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.

 

A problem that will persist in this final arc of the manga depends on how large the cast is already. Whereas previous episodes benefited from small gestures to their personalities, abilities, and goals, this episode suffers from the same problem as the Izuku versus Katsuki battle: the moments of seeing so many students, with varying personalities, abilities, and appearances, are short. The brief glimpses at students facing off against nameless supervillains mimics how quickly passed the battles between the two-student teams in the abandoned buildings. At least Shouto’s (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji; English: David Matranga) battle against the supervillains had a bit of action, as he froze his opponents–which will make sense why he garners that little bit of attention so early, while his classmates do not. Shouto is a complicated character. That he has been shown using only his frost abilities in combat is important, and his cool demeanor analyzing the villains’ tactics helps establish him alongside Izuku and Tsuyu in this episode as some of the most intelligent, most observant students.

While Shouto gets that small amount of attention, it is a bit disappointing how little is given to other main supporting characters like Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum) and Ochako (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian). Iida will have a bit more to do in the next episodes, but the payoff is dull: we know already that all the characters are telling him to hurry up and escape the building, so of course he is going to hurry up and escape the building next week.

The pacing is odd here, as the episode is trying to juggle so many scenes: we have to focus on Aizawa’s (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ) (Japanese), (English) fight against the villains, Thirteen (Japanese: Inuko Inuyama; English: Morgan Berry) trying to cover Iida, and Izuku and Tsuyu dealing with aquatic villains. While Aizawa’s fight is well-animated and maintains energy, the quick dispersal by Kurogiri (Japanese: Takahiro Fujiwara; English: Chuck Huber) of the students, and the long stretches of Thirteen and Kurogiri monologuing each other to death, can be dull. Rather than wrap up Thirteen and Iida’s story right here, the episode instead drags it out–given how explosive Thirteen and Iida’s moments are and which, thankfully, give Ochako something to do.

Speaking of Ochako, it is also a little disappointing how little she gets to do in this episode. As emphasized by this image, she and Mina (Japanese: Eri Kitamura; English: Caitlin Glass) are going to be sitting out in a lot of combat–or, at least Mina will, while Ochako gets a powerful moment in the next episodes. Just because it is frustrating to see two female characters as the only ones not engaging in the fight against Kurogiri does not mean that it is unrealistic, however. There is a logistical explanation: Ochako lacks so far the close-combat fight training (she gets that later in the manga, training under Thirteen–so, this episode is significant in helping establish that mentor-mentee relationship. And Mina’s abilities are not yet attuned: her ability is to conduct acid, which makes her not only fatal to villains and hence rather dangerous in combat, but also potentially dangerous to her allies, as shown when her acid corroded part of Aoyama’s cape in Episode 8.

While Ochako and Mina may have less to do, Tsuyu still gets to shine in this episode. Tsuyu stands out in this episode because she is one of the few characters to actually do something. Like Aizawa, she is on the offense quickly, all the more impressive because, unlike some classmates, she lacked a recommendation and had to get through the same entrance exams as Izuku, and she lacks the mentorship of an established superhero like All Might. Whereas Izuku injures himself in combat, and Mineta really did little in comparison except toss his balls (*snort*) at the villains, it was Tsuyu who pulled them out of the water before they drowned or were killed by villains, and she alongside Izuku figured out that the villains are attacking because they have a way to assassinate the otherwise invulnerable All Might. Add to Tsuyu a voice provided in Japanese by Aoi Yuuki and in English by veteran actor and fan-favorite Monica Rial, and you have a likable character.

Tsuyu is already adored by fans, thanks in part to her character design that stands out far more than other students’. Whereas Horikoshi said he made Izuku look as ordinary as possible to have him contrast against his classmates, Tsuyu’s design fully embraces her amphibious qualities so that you know her abilities before you see them in action. Tsuyu’s appearance, kind personality, and close observational skills are all likely reasons why, at Anime Expo last weekend, United States distributor Funimation had her picture front-and-center alongside Izuku and All Might at the company’s exhibit hall booth.

I addressed this point lightly in last week’s review, but Tsuyu also benefits because her design is treated in-story with largely no judgment: this is a world where people appear so differently, yet almost no one mocks someone else for how they look differently from the standard human appearance. Aside from one needless remark by Mineta regarding why an amphibious human would have breasts (Get it? Because he’s a perverted sack of shit), Tsuyu gets to be who she is. Sure, the manga includes a gag later how her entire family also looks amphibious–but that’s treat as a visual joke rather than one of mockery by other characters towards her.  

In contrast to Tsuyu, however, for the sake of some conflict, we have Mineta to act as the audience surrogate for the scared child who has gotten too deep into the superhero world. While that story detail can be interesting, it is overshadowed by the character’s one-note joke: he’s a huge pervert. I wish I could say that detail goes away in the original manga, but it doesn’t–we’re stuck with this unfunny shtick forever. It’s not that perversion or fanservice cannot be integral to a plot or character, especially in subverting the cliches around such a stock character–but the series has yet to do so with Mineta. Even reading ahead in the manga I don’t see much good coming from him or the jokes centered around him: they repeat a lot of the points I don’t like in certain series, as they tend to reduce female characters into fetishized objects rather than putting the joke upon the pervert. (Shameless plug: I talked a bit about this problem last week in my Anime Expo presentation.) While Ryo Hirohashi and Brina Palencia give excellent performances, Mineta remains frustrating. The one saving detail for me in this episode was the auditory gag, in which the music stops, and Izuku and Tsuyu give silent unimpressed reactions immediately after Mineta’s explanation about his lackluster powers.

The episode concludes with Izuku’s willingness to risk his life–tapping into the showboating personalities of both Katsuki and All Might as he attacks with just two fingers, an impressive feat given his previous difficulties to control his powers. And this self-sacrificial quality convinces Mineta to try to fight as well. The problem for me with this moment is that Mineta’s success is largely coincidental: the villains are afraid of what they don’t recognize (I’m sure there is a “craven and cowardly lot” reference sitting there). And it was luck that let Mineta’s balls (*snort*) glue together the villains–but it was Izuku’s whirlpool that sucked the villains down. When Tsuyu concludes the episode mentally praising the two boys, I can’t help but feel like this moment is not earned: Tsuyu already showed that courage far earlier than Mineta, and her contributions felt more significant than theirs. This problem will persist into the later episodes, but at least that is one quality about this episode I can appreciate: Tsuyu will continue to be brave and capable, demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice herself for her teammates much as Izuku would, and this is technically the first time this trio managed to stop actual villains. As All Might will say in the Season 1 finale, these students exceed the expectations of supervillains and superheroes alike.

Stray Observations

  • While at Anime Expo, I did attend Funimation’s My Hero Academia panel, featuring announced guests such as Wakana Okamura (producer), Kenji Nagasaki (director), Chris Sabat (English voice of All Might), Justin Briner (English voice of Izuku), and previously unannounced special guest Chris Chapin (English voice of Katsuki). The session itself did not touch too much upon this episode, although Okamura did have a bit to say about this overall arc’s conclusion–before panel moderator Justin Rojas interrupted that he and many guests in the audience still have not finished Season 1. And the panel did include a behind-the-scenes video to show how the animators produce certain effects in this show, such as the well-done effect to imitate a camera bobbing in the water when focused on the supervillains.  
  • Credit to Jerry Jewell as Nedzu and Chuck Huber as Kurogiri. I’ve met both actors at conventions, and they are incredibly gracious. And thanks to Thirteen’s English actor Morgan Berry for liking last week’s review.
  • Comic Book Allusion #1: Returning to the episode title’s strong comic book allusion, Funimation has taken significant steps to make this series not simply a light touch on the comic book feel in its English-language adaptation. This interview with ADR scriptwriter Jeramey Kraatz touches upon how his experiences working at Marvel Comics influenced his writing of the series.
  • Comic Book Allusion #2: I was also happy to see some female supervillains in the midst, which include two characters whose hair whips around a la Medusa from Fantastic Four and Inhumans.
  • Comic Book Allusion #3: The lines along the heteromorphic-type villain (a villain with multiple Quirks) resemble the lines along Kick Ass’s outfit from Mark Millar’s series. Add to that the kind of full-body masked costume Izuku first wears before it is damaged by Katsuki and you have quite a number of appearances of that costume style in this series (and, unfortunately, probably some of the darker and poorly written aspects of Millar’s Kick Ass 2).
  • Comic Book Allusion #4: Shigaraki’s (Japanese: Kouki Uchiyama; English: Eric Vale) complaint about “pro heroes” being too strong for “the masses” repeats a common elite versus masses battle in comics. That line about “Who watches the watchmen?” pops up in, of course, Watchmen as well as Justice League Unlimited, Captain America: Civil War, and the aptly titled Superman vs the Elites: what happens when superheroes are too powerful for all other people to halt? This hostility towards enforcing limitations on superpowered individuals–already spoken by Aizawa in Episode 4–also resembles the frustration of Bob Parr and others in The Incredibles. My worry about this plot point, however, is that Shigaraki’s words are not only about societal limitations but his own personal jealousy of All Might–which gets into spoilers and which have me worried that this complicated idea of the elites versus the masses is going to be reduced to two men’s personal vendetta against each other, similar to how Civil War got reduced from issues of privacy and civil liberties to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’s daddy issues.
  • This episode also initiates video game references that persist in this final arc, starting with Kurogiri says they are going to “play.” Kurogiri’s ability, “warp gate,” also alludes to Super Mario, which was referenced earlier in the manga where Present Mic uses the game as a visual diagram for the students’ exam.
  • Comic Book Allusion #5: The aqueous supervillains resemble King Shark, Black Manta, and the animated Teen Titans Trident (the latter looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon).
  • Comic Book Allusion #6: Present Mic refers to Tsuyu as being able to do whatever a frog can–alluding to Spider-Man. The visual examples of her abilities are even staged in a Manhattan-eseque locale, and her mucus excretion is similar to Spidey’s organic web firing, especially in his Man-Spider form.
  • Comic Book Allusion #7: The dotted appearance behind All Might resembles the four-color print style of comics, and the onomatopoeic sound effect alludes to both sound effects in comics and in the 1960s Adam West Batman.
  • Comic Book Allusion #8: Hey, a non-superhero one! Principal Nedzu’s (Japanese: Yasuhiro Takato; English: Jerry Jewell) appearance alludes to a few furry characters from funny animal comic books and comic strips. His nebulous species may allude to Belgium comic book character Marsupilami (adapted for animation in France as well as by Disney in the 1990s), and Nedzu’s black dotted eyes look almost exactly like those of Eugene the Jeep from the Popeye comic strips.
  • Oh my God, All Might’s adorable little squat hop when following Nedzu.
  • Izuku, don’t shout out All Might’s catchphrases while using his abilities–you’re making it really obvious where your powers come from.
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