“The Boy Born with Everything.” My Hero Academia Episode 19
Trigger warnings: There will be discussion of representations of domestic violence and rape.
Spoiler warnings: This review will cover content up to Episode 21 of the anime. Spoilers are not marked.
Is my title too mean? I don’t intend to beat up on the narrative structure, as I see where the story is going, and given the result I know as occurs in the manga, all of this makes sense. I’m just gobsmacked at how so many characters, all at once, can act so foolishly.
- Why do the girls listen to Mineta, a known pervert, to put on the obviously fetishistic cheerleader uniforms?
- Why did Izuku and Todoroki reveal so much about themselves and risk giving their opponent ammunition to use against them in their inevitable face-off?
- Why did Shinso press his luck by trying to hypnotize Izuku earlier than necessary?
- Why did Izuku talk when Ojiro told him not to?
- Why did Ojiro decide honor was more important than accepting his advancement?
- And why is Endeavor making it obvious he is a wife-beater–and why hasn’t anyone thrown his ass in prison?!
Let’s break down each problem separately before acknowledging what the episode does very well. And I think it will help lend some clarity about the characterization of, at least, Momo, Ochaco, and Izuku.
While keeping up with My Hero Academia, I have been behind on posting reviews. My reviews have tried to look at each episode within the context of what has come before and after, aided by knowledge of what has already happened in the manga this anime is adapting. This approach has influenced how I look at each episode, sometimes to my detriment as I spend more time focused on what is coming up rather than what is good or bad about the episode itself. Nevertheless, I have found this approach useful because, as a serialized narrative, My Hero Academia deserves to be judged in its context. So when I’m this harsh as to call characters as behaving foolishly, it is based on what has come before–and what is coming up.
It is also harsh to refer to fictional characters as “foolish.” They are not autonomous: they are creations by an author designed to behave a certain way to achieve a desired effect. At best an author can make characters behave realistically considering the context in which they are placed.
My frustration may be a disagreement I have with Horikoshi about how I imagine these characters would behave. Momo is perhaps the character whose portrayal has me most annoyed. As a character who was introduced as being able to enter UA without need of an exam, she may be more naive than her classmates, hence why she falls for Mineta’s obvious ploy. Momo is a child prodigy, she is someone whose intelligence and lengthy experience with ability has made her an already skilled strategian. As shown in some supplementary materials in the manga, Momo has used her Quirk since childhood, and to create objects she must have a complete knowledge of their composition, which includes parts, substances, even atomic arrangement. Compared to Todoroki, who also was admitted without need of an exam, she has the chemical knowledge to offset his ice and fire abilities, as well as a more personable demeanor that makes her easier to collaborate with classmates. Compared to Bakugo, who has likely as long an experience with his Quirk as she with hers, Momo has the emotional maturity to not lose her temper. And compared to Izuku, who still was voted to be Class President ahead of her earlier in Season 1, she has much longer experience with her Quirk and did not need to go through the exam to enter.
So these episodes have to give Momo flaws in order to keep her from advancing, or else her ability would end all matches quickly.
To give a female character such a powerful ability, then to find ways to keep her out of the final round of competition, is frustrating because of the context of years of systematic impediments put upon women in multiple nations, cultures, and societies, including those in Japan and North America, coupled with the fixation in both areas to fetishize women and girls sexually. I don’t ignore that there is one female character, Mina, who is going to advance, in a logical fashion and on her own merits, to the finals. But to have Momo not only fall for the ploys of an idiot like Mineta, but to have that ploy be to put her into a cheerleader outfit, a common fetish, is unnerving.
I get it: Momo fell for Mineta’s ploy because she is naive. As someone who has advanced so quickly in her education, it makes sense she has faced fewer struggles and hence may have learned fewer lessons about naivete. Yet so has Izuku: he falls for Shinso’s trick even after being warned by Ojiro, and I don’t see Shinso hypnotizing Izuku to put on a cheerleader outfit to embarrass him. The context for all of this makes the jokes dumb.
And then to top it off, unlike the manga, which set up the images of the cheerleaders’ uniforms from afar, this episode has close-ups of at least one character’s breasts and backside to really remind us these images are to titillate the audience, likely the straight male segment. It’s not like we aren’t going to get clothing damage: we thankfully skip Momo losing her clothes again, we get Eijiro’s clothes frayed, and in a later episode a boy will lose his pants. But Eijiro and the lost-pants example are hardly as fetishistic in camera framing or exaggerating the male physique for titillation as the tight cheerleader outfits do.
It’s a double standard that makes the girls into jokes for the sake of pleasing largely boys and men–and still, even to this point in the manga, My Hero Academia has done little to fix this. A later gag involving hot springs gets closer at playing with fanservice cliche. But like a locker room joke also in the manga, it’s still predicated upon teasing the viewer with images of half-dressed teenage girls, and that’s disturbing. Add this to some annoyances I have hinted I have with this season’s closing theme song during the credits–which focuses on the girls, while the series proper gives them, minus Mina (in ability), Ochaco (in narrative focus), and maybe Mei (in cunning), short shrift–and I’m not in a good mood discussing such a potential double standard.
I’m not going to act like I haven’t tried, and failed, to write content that reverses this double standard. I do think how this story would be different if it was men in the cheerleader role, even in those outfits–and worry it would be mockery rather than embracing an outfit, the joke of drag in laughing not with the man in woman’s clothing but laughing at them. Even some artwork of the male characters in the cheerleader outfit risks coming across as fulfilling a fetish to make a character into an object for pleasure rather than a fully realized person–albeit one who is still a narrative tool to achieve an effect.
If there is at least one good detail, it is that the cheerleader outfits do enhance Ochaco’s development. The image of her cheering while her mind is elsewhere is surprising and does fit her: she is someone who is delighted at cheering, even as she is obviously disturbed how fetishistic the outfit is. And we finally get the payoff regarding Hagakure’s cheering introduced way back in the Season 2 premiere.
As well, the episode avoids what the manga did, if I may introduce “Manga vs Anime” earlier in this post. In the manga, Todoroki’s explanation about his mother is reduced to word boxes that are placed over Mineta seeing the cheerleaders and whispering his plan to Denki. While Todoroki’s voiceover narration in this episode does likewise, it is without showing Mineta talking to Denki, and instead showing other scenes of their classmates. The narration in the anime therefore shows a contrast between Todoroki’s past self–isolated from some people–and his present–now among his classmates and friends–that enhances the sadness of how separated he is right now from his colleagues because of his contention with past trauma. In contrast, the manga places Todoroki’s narration about his father abusing his mother over images of Mineta and Denki scheming how to put their female classmates girls into cheerleader outfits. That choice in the manga adds associates varying degrees of sexual violence with each action–one that may be applicable to Mineta and Denki but risks diminishing how violent Endeavor’s behavior really is, or elevating Mineta and Denki’s behavior to being as unforgivable as Endeavor’s.
Some of the characters’ foolishness in this episode is at least realistic, or follows more traditional, less offensive paths for comedy. Comedy is based on tension–the contrast between two dissimilar notions–which is released through laughter. It’s why some people laugh nervously about something offensive, not because it is humorous but because they don’t know how else to respond (ignoring those jackasses who do laugh intentionally at offensive remarks). So the tension between what Izuku means (“I inherited One for All but must hide All Might’s secret”) and what Todoroki interprets (“You inherited One for All from All Might, as I inherited my Quirks from my parents, therefore you are All Might’s out-of-wedlock son”) creates humor even through the uncomfortable topics of Todoroki’s abusive upbringing and the notion of All Might having a secret child. This is foolish of Izuku–but it’s funny, not offensive, fits his candor, and it is consistent for him: Izuku revealed this secret to Bakugo last season, who disregarded this confession as just a lie.
When Izuku falls for Shinso’s trick, however, I don’t buy it. Izuku’s naivete, like Momo’s, proves to be his undoing at episode’s end–and it doesn’t make sense except to shrug and say, “Izuku and Momo are naive and honorable–of course they will fall for these tricks.” As with Ojiro’s refusal to advance despite being on Shinso’s team, it comes across as unrealistic to me. Such character choices seem less to be core to the characters’ intentions and personalities and more how Horikoshi wants to set up the final competition, and to achieve the desired effects of cliffhangers at the end of manga chapters and anime episodes.
Therefore, Ojiro has to not advance because his Quirk is not as interesting as those of Ibara and Tetsutetsu, so a circuitous path has to be provided to let those two advance–but not more female characters, such as Itsuka, Kinoko, and Setsuna, all of whom were on the team to replace Ojiro and Nirengeki on Shinso’s team. Look, show, you can have Midnight and Present Mic acknowledge the circuitousness is there and that the rules are being changed faster than a Yu-Gi-Oh duel or an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? But acknowledging the flaw does not actually fix it.
As well, Izuku has to fall for Shinso’s trap or else that competition will end quickly, and the manga chapter and the anime episode need to space out the pacing to have pages and time available to set up Shinso’s origin story, which can’t be done in this episode and have to be pushed back to the next one.
For all this lengthy criticism I have, however, the stupidest of all characters in this episode, of course, is Endeavor. It’s awful enough to admit he is an abusive parent to the most honorable superhero, even as he anticipates All Might would not divulge such a secret without more evidence. But in this case, the action of admission is far less awful than the deed admitted: Endeavor pressured a woman into marriage, made her have a child for him (potentially involving rape–and given the pressure put onto her, might as well be considered a form of rape), then created such a toxic environment for his son and his wife that she suffers from mental abuse and takes it out on her son, scolding his face and leaving him with the scar he still has to this day. All of that is stupid: it ruins the lives of people, it does not earn respect–and in its unethicalness, that is for me the definition of stupidity, the complete lack of ethics and honorable behavior.
Such characterization of Endeavor will be infuriating given the outcome to this arc, as well as what takes place in later stories. Endeavor is a character who exists as a reminder that “hero” is not necessarily a pleasant word. While Funimation has done mostly good work with its interviews with its actors explaining what is good about a hero, we also have to be aware that “hero” risks becoming a word that fails to acknowledge the humanity of that person–and as with any humans, there is the potential to complete good deeds, as Endeavor has, while also completing awful deeds to the point of being monstrous, as Endeavor most certainly is. It is people like Endeavor who abuse the term “hero,” and the decision of My Hero Academia to turn “hero” into a career category, complete with agencies and regulations, saps that word of its idealism. It’s like how words such as “teacher,” “soldier,” even “President” should connote qualities of goodness and ethics–but as we have seen, it is not the office or title but the person who earns that respect by their deeds. And Endeavor shows how this series revises what “hero” means as a profession, robbing it of its honorable connotations. Whereas Season 1 failed to make “hero” into a bad word, despite Shigaraki’s trollish pseudo-psychiatry, Endeavor is more effective at identifying the flaws, and darkness, to the heroes in this setting.
There is good news, though: this episode lets All Might show dimensions that were always there but often overshadowed by his fixation on molding Izuku into his image. Last season, I would write now and then about how My Hero Academia positions All Might into a suspicious character. This is a man who hides the limitations of his superpower, which, even as he keeps this weakness a secret so it is not exploited by villains, is still helpful information his superheroes allies should know, as most seem to. In another story, his fixation on legacy would be a sign of his hubris and a red flag for Izuku to trust him, an interpretation given credence when, in this season’s opening, he is so invested in making Izuku not just his mentee but “the next All Might.” What has mitigated this reading is how often Recovery Girl and other superheroes remind All Might that Izuku is a child who, despite his talent and knowledge, is still not ready for the responsibility put upon him. And what has mitigated reading All Might as antiheroic, Byronic, or even villainous has been how this season emphasizes his adorkable qualities. His interactions with Endeavor, paralleled to his mentee’s with Endeavor’s own son, are proof that All Might was not lying when he said, also earlier this season, that Izuku is a lot like him. All Might’s sincerity to Endeavor, despite how transparently this man is an evil monster, helps sell that point, as does All Might’s propensity in the next episode to imitate Izuku’s muttering.
Comic Book References
- Izuku in the dub, as well as the original English adaptation of the manga, refers to Todoroki as having the tragic background of a comic book superhero–such as Batman, Huntress, Daredevil, Spider-man, or how much they have screwed up the Flash.
Manga vs Anime
- This is an episode where a lot of the storyboard (by Seiji Mizushima) does not match the manga. Even the placement is different, the anime flipping manga panels horizontally for storyboards.
- The episode takes its title from No. 23 of the manga, which the first half of this episode adapts.
- The manga adds a scene of students talking (and in Manga’s case, word balloon-ing) about getting lunch.
- After Todoroki suspects Izuku is All Might’s child, the episode adds a flashback to the earlier confrontation between Izuku and Todoroki, a flashback not present in the manga.
- When Endeavor walks away, the episode adds something not in the manga: All Might stops smiling. The symbol of peace stopped smiling. The last time that happened was when he faced the Villains at USJ, because he was super-pissed they had kidnapped his students. All Might may not be pissed at Endeavor here, but he knows shit is up.
- As I sad, the anime does not have Mineta and Denki scheming while Todoroki narrates, so that revision is appreciated.
- The episode adds more images of the students playing recreational games, including Itsuka taking Monoma away as a “perverse person.” Where’s the lie.
Sub vs Dub
- I’m pretty sure the dub has Present Mic refer to Ochaco and others’ cheerleader outfits as “fanservice.” Yeah, no, that’s even more creepy, show.
- In the manga and the sub, the students are shocked that Midnight arbitrarily changes the rules to allow Ojiro and Nirengeki to pull out of the competition. In the dub, Midnight instead says she is turned on, hence prompting the shocked reaction. Honestly, after an episode of fanservice, the dub joke is annoying but is in keeping with her persona.
- In the English dub, Bakugo names Ochaco as if he doesn’t recognize the name, whereas, in the original Japanese, it sounded to me less like he didn’t recognize the name but that he just said it–so that the humor comes from Ochaco being surprised Bakugo recognizes her name, after he failed to know all his classmates’ names earlier.
- In the English dub, Mei calls Tenya “legs.”
- The animation at least is well done, thanks in part to Fullmetal Alchemist’s Seiji Mizushima on storyboard. Look at the pans.
- Welcome back to Present Mic, Sonny Strait! And good work by Dave Trosko, who filled in for the character in previous episodes.
- Good work as well by Justin Briner on Izuku’s shock when Todoroki refers to him as All Might’s child.
- Also…Um…Am I the only one who thinks Izuku looks evil in the cold opening that has gone on almost all season, when he charges up One for All to punch the camera?
- When meeting Endeavor, All Might looks off-model. This seems like some Blu-Ray-level revision work needed, again.
- The explanation about Quirk Marriages…I want to write more, as this is a shocking bit of world building, especially the human trafficking and rape involved in this context.
- The manga recently confirmed this, but it was foreshadowed as early as this story: Denki can charge electronics, as he has his phone’s charger cable shoved into his mouth.
- Todoroki claims he’ll rise above Izuku with just his right side. Ha ha, no, you won’t. And Izuku claims he’ll beat Todoroki. Ha ha, no, you won’t.
- I didn’t talk much about Bakugo here. The use of him is minimalist, letting him be shown as thinking and concentrating, a welcome departure from the typical hotheaded characterization he has.
- The music as Izuku remembers the support he received is a well-done re-orchestration of the Season 1 music, “You Say Run”–and it is an excellent revision. The music as well when Todoroki first speaks to Izuku is also haunting.
- The noses on the Americans are odd. Is this a reversal on mocking Americans? Or American noses? Or some association between American female cheerleaders and nosejobs?
- The joke on “redundant” for Eijiro versus Tetsutetsu is also about how redundant is his name–Tetsutetsu Tetsutetsu.
- I had suspected earlier that Patrick Seitz was portraying Endeavor, which was only confirmed about a week later when this episode aired. And thus begin numerous Dio jokes.
- Funimation has moved its “Inside the Episode” features–so now my previous links to those videos are broken because the URLs have changed.