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.
Picking up where the previous episode left off, Izuku, Tsuyu, and Mineta have won their first battle against actual supervillains, and out of his heroic nature, Izuku does not want to evacuate the building before giving back-up to Aizawa against the overwhelming number of supervillains he is battling. Whereas in the previous episode Izuku channeled the arrogant Bakugo and the one-man army All Might to intimidate the supervillains, in this episode his desire to assist Aizawa actually shows how unlike Bakugo and All Might he is: Izuku is cautiously planning how to intervene in Aizawa’s fight, and he is trying to work with Aizawa, not fight the supervillains alone.
This episode benefits from keeping true to the core identities of its characters. While Izuku, narrating after the fact, claims he was arrogant to think he could help Aizawa, actually the episode shows his confidence emerges out of admirable qualities of wanting to protect others, albeit once again out of a death-drive at the cost of his own safety. Luckily, Tsuyu also retains her calm, forward-thinking demeanor as well. It’s a fun approach to see two reasonable characters debating internally and with each other about whether they are powerful enough to help Aizawa, who becomes mangled, potentially permanently disabled, by pummeling received from Nomu, and it re-enforces how dangerous this world is, even when it is populated with idealistic characters like Izuku and more reserved pragmatists like Tsuyu. It’s subtle, but the dynamic between the muttering, jittery Izuku and the monotone, calm Tsuyu is enjoyable, as it reveals both students to be courageous, intelligent heroes, showing a variety of approaches to representing brave, smart characters instead of limiting them to stock types.
Speaking of stock characters, Mineta continues to be awful: he is a third-wheel in what is a more entertaining Izuku/Tsuyu story–and he double-downs in this episode with a scattological gag and a breast grope. Please, Tsuyu, keep holding him under the water: the less we see of him, the better.
When the episode is not focused on Izuku’s team debating whether to intervene between Nomu and Aizawa, it gives glimpses of the other students in combat. These small moments give some characterization to emerging main characters. Todoroki (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji; English: David Matranga), for example, demonstrates interrogation techniques far more severe than the kind of Silver Age superhero represented by All Might, and as a reward to readers of the manga who already know his history, his use of his ice powers but not his fire abilities is telling. As well, the bro-mance between Eijirou and Bakugo is budding. Whereas in Episode 7 Eijirou had criticized Bakugo’s battle against Izuku as hardly manly, here he is impressed with how reasonable his partner is in planning an attack on Kurogiri–and does not bat an eye when Bakugo goes back into explosive rage mode.
Plus, the episode makes up for last week’s lacking of action by female superheroes by having Jirou deploying Deki as a human stun gun, Ochako tossing Kurogiri around to allow Iida’s escape, and Momo in a moment of fanservice that is not gross sexual objectification but instead a logical detriment due to her abilities (one still handled better by fans). I laughed hard at Jirou’s first reaction being to praise Momo’s attire as “punk,” which helps to develop her character’s sense of fashion and personality as well, avoiding a dumb fanservice joke and opting for a legitimately funny moment.
Yet this episode’s frequent shifts to the different students’ battles leaves me with a sense of dissatisfaction: it feels like a missed opportunity to have characters talking about battles we never see fully animated. It could get boring to see all six of the villains that Tokoyami (Japanese: Yoshimasa Hosoya; English: Josh Grelle) said he and Kouda managed to knock away, or stick with Tail Man in every one of his battles. But it feels like Agents of SHIELD levels of teasing: much as that television series hints at something major happening, only to give lackluster villains, subpar special effects, and rare tie-ins to the Marvel films, this episode of My Hero Academia seems like momentary distractions that could have shown Studio BONES’s high-quality animation, and instead cuts back to Bakugo and Eijirou just talking, and Izuku and Tsuyu just talking, and Iida, Kurogiri, and Thirteen talking even in the midst of what should be a tense battle. That’s not to ignore the power behind Izuku’s punch contained by Nomu and shattering so much of their surroundings, and such an anticlimax does merit the animation not being quite earth-shattering enough.
If I didn’t know that there were more action scenes coming this season of My Hero Academia, I would be more disappointed. And if I didn’t know there would be a second season coming, and expecting the budget will be increased and the animators will have a better handle of pacing and style, I would be disappointed .After how high-energy Episode 2 was in presenting Izuku running at the Slime Monster, and Izuku’s punch of the robot in Episode 4, and the Izuku and Bakugo two-part fight, this episode’s quick movement across everyone’s superpowers is lacking. There needs to be something brighter and flashier–and the noticeable lack of Aoyama’s laser-beam navel is one such missed opportunity (although it receives an excellent brick joke in the season finale).
Even as I anticipate better animation is coming for this series despite how stiff this episode feels, I wish I could say that such animation comes in the last two episodes of the season–and I don’t think it did. This episode ends with All Might’s arrival–and say it with me, “All Might is mighty pissed”–as he is about to have a knock-down battle against Nomu. What I expected was a fight like that between Superman and Darkseid in Justice League Unlimited. Whereas that battle had the direction of animator Joaquim dos Santos, who lended similar impactful animation in his direction of the final fight between Aang and Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animation in the next two episodes does not feel as visceral, especially when I thought the potential budget-saving on this episode would afford better animation in the final episodes.
I’ll reserve most of my remarks about All Might and Nomu’s fight in the next two reviews. For now, I do want to credit this episode for making the damage done to Aizawa hurt. Aizawa’s injuries at the hands of the artificially created supervillain Nomu demonstrates how graphically violent a bout between superpowered beings can be. Rather than turn away from darkness, it is in the face of violence, depression, and prejudice that characters like Izuku gather the courage to protect others. It is a challenge for me to sit through the scenes of Nomu crushing Aizawa, far more because of what I hear than what I see: the repeated sounds of bones cracking, flesh and muscles squishing, and the screams of Aizawa supplied by Junichi Suwabe in Japanese and Alex Organ in English. This kind of auditory horror persists as well with the sound of Shigaraki scratching himself.
The animation in Episode 11 is more effective during Izuku’s mental image of Tsuyu dissolving under Shigaraki’s touch, highly stylized such that, while it is rather over-simplified compared to what Shigaraki did to Aizawa, makes it obvious this is in Izuku’s mind, is not actually happening, and builds anticipation about what if it were to happen. Hardly reducing Tsuyu into someone who needs to be rescued by Izuku, it lets her show her heroism: she was willing to risk dying under Shigaraki’s touch if it means rescuing Izuku from Nomu. The series continues to present self-sacrifice as heroic, but as this episode itself demonstrates, it is far easier for Izuku to think that being a hero means risking one’s life–and the reality that self-sacrifice, like what Aizawa did, means you may die. And that is a frightening but important lesson even in the most optimistic superhero story.
- I’ve talked a bit before about Morgan Berry and Chuck Huber’s performances as Thirteen and Kurogiri in the English dub–and it is a challenge analyzing those performances based on how much digital editing is done to them. I’m surprised to hear that kind of voice come out of Huber: while the digital editing makes his voice itself barely recognizable, I’m more surprised how different this performance is compared to his usual cadence, laughs, or screams in other roles–and I’ve heard his voice enough, whether the shrill Emperor Pilaf in Dragon Ball, more reserved characters like Hiei and Android 17, or madmen like Stein in Soul Eater.
- Spoiler: There is another student with Todoroki when he battles the supervillains. It is a great gag revealed in the season finale.
- Kurogiri’s use of twin Warp Gates is analogous to the defeat of Soundwave in the series finale of Transformers Prime.
- This episode showed a villain crawling out of the ground and seizing Deki; it will get payoff in the season finale.
- Nomu’s avian screech is creepy enough with his birdbeak. The origin of such artificial humans, so far only hinted in the manga, is thoroughly depressing. (Spoilers)
- There are at least seven video game references in this week’s episode: “Game Over” is Kurogiri’s code name for their contingency plan to kill some of All Might’s students; Shigaraki and Nomu being referred to as the “last boss”; Shigaraki bragging that All Might’s arrival means they get a “Continue”; Shigaraki mocking Izuku’s “smash” attack; Shigaraki has a Master Hand thing going on; the English dub adds a “Title Screen” reference; and everyone is still obsessing with “Warp Gates.” Did I miss another video game reference? Leave it in the comments below.