Month: June 2016

REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 9: “Yeah, Just Do Your Best, Iida!”

Tenya Iida gets a bit of backstory and character development, as the first season begins its final arc, a battle for survival against supervillains. But first, we get a common school-based anime story: class representative elections!

Good news: My Hero Academia has been renewed for a second season! Seeing as Season 1 managed to adapt maybe one to two arcs, I anticipate the same for Season 2. The downside is that some of the story is going to seem slow. But as this week’s episode, centered largely around Tenya Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum), managed to give some development to a supporting character, I am a bit more optimistic at the show having this pace and seeing how far Toho Animation and Studio BONES gets to adapt the manga, which is slowly approaching its one hundredth chapter.

This episode has to be the bridge between two arcs: the first arc introduces superhero fanboy Izuku Midoriya (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner), his superhero mentor All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat), and their superhero school U.A.; the second arc introduces Izuku and his classmates’ first encounter with actual supervillains. The episode begins without a cold opening, hinting that there is an ominous surprise waiting for us, that being the arrival of Tomura Shigaraki (Japanese: Kouki Uchiyama; English: Eric Vale), who intend to attack the students to draw out and assassinate their protector All Might.

I have been ambivalent about the pace to My Hero Academia the last few weeks–and, based on the slow pace to this upcoming next arc, that’s a criticism I likely will re-address in reviews for subsequent episodes, maybe into the next season seeing as that one likely will be able to cover maybe one to three arcs in a second season of thirteen episodes. Japanese comics and animation, as well as many United States comics and television shows, benefit from this long-game approach. Thanks to streaming video, marathon watching allows good series to overcome the limitations of their episodic nature and reveal that these texts are actually not composed of separate self-contained stories but interlocking parts of a well-written, well-presented story.

While this kind of marathon watching has benefited Breaking Bad, as one example, it also has been beneficial to long-running anime such as One Piece and even superhero film franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s the interesting overlap for My Hero Academia, as it is an anime and a superhero story–and this overlap affords this episode the opportunity to bridge any gaps between those two styles of storytelling, as well as bridge the gap between the previous narrative arc and the upcoming one.


CFP: Superhero Narratives and (Dis)Ability (NeMLA 2017, Baltimore, Deadline 9/30/2016)

Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (co-editor of the forthcoming volume Joss Whedon and Race from McFarland) and I are co-organizing a roundtable for the March 2017 Baltimore meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, focusing on representations of disabilities in superhero narratives.

This roundtable seeks presentations exploring how the superhero’s superpowered engagement of ableist society reveal or illustrate complications of negotiating the construction of (dis)ability. Recent works in comics, television, and film, such as DaredevilBatgirlMy Hero Academia, and Yuki Yuna Is a Hero, may be relevant to this roundtable’s discussion.

Please consider submitting a 300-word abstract and a brief biographical statement to NeMLA’s CFP List web site before the September 30th deadline. And please forward this call for papers to interested scholars.

The full CFP is below. Please email me at if you have any questions.

Superhero Narratives and (Dis)Ability

Chairs: Derek McGrath (Independent Scholar), Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (Independent Scholar)

Popular culture narratives present ever-increasing images of persons with disability, whether through superheroes themselves or via supporting cast members. Apart from literal impairment, superheroes and superpowers can also be read as allegories for disability and Othered bodies and minds. How can superpowers be read as disabilities, or disabilities as superpowers? How does the superhero’s superpowered engagement of ableist society reveal or illustrate complications of negotiating the construction of (dis)ability?


My upcoming presentation at Anime Expo: “Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses” (Sunday 7/3/16)

Next Sunday, I’ll be in Los Angeles to participate in a special session hosted at Anime Expo, the largest North American anime convention. Each year, Anime Expo features an Anime and Manga Studies Symposium, which seeks to facilitate the development of anime and manga studies as defined fields of study. Our special session, “Using Anime and Manga in Education,” on Sunday, July 3, 2:30 PM to 3:30 PM, considers how we use Japanese popular culture in the classroom.

My presentation, “Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses,” builds upon presentations I have given at the Modern Language Association and the Northeast Modern Language Association, regarding potential gender-related double-standards in certain anime and manga, and how these texts provoke important discussions in literature and gender studies courses.

Much of this presentation is based on my own involvement, online and at conventions, in fan communities, and my own practices to identify gendered differences in character portrayals. For example, as shown in the image above, I have used PhotoShop to show differences between how characters, along gendered lines, are portrayed in some anime with or without blush on their cheeks. In one anime, Soul Eater NOT, these so-called “blush stickers” are often featured on female but not on male characters. To identify the difference and how it may alter the portrayal of characters, I applied this blush in PhotoShop to a male character, Death the Kid, and use this example to motivate discussions about

The session description and my presentation’s description are below. Thanks to the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, as well as Brent Allison and Mikhail Koulikov, for organizing this special session.

Special Session: Using Anime and Manga in Education

Moderator: Prof. Brent Allison (University of North Georgia)

  • Creating Confident Readers Through Unconventional Texts
    Stevi Grimm (Jefferson Union High School District, Daly City, CA)
  • Digital Literacy: Expanding Students’ Literary Toolkits with Manga
    Alexandra Dean (Eastern Illinois University)
  • Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses
    Derek S. McGrath (Stony Brook University)

In this session, three practicing educators provide responses to the question of how manga, anime, and other Japanese popular culture texts can be incorporated in a formal classroom setting. Old and new challenges to educators color this question – proscribed academic standards that limit teacher autonomy, barriers to students who struggle with traditional forms of literacy, and persistent conceptions of gender that reinforce certain types of readings of these texts. The session will review strategies to overcome these problems as well as engage the audience to consider how using Japanese popular culture texts can redefine gender, literacy, and ultimately what it means to “read.”

“Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses”

While writing my PhD in literature and gender studies, I have participated in online fan communities around anime and manga. In these communities, I draw upon my experiences in teaching to write and collaborate with other fans towards analysis of various texts, whether through liveblogs and re-blogged discussions, or roleplay, wiki development, and PhotoShopping. Content I develop has identified problematic representations in certain texts work, whether silencing of female characters or gendered disparities such as the application of “blush stickers” to female characters but not male characters (as I show visually by PhotoShopping screen captures to add blush stickers to male characters).

Discussions on these topics that I have hosted in the classroom, at fan and academic conventions, and online have influenced the design of my syllabi and lesson plans, which integrate anime and manga into the teaching of works in United States literature. My courses identify bidirectional influences in United States and Japanese popular culture, and my syllabi incorporate traditional and untraditional assignments: in addition to researched analytical essays, lessons provide students with opportunities to contribute to wikis, to create and to analyze fan fiction, and to use roleplay and PhotoShop to draw out alternative interpretations from assigned texts.

Over the course of the semester, students come to understand various works in anime and manga not only through analysis but through creation: they learn to recognize potential cultural, formal, and textual differences between the United States and Japan, and how their own situated perspective can affect interpretation. This has been particularly valuable in teaching gender studies to students who are interested in feminist analysis of manga and anime.

REVIEW: My Hero Academia Episode 8, “Bakugo’s Start Line”

New episodes of My Hero Academia are on episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM. Reviews are posted here when English dubs premiere. 

“It’s kind of anticlimactic.” The amphibious superhero student Tsuyu Asui (Japanese: Aoi Yuuki; English: Monica Rial) speaks the truth.

A difficulty with My Hero Academia trying to adapt one to three of its first manga arcs for a(n initial?) order of 13 episodes is that the pace slows down. This is of course Izuku Midoriya’s story: he is our narrator (when the episodes remember that fact–he’s kind of too injured this week to actually tell us much), so each episode in a limited run has to further his story.

In that case, “Bakugo’s Start Line,” even with “Bakugo” in the title, is going to be worldbuilding rather than action-driven or plot-driven, and its work to give characterization to Katsuki Bakugo (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) will also lend characterization to his foil, Izuku, as well. In fact, while the episode also includes important moments for All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat), reflecting on his responsibilities as a teacher to such dissimilar students as Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner) and Katsuki, still his own worries help to explain why he gave Izuku his superpower, how difficult commanding that superpower will be, and what danger lies in store for Izuku when a certain trio of supervillains introduced in this episode’s post-credit sequence pops up.


CFP: “Maps in Popular Fiction” (NeMLA 2017, submission deadline 9/30)

My colleague Emily Lauer is organizing a session for the 2017 meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, March 23 to 26, in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Based on the CFP’s mention about maps in comics and manga, maybe cartography in Jeff Smith’s Bone or, as shown above, maps in Oda’s One Piece could yield potential topics for submissions. And I have some advice for people working on abstracts for this and other sessions.)

Please submit abstracts by September 30 to NeMLA CFP List web site here: Please share the CFP below with anyone who may be interested in submitting.

Maps in Popular Fiction

Maps bound in at the beginning of books can shape the reading of the book in a variety of ways. This panel will consider the questions of genre raised (and perhaps answered) by prefacing fiction with maps, and also the various issues of intertextuality indicated by the presence of the map. This panel welcomes papers that examine the importance of printed maps in popular fiction of a variety of genres and forms including mysteries, fantasies, and superhero stories in comics, novels, manga series, and more.

CFP Reminder for NeMLA 2017 Baltimore: Comics, Edgar Allan Poe, and More! (DEADLINE: 9/30/16)

The 48th annual meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association will be March 23 to 26, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland. With almost 400 calls for papers, there are numerous opportunities to share your research with fellow scholars and teachers.

In addition to the full list of CFPs, I recommend submitting proposals for sessions on Edgar Allan Poe or comics–and I happen to be organizing sessions on both (“The Pop Culture Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe” and “Superhero Narratives and (Dis)Ability”). Both links take you directly to the CFP List submission web site for 300-word abstracts, short biographical statements, and any audio-visual equipment requests. Submissions are due September 30, 2016. 

Participants may submit paper abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; participants may present in no more than one session of the same type but may present a paper as part of a panel and also participate on a roundtable or creative session. More information is available at NeMLA’s web site.

And if you are interested in submitting to other sessions, here are lists of sessions in the same category:

REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 7: “Deku vs. Kacchan”


New episodes of My Hero Academia are on episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.

It is a challenge for me to explain why, despite what an awful person Katsuki Bakugou is personally, his portrayal is beneficial for this series. This episode identifies that Katsuki’s fears are what motivates his action, creating the very sweat that gives him his explosive superpower, as well as emerging out of his own low self-esteem. While the episode may not be a satisfying indictment of this violent character, that seems less to be its point: the point, rather, is about a society that elevates some over others, makes certain people feel they cannot be criticized lest affecting their self-esteem, and what value characters like Izuku and All Might have for the sake of collaboration and through a superpower like One for All, compared to someone like Katsuki who is so far only destructive–and without better guidance from his teachers, risks becoming self-destructive.

Teaching students of various temperaments and skill sets requires not only flexible teachers but a range of teaching approaches. I wrote about the value last week about having All Might and Shouta as contrasting forms of teaching. This week’s episode of My Hero Academia looks at contrasting students, Izuku and Katsuki. The former has been without superpowers and learns slowly how to adapt to them. The latter has been treated as a golden child–and when his self-esteem is not reinforced, he resorts to anger and self-destructive tendencies.

That the series continues to take these issues largely seriously is to be commended.

That the show also manages to fit in a heroic student trying to be a hammy supervillain and a student hugging a nuclear missile is just hilarious.

Still, I don’t know what to make of this episode’s potential moment when Katsuki (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) could have killed Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner). Out of narrative convenience, Katsuki’s over-kill actually doesn’t kill Izuku, yet it also lends a bit of depth to Katsuki to reveal that while he is an asshole, he is not a murderous asshole. So…yay?


CFP: Comics/Graphic Narrative Sessions at NEMLA 2017, Baltimore (Deadline 9/30/2016)

UPDATE, 7/10/16, 7:01 PM EST: Added “Teaching bandes dessinées as Literature”
UPDATE, 7/13/16, 10:46 AM EST: Added
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20 Years Later and Where We Went” and “Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon in 21st-century Popular Culture Narratives”

The Northeast Modern Language Association continues its work to expand scholarly discussions about comics and graphic narratives. Session proposals for the upcoming Baltimore conference, meeting March 23 to 26, include panels organized and chaired by my colleagues Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Emily Lauer, and Lisa Perdigao, as well as one roundtable I’m co-organizing with Mary Ellen Iatropoulos on representations of disabilities in superhero narratives.

Please consider submitting 300-word abstracts and brief biographical statements to the following sessions, and please forward these calls for papers to interested scholars. Submissions are due September 30, 2016, at CFP List. Links for submitting abstracts and bios to each session are below.

Participants may submit paper abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; participants may present in no more than one session of the same type but may present a paper as part of a panel and also participate on a roundtable or creative session. More information is available at NeMLA’s web site.

Have I forgotten a comics-related NeMLA session to add? Please email me at or tweet me at @dereksmcgrath.


Contrasting Teaching Practices: All Might and Eraserhead in My Hero Academia

It’s apparent that I can write about My Hero Academia for years to come. And one reason is because I’m trying to figure out what kind of a teacher All Might is.

I wrote a bit last week how helpful My Hero Academia has been in showing different teaching approaches, especially in educating students with various personalities and skill sets. That is important with Izuku, who only recently gained a phenomenal superpower but whose body, mind, and emotions are not yet adapted to such abilities. With All Might and Shouta as foils to each other, with different lessons to impart to Izuku, it’s important to me that My Hero Academia continue to emphasize that education really is about learning through multiple teaching strategies rather than only one.

In college, there were semesters where I had a Monday through Thursday class schedule, which meant a lot of Thursdays nights went very late watching anime. When I started graduate school, the last anime I watched was the start of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was only then being broadcast in Japan–and then I had to stop after the first season because coursework and teaching demanded more time. When I got back to watching anime towards the end of graduate school, I had a shift in with whom I identified in anime. Before, it would have been the students: Edward Elric, Naruto Uzumaki, Maka Albarn. After teaching classes as a graduate assistant and an instructor, now it is the teachers: Izumi Curtis, Kakashi Hatake…not so much Franken Stein because good God no

And the last two episodes I reviewed of My Hero Academia has me looking closely at the contrasts between the educational practices of two teachers.


REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 6, “Rage, You Damn Nerd”

A small breather episode, punctuated with a bit of action at the beginning and end, allows for some world-building and a major moment of characterization as Izuku embraces his superhero persona “Deku.”

A difficulty I have with online criticism is that everything has to be “the best thing ever” or “the worst thing ever.” Even criticisms by fans of a comic, film, or show cannot be treated as nuanced, impersonal, and constructive, evident in Devin Faraci’s problematic flattening of fan criticism, as he uses examples of unforgivable death threats to malign an entire set of reasonable criticisms by fans who just want increased diversity in pop culture to better reflect the world as it really is. Oh, and who don’t want Captain America Steve Rogers turning into a freaking fascist.

The same goes for a TV show: not every episode can be the best thing ever. Sometimes, a high-action show like My Hero Academia needs to take a break to let the action of a previous episode be relaxed before the tension between characters escalate again. As My Hero Academia moves towards exploring the rivalry between Izuku and Katsuki–the former seeing the latter as a role model and bully, the latter seeing the former as an upstart nerd who has be silenced and flattened–this episode is going to be slower.

Yet this episode also has moments that allow the characters to develop: the students finally get their superhero outfits, the friendship between Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner), Ochako (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian), and Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum) is solidified, and Izuku embraces what was an insult and now can be a word to motivate himself and other superheroes.