“My Hero Academia” reminds me why I hate sports

“Cavalry Battle Finale.” My Hero Academia Episode 18

I analyze stories for a living. I like knowing the beginning, middle, and end so I can look at the story as a whole. That means I tend to jump ahead in a book or read spoilers before seeing the completed work.

I don’t like sports. Unlike literary analysis, the rules of the game are much more restrictive. This is not like Derrida, Foucault, and others talking about the game-like nature of wordplay in literature: if you break a rule in a sport, then you expect the referee will hold you accountable. There is less room for interpretation. But most of all, sports are not predictable. I’m not as big a fan of the excitement of the score changing moment by moment as I am knowing what the outcome will be. I like reaching a stable ending rather than being held in suspense.

I know how this arc to My Hero Academia ends, and this episode’s attention to the goals and methods of Izuku, Bakugo, and Todoroki–the three characters with the most change upon the completion of this arc–has me cringing knowing how this story will wrap up. That’s not to ignore how this arc also develops the other main characters, Ochaco and Iida, but when it comes to this storyline, the focus on those three characters.

My heart goes out to Izuku, as he is the one learning the most how to acclimate to a new set of abilities while holding onto his optimism and using his knowledge and intelligence to solve problems. But as Todoroki says (in the subtitled version of this episode), “Things don’t always go as you wish.” With sports, you got that right.

It kind of leaves you feeling like this.

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My emotions.

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MY EMOTIONS.

Okay, onto the episode itself.

Unless you got Grays Sports Almanac, you don’t know how a sporting event ends. As My Hero Academia focuses on the Sports Festival, the tension is stressful, as this episode so effectively, the rankings of the teams shifting so frequently, the roles of underdogs, winners, and losers alternating so quickly.

Even those categories are a bit nebulous, as someone like Todoroki, who wins this match, still feels like a loser, unable to take all headbands from Izuku’s team, and bringing forward his father’s fire abilities on his left arm despite his promise to himself never to draw on that power.

As well, it’s not as if Izuku is absolutely the underdog: despite whether he wins or loses, he remains the protagonist, so setbacks are challenges that reveal his flaws so to develop him, and his victories keep the audience invested in his story. The series has made it apparent Izuku’s journey is going to hurt: you don’t break your legs and arm in the school entrance exam, and keep breaking those limbs, and think such physical damage will not catch up to him. I appreciate that My Hero Academia acknowledges the damage Izuku is doing to himself, and that he makes progress, as in this episode, feeling pain from using One for All but not breaking any bone this time.

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As for Bakugo…well, he’s an asshole. All Might’s narration justifies his pathway to victory by saying he has a drive to reach the top, something the dickish Monoma lacks: assholes get shit done, and dicks just fuck things up.

The problem I have is that I tend to prefer pragmatists to reckless people. That’s not to tamp down on innovation: Mei in this series shows that you have to take a risk to develop new ideas, yet you also treat it just as that–a test, not an uncontrolled experiment. Bakugo’s recklessness almost lost his team all points as he kept leaping. The justification, and one that may not be apparent enough to me based on his actions and words in this episode, is that he knows Sero will be able to pull him back. Instead, the message that comes across in this episode is, if you want to win, be rude to your teammates, don’t learn their names, insult their appearances, make some quick orders that may still have not have worked given Sero and Mina’s aim, and as long as you stubbornly push forward, you’ll break through any barriers to just snatch victory. There’s little strategy, little finesse, no kindness, and just a lot of passionate but angry focus. I don’t like that cynicism when I prefer my superheroes to be collaborative, which as the last episode with Mount Lady established, superheroes can’t afford to be a Justice League of Captain Kirk’s–they need to cooperate. It’s that Bakugo is communicating a message of, “be rude to your teammates, and who cares whether they respect you–at least they fear you. Izuku who the admirable one; Bakugo ends up the effective one. And that cynicism is not helpful when we’re all in this fight together. It’d be great to hear Bakugo acknowledge that trust in others, as Tokoyami does here to Izuku (something I asked for last week), but that’s not who Bakugo is: he isn’t Izuku, he isn’t likable, that’s how he is designed, not every character is appealing, and it’d be boring if all characters in a story got along.

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Even as I mock Monoma in these reviews, I can’t help but think he is a fascinating character. He is a copycat, in both his Quirk and his behavior. He sees Class 1A excel, so rather than fashion his own identity, he seeks to make himself the opposition. This earns him criticism from classmates that he is acting just like a villain–which is hilarious, when it’s actually Bakugo’s behavior and character design that is more evocative of gritty 1990s antiheroes and gray characters out of the X-Men or some other comic. Nevertheless, Monoma’s shrewdness indeed comes across as Machiavellian and hence subject to intense criticism. If I am going to criticize Bakugo for failing to match Izuku’s ideal heroism–cooperation, listening, and authoritative rather than authoritarian, willing to explain his plans rather than leaving peers in the dark (see Robin in the beginning of Young Justice Season 1)–then I also have to hold Monoma to that model example. The show does well at positioning him and Bakugo as rivals, with Monoma’s last headband being the one Bakugo originally had worth 665 points.

My friend Supermacaquecol (Tumblr, Twitter) clarified why I’m having a problem tracing Izuku, Bakugo, and Todoroki, even as I keep sympathizing with the first much more than the latter two: they represent a triangle of the parts of a hero–friendship, victory, and hard work. Izuku benefits from a collaborative style of superheroism, as One for All is a superhero that depends on the collaboration of multiple generations of superheroes inheriting, augmenting, and passing on that Quirk; Bakugo is about effectiveness to just win the battle, as he has been shrewd how he presented himself in school, avoided going to bars, and did whatever he needed for a quick win; Todoroki entered this superhero school without having to go through an entrance exam because his hard work is indicative of why he belongs. As with some triangles in the character analysis of superhero stories–as with the level-headed Wonder Girl serving as the moderating force between the emotional Starfire and the emotionally hard Raven–this structure helps give this arc some focus. The triangle also allows for shifts for how the characters determine the plot: whereas this Cavalry Battle did position the three boys in competition so that Izuku now seeks victory through hard work, Todoroki has to collaborate to win, and Bakugo has to work with others and try harder, the next episode removes Bakugo, who is a more flat character, to contrast Izuku and Todoroki and, by extension, their paternal figures, Izuku’s mentor All Might, and Todoroki’s biological father Endeavor, to put hard work and the power of friendship in conflict with each other. It also helps that Tokoyami clarifies for Izuku that Todoroki would not be so forceful in combat if he did not see Izuku as having positive traits.

Sports narratives, not only My Hero Academia but ones I really like such as Hajime No Ippo and ones I’m less familiar with such as The Prince of Tennis, even card game and other toyetic series like Yu-Gi-Oh and Beyblade, have to balance the sports with the narrative: sports have to keep raising the stakes, while narratives have to have a beginning, middle, and end that allows the character to have a journey and, potentially, develop. The sports analogy can be extrapolated to the superhero genre–good guys versus bad guys–so it’s not as if the problems with sports narratives are limited to just that topic. At least a narrative allows the author to manipulate the story to achieve some effect, which this episode does effectively–and has a surprising twist that makes Tokoyami useful, acquiring one of Todoroki’s headbands (which you may notice if you track when his headband is and is not present in the episode). And Izuku learns the road to being a hero will be challenging, remembering Ochaco, Mei, and Tokoyami are heroes of their own stories with their own motivations and goals that are separate from him. This episode also forces Izuku to see Iida as a powerful rival and forces Todoroki to acknowledge his fiery side.

And now we get to see Good Dad All Might and Abusive Spouse and Parent Endeavor compare fatherly advice. Spoiler: unless Endeavor is voiced by Mark Hamill, this Ozai nonsense won’t fly. And since it sounds like Endeavor is voiced by the talented and friendly writer, actor, and director Patrick Seitz, we’re in for some Dio levels of pain.

Manga Panels vs Anime Screencaps

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Manga vs Anime

  • The anime re-arranges some events from Issues No. 29 and 30 from the manga. No. 29 begins with Bakugo again facing off against Monoma, which does not occur until later in this episode–and No. 29 has Itsuka chastising Monoma, whereas it’s one of Monoma’s teammates in the anime. The scene then shifts to Mineta’s team rushing Todoroki, Denki frying the teams, Momo freezing the teams, Tokoyami’s flashback explaining Dark Shadow’s limitations, all of which happend at the beginning of this episode. Then both the anime and the manga shift to Monoma copying Bakugo and Eijiro’s Quirks. Upon returning to the battle between Izuku and Todoroki, the anime adds All Might and Endeavor observing the battle.

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  • The anime adds someone in the audience who looks like a relative of Sato–evident in the lips.

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  • Pony, no! This didn’t happen to you in the manga…
  • To set up the next storyline, this episode adds scenes showing All Might and Endeavor in the audience, with differing and spoken regard for their “sons’” abilities before Izuku loses his points.
  • The anime adds a quick scene of Mineta as Tsuyu walks away from him, although retaining her head-steam of annoyance.
  • The manga had some additional wordplay from Ochaco, tying into her earlier remarks about battles between men. Whereas in the anime she notices Iida, Todoroki, and Izuku in competition with each other, in the manga she has the more suggestive remark about “men, always measuring their–” before she cuts herself off.

Sub vs Dub

  • The subtitled version adds to Momo’s dialogue to Izuku, calling him “naive.” The dub mitigates her remark by having her instead say not to underestimate her team. Maybe I’m still bitter from last week when Jiro called Tokoyami “birdhead,” but to hear Momo of all people criticize Izuku as naive–when Izuku was making taking a 50-50 gamble, so he had an equal chance of being wrong–is annoying. Momo’s later thanks to Iida for helping secure the team’s victory didn’t help either. But again, these are not perfect people, flaws allow characters to develop–and given the humiliation conga line starting for Momo next week, she’s going to get a lot of development, although through some sexist means.

Random Observation

  • I screwed up. Last time I criticized how the show didn’t give a good motivation for Tokoyami joining Izuku’s team, and I had suggested he could’ve been shown as convinced by Izuku’s strategizing ability…and I forgot that was exactly what did happen in the manga, just not until the later chapter that this episode adapts. My impatience led me to make a poor opinion about the plotting on Tokoyami. I retract my criticism.
  • Another screwup: Monoma’s English actor, Austin Tindle, was at a local con. Not the first time I have missed an opportunity to hear him talk at a con, and probably not the last.
  • And a last one: Supermacaquecol explained to me that the bright images are darkened in these episodes, as I’ve complained for months, so not to trigger epilepsy. I’m ignorant.
  • Thanks to Josh Grelle for confirming to me he indeed is portraying not only Todoroki but also Dark Shadow in the English dub.
  • The recaps continue to bore me–but I did laugh that Tsuyu’s extent to the recap was reminding Izuku what to call her. But then tossing in the recap for Bakugo versus Monoma seemed awkward. It’s the Netflix-ification of televised serial narrative: toss in reminders so that viewers don’t just skip ahead and instead are forced to watch the entire episode, even the recaps and flashbacks.
  • While Iida’s technique comes across as a bit too convenient narratively, it actually makes sense: this is not some new technique but, as he comes from a family of speedsters, one he knows about, has practiced, and wants to improve. He also did not use it before during the USJ arc because to do so would temporarily disable his running ability: he was thinking about how long he could last getting All Might and other superheroes and participating in a fight against the villains, rather than gambling all of that energy in one go. Speaking of which, that’s also kind of annoying: Momo criticizes Izuku for taking a gamble, then praises Iida for taking a gamble. I guess when it’s your team it’s just fine and dandy.
  • It’s funny, after all the crap Jiro has given Denki this season, he’s the one who disables her and their classmates so Todoroki can win. On the one hand, It also shows Denki’s value, and that Todoroki is not invulnerable, as he did need Denki to immobilize everyone first before he could freeze them. On the other hand, I’m pretty much ready to go on a rant about him and Mineta next week.
  • Speaking of Mineta: the newest Funimation video features Funimation staff working with Operation Rubber Duck to provide bathing materials for the homeless–and bloopers from the newest episode. The video features Mineta’s English actor, Brina Palencia, explaining her volunteer work for the charity.
  • Next week: Someone glue Mineta and Denki together, throw them into a volcano, let cheerleaders roast marshmallows over the wreckage.
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