Month: July 2016

REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Season 1 Finale: “In Each of Our Hearts”

Holy crap, All Might–that was a great episode!

Last week, I criticized lacking animation in the climactic battle between All Might and Nomu. The recap for this, the season finale of My Hero Academia, goes a long way to summarizing that battle to some of its key moments, such as the glowing blast tearing into Nomu’s body that sends him crashing through the clouds themselves a la Team Rocket

This condensing of the action to that abbreviated recap is paralleled by how this episode, “In Each of Our Hearts,” condenses the emotional impact felt by the characters–effectively reducing to its essence the students’ shock upon learning of the injuries All Might, Thirteen, Aizawa, and now Izuku have suffered. And that reduction makes the comedic moments of this episode as well more concise and all the more hilarious, such as Police Officer Kitten–I mean, Sansa. (If only other stories would figure out how to edit down a joke to be concise and hence funny rather than dragging.)

Actually, as a denouement to the previous episode’s climax, there is a lot of new content introduced, and elements that were in the previous episodes–in terms of animation, acting, even sound editing–seem to be condensed to their most effective qualities, making for an excellent finale that makes up for the flaws in this story arc. Coupled with the recap during the closing credits, and “In Each of Our Hearts” makes up for so many flaws present in the earlier episodes of this Hero versus Villain arc.

That the episode focuses its teasers not only on the introduction of a new villain, but also on All Might’s physical recovery, and Ochako and Iida waiting for Izuku’s medical release, emphasizes that this show, even as it happens to have superpowered bouts, is still invested in its characters’ development. That the reunion of Izuku, Ochako, and Iida is paired with Izuku’s narration, warning of a major incident coming, is a reminder to the audience that this show is not just about seeing heroes and villains beating the crap out of each other: you need investment in the characters’ relationships with each other if you want the fights to mean something. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a Batman v Superman situation–or Bleach.

That All Might interrupts his friend on the police force to ask first about the safety of his fellow teachers and of his students, then praises his students’ endurance and skills, is a message to the viewers that they should be watching for these characters, not for the battles alone. In just its first season, My Hero Academia has done great work at respecting its audience: there are no cheats to let the characters overcome adversity through unrealistic means. And it is a show that wants to keep its focus on where these characters move from this battle.


Regarding “The Killing Joke” film spoilers

This story does not need to make Batman and Batgirl a couple, and potentially making Batgirl an object to be defended, as a cliche “fridged” motivation for Batman to get off his bat-butt and go stop the Joker.

I don’t write this as condemnation of a film before seeing it; I do write this to identify potential problems that seem to contradict how the film was marketed.

Spoilers below.


REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 12: “All Might”

Is it cliche to repeat “All Might is mighty pissed”? Yes? I don’t care–I’m saying it again.

The penultimate episode to Season 1 has its disappointments, whether some underwhelming animation by Studio BONES, a confusing motivation for Shigaraki, or the lack of involvement of the students to aid All Might. Such criticisms are moot, however, considering that just about everything that awaits this series can and will make up for these flaws: I anticipate Season 2 will improve upon the animation, I already know the manga clarifies Shigaraki’s motivations to my satisfaction, and given the challenges awaiting these students in future stories, there are numerous opportunities to see them in action.

Where “All Might” as an episode is at its strongest, it’s at devoting the entire episode largely to just this one fight between the titular superhero and his antithesis Nomu–because serialization narratives have a benefit over film, that being you can have an entire episode be just a fight, because, as I know about the Season 1 finale to My Hero Academia, we get an excellent denouement that leaves me excited for what Season 2 has to offer.


REVIEW: Ghostbusters (2016)

Like The Simpsons or Parks and Recreation? That’s the kind of comedy in this film, so you should see Ghostbusters in theaters. Researching gender studies? Get up now and go see it in theaters. Otherwise, skip it until it’s on Netflix.

I had said I was going to see Ghostbusters (2016)–and while it has numerous flaws, I’m glad I went to theaters to see it.

The film, starring a female quartet, is an overly long movie with the kind of awkward humor, cartoonish characters, and over-the-top but bloodless slapstick frequent in some network sitcoms. While the plot rushes to get to ghost battles, in the process also rushing through characterization such that even the villain is monologuing about his motivations directly to the audience, it is also such a long slog due to a failure to edit down what could be hilarious jokes that drag too long. Directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Feig and Katie Dippold, the film treats the viewers as if they are not smart enough to understand the joke that is obviously on screen, preferring to have characters explain the joke in awkward ad libbed dialogue rather than letting a stunned silence linger for the funny moments that appear. Many jokes are obviously added in post-production with ADR, undermining a lot of the comedic energy when characters off-screen are making half-ways funny lines instead of ad-libbing them on set.

None of this copious amount of criticism, however, is to say the film lacks entertainment or is unbearable. The story has the seeds for excellent narratives about sexism in academia, has female characters in main and supporting roles including in government (with Cecily Strong as the mayor’s assistant looking and dressing  like Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson Karen Finney), and gendered differences in how men and women react to feeling isolated and ostracized. All of that could make this a well-done story with feminist arguments, and which would have benefited from better editing and more varied designs to the ghosts and in the battle scenes. But none of it is realized enough to satisfy what I wanted to see in the film.

If this kind of comedy and analysis of gender appeals to you, as most of it did for me, definitely see it in theaters; otherwise, wait to rent or stream it, as it is an entertaining film worth at least one viewing. This is an important film to see, because so few action movies in theaters are centered around predominantly female protagonists with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to collaborate to solve problem–but the film’s many missed opportunities make it unsatisfying.


REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 11, “Game Over”

I forgot how hard it is to see and hear Aizawa (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ) getting pummeled, crumbled, and squished.

When I refer to My Hero Academia as one of the most optimistic superhero stories in the last year, I don’t mean that it is a show without darkness. By the end of this episode, two teachers are incapacitated, with injuries more severe than even those Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner) has had. Shigaraki (Japanese: Kouki Uchiyama; English: Eric Vale) and Nomu were about to kill Izuku, Tsuyu (Japanese: Aoi Yūki; English: Monica Rial), and Mineta (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia) before All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat) somehow overcomes his superpower time limit and arrives to save the day–and fall into Shigaraki’s trap.

Balancing out this episode’s forbodance are small comedic moments showing Izuku’s other classmates in combat, which also help to lend much needed development to Momo (Japanese: ; English: Colleen Clinkenbeard), Jirou (Japanese: Kei Shindou; English: Trina Nishimura), and even some flat characters like Denki (Japanese: Tasuku Hatanaka; English: Kyle Phillips), Eijirou (Japanese: Toshiki Masuda; English: Justin Cook), and Bakugo (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin).

While the episode also includes small moments of action, especially Ochako (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian) stepping up to protect Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum) from Kurogiri (Japanese: Takahiro Fujiwawa; English: Chuck Huber), with such a large cast, and trying to follow so many simultaneous fights, it feels like so much is overlooked in this episode, all of which means the animation seems limited and the action underwhelming. I wish I could say the action that picks up in the final two episodes of Season 1 make up for a lot of talking and limited animation in this episode–but I just don’t think the All Might battle is as impressive as I wanted it to be.


Anime Expo 2016 recap: “Using Anime and Manga in Education” (AUDIO)

I was at Anime Expo in Los Angeles this week, participating in a successful panel on options for using Japanese animation and comics in the classroom.

I recorded the following, which you can listen to here.

This was my first out-of-town fan convention, and my first academic presentation at a fan convention. I want to start by first thanking Mikhail Koulikov and Brent Allison with the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation for organizing our panel, “Using Anime and Manga in Education.”

Anime Expo was a packed convention, with more than 100,000 attendees at panels, workshops, and events happening almost back-to-back from morning to night. Our panel, as part of the Anime Symposium educational series, had almost a full audience throughout our 50-minute or so running time, with more than 100 people in attendance, all of which demonstrates how well all three of us who presented did to inform an audience of teachers and students about options for using Japanese animation and comics in classrooms–and also managing to accomplish so much when about a quarter of our panel’s time was cut.


REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 10, “Encounter with the Unknown”

Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner) and two classmates face off against supervillains, while his peers face off-screen battles. While the episode helps lend some development to Tsuyu (Japanese: Aoi Yuuki; English: Monica Rial) and, to a much lesser extent, Mineta (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia), the slow pace to drag out the arc to Episode 13 is noticeable.

The English translation for Episode 10’s title, “Encounter with the Unknown,” not only refers to the students’ first engagement with supervillains–ones not even the staff of UA recognize–but also alludes to similar titles of actual comic books. “Encounter with the Unknown,” which is the same name as the story from which it is adapted from the manga (Chapter 14), sounds like DC Comics’ Challengers of the Unknown, Marvel’s Journey into Mystery and Tales to Astonish, and other [NOUN] plus [PREPOSITION] plus [OBJECT] titles.

Toho Animation, Studio BONES, and Funimation have retained Kohei Horikoshi’s original Silver Age superhero feel to his manga, which I think has helped this series appeal to viewers who may not be anime fans, similar to how Cowboy Bebop, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z were gateway anime for non-fans–all the more impressive, when this series is distributed online rather than with a cable outlet right now. The show also has benefited from not being a cynical cash-in on the superhero motif. While I was at Anime Expo last week in Los Angeles, I saw so many fans in cosplay not only as anime characters but as DC and Marvel superheroes, emphasizing the sizable overlap between comics fans and anime fans. My Hero Academia hits the sweet spot in that fandom: the show can be enjoyed by, and marketed to, a wide audience.

While this marketing endeavor is successful, what has made My Hero Academia work starts with plot and characters. The slower pace of this episode–which, again, is the detail I keep fixating upon with Season 1’s final arc–introduces more about Tsuyu’s personality, including how she can match Izuku brain cell for brain cell when it comes to anticipating supervillains’ actions, and emphasizes again how freaking useless is Mineta.