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.
The fifth episode of Kōhei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia provokes a lot of discussion about the challenges of potentially adapting almost 100 manga chapters into a 13-episode anime, plus the challenges of contending with seemingly hostile teaching methods and experiences of learning with disabilities.
A challenge in adaptation is what to do when the source material is an ongoing serialized text. This difficulty is apparent for Game of Thrones, but among anime fans like me, we tend to look at ongoing stories still in print in manga. The speed at which animation production studios can adapt manga into anime means that many long-running series, such as Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece have to include additional arcs original the anime. Such filler has to be judged on its own merits: it is rare that content included in filler has obvious significance, otherwise new details introduced in these anime-exclusive arcs may conflict with material that appears in future chapters of the original manga to be adapted later.
My Hero Academia, as far as I have seen, is only committed to a 13-episode run, nine of which have already aired. The manga is ongoing, currently up to 92 chapters, and Episode 9 has adapted only up to Chapter 13. That is not to say that the anime production staff won’t find a way to best adapt My Hero Academia to give it a satisfying conclusion at the end of Episode 13 while also leaving the door open to continue the series. Yet that animation studio, BONES, has produced adaptations for then-ongoing manga such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, and Ouran High School Host Club. In those three series, the staff made substantial changes to the original story so that, rather than condense all current chapters of incomplete series into up to 51 episodes, the stories could reach conclusions that effectively end that version of the tale. These changes often involve core revisions to the original setting and rules within the series: Fullmetal Alchemist starts with obvious revisions from Episode 1 moving forward so that those elements introduced can serve as partial means for ending the series at Episode 51. Or these changes may involve a new narrative arc introduced in order to combine battles against allied opponents who were not allies in the original text: Soul Eater has the villains Arachne and Asura collaborate so that the defeat of one ends up becoming the defeat of the other, something not yet achieved in the manga at the time of production.
Such revisions to ongoing manga in adaptation for anime provoke considerable debates among fans about which is the better ending, the one from the manga or the one from the anime. And I am not looking forward to any potential debate when it comes to My Hero Academia. Actually, the anime so far seems to stick so closely to the manga that, as I return to that original text, I am impressed how tight Horikoshi’s plotting, as well as how closely the storyboard for the anime mirrors panels from the original anime.
That long-winded rambling brings me to the title of this episode, “What I Can Do For Now.” The title refers to all of that content I just wrote about the anime doing what it can for now in adapting an ongoing series: that’s the metanarrative. But the text of the episode refers to Izuku having to do what he can right now with his new Quirk, One for All, when his body is not yet ready for it. This is a standard superhero narrative conceit, that being the hero not yet ready for the abilities inherited, whether that is Captain Marvel (Billy Batson or Carol Danvers), Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan or, again, Carol Danvers), Superman, and Static. It’s also a common trope in shonen anime: Rin’s slow development upon unleashing his demonic abilities in Blue Exorcist, for example. So is the same for Izuku.
The anime My Hero Academia risks becoming stale depending on how slow is Izuku’s progress to adapt to One for All, but the anime also risks becoming unrealistic should Izuku adapt too quickly.
To fix the second problem first, “What I Can Do For Now” continues what the previous episode established, which is that while One for All provides Izuku with tremendous power, his body is not yet ready to unleash that power without breaking his limbs, and he is not sufficiently trained as a fighter and a rescue worker to know how to strategize in the best way to not only save others–which he is pro at already–but himself. Last episode, I wrote about Izuku having a savior complex that has him making self-sacrificial choices, perhaps born out of his feelings of inadequacy and a desire to make some significant impact on the world even at the cost of his own health. All Might, who is contending with the cost of his own health by his injury, and whose ability to use One for All is decreasing exponentially, has that knowledge how to be smart with superpowers rather than risking further injury.
To fix the first problem, this episode reminds the audience that Izuku is brilliant. His solution for how to use his abilities shows an awareness how to minimize injuries and use One for All in ways All Might has not considered. Izuku’s fighting style, shown in subsequent episodes, is intensely cerebral, anticipating his opponents’ moves, as well as far more collaborative. All Might is a flying brick who does damage with speed and girth, whereas Izuku, smaller and slightly more nimble, strategizes first to avoid using his as unyet perfected abilities.
In solving this first problem, the benefit is that Izuku, in this episode, manages to damage only one of his fingers. But this prompts a new problem, one that allows him to be a flawed, fully realized character: he continues to injure himself in later chapters of the manga, which means he may risk damaging his body beyond the point of recovery, even with the aid of superhero healers. The benefit is that such thinking behind Izuku’s character means he gets to develop, which is great for a manga nearing its one hundredth chapter; the challenge is how the anime will come to a satisfying conclusion for Izuku’s character arc, if one is pragmatic for a 13-episode series.
Moving onto more specific aspects of this episode, “What I Can Do For Now” introduces Shota Aizawa, alias Eraserhead (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ), who is practically the stereotype of every overworked teacher–and I would know of them. From having Shota look unkempt, unshaven, red-eyed, deadpan, overly serious, strict, seemingly sadistic, and sleeping in his own classroom, he unfortunately is a pretty accurate depiction of a lot of teachers. The trope of this kind of a teacher is that he tries to set unrealistic expectations of students, such as promising to expel the lowest-scoring student, because he thinks what he teaches is vital. When it comes to superheroism, Shota is not wrong: he explains to Urakaka that he trains heroes to avert catastrophes, suggesting to them that it would be irresponsible for him to pass unprepared superheroes who cannot be the best out there.
Shota is so serious about teaching that he turns the first day of class not into a syllabus-review but into a physical exam, giving these students the first chance in their lives to use their Quirks in tests of physical strength, something this world forbids of students lest creating an uneven playing field. (My Hero Academia again uses ideas similar to The Incredibles, here with the teenage superheroes finally getting to use their abilities, similar to how Dash was forbidden from using his speed in track.) Shota then threatens to expel the lowest-scoring student. When it comes to the final part of the exam, the softball toss, Izuku is dead last. Upon seeing that Izuku lacks control over his Quirk, Shota uses his own ability, Eraser, to negate Izuku’s power, which prevents the fledgling from tossing the ball far enough. Shota gives Izuku another chance before expelling him.
Before talking about how Izuku overcomes Shota’s challenge, let’s talk more about that teacher. The episode shows Shota’s strictness pays off for Izuku, forcing him to look beyond All Might’s warning that his body is ready to use One for All at either zero or 100 percent only and see a potential solution. Had Izuku adhered to All Might’s plan, he would not be forced to control his abilities. Shota reveals that, while he intends for the students to use their abilities to their full extent for the sake of passing the physical exam, to use that power recklessly is not permitted, lest he release unrestrained juggernauts into the public.
The danger of this portrayal of Shota is revealed in Izuku’s mental response: “I have to work harder than other people do!” As the disability reading is prevalent throughout this series, that one challenge between Shota and Izuku is indicative of it, that Izuku has been without a Quirk throughout his life and has not had the opportunity to get used to this new ability in the way his classmates have. His lack of a Quirk was treated as a disability; now Shota is treating his inability to control that Quirk as a liability. It is intensely frustrating, and thankfully this episode does not pull back to make Shota some redeemed mentor learning the error of his ways: the episode allows these two arguments to co-exist, Shota’s concern about letting an unprepared superhero out into the field, and Izuku’s awareness that his abilities make him different from his peers. And just because Shota still holds to his doubts doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get to give one heck of a proud smile upon seeing Izuku overcome his lesson, by channeling One for All just to the tip of his finger at the last moment of tossing the ball, thwarting Shota’s Eraser Quirk and managing to launch the ball farther than before.
By adding a hindrance to Izuku and letting him re-take the test, Shota sets up a contrast in teaching models. Shota is the one who got Izuku to challenge his mind in a new way. That is something All Might could not do: he could prepare Izuku’s body and encourage his obvious strong moral code, but he could not give him the answer how to control One for All in his own way. That is the benefit to My Hero Academia, demonstrating that there are bodily differences and that verbal descriptions tend to fail in making one sensory experience clear to another person, emphasized in this episode when Izuku uses a microwaved egg as his metaphor for the bemused All Might. And it is that difference between Shota and All Might that allows the former to teach Izuku a new ability through embodied learning: Izuku figures out how to channel One for All into just his finger, finally gaining some control so that he is not using only zero or only 100 percent of his power. All of that demonstrates the benefit of teaching multiple approaches to a problem to students, rather than leaving a student with only one mentor at any time.
All Might was introduced immediately to this series as someone who, while initially doubting Izuku’s potential, has come to see over almost a year that a superhero can be anyone. Shota offers another perspective as a teacher, tailoring his lessons to each student specifically, or at least tailoring this lesson to Izuku. It remains to be seen whether this nuance is maintained for Shota, and I really hope it is for what it demonstrates about different models of teaching: the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality of All Might (and which later episodes show is a problematic form of teaching, given what it does to someone like Katsuki), and the “tailored trial through Hell” mentality of Shota, which, while unique for each student, paradoxically feels less like one-on-one mentorship and more like directed antagonism.
As the episode concludes, and as will be picked up right at the beginning of the next episode, All Might and Shota serve as foils in their teaching approaches, one built on idealism and the other on pragmatism. It also helps that smart writers online have shown other contrasts between the two: All Might’s abilities mean his battles will be obvious and make him stand out as an example for heroes globally, while Shota’s abilities are limited in use and depend on subversion. There may be an interesting dynamic moving forward with All Might’s disability, as he himself has to use subterfuge similar to Shota to achieve his ends. That’ll have to be seen later, as that is all that I can see for now.
- Star Wars reference #1:
LukeIzuku goes back to the Dagobah Beach Park, which is much cleaner thanks to his 10 months of trash pick-up. Our civics-minded hero, folks!
- Gratuitous English: When Izuku accidentally outs All Might on the beach, the teacher says, “Repeat after me!” Not the first time I heard a teacher in the Japanese audio track of an anime say those words: that would’ve been Lord Death in Soul Eater. Then Urakaka says “punch,” and Shota says “zero.”
- Oh, God, that adorable high-five between Izuku and All Might when he gets accepted into UA: it’s a small moment, the series doesn’t dwell on it, which is why I’m happy for its inclusion.
- A reminder that All Might, while a heroic character, is still a secret holder, and that role seems to haunt him throughout the series. Before, it was hiding his disability; now, it was hiding his role as a teacher and abstaining judge at Izuku’s entrance exam; later, the secrets will keep being held.
- Comic Book Allusion #1: Well, not quite a comic book allusion so much as me giving a tangential aside. The image of All Might passing the torch to Izuku invokes not only the idea of legacy characters, those who accept the name and abilities of a previous superhero (itself its own comic book allusion), but the torch-passing is similar to the Olympics, and comics have enough allusions to the Greeks, like Wonder Woman and Hercules.
- Comic Book Allusion #2: Again, not quite an allusion to comics so much a Fourth Wall Joke, when Katsuki calls Iida a “side character.”
- It is refreshing to have a superhero parent who is supportive of their child. It’s one reason why having the superhero outed as an actual superhero, rather than wearing a mask, has been a trend with adaptations for film and television, and why it would be great to have more parents encouraging their kids. On the other hand, it is also terrifying, the prospect of a parent sending a child out to fight supervillains and global disasters.
- It is also refreshing that Iida gets to retain his stick-up-the-butt tendencies even as he sincerely apologizes for misjudging Izuku. Keep an eye on Iida: like fellow “scary” classmate Katsuki, he starts off as one-note and thankfully is revealed to be a more complex character as the series continues.
- Sub vs Dub: Izuku’s mother was asking about whether he packed a handkerchief in the Japanese, action figures in the English. As well, in the Japanese, Katsuki breaks the fourth wall to mock Iida as a side-character, while in the English he only threatens to beat him up. The English dub also adds All Might telling Izuku that his obsessive knowledge about his agency is “creepy.”
- I’ve written quite a bit on representations of ability and disability in this series, and Izuku’s awareness that the classroom door’s size is for “accessibility” is a welcomed moment. Horikoshi has made in My Hero Academia one of the most satisfying stories that can provide plot, character, and world-building, with this moment showing what a world of superheroes can do to adapt buildings, clothing, and services to the individual needs of people rather than a standard one-size-fits-all approach. Horikoshi’s setting is idealistic; our world is not–and none of that should deter us from making this world better for as many people as if can be.
- “What I Can Do For Now” also introduces more obviously the abilities and personalities of Izuku’s new classmates, with Present Mic (Japanese: Hiroyuki Yoshino; English: Sonny Strait) narrating their names and describing their powers and weaknesses. While Mic’s narration is helpful, small moments reveal the characters’ own flaws, whether Aoyama’s (Japanese: Kosuke Kuwano; English: Joel McDonald) arrogance or Katsuki’s (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) evaporating Explosions from overuse, relevant because the very next episode reveals how he uses his new superhero costume to correct for that error.
- The teaser for next week’s episode has Urakaka refer to Izuku’s superhero suit as resembling a bunny. While Izuku based his outfit on All Might’s distinctive hair, the bunny costume may allude to My Hero Academia creator Horikoshi’s previous manga, Oumagadoki Zoo, which starred an anthropomorphic rabbit.
- This episode also has Grape Juice (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia). He’s a pervert. Condemn his awfulness.