“My Hero Academia” returns–and it is awesome!

“Hero Notebook.” Episode 13.5

“That’s the Idea, Ochaco.” Episode 14 (Season 2, Episode 1)

God, I missed the series.

It’s not just because it is hopeful, it’s not just because it focuses on abilities and disabilities in a superhero context, and it’s not just because in terms of music, writing, acting (in both Japanese and English), and animation (give or take an episode), it is just fun. Despite being 10 months since the most recent episode, and with some OVAs not yet released in the United States, it has not felt like a long time since My Hero Academia had new episodes.

And still, I have so much to say.

This episode seems to fix flaws from the last season. While this episode is not action-heavy and depends on some flashbacks from last season, these attempts to save on the budget do not distract me from the quality of the episode, much as I felt distracted about flashbacks in last season’s final arc, where we had recaps to events that just happened one episode ago, or even in the same episode.

This smooth transition into the Season 2 premiere owes to how the episode is structured. While “That’s the Idea, Ochaco” includes an extensive recap of the previous season, portions of it are distributed evenly throughout the episode: first narration by Izuku Midoriya (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner), then a news report, followed by a letter by All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat) to his mentor Gran Torino, and more meditation by Izuku on his goals to be a hero. Any re-introductions to characters are abbreviated by brief character moments, such as how overly serious is class president Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum).

The writers also avoided character regression: these are not the same characters who appeared last season–they have developed. The Bakugo (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; Japanese: Clifford Chapin) we meet in this episode is the one who had development since his loss against Izuku in their duel, and the same one still reeling from barely winning against the villains in the Season 1 finale. Sure, he’s still irritable, but get ready for a slightly more serious Bakugo, still retaining that impotent rage that makes him hilarious but also on his way to more character development.

The episode starts with a recap, in which Izuku explains how superpowers known as Quirks started to develop in humans, until almost 80 percent of the population had superpowers. Some become villains, and others are recruited by the state and private organizations to serve as superheroes to maintain law and order. Izuku is part of that 20 percent lacking superpowers. Fueled by a desire to help others, Izuku mentors under one of the strongest and most popular superheroes, All Might, inheriting from him the superpower One for All.

What is great about the opening recap is that it lulls the audience into thinking we have budget-saving re-used animation awaiting us in this re-introduction to this fictional world. Then everything stops with new animation, and a scene I don’t think has yet appeared in the manga: Izuku taking on all villains. Granted, the design work is limited, as his opponents are nebulous black figures running at him. Yet I can ignore that limitation because I’m hooked: the music builds to the superpower in Izuku’s body fully charging. Where before he lacked command over his superpower, now he has its energy coursing through him, ready to repel his enemies. Sure, this is likely an imagine spot, just a dream he has. Yet Studio BONES knows how to give viewers what they want at the beginning of this episode, that the promise made way back in Season 1’s second episode, and repeated here, will be fulfilled: Izuku will become the greatest superhero.

Again: God, I missed this series.

As before, much as I was reticent about Izuku referring to himself as becoming the world’s greatest hero, still he acknowledges his dependence on others, not only the power of One for All that draws upon the experience of All Might and their predecessors who held that power, but also the confidence of his classmates and the guidance of teachers. That is the focus to this episode and, if it adapts the manga closely, the next one: Izuku is looking to his classmates to know what it means to be a hero.

I had some concerns when reading the manga to get a sense how this episode would fill up 22 minutes. Would content be stretched or compressed in a fashion that does damage to the plot and the character development? No, this episode does neither. Instead, this episode includes original content, or at least content I do not remember appearing in the manga, at least at this point in that series, all as a reminder that the lives of these characters are interconnected, as each learns from each other, not only Izuku but, as shown following the recap, All Might as well.

As a teacher, I was overjoyed to hear the kind of self-doubts All Might feels when writing to his mentor. It’s subtle, as he himself sounds perplexed how he moved from active agent to instructor, and his closing to Gran Torino that he will be seeking his counsel in the future. As All Might shows, this interdependence the heroes have with each other is not simply the students to the teachers, but the teachers to their own colleagues and mentors. These small moments go a long way to acknowledging pedagogical challenges that persist for teachers.

The derisive remarks about Shigaraki as a “man-child,” while initially off-putting for those of us watching an anime targeted to teens, are mitigated upon reflection. The discussion about Shigaraki’s persona, coupled with his repeated allusions last season to video games, does bring to mind the kind of immaturity shown within many fan communities, particularly those in the 4chan/white supremacist/GamerGate clique. Michael Kimmel, who was one person who served on my dissertation committee, has written about the potential arrested development and how it guides some “man-children” to seek fan communities. I think it’s evident I am less than thrilled by Kimmel’s assessment, given my own engagement in such fan communities and how I think such communities engagement in the kind of critical analysis and ethical practices we try to hold in the academy. I do not ignore that fan communities are under the threat, although far less than the least among us, from the deplorables now pushed into the mainstream by a bigot, installed by a minority of voters, who intends to harm all of us. Rather, I have found, in most cases, fan communities are composed of both deplorables and role models, those to block, and those to consult for advice.

The best summary in responding to fools like Shigaraki, and those like him in our real life, is offered by Principal Nedzu (Japanese: Yasuhiro Takato; English: Jerry Jewell), who refers to Shigaraki less as a man-child and more as akin to their students: they need guidance and education. It comes across less as shaming a character for failing to uphold expectations for his age group and more like a reminder that education is ongoing. I do not excuse Shigaraki, or our real-life villains. Rather, as My Hero Academia persists, Shigaraki, and his relationship to All Might that has yet to be revealed, demonstrates why intervention is needed now to prevent the radicalizing of people with susceptible minds.

I think that kind of an approach for understanding Shigaraki is important. After all, All Might later tells Izuku to stop apologizing and laughs off how alike that quality makes them. I was floored. All Might, while certainly not rude in most cases, has not struck me as overly apologetic. Is All Might projecting onto Izuku in order to shape his mentee into, as he puts it, “the new All Might”? Or, as seen when he writes his letter to his own mentor, is All Might acknowledging that it is really difficult to refer to someone like Shigaraki as infantile when, really, these are all characters contending with their own difficulties? Really, these are all fans. The line between intense academic study and appreciation of a subject and “fanatic” or fan behavior is thin. Is this a warning?

Plus, Gran Torino is introduced eating taiyaki, so I don’t want to hear some whining about “men-children” for a bit.

My Hero Academia Season 1 Episode 2 - Izuku remembers

Speaking of arrested development, following Nedzu’s discussion about Shigaraki, we are introduced to content original to the anime, Izuku back when he was a child in the beginning of Episode 1, curled up in a chair and watching online videos of All Might saving people. The staging is clever, as we see Izuku lifting a weight against a backdrop of his memories of All Might fighting Nomu, those memories projected on a wall like a film. It’s a style that draws upon the medium of animation to make this content, original to this series, stand out against the manga, exemplifying what animation should do in adapting comics rather than merely repeating what is already on the page: use the motion in animation to your advantage.

The form of this presentation enhances the content, when Izuku comes upon the question, what motivates him? It’s a question that links him, like One for All does, to All Might: All Might told Gran Torino he was surprised he has become a teacher, and Izuku here is still surprised he can become a superhero. Yet what does that mean to be a hero? In the remainder of this episode, Izuku learns from, as the title suggests, Ochaco (Japanese: Ayanae Sakura; English: Luci Christian) and her desire to be a superhero so as to fund her family’s business and repay them for their financial support. The goals differ; the ethical reasons behind those actions have much in common.

As Izuku slowly considers an answer to his question, the episode doesn’t stand still, showing us what his classmates have been up to since the defeat of the villains. The moments with these students quickly show who they are to new viewers, especially in their one-on-one interactions.

My-Hero-Academia-Season-2-Episode-14---Mina-and-Tsuyu-v2

For example, Mina (Japanese: Eri Kitamura; English: Caitlin Glass) is a bit clumsy, while Tsuyu (Japanese: Aoi Yuuki; English: Monica Rial) reacts almost instinctively because she’s that good and with such a deadpan demeanor because she doesn’t need the praise.

My-Hero-Academia-Season-2-Episode-1---Aoyama-v2

While Aoyama (Japanese: Kosuke Kuwano; English: Joel McDonald) is a showboat, the silent Kouda just keeps to himself to not cause problems.

My Hero Academia Season 2 Episode 14 - Jiro and Denki.png

I was a bit disappointed at the interaction between Denki (Japanese: Tasuku Hatanaka; English: Kyle Phillips) and Jirou (Japanese: Kei Shindou; English: Trina Nishimura), as it takes one moment from the manga and repeats the same joke twice, that Denki is kind of dense and, despite his intense power, lacks control and common sense for using his electrical abilities effectively. Of course, that could all be subterfuge: Denki wouldn’t be the first male character who seems to be dumb but is really just playing dumb to trick our heroes.

My-Hero-Academia-Season-2-Episode-14---Invisible-Cheerleading-v2.gif

Speaking of character interactions, some of that original content adapted into the episode helps to set up later moments in this arc. This includes a brief moment of more bonding between Hagakure (Japanese: Kaori Nazuka; English: Felecia Angelle) and Ojiro (Japanese: Kosuke Miyoshi; English: Mike McFarland). Last season, the invisible Hagakure worried about not doing much, because while her ability is great for surveillance, her fighting prowess has not yet been demonstrated. With the Sports Festival approaching, she considers methods by which to get more attention–and she starts cheering. It’s foreshadowing an admittedly frustrating part later in this narrative arc that seems to be a bit too much fanservice. I’ll have more to say on some of these gender issues in sections below (“Dub vs Sub,” “Random Observations”). But at least the setup here establishes Hagakure’s choice and personality as contributing to donning the cheerleader outfit.

My Hero Academia Season 2 Episode 14 - Tiny Ochako comparison.png

I’ll close with a few notes about other details to the episode. The storyboards look like they are pulled directly from the manga, including when Ochaco describes her family’s business. At Anime Expo 2016, I heard staff at Studio BONES admitted they were focused on translating much of that content from the comic to the screen, sometimes asking Horikoshi how to proceed. This season is also using much more texture applied directly to background, as a pattern, which actually suits the four-dot color pattern attached to much of this show’s marketing.

Finally, nothing against Miyake, but Sabat’s performance at episode’s end was chilling. Couple that with the scene of what unites All Might to Izuku, moving from one’s eyes to the visual representation of One for All to the other’s eyes, with the music, and it is an incredible ending. When Sabat has complained in a few interviews about his fears of making All Might sound bored rather than exhausted and persistent when in his depowered form, that actor has either lowered my expectations so that he comes across as so good in this role or, as it more likely, he is just that good. I have read enough criticism following Sabat’s performances since his initial work on Dragon Ball, and there is no comparison: he has vastly improved as an actor, his range has gotten better, and All Might could be the best performance he gives in his life. That is saying something when his performance blends so well the ham of Armstrong and the [word choice: exhaustion] of impatient teachers like Piccolo. I have more to say below about other great performance, such as Luci Christian as Ochako and J. Michael Tatum as Iida, but for now, Sabat is the star of this episode.

I don’t want to ignore the recap episode, either, as it is a helpful guide to viewers entering Season 2 without having watched earlier episodes. I’m more surprised to get that recap here in the States, when some such content is rarely adapted for overseas audiences. Sure, there is no dub of this episode at this time, but it’s fun enough viewing and something anyone just starting the series should watch.

Dub vs Sub

  • When Ochaco takes on her more ardent persona, her English actor, Luci Christian, starts sounding like her similarly energetic hard-ass student character Kaname Chidori from one of Christian’s earliest anime, Full Metal Panic (which, 12 years later, is getting a continuation). Thank goodness Christian didn’t draw from one of her other roles.
  • In the Japanese, Izuku’s mother introduces the dinner as pork cutlets. In the English, as the cutlets are already on screen, Izuku’s mother instead says he needs to eat up to take care of his muscles.
  • The muffled voice was accentuated more in the Japanese than the English when Aizawa (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ) returns to teach.
  • In the Japanese, the students are upset, as they were in Season 1, that their superhero training is interrupted with a seemingly normal school event. In the English, I guess as this cultural difference between the Japanese and United States is not as obvious, the students are more upset at getting scared that the news would be worrisome rather than something school-related.
  • In both the manga and the Japanese anime, Ochako laughs over All Might’s lunch by calling it like a “schoolgirl” or a “maiden.” In the English, Ochako instead laughs at how adorable it is. While the “adorable” factor has its feminine implications, I much prefer that translation, as it removes some potential shaming of All Might’s choice and just lets the adorable lunch be gender-neutral. And yes, I did just over-analyze the gendering of All Might’s lunch–thanks, graduate school education! Besides, if you’re going to attach something traditionally gendered as feminine to All Might, it should be this.

Superhero References

  • The recap episode continues this show’s running gag of someone referring to Tsuyu as doing whatever a frog can.
  • So, Izuku has been taking notes on all of his classmates’ abilities and weaknesses. Tower of Babel, anyone?
  • All Might refers to Shigaraki as “monologuing,” a la The Incredibles.

Manga vs Anime

  • In addition to the recap at the beginning of the episode, and Gran Torino reading the letter from All Might, the episode adds original content of Izuku, again in front of his computer, contemplating what it means to be a hero, before his mother serves dinner.
  • The English dialogue for Snipe in the manga was far more heavily inspired by Old West gunslingers. In both the subs and the dubs, that character quirk (so to speak) is missing, as he just complains, “What a pain,” in typical Shikamaru fashion. With so much bidirectionality between Japanese and United States influences in this series, I wish Funimation had opted for a less literal translation in the subtitled and dubbed production and just had him be more Western. 
  • When Ochaco remembers offering to help her parents’ business, the manga included only her and her father, while the anime includes her mother with them.
  • The anime adds a red, white, and blue design behind the heavily Americanized All Might as he leaps forward to invite Izuku to lunch.

Random Observations

  • In the recap, the credits end with drops of water hitting the paper, painting it with the characters on it. Where is that water coming from? It’s teardrops. Those are Izuku’s tears. That design choice was so good, taking an inherent part of Izuku that has made him unlike many male protagonists and just let it exist, not drawing attention to it. Like Iida shouted, bravo.
  • Great work by the animators sneaking in an animated version of the first ending theme when child Izuku runs around his room at the beginning of Episode 14.
  • This season’s new opening theme, “Peace Sign” by Kenshi Yonezu, will likely grow on me. The “oh oh oh” catch is entertaining. But I can’t imagine these visuals aging well: footage of the characters stretching is going to get dull, and with the extended season order to 26 episodes, I imagine we’ll be well past the duels previewed in this opening, such as between Izuku and Todoroki.
  • Meanwhile, the new ending theme isn’t doing it for me. It reminds me of too many Naruto endings, in which the series has few opportunities for the female characters, so we just get an ending of still images of the female characters sitting around, not fighting. Once in awhile is acceptable, like the repeat ending of Soul Eater, since there are enough other battle-heavy endings. Here, this seems like non-sexualized fanservice, just to show the female characters at rest. The song is catchy, and there is are at least two funny moments: seeing Bakugo’s shocked expression in the distance, and the girls outrunning Iida.
  • Speaking of music, the composition behind All Might’s letter is stronger than I expected but fits so well, drawing out that sense of how important is All Might’s statement to his teacher.
  • And hey, the show knows people read the manga, so we’re not hiding All Might’s real name. Neat!
  • One style choice by BONES that gets on my nerves is when the background goes white–and they reduce the brightness on everything else. It doesn’t come across as verisimilitude of how our eyes react to brightness: it comes across as there’s a problem with my screen.
  • I’m not ignoring Torodoki (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji; English: David Matranga). I’m just waiting for the good stuff we’re going to get.
  • Was I the only one thinking, given how Gran Torino’s location looked like it was in the same neighborhood as Shigaraki’s hideout, that the League of Villains had intercepted All Might’s letter? Given the relationship All Might has with Shigaraki (not yet revealed properly in this anime), the discussion about mentors and inherited superpowers would be apt.
  • Was there something Japan-centric about the Sports Festival supplanting the Olympics? Don’t other nations have superhero schools?
  • For those who missed it, Mineta (Japanese: Ryo Hirohashi; English: Brina Palencia) was suggesting Ochaco’s change in personality was a PMS-induced mood swing. This moment is adapted straight from the manga. One tongue-lashing by Tsuyu is not enough: he needs to be tossed into a dumpster. And no, he’s not going to get better: he’s going to get worse. Please, put Mineta where he belongs: in the dumpster.
  • Last season, the Principal made tea for All Might for a pep talk. This season, now it’s All Might making tea for Izuku for a pep talk. Parallels.
  • Wait, I thought, in his fight against Nomu, Izuku didn’t injure himself not because he pulled back but because Nomu absorbed the attack. This seems like a slight retcon rather than a demonstration only of Izuku’s refusal to kill.

My-Hero-Academia-Season-2-Episode-14---Iida

  • I was so happy at how the comedy was not just in the writing or animation but also even in the camera work: I laughed so hard when the camera is following Iida’s hands up and down, for no reason, as he continues his mass gesticulations.
  • Actually, just about all content with Iida in this episode was solid comedy: he tells the students to sit when he’s the only one standing, his supposed boundless excitement is reduced to doing some version of the hustle, and both Kaito Ishikawa and J. Michael Tatum get so much out of him shouting “Bravo” and numerous other compliments at Ochaco in various languages. That Iida’s joyous laugh for Ochaco is interrupted by All Might’s own joyous laugh is just wonderful sound editing.

My Hero Academia is available immediately in the United States with subscription to CrunchyRoll (English sub), Funimation (English sub dub), and associated services such as Hulu and VRV. (And if you can’t get the newest dubbed episode to play on the Funimation web site, use the Funimation app on devices.)

All GIFs and images produced by me.

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