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.

The previous episode annoyed me regarding how limited the animation seemed, whether reducing the detail to scenes for the sake of fluidity, or lacking the shattering impact I wanted to feel when a punch was delivered. This episode, in contrast, plays to the strengths of limited animation, and shows that there is a brain inside All Might. He knows his superpower, One for All, is at its limit, and that if he takes even one step forward, he might fall into his depowered form. He wins against Shigaraki through the luck of superheroes arriving to provide cover. But he also knows how to read his opponent, intimidating Shigaraki and daring him to step forward–and he knows Shigaraki will not take the risk, as Nomu is gone and his superpower may be ineffective against someone as powerful as All Might. The tension is built, then, around how long All Might can hold up the bluff, which means the animation can consist of long tracking shots of characters just standing still. That direction makes use of the animation’s quality at this moment to suit the moment, rather than being limited by a budget. It’s like something out of a western standoff–apt, then, that a gun-toting cowboy superhero arrives to scare off Kurogiri and take Shigaraki with him.

There are bits of worldbuilding in this episode, such as introducing new villains such Shigaraki’s “sensei” and the drooling one appearing in the post-credits teaser, new teachers including Midnight, who will be important in later arcs, or small details such as Jiro talking about how electric Quirks are utilized in this fictional setting or the police department’s collaboration with superheroes. Even that confrontation of Momo and Jiro against the Crossbones expy is condensed to just the parts viewers need: Denki is held captive, Jiro attempts to save him, Crossbones expy calls her bluff and is shown to be savvy rather than another mook, and the heroes’ arrival saves the day.

As well, the sound editing seemed to stand out far more in this episode, perhaps because the episode knew when to let the music fade away to make louder certain sound effects, such as Shigaraki’s scratching or even Jiro’s elongating and retracting ear-jack. Most effective, however, is Shigaraki’s laugh, full of such menace as performed by Kōki Uchiyama and Eric Vale, when he is about to kill Izuku. That silence, following Shigaraki’s giggle, makes it the more shocking when it is disrupted by a gunshot and the show’s main musical theme, “You Say Run,” as superheroes from UA arrive to defeat villains and rescue the students. The climax to the song is accompanied by Thirteen, despite their injuries, managing to stand again, as All Might had, to initiate the last attack sending Kurogiri away. As much as I will complain about the animation to last week, Yuki Hayashi’s score on this series excites the most cynical viewer.

The music then reaches its descending action with the song titled “My Hero Academia, “as the superheroes contain the last villains and All Might comforts the injured Izuku. While Izuku thinks he did nothing to help, All Might says it was his distraction that gave them both the time to be saved. Then the last music heard in the episode, before the credits, is “You Can Be A Hero,” the music that played when All Might offered his power to Izuku in Episode 2, and now here when all that All Might has to do to build Izuku’s confidence is something as simple as a thumbs up. Goddamn it, with this music, this show has come a long way from having Izuku falling to his knees in front of All Might, to now being treated as more of an equal to his superhero idol.

The season finale teases more to come to this show, without failing to give sufficient payoff to viewers, especially those reading the manga. If this was the last episode of My Hero Academia, I may have been upset at missed opportunities. That has been a plague for series that end before their time and decide to introduce surprising details at the last minute, even if they make little sense, contradict pre-established details, and are included simply to look cool and offer a quasi-philosophical conclusion (I’m glaring at you, Soul Eater Episode 51–“punch of courage,” my foot). Season 1 risked ending in a similar way, in which exciting new details are introduced, such as the mastermind behind Shigaraki’s villainy, or the new superhero teachers, with superpowers not yet seen in this series. If the season ended with this episode, and if there were far too many missed opportunities, yeah, I could see myself upset that I’d have to read the manga only because they were never going to be adapted in animation.

But My Hero Academia Season 1 didn’t feel like a missed opportunity: it felt like an absolute success. Even as this episode teases what is to come, it did offer a complete narrative arc that, if this was the only season, I would be satisfied. The story of Season 1 fully developed Izuku and All Might: each started with the thought that they were failing, Izuku never able to be a superhero, and All Might fearing his career and legacy were behind him. Izuku instead has saved people so many times already, with or without superpowers. And All Might, previously a one-man army, is slowly accepting the assistance of other superheroes: in this episode alone, he recognizes it was Izuku who managed rescued him from Kurogiri, and he appreciates Cementoss intervening to hide his disability from Eijiro. 

Even as I have my complaints about the slow pace to allow two to three story arcs to take up thirteen episodes, and even as I complain about some limited animation in the last episodes, still this season had me hooked early on because it had such a high bar to reach. The initial episodes included such well-done animation that I know the next seasons are capable of reaching that level again. Acting in both the Japanese and English is excellent, all the more impressive when these English-language initial online releases by Funimation had to be produced in less than a month while retaining as good of acting as comes from their usually months-long dubbed productions.

In this season, almost all of the characters have depth to them and are not reduced just to one-note jokes. While characters like Grape Juice are annoying, we also have characters who defy cliche fanservice gags like Momo, and almost every student has shown moments of brilliance, having intelligent command over their superpowers and quickly collaborating to knock down opponents. And of course Izuku is a fanboy audience surrogate, yet he is a realistic response to how characters would feel living with disabilities, depression, and bullying, and with an admirable set of skills that do require him to sacrifice, hardly ending an episode without paying some physical or emotional cost. 

As well, I have to give attention to how Bakugo has developed this season. Yeah, he’s still an asshole, still a violent and dangerous character But he also is shown as someone who has learned focus, without losing that temper of his that makes him at worst flawed and at best a source of some comedy relief. As his English actor Clifford Chapin discussed, Bakugo is now impotent: before, he could bully his way through school because everyone thought he was either the most powerful student or was afraid of him. Now that he is no longer a big fish in a small pond, he realizes how outclassed he is, Quirk-wise or mentally, by more powerful and more intelligent students.

In this episode, we see briefly Bakugo’s memory of Izuku jumping to All Might’s rescue, an uncomfortable reminder how he too owes his life to Izuku’s rescue. After his interaction with Eijiro in the previous episodes, the Bakugo shown here differs from his initial presentation, driven now not simply to be the most famous superhero but just to keep up with his peers. Bakugo’s education requires cautious mentorship so as to guide him to proper uses of his abilities and control over his anger, as well as demonstrating that these superheroes are hardly admirable and in fact have flaws to them that require different teaching approaches, whether the encouraging hand of All Might or the strict intervention of Aizawa. And I’m excited to see how the anime adjusts certain details in characterization to make these teacher-student relationships all the more impressive.

Stray Observations

  • Two episodes ago, I largely stepped over how the season finale would bring us back to Momo and Jiro’s battle scene, and the villain threatening to kill Denki. But it’s only in the last few days I have read theories surrounding a potential plotline in this series, regarding how this scene suggests there is a mole within UA and who is working for the supervillains (links: 1 2 3). I’m hesitant to accept this plotline–not because of a lack of evidence (and the theory behind it is well-argued with a lot of supporting evidence) but because, really, I’m tired of “there’s a traitor among us” storylines. Young Justice milked that storyline throughout one season, then another season–and we have enough problems with traitors in our midst.
  • Speaking of Momo and Jiro’s battle scene, it is still great to this show demonstrate that UA attracts some brilliant students, as when Jiro covertly attempts to initiate her abilities against the villain, or Izuku realizes he has to stop Kurogiri rather than help his classmates against the mooks. Even villains like Kurogiri show a cool rationale, as when he advises Shigaraki to focus on killing All Might.
  • As well, Shigaraki realizes the link between All Might and Izuku. His anger at this moment before his sensei is important, as Shigaraki has an important connection to All MIght and his superpower One for All.   
  • I wasn’t the only one making Inspector Gadget jokes when seeing All Might’s police officer contact, right?
  • We get the payoff to some great brick jokes. First, we learn where Hagakure was throughout the battle–and how Todoroki kinda-sorta regrets almost freezing her. Second, we learn where Aoyama disappeared to…or not, because, really, who gives a shit?
  • We need a spin-off series as to the adventures of Police Officer Sansa. Make it like McCloud. “Officer Neko-Kitty, that’s the third complaint against you! Damn it, you need to get off the nip!”
  • All Might’s long legs extend past the hospital bed. Okay, wait–we have established that this world has buildings designed for people of all sizes, and that clothing stores modify outfits to suit the extra appendages of those with Quirks, but hospital beds still have a standard size? And I thought post-Civil War standardized clothing was bad. (Oh, hey, I got to use my PhD in nineteenth-century United States culture in an anime review–neat!)
  • Going back to the music, great work by whoever edited the credit montage: the clipshow recap of the last season had the cuts match very well with the beat of the ending theme song “Heroes.” The parallel scenes of Izuku and All Might’s smash attacks is particularly effective.
  • Well, that’s it for My Hero Academia’s English dub for this season. At Anime Expo, Funimation had no announcement as to whether they would distribute and dub the second season (spoilers: of course Funimation will), I’m still going to be talking about the series for a bit, including in a publication forthcoming. See you back here for Season 2!
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