full truth, that points are assigned not only for how many robots are defeated but also how many people are rescued or supported in combat. I would imagine, however, that eventually that kind of information would pass down from U.A. graduates to new students, undermining the surprise and secret test of character. Granted, analyzing this potential plothole would take all day, since I’d have to do the same with other school-based series with similar twists, such as the ability to cheat on the Chunin exam in Naruto.

Finally, there is a point to reiterate about this series when it comes to the axis of egalitarianism and individualism. Episode 2 ended with Izuku narrating that, in the future, he becomes the world’s best superhero. The show balances that claim with a reminder from All Might to Izuku, via video message, that a superhero is defined by inspiring others to act and saving others. That example of collaborative superheroism is given focus in this episode thanks to Urakaka.

It is apt to look at how My Hero Academia tries to position its supporting female character and love interest into the role of needing to be rescued. Oliver Sava has complained repeatedly about this approach with Karen Page in Daredevil on Netflix. Sava, however, overlooks Page’s agency, which is much more akin to Lois Lane being captured while she is investigating, rather than a damsel in distress. That Page shoots and kills her kidnapper, repeatedly tries to acquire information on criminal leaders even at the cost of her own safety (and inadvertently getting men in her life killed), and determines ways of escape shows that while she is captured, “damsel in distress” is not an accurate description of the trope in play.

Likewise, with My Hero Academia, it confused me how Urakaka can be so injured that she cannot manage to escape the robot yet manages to reverse gravity in time to rescue Izuku. One key difference is that her abilities are based around gravity, which means, even when lying down, a slap to the face is enough to give him reverse gravity.

I know that, by the time Episode 7 arrives, I will have questions how effective this egalitarian model is for this series. When the series has Urakaka willing to donate her points to Izuku so he may enter their class, that seems far less about elitism and communal support. That the show associates Urakaka’s sacrifice with her awareness that Izuku risked his life–and points–to save her, just as he risked his life to save Katsuki, so here is being a hero determined by rescue points. It’s vital for My Hero Academia to remember that moral: while this series has Izuku as its protagonist, it still persist, as do many anime, with an ensemble cast. Handled poorly, an ensemble cast can be only background characters who do not get due attention: Naruto is one such flawed series, where more interesting characters can overshadow the titular character, or serve as filler fodder. Handled well, the ensemble cast means a series can continue indefinitely: One Piece is probably the best manga in that regard, as it focuses on Luffy without ignoring development of its secondary characters. And if Izuku’s actions overshadow the collaboration of the ensemble cast, a series like My Hero Academia can risk making superheroism the act of the individual more important than communal efforts–and after Soul Eater (like My Hero Academia, also animated by Studio BONES) ended with one character’s courage potentially overshadowing a group effort, I’m not up repeating that mistake.

Stray Observations

  • Sub vs dub: Quite a few revisions this time. I don’t think All Might’s namedrop of the “Hero Academia” is used in the original Japanese, Present Mic talks about Izuku’s “charting,” All Might’s projection mail to Izuku talks about “staying tune” (1960s Batman reference) and “with great power comes a great amount of paperwork!” Plus, Izuku’s stuttering about a “piece of cake” as he falls to near-death is lost in translation, and his narration about the three superheroes at the beginning of the episode cut some content, such as All Might’s refusal to accept a national award.
  • Izuku’s facial reactions to everything look like what people imagine all anime to be: over-the-top with motion lines. In a bad anime, we’d have Izuku being the immobile protagonist from Neon Genesis Evangelion or the hyper-fast talking Speed Racer. Instead, the reactions are so comical that they lend some much-needed humor to the series to show that these superheroes, they can’t be taken too seriously.
  • Izuku’s introduction at the beginning of this episode refers to All Might as refusing a national award for his heroism. Later episodes, especially Episode 8, will complicate whether All Might does so only out of humility. That makes the character fascinating, as even when his selflessness seems genuine, he is still flawed and ashamed of his perceived weakness. Recovery Girl (Japanese: Etsuko Kozakura; English: Juli Erickson), introduced in this episode, will later criticize All Might for hiding his disability, and there is still much to write on that point. There is still that nagging concern I have, that All Might gives Izuku One for All as a Quirk so abruptly before the student’s entrance to U.A. and before his body can incorporate the power. Izuku almost died from improper use of the Quirk; I’m still seeing a frightening parallel between the relationship of Izuku and All Might and the relationship of Billy Batson and the Wizard Shazam.
  • Last week, I overlooked the excellent performance that Sonny Strait brings to Present Mic. Strait has been a mainstay in voice acting, whether as Krillin in Dragon Ball, the first TOM on Toonami, or Usopp on One Piece. Like his other teacher character, Kuro Sensei from Assassination Classroom, Strait brings the energy a showboating loudmouth like Mic needs. And like Mic, Strait is also a musician.
  • Don’t judge Iida too severely for being a hardass to Izuku: it’s setting up his character arc, and he is revealed very quickly to be a nice guy upon seeing Izuku was willing to save others when he did not. Then again, he is a bespectacled character with creepy eyeglass glint and voiced in English by J. Michael Tatum, so you got about a 50-50 chance he turns out to be a jerk.
  • I know Mic’s motif is around the microphone, hence the name, so am I wrong in thinking there is a Killer Mike allusion to a character named Present Mic?
  • Between gnomes in Gravity Falls, Spirit Albarn in Soul Eater, and the totality of the Internet, is shiny rainbow vomit now the standard censorship method?
  • Izuku’s mother: “Why are you smiling at the fish?”
  • Izuku says he cannot even tell his family about All Might’s secret disability, or how he gained his superpower. Keep that in mind: in Episode 8, Izuku is willing to reveal at least the secret of his superpower to Katsuki, and I don’t know what to do with that moment.
  • You know how the Marvel films popularized post-credits teasers? This episode gives you a teaser of Izuku’s mother and him smiling at his good news. That is enough for emotional satisfaction.
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