“Battle On, Challengers!” My Hero Academia Episode 21
The storyboards for the previous two episodes of My Hero Academia have departed widely from the original manga’s panels. Some departures have been successful, such as the different framing on Todoroki’s hand against Izuku’s face, and some have been disappointing, such as the loss of the image of Izuku standing over the defeated Shinso. Overall, these departures have helped prepared viewers for this episode, which is probably the first one in My Hero Academia to have original content–ignoring the OVA (itself written by series creator Kohei Horikoshi).
This episode was necessary. With such a large cast, and such a lengthy battle arc, the pace can slow down, look at characters other than the main five (although one duel focuses on Iida), and function more as a series of animated shorts, tied together with Ochaco’s internal struggle and Izuku’s analysis.
This is the first episode this season that is an adaptation of only one chapter of the manga–which makes sense: with so many duels taking place, the episode would waste the opportunity to take more time putting these battles in action. The manga benefits from wrapping up the battles in just a few panels–not too long to bore readers with endless issues of one-on-one battles, and because each panel can contain within it so much information, while animation depends on tracking the movements. Studio BONES does not skimp on the animation in this episode: there are few frozen images to just hint at what took place–we actually see the battles occurring. Most impressive, however, is how this episode lends some character development to Ochacho and Mina, as well as setting up Momo’s future stories, however disappointed I am with how Momo has been handled.
In recent reviews, I’ve dedicated sections on just comparing differences between the manga and the anime. This review will be largely just that section.
Both Issue 35 (also titled “Battle On, Challengers!”) and Episode 21 start with Ibara versus Denki. Whereas the manga kept Present Mic off-panel as he announces the two–and has to apologize to Ibara for referring to her as an assassin, the anime has him on screen. This episode also gives Ibara a much longer monologue about her virtue, prompting interruptions from Present Mic. The anime could have had Ibara give her long speech while Denki’s narration drowns her out–and after my complaints about how the female characters have been handled post-cheerleader outfits, I’m pleased that Ibara gets to talk, not interrupted by Denki’s narration, and even those interruptions by Present Mic lend to the comedy about both his showboat nature and her piousness.
When Ibara concludes her remarks, Denki realizes he is enamored with her. Okay, dude–she’s practically Jesus and Mary rolled into one: it’s not happening, man, so just stop right there.
The manga’s portrayal of the duel itself is funnier than the anime: at the end of one page Denki is charging up with a promise to end this battle quickly, and on the next page at the top he’s not only out of commission but tied up. The anime can’t afford that Gilligan cut: it would be a waste of animation to show Ibara’s vines. As well, the manga’s jump-cut is a bit hard to follow: in black and white, it is difficult to recognize those are wines leaving Ibara’s hair and holding Denki up. The anime’s slower progress in this battle also lets readers’ minds catch up to recognize that of course wood would be a more helpful deterrent against Denki’s electricity.
The anime also adds the reaction of Ibara’s Class 1 B classmates celebrating her victory, the Academy’s robot helpers taking a thumbs-up brain-fried Denki away sitting up in a stretcher–and a scene not from Issue 35, in which Itsuka has to pull Monoma (and his creeper face) away when he mocks Class 1 A for their classmate Denki’s loss. Given some later attention on Monoma in the manga, who appeared nowhere in Issue 35 that this episode adapts, this addition is helpful.
The aftermath of Ibara and Denki’s battle attracts Mount Lady’s attention, as she is focusing more on the battle on the jumbo screen than on security detail with Kamui Wood. The anime is funnier, as it expands on the gag: rather than Mount Lady recommending Ibara to him because of their shared plant Quirks, in the anime she adds that Ibara’s demeanor would soften his image–which makes his annoyed reaction to get back to work make more sense. The anime also adds a scene later where Mount Lady is still distracted watching the fights on the jumbo screen, again prompting Wood to tell her to get back to work.
We then cut to Ochaco seeing Izuku’s extensive notetaking about Ibara and Denki’s abilities. The manga had only Ochaco freak out at Izuku’s enthusiasm, whereas the anime, like the previous episode, includes reaction shots of surprise by their other classmates–and, in Bakugo’s case, quiet rage. In both the manga and the anime, this moment foreshadows Ochaco’s nervousness about her upcoming duel against Bakugo: when Izuku points out he has kept notes on Ochaco’s abilities, she realizes how much she has depended on his point of view, and how much less thought she may have put into thinking of strategies to use with her own ability.
The next battle between Iida and Mei is largely like that in the manga: Iida accepts Mei’s offer to use her support gear, not only to even the match but, as he tells referee Midnight, because he did not want to turn down the offer. Midnight acquiesces, with the anime expanding on Midnight’s explanation: Iida’s earnestness, while naive, is a youthful innocence and emphasizes the kind of collegiality these young superheroes will need to collaborate on future missions. The irony, of course, is that Mei only offered Iida her tech so she could show it in action to tech companies in the audience. As her own tech includes a microphone and loudspeakers, she turns the duel into a 10-minute sales pitch before throwing the match–embarrassing Iida because he didn’t actually get to fight to earn this victory, and potentially securing Mei future employment. While Mei’s behavior was deceitful, it’s great seeing a character with this kind of long-range planning and her concern for her financial future–qualities that make her a combination of Izuku and Ochaco, which would help make their interactions more entertaining if not for the love triangle the anime positioned here and which later issues of the manga bring back.
The battle also includes Aizawa’s facepalm, Present Mic’s cringe-face, and a quick shot of Aoyama pointing to his belt when Iida mentions it, which was not featured in the manga.
Speaking of Aoyama, before his duel with Mina, and the duel between Momo and Tokoyami, Ochaco departs. In the manga, she announces she is going to the prep room and leaves her cold drink behind, and the scene cuts immediately to Iida meeting her there–and seeing her intense face. The anime revises this scene not only to give more time with Mina and Aoyama’s duel, and helping us get a better sense of their personalities, flaws, and strengths, but also to show how oblivious Izuku can be. As I said before, the manga sets up a potential love triangle between him, Ochaco, and Mei.
Perhaps to set up that structure, this episode has Izuku be oblivious to Ochaco: while he’s frantically taking notes, Ochaco does not announce she is leaving, as she just sets her ice-cold drink down on her seat and silently walks away to the preparation room–and the still shot on that drink before the commercial break is effective. As Izuku takes notes, in the anime he is joined by Ojiro, who asks whether he thinks Momo or Tokoyami will win. When Izuku finally pauses much later after these duels, only then does he see Ochaco is gone–and that all the ice has melted in her glass. This adaptation in the anime is more effective than the original manga: Izuku shows his fixation on learning at the potential expense of seeing his classmates not as subjects to study but as friends; Ochaco isolates herself out of shame; and the visual of the ice melting shows the passage of time.
The Mina and Aoyama duel has been popular with fans online, given their appreciation of Mina’s personality and design, as well as expanding on a point raised in the manga. When this issue was collected as a volume, Horikoshi included a character design of Mina, in which he expressed frustration for not better showing her skills and strengths earlier. With Izuku’s explanation that Mina’s victory shows she is physically stronger than was imagined, his research and knowledge, as well as his obsessive study of superheroes’ abilities, lends authority to his statement that Mina is one of the strongest students and most capable fighters in their class. (Take a lesson from that, Supergirl, the next time you have Clark talk about Kara’s strength and skills.)
The anime also adds some humor, which in the context of the fanservice cheerleader outfits helps ameliorate that frustrating moment. Mina shows her intelligence when she strategizes that Aoyama will over-exert himself. It also pays off a detail from last season: during the physical education work on their first day of classes, Mina had heard Aoyama showboat about how he will get stomach pains if he over-uses his Quirk. You can see in the manga that Aoyama’s belt is smoking, whereas the anime explains why: Aoyama over-did it, got stomach pain, could not fire his laser any longer, which gave Mina the opportunity to fling acid at it to dissolve the belt he wears to focus his laser–and which holds up his pants. We get Aoyama in briefs–albeit not in a way to sexualize him, as the girls’ cheerleader outfits did–and the distraction lets Mina do an uppercut that knocks him out. While the manga showed Mina winning by uppercut, only the anime shows Aoyama losing his pants–complete with mass media photographing this embarrassment as he’s wheeled out by robo-stretcher as Mina claps her hands together in apology. The anime also adds Mineta yelling how he wanted this battle to be like a video game where the fighters’ attacks produce clothing damage, which Aoyama could’ve done with his laser beam…and hence Mineta remains the worst part of this show.
Another fight that has attracted fans’ attention is that between Momo and Tokoyami. I had complained about previous episodes how Momo is on the path to humility by way of a humiliation conga: she already got suckered into wearing the cheerleader outfit because she trusted that her teacher Aizawa gave order, and now she, like Izuku, over-thinks how to defeat Tokoyami. She is a student who entered the Academy without need of an exam: she has textbook knowledge of chemistry to know how to compose items and the rules for superheroes and the Academy, yet we have not seen her with the degree of on-site experience. Even in her fight at the USJ, her roles were defense and strategy, knowing to shield herself against overwhelming numbers and Denki’s electricity to disable all opponents. When she enters this fight against Tokoyami, I guess she loses because she has less combat experience–but that is only a guess, as up to now the manga and the anime do not show how much experience she has.
It comes across as unrealistic that Momo would lose her focus so long as to not have had a strategy in place already: I would think, rather than that stupid cheerleading she does, she would have thought, “I can create the shield immediately to block Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow, then generate a sword–or maybe even the cannon from the Obstacle Course, to knock him back. Just keep generating more items to throw at him.” Instead, she thinks about how intimidate she is by his ability, is distracted until Midnight initiates the duel, then is so distracted that Tokoyami is able to push her back before she realizes she is out of bonds. A later issue of the manga has a character antagonize Momo for this defeat, retroactively explaining how she lost, whereas the anime actually shows it. As I’ve said, the choice to have Momo behave this way seems to be less about her personality and more about achieving the desired effect: Tokoyami has to move on because his ability is easier to illustrate and has more obvious weaknesses in mobility, against sunlight, and potential autonomy that Tokoyami cannot control, whereas Momo is so powerful she can keep shielding herself and summoning more weapons. The payoff for Momo’s character development out of this moment is sufficient, though it takes a long time to be achieved–and after how much the cheerleader moment still bothers me for reducing female characters like her (minus the enthused Hagakure) into jokes, I’m bothered someone as smart as her loses. At least this defeat points out how over-planning can be detrimental to students without actually applying that knowledge: it’s like students who are incredible in their grades yet do not take opportunities, or are not given opportunities, to use that knowledge and those skills in practice to make up for deficiencies.
At least the storyboarding emphasizes, at the end, how small and isolated Momo feels, even as she is at the center of attention in her defeat.
The next duel is largely off-screen in both the manga and the anime, that being Ejiro vs Tetsutetsu–with a lot of humor mined from how similar the two are, even in their jumbo screen posed photos. As both have the same ability, neither is able to win over the other, and so Oda is forced to kill Gilde who is able to fire his shot at him at the same time, killing both of them and motivating Dazai to leave the Port Mafia and join the Agency–
Oh, wait. That was another (really good) anime–that you should be watching. But the outcome is the same: Eijiro and Tetsutetsu’s abilities are too similar, so they knock each other out and will have to do a sudden death arm wrestling competition to end this brawl.
Meanwhile, Izuku finally realizes Ochaco has left and meets her in the preparation room to offer his notes. The manga has Izuku’s notebook pristine, whereas the anime shows it is the same one, his 13th notebook, that Bakugo burned and tossed into the water in Episode 1. While I appreciate the continuity and potential symbolism–the thing Bakugo tried to destroy may defeat him–I cannot get over the realism: Izuku, who has been at this school this long, with this many classmate, still hasn’t filled up that notebook? I would think Class 1A has given him enough to fill up two notebooks. (Granted, the special episode in Japan that shows parts of Izuku’s notebook about his classmates hints he devotes at most two pages per student–which is helpful for controlling your note-taking, as my doctoral exam studies showed me.)
Ochaco refuses Izuku’s book, arguing she needs to depend on herself, whereas in earlier rounds she treated this battle as an opportunity to be with her friends and rely on them. Ochaco departs with a thumbs up, showing the anti-gravity pads on her digits, and departs to fight Bakugo. And hence, in the next episode, we are treated to what I hope is a well-animated battle–and an adaptation of more epic Ochaco reaction images.
Manga vs Anime
- Yeah, yeah, I said this entire review was one big “Manga vs Anime,” but I had to fit in this minor point: Momo’s shield in the manga had a cross, while hers in the anime doesn’t–because Christian symbols tend to be removed from anime adaptations of manga…unless you’re Ibara, who is our anime genderbent Jesus, the perfect symbol to piss off some alt-right jackasses.
Comic Book Allusions
- Denki is weak against wood. Alan Scott and Static say hi.
- Izuku, stop writing notes in your Tower of Babel book!
- Izuku’s left hand is still bandaged. Whereas Izuku’s injury was limited to just his fingers, this is an important detail, given how Recovery Girl’s powers operate under the law of diminishing returns.
- After all the jokes about how up-close Mei gets to everyone, we get payoff to that joke: her Quirk is having telescopic vision, hence she has no need to get up close. That’s just her personality.
- Another benefit to this episode is how much it avoids flashbacks for re-used animation while giving us new scenes not featured in the anime.
- I had mentioned before, at length, how annoyed I was with Present Mic’s tendency to mock students’ physical appearances. He kind of does so again about Mina’s horns. But that reminds me–I forgot that, as much as I think this show is progressive in not having characters mocking others’ appearances, that ignores that Bakugo himself mocked Mina earlier for her eyes. That was a major oversight that pokes holes in my argument.
- I can’t hear “Battle On” as the title and not think of TOME. Can we get Chris Niosi in this show?