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.
Last week, I referred to the episode as anticlimactic–and noted how Tsuyu (Japanese: Aoi Yuuki; English: Monica Rial) was aware of that fact. This week, the characters break the fourth wall again and remark how the idea of having student class president elections is such a “normal school activity,” a typical plot for a school-based anime. The show seems self-aware of how much of a contrast it has set up against its usual superhero tales: the music and Iida’s over-the-top expressions and movements look like they were pulled directly from School Rumble or the exam episode of Soul Eater, topped off with Ochako (Japanese:Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian) claiming that Iida seems suitable for class rep simply because he wears glasses.
That such a story contrasts sharply with most superhero tales allows comedy to be mined in predictable ways–with a few twists, such as how almost every student in class nominates themselves, and instead of ending in a stalemate, actually sees Izuku elected as class rep, thereby helping to develop the two people who voted for him, our title character Iida as well as his fan and potential love interest Ochako.
The competitiveness of a student election actually complements the overall focus of this show: it is a series about students trying to be the best of the best. Whereas school stories tend to have characters assume archetypal roles as part of some high school hierarchy, My Hero Academia is contending with characters all of whom want to be the best hero, hence will be in significant competition over anything. The students were already competitive in their entrance exam, then in Aizawa’s orientation exam, now for class representative, and coming up in Season 2 in a sports competition. So when a class representative election comes up, the students do not fall in line with followers and leaders, and we don’t get representations of students too lazy to take on additional responsibilities.
That is the refreshing part of this episode: while the reasons to become class representative vary, just about every single student in this class is running because they all want to be the superhero of their class, whether out of civic service (Izuku), familial pride (Iida), fame and glory (Katsuki), or to make girls’ uniforms have shorter skirts (seriously, can we please write Grape Juice out of this show already?!).
Basically, My Hero Academia in one brief joke about class representative elections did what it took Bruce Timm and company five seasons to do with the Justice League animated series: when, as Timm himself said, “we have a team of seven Captain Kirks,” of course they are all angling to be leaders, and when you have a team that includes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, these hard-headed, superpowerful gods are not about to fall into line easily. (By the way, take a drink every time I reference something DC Comics related in this review. You’ll be drunk by the end of this post.)
The same situation unfolds in this episode, as everyone wants to run for office, and you expect everyone votes for themselves–which is where the hilarity comes in that Ochako and Iida instead both vote for our protagonist Izuku. The reasons behind their actions help to characterize them–Ochako out of admiration of and potentially attraction to Izuku, and Iida for numerous reasons that I’ll address shortly–and also help cement the characters as a trio of close friends. Ochako’s innocent ribbing of Iida for smiling for the first time is hilarious, and this friendship between the three of them has a decent but small pay-off in the last moments of the Season 1 finale.
That Iida wants to run for office because he is from an esteemed superhero family and has a familially reinforced desire to do good allows his exposition about his backstory to come off more naturally. Iida also explains he voted for Izuku based on his “courage and judgment.” That Iida values those traits has been obvious since his second episode, when he sees Izuku uncover the hidden test behind their entrance exam, that being to save others. Iida will be revealed later as a character who regrets prior failings at saving others, so it makes sense why, despite his obvious power and his powerful family connections, Izuku’s self-sacrificial nature humbles him and motivates him to do better. As others online have identified, Izuku’s ability to bring out the best in his classmates is why he is the protagonist–and why he has the power of One for All, a power inherited and intended to be passed onto others. Already he, inadvertently, passed onto Iida a desire to be a better superhero; that helps to characterize both of them. As well, Iida’s Japanese actor, Kaito Ishikawa, was tremendous at yelling to classmates to remain calm, showing that even though Izuku is a model for heroism and an expert on superheroes, someone who has more experience actually working with superheroes, like those in his family, may have some insight how to guide his classmates.
Let’s move onto the second part of this episode–as this one is an adaptation of two separate chapters in the manga, hence two separate stories fused together as one episode.
While the students head off to a lesson on rescue operations, All Might is delayed getting to class because he is actually rescuing people. This second story focuses on All Might and the arrival of supervillains at the students’ off-campus training facility. Seeing All Might in a couple street battles constitute small moments to show what other superheroes are up to, as well as reveal more varied designs to this world’s supervillains. While All Might’s interior monologue is a bit of a comic book cliche and slow, it is straighforward and helps identify how human this superpowered Symbol of Peace really is. As he procrastinates getting to his teaching job (a feeling many teachers know), his pride means that he over-exerts himself. He wants to save the world, he wants to stop every crime–and he is not willing to trust his fellow superheroes to do so for him. When you get to the finale for this season, All Might is going to be proven wrong: he can and must trust his peers, or he will die. That is why his students need to learn how to rescue others, because one of them will need to rescue All Might.
In his hesitance to trust his fellow superheroes, veteran big good All Might reveals that he is still a rookie as a teacher. Up to now, he has been a one-man army, and he has not seemed particularly interested in collaboration. Unless he can learn to work with others, his lessons to his students are going to be myopic, giving advice that conflicts with what Aizawa and others are trying to teach. That makes me laugh derisively, given the challenges I’ve had, as a student and as a teacher, when lessons and teaching practices clash between instructors. And that’s not to ignore the importance of teamwork in teaching or in this show: as Izuku’s story shows, but it is a bit of ironic storytelling that All Might, whose power One for All is inherited and carries on the work of previous superheroes, and who is trying to mold Izuku as his replacement, still cannot let go of his desire to fight his battles on his own. This is not a criticism of the show but rather appreciation that it lets the most perfect, most powerful superhero actually be a flawed human being.
I can’t help but compare All Might, who over-exerts himself to stop crimes throughout the city, to Superman in the Justice League animated series, who at one point yells that he can take the punches better than his teammates, so why should he risk injuries or dying when he could fight the villains himself. Superman even says the same thing Izuku said in an earlier episode: Superman yells at his teammates that they aren’t “all equal,” and Izuku fighting Katsuki realized “all men are not created equal.” And yet Superman, Izuku, and especially All Might are in need of a lesson about teamwork. The point is that there can be a time when the world will lack a Superman, or an All Might–and I wonder how much of that fear that he will no longer be needed, and his own mortality, makes the character rather stubborn in a bad way. Granted, this is a superhero show, and his stubbornness will be rewarded–but as this show is also a deconstruction of superhero narratives, he’s going to pay a price.
Not that All Might is going to die or anything. Plot-wise, that’s obviously not going to happen any time soon, even when Shigaraki and his League of Villains intends to assassinate him. Not only would such a death be too soon in a series in which Izuku has not yet learned all about his ability One for All (even if that death would force Izuku to learn his abilities on his own, lending more pressure to the character), there is the problem that why would a Legion of Villains kill the world’s most famous superhero in a students’ training exercise, far away from the same media that was just obsessing about All Might’s arrival at U.A.?
Logistically, however, it is preferable to have a supervillain in this episode who is mostly competent: Shigaraki, who would rather attack All Might at a vulnerable moment, that being his desperation to save his students, and use at that moment his antithesis, the artificially created villain Nomu who can resist All Might’s attacks. I do feel some disappointment given how Shigaraki and Nomu stack up in subsequent episodes against the superheroes, but their initial abilities and competent is appreciated. In contrast to cosmic reset buttons, comic book reboots, and death-is-cheap cheats, with this arc, My Hero Academia is willing to let students and teachers be injured and removed from the battle. Villains like Shigaraki, Nomu, and their mist-like partner Kurogiri (Japanese: Takahiro Fujiwara; English: ???) are going to be shown to be considerable threats, and when they injure someone, the animation, the acting, and the sound effects in particular make that damage visceral. All of this means that the subsequent arcs already published in the manga and, goodness willing, produced for as yet unconfirmed seasons of My Hero Academia, will have characters living with obvious injuries physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- Comic Book Allusion #1: The media loves a good superhero story–and I can’t help but see some similarities between the female reporter hounding the students and Aizawa and other female reporters like Lois Lane and Linda Park.
- Poor Katsuki: he thought he was going to be the big star of the academy, and instead he’s remembered by reporters as the kid swallowed by a nameless slime monster, by Aizawa as a “kid,” by Hanta (Japanese: Kiyotaka Furushima; English: Christopher Bevins) as a poor voting choice, and by Deki (Japanese: Tasuku Hatanaka; English: Kyle Phillips) as “crap steeped in sewage.”
- Foreshadowing #1: Aizawa’s warning about Izuku’s repeated injuries and lack of control remains important–and it is going to be more ominous later.
- Aoyama getting interrupted by Mina (Japanese: Eri Kitamura; English: Caitlin Glass) and everyone else continues to be hilarious.
- Poor Momo (Japanese: Marina Inoue; English: Colleen Clinkenbeard): she gets elected as alternative representative with two votes, and Iida, with zero votes, still beats her by Izuku’s appointment and Aizawa’s apathy. So much for democracy.
- Foreshadowing #2: Speaking of which, who was the other person who voted for her? Well, the original manga waits for numerous chapters before the revelation–and the payoff is great, since it helps develop her and one of her classmates. Spoiler: Notice how Momo is shocked that Iida voted for someone other than himself, prompting the classmate next to her to grow quiet and only close his eyes and tilt his head down, as if he’s hiding something.
- Of course Ochako enjoys the simple pleasures of plain white rice and the coarse language of everyone mocking Katsuki.
- “Goodbye, bad mass communications!” Thank you, Japanese-language version of the episode, for random English by Present Mic (Hiroyuki Yoshino).
- What convinces Aizawa and Present Mic not to attack the media? Not the fact that such action is horribly unethical and illegal, but that the media will write bad gossip about them.
- I also appreciate how the show continues to have background characters, including the villains introduced in this episode, who assume various appearances since this is a world where 80 percent of people have Quirks–and no one bats an eye about it. There are no jokes mocking people for their appearances, and seeing as this show is allegorizing issues about ability and, as will be shown later with the introduction of a transgender character, gender, I appreciate skipping dumb gags about how characters appear. This is a series where a supporting character is a talking birdman, and others characters do not care about his appearance. Granted, this gets undermined later in the series with a gag in the Season 1 finale, but that gag is more innocuous: the students aren’t surprised to see a cat person as a police officer, so much as police are usually associated with dogs instead.
- Manga vs Anime: The villain who is holding children hostage gives the middle finger in the manga, not the anime, and he refers to the children in the manga as a “nice family” but as a “rich family” in this episode.
- I also love how the show keeps continuity, with Izuku stuck in his P.E. attire because his costume is still being repaired.
- Background Gag: Grape Juice is lusting after Ochako in her superhero outfit, and Momo covers her mouth behind him in embarrassment. Please, can we just toss Grape Juice into a garbage can and move on from his corny one-note gags? No? He’s going to be a main character in next week’s episode? Well, darn.
- Foreshadowing #3: Tsuyu has a reason to insist her classmates call her by her given name.
- A friend had suggested Shigaraki was able to melt the gate to U.A. because there is a mole inside the school working for the supervillains. After how long and repetitive were the mole storylines in Young Justice, I hope not–but our money is on Invisible Girl Tooru Hagakure (Japanese: Kaori Nazuka; English: Felecia Angelle). No one who is invisible can be that chipper and not be hiding something.
- Dub vs Sub and Comic Book Allusion #2: In the English, All Might warns Izuku, “You have to think about the responsibility that comes with this power.” Keep channeling Uncle Ben, All Might–just don’t die, please.
- Foreshadowing #4: Ochako is excited to meet the new instructor Thirteen (Japanese: Inuko Inuyama). Spoiler: Thirteen becomes one of Ochako’s superhero mentor later in the series.
- Product Placement: Thirteen’s USJ is an allusion to the real-world Universal Studios Japan, which hosts live stage performances based on stories published in Weekly Shonen Jump, which publishes My Hero Academia. I would not be surprised is Universal Japan does a live show based on My Hero Academia in the future.
- Foreshadowing #5: Thirteen’s long list of numbers if not to tell the students how much they have to teach the students–but a signal to Aizawa about how many hours they anticipate All Might has to rest.
- Comic Book Allusion #3: A bit of spoilers about Nomu, the gigantic villain with the exposed brain and beak. As the antithesis to All Might, he alludes to not only villains who are the opposite of the hero, such as mirror dimensions baddies in the original Star Trek or parallel dimension baddies like the Earth-3 DC supervillains, but also those characters who are the reverse, most obviously the Reverse-Flash. As an artificially created villain, Nomu, as well as in his appearance, also alludes to Doomsday, the genetically modified villain who killed Superman in the comics, was a villain in the Justice League animated series, and was wasted in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Suck.
- Casting Gag: Iida is not the first time J. Michael Tatum has played a bespectacled character from a notable family who feels the pressure to meet the legacy of his siblings. Tatum previously played Kyoya Ootori in Ouran High School Host Club, who actually does resemble Iida, only a little more lithe and without the big honking calf muscles. Oh, and Kyoya is a pretty nefarious character, unlike the ernest Iida.
- Shameless Plug: I’ll be presenting at Anime Expo this weekend, where crew and staff behind My Hero Academia will be in attendance. I hope to share any interesting information that comes out of the panels.