“My Hero Academia” slows down for horseplay

“Strategy Strategy Strategy.” My Hero Academia Episode 17 (Season 2 Episode 4)

After the excellence set by the previous episode, what came after, by comparison, would be less interesting in My Hero Academia. This is a reality, not a flaw: you can’t have that kind of an explosive climax with Izuku’s victory in the Obstacle Course and follow it with another over-the-top moment, lest you exhaust the audience. Moving to the more stable ground of the Cavalry Competition allows “Strategy Strategy Strategy” to focus on the abilities of the other characters, while forcing the show to draw upon its other strength: comedy.

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And hey, we learn Izuku had a Quirk all along: drowning his enemies with his tears!

As with most episodes this season, Episode 17 adapts content from two issues of the original manga: the first half is based on Issue 27, “Earth-Shatteringly Fateful Negotiations” (a title with some Stan Lee-esque adverbial phrasing, by the way), and the second half is based on Issue 28, “Strats, Strats, Strats,” from which this episode takes its title.

Also like last week’s episode, flashbacks are intermingled with the opening content, with Aizawa and All Might explaining the Sports Festival, Present Mic announcing Izuku winning the Obstacle Course in the first round, and Midnight introducing the next round: the Cavalry Competition. This exercise is common to Japanese schools, in which one student is held up by four classmates. For this episode, each student receives points based on their ranking in the Obstacle Course, those points are combined and printed onto a velcro headband. It is up to the teams to hold onto their headbands while stealing those of classmates, and the team with the largest number of points wins.

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It is to the credit of comics and animation, as media, that the lengthy paragraph I wrote can be summarized so well by the funny animated sequence in which All Might is choked by how many headbands he wears, content not present in the original manga. (As I asked last week, it still makes me wonder whether All Might knew Cavalry would be a round in this competition and had to keep it a secret from Izuku.)

We finally get new content when Midnight explains the Cavalry Competition is part of what UA is all about: “Plus Ultra.” My Hero Academia deftly combines content from school-based stories and the superhero story, combining a well-worn anime genre with a largely Western genre to create a series with international appeal. This competition yields two scenes, in which Deathgoro (Japanese: Shinnosuke Ogami; English: Cris George) explains the Cavalry Competition forces students to coordinate, as superheroes in this setting must do when working with people outside of their agencies, and also shows how UA likes to exaggerate school lessons: Izuku not only has the most points but has an exaggerated 10 million points. As he quickly figures out, almost none of his classmates will wish to work with him, as he will be targeted.

I say almost as Izuku manages to make a team from Mei, Tokoyami, and Ochaco. And I have a few problems with this setup, as listed in the previous sentence from least annoying to most annoying.

Let’s start with Mei. The anime is almost perfect in adapting her from the manga, retaining her propensity to get up into other people’s faces despite her Quirk being that her eyes can zoom in, her devotion to her “babies” (her inventions that supplement or control superheroes’ Quirks), and her quick friendship with fellow superhero nerd and expert Izuku. Both Azu Sakura and Alexis Tipton bring that excitement Mei needs to make her endearing to the audience: as annoying as some of her actions will be in this arc, she is likable, energetic, funny, and has personality.

That’s a bit more than can be said about Tokoyami–and that’s not his fault, or even necessarily that of Horikoshi and most certainly not that of Yoshimasa Hosoya and Josh Grelle, both of whom give the stoic, no-nonsense personality he needs. When designing the competition as four-student teams, Horikoshi had to decide whom would receive focus. Of the members of this team, Izuku and Ochaco receive the most focus: the former is our main character, the latter has a narrative arc about what motivates her to be a superhero. I’ll get to what works and doesn’t work for Ochaco in this episode in a moment. As for Mei, she is largely comic relief, although she serves an important role for Izuku and Iida in a recent arc in the manga.

That leaves Tokoyami, and the lack of planning around him and his ability shows. I don’t mean in terms of effectiveness–as Izuku explains, Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow provides offense, defense, and surveillance in all directions–but as a character in itself. The staff at Studio BONES had to have known Dark Shadow has a bit of a personality, and Season 2 has done good work at giving Dark Shadow an actual voice and some moments of character, such as his complaint to Tokoyami in Episode 15 that the lights are too bright (some important foreshadowing to the next episode). But Studio BONES had to have known these same details during pre-production on Season 1, having access to both Issue 27 of the manga and the input of Horikoshi. There was more to do with Tokoyami to make him and his ability stand out in terms of personality rather than only visually, as when Dark Shadow first talked this season, which took me by surprise.

As for Tokoyami’s character, the problems for his character have been on Horikoshi’s mind since introducing the character, as he admits in one character bio that he wasn’t sure what to do with the guy. There is an odd contrast to Tokoyami’s earlier introduction in the anime. Before, he seemed to operate by his own set of ethics, ignoring Iida’s complaint about sitting on the desk. Initially, he comes across as another Bakugo: a rule-breaker. But as we see here, it’s more complicated: I say “he operates by his own set of ethics” because he is not seeking to break rules but to work within his own standards. He listens to Izuku’s instructions without question; he teases Izuku for his compliment by saying it was he who chose him, a nebulous phrase that either sends the compliment right back to Izuku or says, “Yeah, I already know I’m that good–or you wouldn’t have chosen me.” It’s hard for me in this one episode to get a read on Tokoyami. He’s like your favorite side character in a Pixar film: he’s here for his purpose, then he fades back into the shadows. The choice to have him say to Izuku that he trusts him inherently feels unearned. We viewers know just about anyone can trust Izuku because he is so thoroughly researched, and if Tokoyami said so, that would have fixed the problem for me: “You write enough plans and details about our powers in those notebooks of yours, Izuku–I have no doubt you can lead us to victory.”

That leaves Ochaco–and oh boy, I’m cringing. The episode starts a bit of the “will-they, won’t-they” with Izuku, and it’s not needed. We don’t need every single story to take a male and female character and pair them up. I ship Izuku and Ochaco like many fans, but that means I want to see the characters developed. Izuku has his development, and we’re getting it with Ochaco’s focus on tending to her family–so having her starting to get a bit jealous of Mei is not helping. The good news is that this storyline is a rather slow burn: we see the hints of Ochaco coming to be aware that something bothers her when Mei gets close to Izuku, which is subtle writing. And it’s not just my imagination that is where the storyline is going: someone later confronts Ochaco about her feelings for Izuku, and she is later placed into another situation with Mei that brings that jealousy forward again. Additional good news is that, based on the manga issues being adapted, the next episode will remind Izuku, and us, that Ochaco is not here for his own edification but because she has her own goals for being a superhero. Ochaco is obviously more than ship-mait in this series. When this episode gets close to limiting her potential, it bothers me given the history of side-lining female characters when they become the love interest and hence take part much less in the story and its battles. One example in anime would be the Dragon Ball franchise, where Chi-Chi, Thirteen, and Videl take a backseat after marriage and motherhood, although Dragon Ball Super is fixing that problem with Thirteen–and of course Bulma was always involved in the story, at the site of battle, as tech support, regardless whether she was in a relationship or with children.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as Izuku has dodged the competition, thanks to Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow blocking, Mei’s jet pack and shoes to let Izuku and Ochaco lift the team up, and Ochaco’s anti-gravity powers making the team practically weightless. But now the team faces Todoroki’s, made of Denki, Momo, and Iida. There are small but great moments here to show how far those four have come. For all the mockery Denki received in the season premiere, he has shown a better handle over his electricity, or at least is not as prone to short-circuiting his brain–until the round’s end, though. Momo can generate weapons and equipments without having her uniform rip apart. And Iida gets to stand out in a way I wish Ochaco got to, as he acknowledges his friendship with and admiration of Izuku, which is why he does not want to join his team and risk becoming lax in his own development as a superhero. For him and Todoroki, their development comes in the next episode, although it is hinted here for the latter as he refuses to use his fire abilities, looking out to the audience and finally applying a face to his father, none other than that fire-beard guy we’ve seen pop up in previous Season 2 episode. Say hello to Endeavor, everyone, the worst father since Ozai–and for pretty much the same reasons. Again, look at Todoroki’s scar.

And before we reach that cliffhanger, we do have entertaining comedy and, even if it is not that action-packed, animation that yields all the reaction images you will ever need. We get Izuku going full-on JoJo.

And we’re introduced to Monoma, who provokes a lot of these reactions by stealing headbands with few problems. When this episode is largely limited in action animation, I love how fluid is the scene of him twirling the headband. The lack of explanation how he is so effective at stealing headbands is annoying, even as I can guess: his copycat abilities of other Quirks likely means he used them to steal headbands quickly, although I don’t know how he could’ve used invisibility from Hagakure (Japanese: Kaori Nazuka; English: Felecia Angelle) when we didn’t see him disrobe.

While Monoma is appropriately dickish so to needle Bakugo, who is still largely known as being kidnapped by the sludge monster back in Episode 2, he works for me because he’s not wrong in his arguments: he had a strategy to lower Class 1A’s expectations while Class 1B could go up the ranks quickly, and as side characters they have largely been overlooked despite their own potential. And I have a hard time hating the character when Kōhei Amasaki and Austin Tindle give him such a superior attitude, and when he is able to provoke these reactions from Bakugo:

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Monoma gave us the reaction images we needed. Truly, he is the hero to this episode.

Panels vs Storyboards

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Manga vs Anime

  • Before taking us into the staff room, the manga includes a hilarious moment where security robots outside the arena are bored and debate whether to go inside. This content is not included in the anime.
  • The anime adds Bakugo looking disappointed when Midnight forbids knocking down opponents.

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  • The anime adds this adorable moment of Izuku and Ochaco approaching Iida.
  • Background characters added include a superhero who is evidently a robot butler, and an octopus-headed audience member.

Sub vs Dub

  • The English dub has Jiro refer to Tokoyami as a “dumb bird.” Really? I’ve praised this show for not engaging in those kind of identity-based insults in what is largely a show where people usually are not mocked for their ability and appearance. That revision, whether studio-level or Funimation-level, seems needless.

Random Observations

  • I’m feeling about the pre-opening sequence to My Hero Academia the same way the Animanicast feels about the “Newsreel of the Stars” opening. At least Soul Eater condensed everything to “A sound soul…” so why not try that with having a different character introduce the episode with “Plus Ultra,” a la how a different character introduced each episode of School Rumble?
  • I had thought the background gag of Kamui Woods looking despondent as Mount Lady (Japanese: Kaori Nazuka; English: Jamie Marchi) took credit for his victory was added just for this episode–but it actually is visible back in Issue 1 of the manga.
  • As this episode shows Eijiro correcting Bakugo that he has hair as spiky as his, it’s coincidental that, in Japan, the manga just featured a new bio for Eijiro, revealing he takes three hours to style his hair. As Bakugo has hair like his mother, I wonder how long he spends, or whether it is genetic.
  • Watching, I was annoyed by Mineta mistaking Izuku’s tear puddle for urine. Seeing as I ended up making a joke that “Izuku got Ochaco wet,” I’m hardly one to talk.
  • I get the joke already, show: Hagakure is naked. I don’t need her classmates blushing to get the point. And why is she topless? Was that so that no one would grab her headband lest they grope her? That’s creepy!
  • Bakugo’s team is one point from being 666. Apt.
  • So, Dark Shadow is totally a Chocobo, right?
  • The series continues to impress with use of CGI designs on the quicksand, blending in with the animation and retaining a comic book-feel that suits this series.

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  • This looks so wrong. Freudian wrong. Like, Sarlacc Pit wrong.
  • Of course the student named Pony is being ridden.
  • I don’t recognize who substituted for Sonny Strait, who was out sick, as Present Mic, but they were effective at imitating the voice as well as mannerisms. Good work!
  • Good work as well to Josh Grelle as Tokoyami. Given his range, from Armin in Attack on Titan to Kuranosuke in Jellyfish Princess, he impresses me at lending this kind of Batman quality to the character–apt, since the first time I met him, he was wearing a Japanese-style Batman t-shirt. He is very kind in person and was up for talking about the Batman manga, joking around when Jerry Jewell had signed my Soul Eater DVD with “OX” (hugs and kisses), which I mis-read as Ox, Grelle’s character from that series (“He’s not Ox–I’m Ox!”), and posing for a picture. It’s hard to find a person in anime voice-acting who is rude, and Grelle is such an approachable, talented actor.
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