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.

Continuing immediately after the previous episode, “Bakugo’s Start Line” wraps up the other students’ practice battles as quickly as possible so that we learn their names, abilities, and personalities. This goal is hammered home in the episode’s final minutes, where they all welcome back Izuku from his medical recovery by introducing themselves by name and superpower. While such swift summaries about certain students lends only superficial characterization to them, this episode benefits by showing rather than telling about the superheroes–in particular, Momo (Japanese: Marina Inoue; English: Colleen Clinkenbeard), as I’ll discuss in “Stray Observations” at the end of this post. And it is a fun gag that, when exposition has to be told, Present Mic (Japanese: Hiroyuki Yoshino; English: Sonny Strait), the superhero whose power is his voice, gets to be the narrator of such exposition; that’s the kind of gag as if having Glorious Godfrey from Jack Kirby’s New Gods be the narrator.

However, the introduction of these new students is so swift as to be anticlimactic. “Bakugo’s Start Line” shows us what we need to know about certain characters’ personalities, and you can be congratulated as a viewer for recognizing by certain moments in this episode which characters shown in combat, by their abilities, or by the number of lines they get are going to be important later in this anime and in the original manga. In addition to Momo, you have to pay attention to Shouto Todoroki (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji; English: David Matranga), as he rises quickly to be a main character alongside Izuku, Ochako (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian), Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum), and Bakugo (his name is in the title, for crying out loud). And you have to pay attention to Grape Juice (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia)–despite every inclination you may have otherwise, because of course this series is going to include some unfunny comic relief shoved into scenes where he is not needed. To say that Grape Juice, shown in this episode perving on Momo, is a divisive character is an understatement: there’s an entire Tumblr blog that has updates on whether the character has been killed off yet.

But this is Katsuki’s episode, of course. I wrote last week about the difficulty writing about the character, as he does little to make himself very appealing: he is a bully, he is violent, and his fixation on besting Izuku could have killed him and other classmates. My Hero Academia is not a realistic story about teaching; as I tried to discuss earlier today, comic book stories are idealistic, many times fixated on sweeping ideas about good and evil, sometimes lacking nuance or depending on narrative convenience to write past holes in logic regarding the science to superpowers or the ethical, legal, and lethal ramifications of characters’ actions. Comparisons between these fictional works and real-world application are fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, these texts are still informative so long as they are understood as fiction and as flexible lessons that must be applied within the context of a situation: teaching a student with a stubborn and violent personality like Katsuki is one thing; teaching a student with the ability to create explosions like Katsuki is another.

Katsuki has been the beneficiary of a society in which both his teachers and his students have celebrated his superpower since he discovered it in childhood. As the English actors for both Katsuki and Izuku discussed last week, now that he is in a new setting, where he is surrounded by other superpowered individuals in his classmates and in his teachers, he has a new standard to reach. It reminds me of Romanoff and Barton’s discussion in The Avengers film: Katsuki is now contending with people who are practically gods. It is reasonable for Katsuki to feel he does not compare with his peers and mentors. As he has been celebrated up to now, he contends with a new challenge. Facing this new challenge, he is not sure how to proceed.

I do appreciate how the show addresses when a teacher should be hands-on or hands-off. In one regard, it could make All Might seem apathetic: he leaves the stewing Katsuki behind to tend to his mentee Izuku–which risks setting the two students up again for competition over All Might’s attention. As Recovery Girl (Japanese: Etsuko Kozakura; Juli Erickson) points out, Izuku has been injured by his inability to handle All Might’s superpowers yet, and All Might has shown favoritism to Izuku. If not for Izuku’s luck and his amendable personality, such potential spoiling by All Might could risk corrupting that student, too.

As a teacher, however, I do appreciate that the show gives a practical reason for All Might’s departure, that being his need to hide his injury. Having been attacked physically, which compromises how long he may use his Quirk One for All, All Might abandons his students to hide in faculty headquarters, checking on Izuku in the medical office with the school nurse, Recovery Girl.

When All Might replies to Recovery Girl that he has to be a symbol to motivate others, that detail serves as a reminder to me about why it is frustrating to see superheroes used poorly as symbols: you get Zack Snyder reducing Superman into a superficial Christlike figure who also causes wanton destruction; you get Marvel Comics reducing defender-of-liberty-and-human-rights Captain America Steve Rogers into a mouthpiece for a fascist and a bigot like Donald Trump; and you get Alex Wagner thinking that we are stuck with Sanders and Trump as candidates (and falsely made equivalent by Wagner) because something to do with superheroes setting up that kind of an atmosphere (oh, and because an antihero like Deadpool says whatever he wants, which somehow equates with Trump–ignoring that Deadpool is still held accountable for his awfulness, while Wagner and others in cable news give a pass to a freaking presidential candidate).

Teachers cannot do it all: they cannot mentor every single one of their students, not so long as universities and colleges try to fit more students into a class than is practical, and not when universities and colleges, unable to hire more teachers, assign those few more courses than they can teach well in one semester, and which compromises their ability to contribute to their academia and local communities in writing, activism, and outreach. All Might’s challenge in being a mentor to both Izuku and Katsuki did hit me regarding those challenges for teachers. His situation is also reflective of teachers who contend with daily limitations on their abilities, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Illustrator David Baron has written well about how All Might is an extension of discussions about persons, like Baron himself, who experience Crohn’s disease and how All Might’s situation mirrors the work done by people with such conditions and how those condition influence daily practices in pursuit of personal and professional goals.

While All Might regains his strength enough to approach Katsuki at the end of the episode, it is narratively convenient to have Katsuki come to a resolution on his own, even one that depends on ignoring Izuku’s confession that he indeed was born without a quirk. While the conclusion is rather neat rather than necessarily realistic, it is also worth it if only for the joke of Katsuki interrupting All Might in mid-speech, and Katsuki crying out of emotional overwhelming situations. Future episodes do suggest a change occurs in Katsuki, without removing from him his violence and without changing his personality. Rather, it is a re-orientation for his goals, and that does help serve My Hero Academia. After all, as I wrote, superhero stories tend to be so removed from reality, idealizing characters. In that regard, it is refreshing to see a middle ground so that we don’t have an overly pure superhero, an anti-hero like Deadpool, or a grimdark bastardization of a superhero like Superman. Yes, Katsuki Bakugo is still an asshole–but he is still trying to be a superhero.  

Stray Observations

  • Today, Toho Animation uploaded to YouTube a preview of the entire My Hero Academia soundtrack, ahead of its release in Japan.
  • In the original Japanese, one of the medical robots transporting Izuku on the gurney actually says, in English, “I know!” and Recovery Girl refers to All Might as “Mr. Natural-Born Hero.” As if All Might was the only one to use random English phrases in his speech–as he does here in the original Japanese, muttering “shit.”
  • Iida’s smiley face is creepy. It gets less creepy in next week’s episode, which focuses on him.
  • Momo gets to speak at greater length as to why Iida was the only fighter to perform responsibly in combat, including the risk of having superheroes like Izuku and Ochako reacting recklessly to win at any collateral damage. Although this episode gives exposition that she was admitted to UA on recommendation and without having to complete the entrance exam, she already demonstrated her perceptiveness two episodes ago–when she perceived Aizawa’s trick. Her thoroughness becomes important later, as her abilities depend on extensive research of the molecular structure of numerous substances. That the anime has this kind of foreshadowing so early before characters get to really show their abilities is commendable.
  • I haven’t talked much about sexualized fanservice in this series–as it is a bit of an anger trigger for me. That My Hero Academia series creator Kohei Horikoshi manages to feature in the supporting cast a female character like Tooru Hagakure (Japanese: Kaori Nazuka; English: Felecia Angelle), who has to be naked all the time for her powers to work, is annoying when Horikoshi has shown himself to be far more creative than that. Horikoshi has created a world (as revealed in his own author’s notes included with each his published volume of My Hero Academia) in which clothing stores modify attire for sale on site. And that makes sense; in a world in which 80 percent of the population have Quirks, standardized clothes are not practical economically. That should mean someone has designed clothes that can function with invisibility, a la Violet in The Incredibles. Tooru’s presence risks becoming a joke about her as a character, objectifying her. When the show already has Grape Juice in this episode creeping on Momo, the fanservice gets tiresome. However, Horikoshi seems aware of how absurd fanservice has become in many anime series for the sake of mere titillation, hardly comedic and instead only to objectify female bodies. That Horikoshi essentially says, “Here is your fanservice–and the girl is invisible,” is at least clever and serves, intentionally or not, as a rebuke to a problematic trend in pop culture.
  • The shadowy figures All Might identifies as knowing of One for All include the Principal, who technically already appeared in this series, and a “close friend,” whose resemblance to a certain villain who appeared in the post-credit teaser, should answer some questions–ones the manga only recently identified. Great work on foreshadowing so far in advance, anime!
  • The flashbacks are getting tiresome–and they show no sign of stopping, unfortunately. Thanks, animation budget.
  • This episode begins the running gags of Mina interrupting Aoyama, and Tsuyu insisting people call him Tsu. And Grape Juice continues to be awful.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 6.04.38 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-22 at 6.04.42 PM 1Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 6.04.45 PM 1

  • Electrically powered Denki (Japanese: Tasuku Hatanaka; English: Kyle Phillips) gets turned down by Ochako–who gets turned down by Izuku, who runs off to see Katsuki. This is some platonic/romantic quadrangular desire happening. (In the English, she refers to it as childhood rivals.) Even Ochako sees it–and it was hilarious seeing her press her head against the glass.
  • The episode ends before Izuku explains to All Might that he admitted he inherited his superpowers. This will come into play in a later episode.
  • Comic Book Allusion #1 (surprisingly, only a few this episode): The narration about a “few days later” does refer to the upcoming supervillain versus superhero fight happening. There’s a comic book allusion there as well with the villains hanging out in a bar, similar to what the Rogues Gallery does in The Flash, adapted for television very well in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Flash and Substance.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s