Watching “My Hero Academia,” we are all Izuku’s mother

“In Their Own Quirky Ways.” My Hero Academia Episode 16 (Season 2 Episode 3)

This is the best episode of the series so far, combining excellent animation, good use of Season 1 music, and pulling much more out of the actors, as Izuku finally gets his chance to shine this season.

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The previous episode ended with a cliffhanger. Racing to the obstacle course’s finish line in the Sports Festival’s Round 1, the UA students were blocked by giant killer robots–the kind all superheroes face. Todoroki (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji, English: David Matranga) froze one robot, which let him run away while the icy giant could fall down and block his classmates’ path. Episode 3 picks up immediately after, the first half adapting Chapter 25, “In Their Own Quirky Ways,” and the second half adapting all of Chapter 26, “Chase Down the Leader.”

We start with a flashback to the previous episode, emphasizing the tension between Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita, English: Justin Briner) and Todoroki that will define a good part of this narrative arc. Then we get new animation of Present Mic (Japanese: Hiroyuki Yoshino; English: Sonny Strait) describing the Obstacle Course up to this point, before we get more flashbacks to the previous episode. This choice by Studio BONES is inspired: they sneak in new animation and new content adapted from the manga to keep viewers’ attention so they don’t just skip ahead with the fast-forward option on CrunchyRoll or Funimation. It’s a technique similar to what Mystery Science Theater 3000 is doing on its new season on Netflix: the cold opening in those episodes force viewers to sit through the repetitive theme song.

This episode then catches up to what happened in the previous one, with Todoroki freezing one of the obstacles, a gigantic killer robot, so that it will fall down onto his classmates while he escapes. The good news is that the only students held down under the robot’s weight are Eijiro (Japanese: Toshiki Masuda, English: Justin Cook) and Tetsutetsu (Japanese: Kōji Okino, English: David Wald), both of whom are hard-bodied–so to speak–and can bust through. Momo (Japanese: Marina Inoue, English: Colleen Clinkenbeard) synthesizes a firearm to blast robots down, while Ochaco (Japanese: Ayane Sakura, English: Luci Christian) lifts and drops robots, demonstrating far greater command of her gravity abilities than when we met her last season.

Speaking of development in abilities and character, Bakugo (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto, English: Clifford Chapin) gets to show how far he has come since the series premiere, which is not lost upon classmates like Sero (Japanese: Kiyotaka Furushima, English: Christopher Bevins) and Tokoyami (Japanese: Yoshimasa Hosoya, English: Josh Grelle). Rather than blast through the robot like Momo did with her weapon, Bakugo just leaps above. It’s not flashy, it’s not direct, but rather than waste time with repeated concussive blasts and risk getting hit with more shrapnel, he just leaps upward. It’s hilarious hearing Tokoyami point out how Bakugo is now such a “slow starter,” when last season he was the one who overreacts.

Therefore, when Bakugo starts hand-to-hand combat against Todoroki, we’re not thinking he’s acting like he did when he went out of his way to confront Izuku himself in the prior season’s training arc: he’s not over-reacting as much as before, and instead he’s just trying to knock Todoroki back or incapacitate him. Despite shouting that Todoroki should’ve seen him as his rival and not Izuku, Bakugo is still rather pragmatic, determined to not just out-run Todoroki but to knock him back as well.

Todoroki remains mysterious. Audience members give exposition that he is the son of Endeavor, that flame-beard guy whose image has popped up this season. While audience members cite Endeavor’s ability and fame as an explanation as to why Todoroki is so powerful, no one comments on the peculiarity that, if Todoroki inherited his father’s flame abilities, depends on his ice abilities, or how even why he has ice abilities. This exposition is the same as occurred in the manga, so it is a close adaptation to the source material–but with some benefits to the anime.

First, readers of the manga already know Todoroki’s reasons why he doesn’t use flame abilities, how he inherited his ice abilities–and why he has that scar on his face. There’s a reason I have, darkly, referred to Todoroki as Ice Planet Zuko: if you’ve seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, you know the story.

Second, this decision to deliberately avoid giving answers to these questions makes the exposition go down more smoothly for viewers, hardy an info-dump on them but just a quick reminder for returning viewers or clarification for viewers who didn’t recognize Todoroki’s father. Third, all of this enhances the mystery for viewers, teasing them without turning them away from the show in a fit of annoyance that very obvious questions are not getting answered.

But you’re not here to read me tell you how great the show handles Bakugo’s development or the mystery of Todoroki’s motivations. You’re here because something amazing happens in this episode that you’ve been waiting for since the series premiere.

My Hero Academia E16 011 (Mei).pngThat’s right–the arrival of Mei! Azu Sakura and Alexis Tipton bring such glee to the gadget genius, and it’s so cool to see her animated. Tipton talks a bit about the role, which is very similar to her earlier role as Rika in Haganai. (Tipton does get wrong that Mei lacks a Quirk, but we’ll get to that another time.)

While the CGI cliffs are distracting during Mei’s run, the animation is fluid and does good work tracking her descent through the Falls. And the CGI screen coloring on the backgrounds also suits the comic book style to this show, as when Present Mic’s Quirk descriptions include 4-dot coloring style. Plus, thanks to Mei, we learn more about the Support classes, some of whom serve as designers of technology used by superheroes, important long after this arc as we see some students still struggling to use their superpowers. It’s kind of like the quick gag about the Business students: Mei gets to flesh out UA and show exactly how the school is structured.

My Hero Academia E16 016 (Izuku).png…Oh, yeah, and Izuku wins the race. There’s that, too.

One flaw to my reviews so far has been under-emphasis on Izuku. That is on purpose. He is the star of this show, so while other writers will cover his role in the series, I do enjoy looking at the margins for what other characters are up to. This is not a slight against him, his characterization, or the emotional performances ?? and Justin Briner are giving. Rather, I want to choose carefully when I focus on him, as there are pivotal moments in his development. This episode is one of them.

Nothing against Justin Briner, but the recap at the beginning of this episode reminded me how evocative is Daiki Yamashita’s performance as Izuku when he faces Todoroki, and that intensity only increases when Izuku decides to blast himself into the lead. The difficulty for portraying Izuku is balancing his determination with a lacking confidence, a youthful innocence, and a sweet earnestness. Yamashita manages to bring all of that forward with Izuku, thanks in part because he gets to bounce off of actors like Ayane Sakura as the bubbly Ochaco.

The last episode flashed back to Izuku’s inability to move when facing the killer robots. Now this time he is more quick-witted, using those powers of observation and close research shown in his journals to know to grab the sheet of robot metal left on the battlefield to slice down a robot, using that robot’s speed and inability to brake to let the sheet do its work at slicing it apart. Izuku then carries that metal with him across the battlefield, as he knows it is a good shield and could be a helpful weapon. It’s like Thor with mjolnir: he’s learning to use this tool for a variety of purposes–to block attacks, to dig up mines, to slam it down to blow up the competition, and to bear the brunt of an explosion to sail him to first place. That animation, as it moves across Izuku’s eyes, is some of the best My Hero Academia has offered, and it makes the slower moments in the previous episodes worth it.

The music that accompanies Izuku’s propulsion ahead of Bakugo and Todoroki, as well as Izuku running to first place, is from Season 1, yet still enhances the energy and sentimentality behind both moments, energizing the audience as they see Izuku pass his rivals, then making them weep like his mom when he gets first place and convinces All Might he chose his apprentice wisely.

The music as well when Aizawa explains how Class 1A manages to excel in this competition was also fitting. According to Aizawa, after the students faced supervillains firsthand in the USJ, they have gained enough experience to recognize the way to confront their fears is not by running away but by facing them. I’ve repeated a few times elsewhere the difficulties of living through trauma, and I appreciate how this show reminds viewers that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to face it. It’s a well-worn cliche in many anime, but I appreciate the show re-emphasizing that point. When the world we live in now is populated with monsters who seek to divide, belittle, and harass, especially those of us who are targets because of our identities, it’s good to have My Hero Academia remind us about one small step on the road to doing the right thing: courage trumps fear.

I also appreciate Aizawa’s explanation in this episode the students’ push to succeed not because of his teachings but because they brought that purpose to this competition without him. The last two episodes were focused on Ochaco’s motivations and Izuku’s awareness that his classmates have their own motivations, which not only makes them more fully realized characters but also makes the competition that much more difficult for him. Considering Izuku and Bakugo’s rivalry since the series premiere, Aizawa’s remarks are a helpful reminder to viewers about how these episodes relate to each other, as well as to me as a teacher that students do have their lives outside of what teachers expect of them.

My Hero Academia E16 017 (Izuku).pngBut it’s not all good news for Izuku. While he won this round, the next competition is assigning points to each student based on their ranking in the Obstacle Course: take out that student in Round 2, get their points. And Izuku has 1 million points. The design on Izuku is straight out of the manga, but it also looks a bit like something from Hiromu Arakawa’s Silver Spoon.

This story presents new challenges to Izuku. He got to the lead, only now to make himself a target among his classmates. That’s not unlike how All Might, rising to the top as the most famous and most powerful superhero, inadvertently made his students hostages so that the villains could target him. As if Izuku wouldn’t have learned from All Might’s example, now he sees it firsthand: his actions have ramifications–which is going to bite him and others around him in the backside.

In this regard, the portrayal of Izuku is a bit like the portrayal of Peter Parker in the animated Spectacular Spider-Man, only whereas Peter seemed to make dumb decisions to advance the plot, Izuku makes the best decision he can given the circumstances–and the results are not what he expected, but by the rules of his world and conventions of plot, those results are realistic and not as infuriating. Sure, I can still be upset what happens in this story to Izuku and others, but when Horikoshi and Studio BONES are tracing causes to inevitable conclusions, I can’t fault the writing.

Overall, this episode is the best the series has put out up to this point. The animation is clean and easy to follow, the music enhances the emotions behind pivotal scenes for developing Izuku, Bakugo, and, to a lesser extent, Todoroki. And the episode follows to the logical conclusion what happens for our heroes.

Superhero Allusions

  • Aside from the comic book feel from the four-dot coloring and CGI screen coloring I mentioned earlier, the story also has Mei swing like Spider-Man, and Izuku carry around the metal like a shield and something to toss around. So, Izuku is Captain America. I can get behind that.

Manga Panels vs Anime Storyboards 

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  • The anime also pulled directly from the manga panels to make storyboards of the students’ ranking after Round 1. We get our first introduction to the thought-bubble character Manga as well, plus we get Aoyama’s epic defeated face: dude can’t not smile even when he’s devastated.

Manga vs Anime

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  • The anime adds some new designs for background characters, such as one of the student competitors having a clown design–and really creeping me out after watching Hunter x Hunter–and a dog person in the audience.
  • In the manga, the Business course students pop up behind All Might, whereas in the anime they are below him under the box seats.
  • The anime adds a background gag while Kamui Woods and Deathgoro realize Izuku was the student who faced the slime monster from Episode 2: you can see Mount Lady still has her fans following her for her photograph.
  • In the manga, the students interrupting Midnight’s explanation did not include Ochaco, whereas the anime emphasizes largely her and Mina’s interruptions.

Sub vs Dub

  • It’s funny how, in the Japanese subtitles, Midnight refers to the media as a Calvary, before she introduces the next stage of the competition as Calvary.
  • In the sub, Present Mic ignores Aizawa’s praise for the students. In the dub, Present Mic was listening–and says Aizawa is just a bad teacher. It is hilarious.
  • In the sub, All Might refers to Izuku as crying, whereas in the dub, All Might calls it “waterworks.”
  • In the preview for the next episode, the sub has Ochaco repeat how difficult this will be for Izuku, while the dub has Ochaco phrasing Izuku’s challenge in more and more disconcerting ways.

Random Observations

  • Great work again by Christopher Sabat, bringing All Might the concern and pride he feels in Izuku, but also to Sonny Strait, whose energy as Present Mic is boundless.
  • In my previous review, I neglected how, in the opening title sequence, the only other character aside from the main five–Izuku, Bakugo, Todoroki, Ochaco, Iida–in the training montage is Eijiro. Perhaps that’s an indication Eijiro gets more to do this season than he does in the corresponding manga chapters. If it means more of Justin Cook in the role, I’m for it. Eijiro is such a fascinating character, simultaneous embodying hyper-masculine posturing and such over-the-top sentimentality. Shed those manly tears, Eijoro! You’re awesome!
  • Also, I overlooked that Mount Lady’s order of food in the anime was actually taken from the manga, specifically the extra content added to Volume 3 of the tankobon release. I wonder whether we’ll see that extra content, where Mount Lady joins a hero agency.
  • I still don’t like how the lighting gets so dark on the characters when they are in bright backgrounds. As I make my own GIFs for these reviews, I have to boost the brightness considerably to make out some action, as in the earlier Mineta PWNed GIF.
  • This episode marks the return of Present Mic informing viewers about characters’ quirks.
  • Sorry, I can’t get over that Tokoyami’s Quirk can talk.
  • I wish the anime retained Snipe’s penchant for using cowboy talk in his dialogue, as in the English translation of the manga.
  • Why y’all mocking Iida’s pose?! Haven’t you seen Yuri on Ice? Let the guy assume a figure skater or roller skater pose, for crying out loud…
  • I’m surprised at how comically they animated the landmine explosions. That’s some Team Rocket animation, just spinning the students away and up to the sky. Unlike the manga, where those explosions looked dangerous, here the comicalness emphasizes that UA is not trying to kill the students, just knock them back.
  • I also liked how, when Izuku is studying the minefield, lights circle around specific parts of the path, similar to how television sports coverage has taken to lighting up the hockey puck on the ice.
  • Plus, it’s hilarious that, unlike the manga, where Izuku mutters his exposition, here the audio engineers specifically had Jiro’s dialogue overlap over Izuku’s monologuing.
  • I think All Might’s reaction to the explosions were funnier in the manga, just because the anime did not do as much with the camera movement when he is shocked at what took place. The “WHF,” though, in the manga is odd: was that supposed to be “WTF” or “WTH”?
  • Also, All Might is visible in the teachers’ booth in the audience, depowered. Can’t anyone see him and make the connection that he’s lost his abilities? That seems like an odd oversight by UA, even if All Might and his “No Might” form are so different.
  • And if All Might, Thirteen, and Present Mic posed for that Calvary picture, then that means that All Might already knew this would be one of the competitions. And given the outfit All Might was wearing, that was his suit when he started at UA, which likely got too damaged on his way to USJ, so he had to have photographed that image a long time ago. Weird.
  • The top 42 students move onto the next round of the competition. 42 here is likely not an allusion to Douglas Adams but to a Japanese pun: “42” pronounced aloud in Japanese sounds like the Japanese for “kill.” The students are facing some dangerous competition in these games.
  • Why does Mei emphasize that the entire nation is watching the Festival? If she is trying to sell her tech, wouldn’t she say the entire world is watching? I mean, in Episode 1, Aizawa did say the Festival has replaced the Olympics as mandatory viewing for sports fans. Why is this story so focused on just Japan watching? Is this some nationalistic bent? It just seems like a poor comparison of the Olympics, a much more international competition, to the Festival, a seemingly Japanese-focused event. Plus, it ignores that, in our own world, people do watch games played in other nations, as soccer shows. It’s not even the limits of television viewing that prevent that, as shown by Shigaraki streaming the Festival on his computer.

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  • As I spoke before, I appreciate any approach, in canon or by fans, to give Momo a good costume design that does not reduce her to fanservice. What we saw in this episode was a much more of a realistic outfit: she opened up her shirt so she had the space to summon weapons. She’s running around now in an unbuttoned shirt, pants, and her bra, but it’s not treated as titillation: it’s the reality of how she is running. After seeing anime waste time bending over backwards to set up elaborate gags for the sake of having a female character caught in a state of undress, or forcibly removed from her clothes, this moment with Momo is appreciated. She’s not embarrassed as she runs through the battlefield, and that moment doesn’t make her into a joke.
  • That is, until we get Mineta grabbing onto her. Seriously, anime, what are you doing? The manga didn’t even include a moment of Mineta’s creeper face as he leaps to grab onto Momo. At least that moment explains better than the manga did why she came so far behind in the race: she was too busy having to beat the fucking perv off of her. Seriously, could we get another robot to knock Mineta into the sun? The only benefit to this episode for Momo, which begins her humiliation conga and won’t get better any time soon, is that it bolsters her efforts to be a hero. But to reduce her this much to a gag so early in the series, as if she is too prideful and needs this, seems pathetic. She and Todoroki are two of the few students admitted into UA without having gone through the entrance exam. Why is it that Todoroki’s lesson in humility is not one that, as it is with Momo, involving her and her body made into jokes, whether Mineta grabbing her backside or, as we’ll see in a future episode, being put into an admittedly mild fetish outfit?
  • And yeah, I have a lot to say about “who gets to be a hero” when it comes to gender. I already talked about it at Anime Expo, and I have more to say about the awfulness of Fire Force.
  • Speaking of gender, we’re seeing a bit of the initial rivalry between Mei and Ochaco, something that is much less emphasized in the corresponding chapter from the manga but which is made more apparent in later chapters. It’s not a love triangle I’m looking forward to.
  • Oh, and Shigaraki is back, scratching himself. And he’s evidently streaming the game on CrunchyRoll. Nightmare fuel. And you thought Funimation trolls on the message boards were bad.
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