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.

Since their childhood, Katsuki (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) has mocked Izuku as Deku, or “useless.” After Ochako points out the word also can mean “You can do it!” Izuku accepts the nickname. Granted, he takes on the name because the cute classmate he has a crush on celebrated it–which, rather than being annoying actually is adorable given Izuku and Ochako’s innocent personalities, and that the stick-in-the-mud Iida is there to speak for sticks-in-the-mud like me to gently criticize such seeming immaturity. But as Izuku manages to disable Katsuki in their first round of fighting based on strategy and his muscular strength rather than resorting to his superpower, our protagonist takes on the name as his new superhero moniker, one that inspires himself but, thanks to the translation into English as a second-person directive, can just as easily inspire others. The re-interpretation of the word “Deku” builds upon the title to the previous episode, “What I Can Do for Now”: the idea of potential, a “can do” attitude, means this story is still a work in progress, much as Izuku’s transition from bullied student to inspiring superhero.

But the steps in between Izuku accepting the nickname from Ochako and embracing “Deku” as his superhero alias can be a bit boring. The dullness of this episode owes to repeating what came before: the person with the lowest score is not admitted, much as Izuku was almost barred from enrollment due to not defeating enough opponents in his entrance exam. At least this plot is condensed to a few minutes and leads to some plot progression, such as Katsuki and Izuku facing each other in mock combat, or world-building, such as introducing the characters’ costumes and UA’s training simulations.

Having Shouta (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ) pretend he was not really going to expel anyone makes the tension anticlimactic, as no one is actually removed from class. At least that subversion helped characterize Shouta and All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat). All Might recognizes that Shouta has previously expelled students as he promised here, yet All Might can also see that Izuku legitimately impressed Shouta. That moment goes a long way to characterizing both teachers, so I can tolerate the subversion and anti-climax–but I’ll write about those remarks in a separate post momentarily. At least this revelation starts to give some characterization to Izuku’s classmate Momo (Japanese: Marina Inoue; English: Coleen Clinkenbeard), who starts to be a larger presence in this series with this episode.

Yet, that anti-climax still troubles me. When the most recent subtitled episode spends much more time with characters talking in the middle of battles against honest-to-goodness (honest-to-badness?) supervillains, it is disappointing to see the action take a back seat. This is especially frustrating when the animation can seem underwhelming: Studio BONES has had fluid, action-packed animation whether in Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater or comedies like Ouran High School Host Club. While the limited animation around Ochako is for the sake of a joke, I don’t want that to be the low standard for this series, especially when it has been buoyed by excellent translation of illustrator Kohei Horikoshi’s over-the-top facial reactions from page to screen.

At least the current battle between Katsuki and Izuku silences much of my criticism. Storywise, this episode is a necessary breather; budget-wise, Studio BONES probably needed to save some money here in order for the next episode to look as good as it does. After all, in this episode, Shouta did promise Izuku that his next tests would be more strenuous–and this anime does not lie. My eyes can easily follow the action of Izuku flipping over Katsuki, and both Yamashita and Briner lend the right scream to Izuku when he flips Katsuki onto his back.

This and the next episode are where Katsuki’s assholishness seemed to truly trouble viewers. In contrast, I appreciate this episode and especially the next one has Katsuki’s behavior emerge out of his low self-esteem. That Katsuki’s uniform has passing resemblance to Izuku’s own, based on the similar spikey portions from the top to resemble All Might’s hair, shows how that older superhero is a role model to so many children, as well as reminding viewers how Katsuki and Izuku are foils rather than the enemy and the hero. Isaac Akers at CrunchyRoll does a good job breaking down Katsuki’s character in this and the next episode, emphasizing that while Katsuki is hardly noble, his awfulness is based on actual characterization and not simply forcing him into the role of a villain. After characters poorly written such as Sasuke in Naruto are tossed into roles as villains because the plot says so, it is satisfying to see that a jerk like Katsuki is still trying to be heroic, even if for the wrong reasons, and exposing potential flaws about superheroism, which can include reckless vigilantism and reinforcement of stratified prejudices.

That Katsuki’s memory is about Izuku saying he will develop his quirk by his “own effort,” and Katsuki’s ignorance that, no, it is through training with teammates that all students will develop their abilities, demonstrates a contrast in the superhero narrative: those characters who are one-person armies, and those characters who are part of a larger effort. Some films and TV series like The Avengers and the animated Justice League do well at showing victories depend on collaboration; others such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold show victories as depending on one sole hero, as Batman is overpowered, largely for comedic effect and the Rule of Cool.

That Izuku said “my own effort,” and that Katsuki remembers this remark, sets up the tension to My Hero Academia, about whether it is through collaboration or individual effort. Later episodes tend towards collaboration; my fear, that has remained with me since Izuku announce at the end of Episode 2 that this story is about how he alone becomes the world’s greatest hero, has me worry that the individual will overshadow the team.

And after sitting through dull series like Bleach and Naruto where the special-snowflake protagonist overshadows every other character through last-minute powers attributed as necessary for plot convenience, I do not want to see Izuku become a one-person army: I want him to be part of something bigger than himself. When Izuku realizes in this episode after the physical examination that he is starting from the bottom, at least the series reinforces that he is a flawed character who has a long way to go; at the same time, if the series makes Izuku’s progress too convenient, then his characterization can suffer, and his story can seem too easy. Having the episode’s conclusion, and the next episode, focus not on Izuku’s One for All Quirk but instead on his adept strategizing and his ethical determination not to hurt others helps to establish why he is an admirable character and avoids making him the perfect student. That this is the episode when, inspired by Ochako, Izuku re-appropriates Katsuki’s insult of “Deku” to have it mean “I can do it” also helps establish the character’s nobility rather than arrogance.

Stray Observations

  • Poor Shouta, having to keep his eyes open or else his Quirk concludes. No wonder he needs eyedrops–and is an analogy to teachers who spend too much time staring at whatever they are reading.
  • Katsuki’s flashbacks to his childhood with Izuku will be relevant in later episodes. Also, pay attention to the Punisher shirt he ends up wearing.
  • While Present Mic’s exposition for each character’s name and ability is extraneous, I am so happy this show is not over-explaining other details. For example, Shouta’s cell phone manages to project the students’ physical examination scores as a hologram–without needless exposition to explain this Tony Stark technology. If this was, say, Fairy Tail, we would have pointless exposition to explain what a “Light Pen” is, when I can plainly see its purpose just by watching the character using it. Plus, Present Mic at least is blessed with Hiroyuki Yoshino and Sonny Strait for a voice, which is always entertaining.
  • Recovery Girl’s remark, that her power will improve healing but will sap stamina, is going to be important in identifying a weakness in Izuku’s superpower. Pay attention to that detail.
  • Holy crap, Superhero Pez Dispensers! If someone makes My Hero Academia Pezs, I’ll be happy.
  • “I am coming through the door like a regular person!”
  • Comic Book Allusion #1: Tsuyu (Japanese: Aoi Yuuki; English: Monica Rial) identifies the Silver Age influences on All Might’s outfit, which indeed is as skin tight as Green Lantern Corps members and with as big a cape and set of boots as Thor.
  • Comic Book Allusion #2: Not quite a comic book allusion so much as having the heroes do the group walk into a space. This kind of power walk was used in the opening to the Justice League cartoon.
  • Comic Book Allusions #3 and #4: Izuku’s uniform resembles that of Kick Ass, and it resembles All Might’s appearance similar to how legacy characters often wear outfits honoring their predecessors.
  • But Izuku’s outfit also resembles a big-tooth rabbit, which alludes to Shiina, a character from My Hero Academia creator Horikoshi’s previous manga Oumagadoki Doubutsuen.
  • Comic Book Allusion #5: All Might refers to villains hiding in the shadows, explicitly referring to not only criminals in alleys a la Joe Chill in Batman but also “backroom deals,” referring to supervillains who work through corruption in business, such as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and Lex Luthor in Superman, as well as corporate villains frequently battled by the Green Arrow.  
  • Comic Book Allusion #6: The video game structure of All Might’s instructions, and Izuku calling the battle rather “American,” may allude to frequent United States superhero video game battles, whether the Marvel vs Capcom series or even the Scott Pilgrim comics and video game.
  • Comic Book Allusion #7: However, in that video game scenario, the costumes actually look more like something out of the Japanese Kamen Rider or Super Sentai series. The Sentai outfits shown here even look like the superhero costumes for purchase in the Nintendo video game Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
  • Comic Book Allusion #8: Iida and Izuku discuss superhero team-ups, a common trope even before Batman and Superman teaming up in World’s Finest comics.
  • Grape Juice (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia) is still a perv. The joke is still stale. Stop.
  • At least the reactions of the team-ups was funny otherwise, given Izuku’s intimidation by Ochako, and Katsuki’s annoyance with Iida.
  • Comic Book Allusion #9: Clothing damage of the superhero suit means that we are dealing with serious business, as Izuku’s outfit is already torn up by one attack from Katsuki. Thanks to pretty good continuity in this series, Izuku will have to wear a different outfit for a few issues until his suit is repaired, not so different from the struggles Spider-Man and other characters go through when swapping out outfits until their usual ones are repaired.
  • Comic Book Allusion #10: The teaser reveals that Iida belongs to a superhero family, which is explained properly in Episode 9.
  • Luci Christian is knocking it out of the park in this dub–which, seeing as her character managed to throw a ball to infinity, is an apt comparison. Christian has been able to make Ochako have a range of inflections, varying the voice with enough lower registers so that Ochako’s coarseness comes through even when, as in last week’s teaser, she is squeeing over Izuku’s bunny outfit (with a little bit of Honey from Ouran creeping into her performance). Ochako’s running gag of seeing Izuku and Katsuki’s rivalry as homosocial is also hilarious.
  • Speaking of other greater performances, J. Michael Tatum’s turn as villainous Iida shouldn’t surprise me, given the number of terrifying characters he has played, such as Giriko in Soul Eater and Sebastian in Black Butler.
  • But Monica Rial’s performance as Tatsyu is so different from her usual roles–which is actually appropriate. Best known for performing as childish high-pitched characters such as Index in A Certain Magical Index, May Chang in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Shiro in Deadman Wonderland, Rial lately has been taking on parts that show off her lower register, such as in her role as Michiko in Michiko and Hatchin. Now she gets to play a frog–and she’s not even fellow voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch.
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