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.

I do not know what to do with Shigaraki’s philosophy at this point in the series. A supervillain tends to be most successful in a story when they are a dark mirror to the hero–and when enough of their arguments, in the most idealized presentation, make sense. The terror of a supervillain, then, is when you realize that such notions are actually dangerous. It’s why charismatic Loki in The Avengers works: he tells humans that they are made to be governed, far too unwieldy and chaotic to be left unguided. And Age of Ultron built upon that idea, when Vision agrees with Ultron that humans will ensure their own doom.

In contrast, Shigaraki’s argument in this episode, that it is not ethical for superheroes like All Might to use force to stop supervillains, is disingenuous. This is not even a ghastly interpretation of the argument many of us put forward out of fear of how instruments of power left ungoverned–the line about “Who watches the watchmen?” that’s already been used repeatedly in superhero works (like some Alan Moore/David Gibbons graphic novel whose title I can’t remember). Rather, Shigaraki feigns being a tactical pacifist, suggesting that it is actually the violence of supervillains that is the natural order. It’s like a mixed-bag of superhero tropes used elsewhere. Shigaraki’s argument about villains deserving to be unfettered is analogous to complaints that super-powered beings should not be limited. Young Justice presented social Darwinists like Lex Luthor and the Light seeking to bring humanity to its next stage in evolution. The Incredibles had a Rand-like fixation on those elite persons deserving to be outside of regulation of their abilities.

And, I will acknowledge, My Hero Academia has made this point early on, Aizawa serving as a foil to Shigaraki in repeating the point back in Episode 4, his disappointment that superpowered beings are hindered by governmental rules limiting their use of their powers. Yet Aizawa, unlike Shigaraki, has paradoxically rather than hypocritically taken on the role of someone who determines which persons may move forward as state-sponsored vigilante superheroes, as he already threatened to expel Izuku and his classmates should they fail his tests, and his ability to temporarily erase powers makes him that very same guardian Shigaraki feigns to desire–the guardian he just had Nomu smash into a pavement pancake.

While Shigaraki’s ideas confuse me, at least the show itself acknowledges these problems via All Might, who mocks Shigaraki as merely a “white-collar criminal” seeking any excuse to hurt others. My chief criticism about this episode, actually, is that it did not seem as impactful to me in terms of animation. When the fight starts, the lighting shifts, not to bring out the shadows but just as if my computer monitor or TV set dimmed: it is as if the animation was done, and the coloring was not changed to match the mood of the darker setting. This lighting problem actually has been in this series since Episode 1, as the opening title sequence for some reason gets darker as Izuku’s students leap on screen in their superhero outfits. I even had to ramp up the brightness on any GIFs I included in this review.

As well, the animation is limited as the characters are pushed back by the wind from Nomu and All Might’s battle, but we know this only because we see the characters kind of wiggle backwards rather than seeing them pushed back. That force is more effective when we have far-away shots of the entire battlefield of trees kicked up–and even that design work to the setting is lacking, the trees and explosions forming flat colors of gray explosions lacking detail.

The one-shots on All Might swinging around Nomu are hard for me to follow, in part because the camera is flipping around with All Might–a strategy to show what animation can do that live-action cannot, yet a distraction for me. I think it may have been more effective had All MIght and Nomu spun around while the camera stays stationary, something akin to Joaquim dos Santos’s animation on Justice League Unlimited (as in the fight between Superman and Darkseid) and Avatar: The Last Airbender (as in the final fight between Aang and Ozai), where the storyboarding was similar to real-life camera work yet retained the extra-human physical force behind each superpowered punch, grip, and kick.

While I am underwhelmed by the animation in this episode, this is not to criticize certain details that are effective but often maligned as lazy in animation, especially in anime. The use of motion lines or smudges, for example, worked for me. The former is a technique that is already part of any Japanese animator’s arsenal. And the latter is a necessary part of animation, one unfortunately expunged by many studios out of a misguided ideal that every frame should be a work of art, rather than the absolute fluidity of the animation itself.

This isn’t my idea: I just can’t find the original post at Cartoon Brew whose argument I’m citing here. But I do know this experience firsthand: I struggle enough each week trying to get decent screencaps of shows without these smudges. But the point of animation is that it is the action that is the star, not the individual frames. It’s why GIFs tend to be better demonstrations of animation rather than screencaps of individual frames–and boy, does that make it a pain, as it has been for me, trying to find decent images to include in these reviews or in my publications.  

Part of my dislike for this episode’s animation owes to different approaches BONES has taken since the time of some of my favorite anime coming out of the studio. Before, when I would see the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist and the 2008 Soul Eater, BONES had fluid, detailed animation, where colors seemed more like ink and paint rather than digital coloring. But something has changed at the studio, maybe starting with 2007’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, where series started to have simpler character designs for more easier fluidity in animation, and the digital coloring became more obvious to me. BONES has exceptions, including in Space Dandy, where the direction of each episode was handled by a different team that characters in different episodes would have wildly different character designs as suited the tone, colors, and animation style of that episode.

My Hero Academia had energetic, shattering animation in its fights between All Might and the Slime Monster in Episode 2 and Izuku versus Bakugo in Episodes 5 and 6. But this episode seems less impactful, perhaps because, at the end of it, it is not a one-sided battle or one that makes creative uses of the strong and fast All Might: it is just two hulking masses hitting each other, and neither one really show the effects of those punches. The speed is there, yet that speed is produced by a limited number of frames that rob the scene of a lot of the force behind each punch. Where the fight choreography improves is when Kurogiri intervenes in an attempt to chop All Might in half with a Warp Gate, while Nomu stabs his fingers directly into All Might’s wound, the one that destroyed his grasp over One for All. Kurogiri and Nomu’s combined attack also raises the stakes for All Might so that his battle is not so simple. The episode does have moments where the high quality of animation is obvious, such as Nomu’s regeneration of his limb (evocative of Greed’s regeneration in either Fullmetal Alchemist series).

We do have small moments of the other students helping All Might: Bakugo saves Izuku from Kurogiri (an apt change of pace after Izuku saved Bakugo from the Slime Monster), Todoroki freezes away some obstacles to extricate All Might from Nomu, and Eijoru…um…gets hard and tries (and fails) to hit Shigaraki. And at least Bakugo’s strengths at observation and logic receive good attention by the show, as he figures out what Ochako figured out in the previous episode, how to contain Kurogiri’s mist powers and Warp Gates by attacking his physical body.

Yet the participation of these students in this battle feels like a missed opportunity, as their involvement has to be constricted to fit inside a 24-minute episode. The challenge is to make that fight compelling without making it one-sided (the villains killing the students) or artificially leveled (the students being over-powered). It also would have been too early in these students’ careers to have them interfere with All Might’s battle against Nomu. It just would not be realistic.

Complementing that sense of reality is that it’s not as if we haven’t seen how out of their league these students are: Nomu and Shigaraki almost murdered Izuku, Tsuyu, and Grape Juice, as well as even their powerful teacher Aizawa. As I complained about before, it has been a missed opportunity to see more of the students in combat, their battles largely occurring off-screen or so quick as with Izuku’s water vortex and Grape Juice’s sticky balls (*snort*) to contain the aquatic villains. Those battles receive the in-reality excuse that the students were underestimated by the villains, who are really just a bunch of mooks. These villains’ amateurishness is emphasized early in this episode, where one mook says this is his first time seeing All Might in person–and he is intimidated. And that same kind of realistic explanation here, that the students are not strong enough or experienced enough, to step in to assist All Might against Nomu is appreciated. Still, there is this nagging disappointment that we don’t get to see three of our main characters–Izuku, Bakugo, and Toradoki–participating in this final battle.

Another reason why I’m bothered that All Might fights Nomu alone is that this first season has had as one major theme the importance of collaboration. It has been Izuku’s willingness to save others rather than himself that rescued Bakugo from the Slime Monster, secured him and Ochako entry into U.A., and has been at the heart of All Might and Izuku’s superpower, One for All, whose very origin is out of teamwork, the entire set of skills of one person based onto another and increasing in power with each generation, culminating with All Might’s current speed and strength and now developing inside Izuku’s own body as well.

As I said before, knowing there is a second season to this show and reading ahead in the original manga lessens the severity of my criticism: the payoffs I want are coming. And unlike other superhero shows at a glacial pace, such as Agents of SHIELD, or films that merely tease the real exciting stuff we want (Zuul in the new Ghostbusters post-credits teaser, Sinestro’s yellow ring in that awful Green Lantern live-action film–H/T Ellak Roach), My Hero Academia has been fun and informative about this fictional world as it builds to its Season 1 finale, and it has had a clear plotline that develops its characters. We have had episodes with fun world-building about the rules governing uses of superpowers, training facilities, and even class representative elections and dining options. We have had episodes showing facets to characters’ personalities, even lending some sympathy to a character I can’t stand like Grape Juice, who while largely a one-note pervy character is a realistic representation of being terrified at the prospect of fighting supervillains. There remains content in My Hero Academia that is entertaining enough while waiting for the climax

And there is something exciting to see an episode like this one that is largely climax only: it is one major superhero bout, and it serves as a benefit to an episodic series over, say, a film. Batman v Superman is a long slog waiting to get to a disappointing fist-fight–an apt contrast to this episode, as at least My Hero Academia has built up Nomu as the antithesis to All Might, and actually showed his immense power based on how easily he disabled Aizawa and Izuku. Hell, Nomu _is_ the Doomsday to All Might’s Superman–and Zack Snyder’s film still could not build up that fight to have meaning. A superhero film struggles because it cannot be just the fistfights between this hero and that villain. Captain America: Civil War is not only about the dispute between Stark and Rogers but has funny dialogue, character development, and a plot rather than just a superhero battle. A film has to have those elements of a complete plot, character development, and both action and calm to work. But episodic television can be one emotion from start to finish without seeming bad. So My Hero Academia, even as I feel underwhelmed by this episode’s battle, can still have an entire episode that is only All Might and Nomu beating the crap out of each other without it slowing down the plot. And I feel relieved by this episode knowing that the next one episode is a descending action that has small moments of humor, catharsis, and realistic views that people got hurt in this fight and their physical and emotional recovery is going to be slow–and that, as the teaser for Season 2 included in next week’s episode shows, things are not going to get any easier for these young superheroes.

Stray Observations

  • With only 100 chapters of the manga published, and only its first 13 episodes aired, My Hero Academia is already getting a spin-off! The next manga series has been announced: Vigilante.  
  • Last weekend, Toonami on Adult Swim premiered the English dub of One Punch Man, which is another fun look at the superhero narrative that, like My Hero Academia, approaches topics about feeling isolated, different, and depressed, albeit with a bit more gore and for an older audience. While I know a bit about the original manga, I am largely going into this series ignorant and looking forward to see what happens next.
  • Thanks again to Morgan Berry, the English voice of Thirteen, not only for liking my last few reviews but also for being an engaged fan of the show on social media, favoriting a lot of what people have had to say about My Hero Academia.
  • So, Chuck Huber indeed has zero to minimal digital editing done to his voice as Kurogiri. After recognizing his voice in almost any other role he has taken, this performance is a surprising and well-done departure for him.
  • Chris Sabat as All Might gave an excellent performance with the final blow to Nomu: well done!
  • Regarding BONES’s animation on My Hero Academia, Anime News Network has an interview with the studio’s president Masahiko Minami, touching upon the hiatus for this series and what that can mean for Season 2’s animation. (Shameless plug: I was at the panel at Anime Expo 2016 cited in this article.)
  • Comic Book Reference: Not a superhero one but a comic strip one, as in the subtitle All Might repeats Charlie Brown’s “Good grief” complaint upon his arrival. And, sure enough, there is My Hero Academia / Peanuts crossover fan art.
  • This episode makes good use of its images to show rather than tell, such as showing the small light to All Might’s eyes before he retrieves Izuku, Tsuyu, and Grape Juice from Nomu and Shigaraki and as he gathers strength to defeat Nomu–significant, as that light is usually seen only when All Might assumes his depowered form (“No Might,” as the fans call it). My Hero Academia creator Kōhei Horikoshi has said he uses that small blip of light in each of No Might’s eyes to represent the most concentrated latent form of his superpower One for All (location 62 of the Volume 1 Kindle eBook, for those following along at home), to show that this power still remains inside of him even when not in use. So, now seeing that light shine in All Might’s superpowered form says to me that he is exerting himself too much–and to show what he is really like at full power, as this is the toughest battle he faces.
  • I appreciate that Shigaraki is not a dumb villain: his ability to sense that All Might, even at full power, is just a little bit slower at rescuing the children indicates to him that, yes, he is losing his hold over One for All and will soon be depowered. As if Shigaraki’s unmasked creeper face was not scary enough, this knowledge and what it means for All Might in the future is also frightening. At the same time, it also makes me laugh that while the villains can see All Might is getting weaker, they aren’t noticing every freaking time Izuku almost reveals that he inherited All Might’s superpower. Granted, my laugh isn’t derisive so much as looking forward to the payoff, as students do figure out Izuku’s inheritance of All Might’s power–just not in the way Izuku expected, and that misunderstanding makes for good comedy.
  • Drinking game: Come November, every time Hillary Clinton wins a state over that braying jackass, shout the state’s name and “SMASH!” For example: “Clinton got another state–FLORIDA SMASH!”
  • Even as she is escaping, Tsuyu wants to take notes on All Might’s fighting ability. It makes me feel so good to see this show celebrate its nerdy overachiever characters. It sucks at a point when “over-intellectualizing” is mocked in studies of pop culture, including anime (as I’ve seen, and as I’ll be talking about soon in a later post), and seeing a show present not only Izuku but also Tsuyu, Todoroki, Momo, and other brilliant students as being admirable smart kids is appreciated.
  • Video Game References: As with the previous Smash Bros references by Shigaraki, here he refers to Nomu as a sandbag. And in the English dub, Eijiro refers to All Might’s last attack as a “finishing move.”
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