In its Season 2 climax, “My Hero Academia” is on fire

“Shoto Todoroki: Origin.” My Hero Academia Episode 23 (Season 2, Episode 10)

There is a lot to cover to cover in this episode, from how it deconstructs the “stuffed in the fridge” trope and the brooding superhero’s tragic backstory, as well as adding more to the analysis by others of animator Yutaka Nakamura, Studio BONES, and yutapon cubes.

While the animation is what will bring new viewers to this series, as with any story, its success depends first on plot, then characters, before its production–in this case, animation, acting, and music–can be appreciated. Without this plot, in which Izuku and Todoroki are both motivated to be heroes by All Might, there would be no episode.

And, unfortunately, as we have given Izuku and Todoroki their resolution, like after any climax, things are going to get a bit less interesting.

Tagging for spoilers, as well as trigger warnings about spousal abuse, rape, violence against children, scolding, and me cursing out Mark Millar.

Every plot is a problem: what does the character want? The episode answers: Izuku and Todoroki want to be heroes in the model of All Might. And that payoff at the end of the episode is both pulled from what the characters have shown us up to this point, and helps to add new layers to those characters. Seeing young Shoto’s fascination with All Might, and how he became Todoroki, helps develop both characters–and they have long needed it. I have written before how All Might initially comes across as opportunistic, reckless, and irresponsible with his use of his Quirk, and how this series, by having him as a teacher, and having him live through disability (which can lead to unfortunate implications), reveals more about his past, how he himself was born Quirkless and forgot the lessons of that experience, and how teaching and collaboration changes him. That is why it is All Might who interacts with Todoroki in the first My Hero Academia OVA, as it is Todoroki who was underdeveloped in Season 1, only to be thrust into the role of a main character and the focus to the Sports Festival Arc.

My Hero Academia S2E10 - Watching All Might.png

The payoff in developing All Might and Todoroki gives us the episode’s moral, as summarized by All Might, then re-deployed by both Izuku and Todoroki’s mother: Quirks may be hereditary, but what one chooses to do with those abilities is what matters. This is not a new moral, as it’s been present in prior superhero stories: it’s essentially the choice to be a gun or Superman, a choice shown earlier in Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant. The moral even pulls from other works by Bird: Ratatouille, and the idea that a hero can come from the most unexpected places, and The Incredibles, that people should use the full extent of their abilities (a point covered by Mother’s Basement).

All Might’s explanation that Quirks are hereditary is doubly hilarious, in part because of something All Might will reveal in the next episode (so, good foreshadowing), and mostly because it establishes the message that being a hero is not limited by one’s genetics. It took Izuku to remind All Might that anyone has the potential to be a hero. It took All Might, long before he met Izuku, to tell Todoroki and any child watching that it is not one’s abilities but what one does with the abilities they have that defines heroism. This is in contrast to someone like Todoroki’s father, Endeavor, who gets to be called a hero by the persona he carries.

As of yet, we have not seen Endeavor in action: he is certainly a hero by profession and, in many cases, by actions he has performed to save lives. What separates him from heroes like All Might is that All Might is engaged with his neighbors, almost like a social worker or community organizer. Whereas I had written before that All Might came across as the outsider at UA and in town, getting used to what it means to be a teacher and overshadowing other superheroes by rushing to save the day before they have a chance to help, this season has done more work to show him humbling himself. Last season, he used all his power to perform good deeds, instead of letting Mount Lady and other heroes do so, hence he missed the USJ activities–and, if Iida had not arrived, he would have not been present to push past his limitations and save the students from Nomu. Also last season, he was more likely to criticize Aizawa’s initial teaching practices, something that persists in the recent USJ OVA. Here, in this season, he has had to listen to Recovery Girl rightly admonish him for risking Izuku’s life, and he has reached out to Endeavor for parental advice to improve as a teacher.

My Hero Academia S2E10 Todorok's mother

The representation of Todoroki’s mother is troubling, although I argue that comes not from Horikoshi’s handling of the topic but because of the intrinsic problems to this kind of superhero narrative that his own superhero narrative is deconstructing. When Todoroki told Izuku how he got his scar–his mother, suffering under the mental distress from a violent man like Endeavor who forced her into marriage, practically raping her and holding her as a slave–one of Izuku’s first thoughts, other than horror, is that it sounds like a story straight out of a comic book. The child of an abusive household or childhood trauma–Batman, Daredevil, Wolverine–is a common trope.

While the original manga and this episode admit that Endeavor is abusive and that Todoroki’s mother injured him, neither commits the sin of these other comic book stories: this is not torture porn. Notice that we don’t see Endeavor hitting Todoroki’s mom, even though we hear the sound and see the camera shift to indicate what has happened. We do not see his mother actually throw the kettle of hot water that scolds Shoto’s face: we see the setup and the aftermath. Mark Millar’s argument about rape in comics–that it lets you know who the villains are–is one of the dumbest arguments, presented by a writer who, by saying those words, shows he is a hack. If that was not clear, I’ll make it clearer: fuck Mark Millar, and fuck his asinine argument.

Oh, and The Kingsmen looks awful.

I do not act like I have not read, taught, and written fiction that acknowledges characters have been raped, injured, and otherwise traumatized: I also recognize that the content I seek is that which does not use such moments of violence for entertainment. Even when those stories I enjoy reading, teaching, and writing represent such violence, they have five times as much focus on the aftermath and living through such violence.

This episode did not make us watch Endeavor hitting Todoroki’s mother so we could see how it was animated: they are not going to give us that content as animation. This episode did not show Shoto getting scolded: that is voyeuristic and harms both Shoto and his mother. All must be in service to the story, so the focus is on how Todoroki lives through this experience every day. Watch the My Hero Academia USJ OVA, released before the Season 2 premiere, to see the flashback to Todoroki’s past: again, the focus is not on torture but on what he thinks about and how he lives through it.

One other detail for how this episode may be brilliant in its handling of these tired comic book tropes is in Todoroki’s mother herself. She is committed to a mental hospital by Endeavor keeping her from hurting their child, but also so he can save face and prevent her influence from interrupting his goal of molding Todoroki into a successor that will outshine All Might. Todoroki’s mother is, in essence, fridged–and she has ice abilities. To spoil the next episodes, she is not dead. And the choice to have her live seems like a response against the fridging of female characters. All of this does not excuse significant problems this series has with its representations of female characters, as I’ve written before–and which is further emphasized by the fact that still, this far into the manga, Horkoshi has not given a name to her so that all I can call her is “Todoroki’s mother.” Yet the portrayal of his mother, while engaging in the worst cliches of superhero narratives, responds strongly against such portrayals.

My Hero Academia S2E10 - Todoroki last image.png

Beyond the plot and character development, the animation is exhilarating. While I found the last frame of Todoroki before the explosion to look odd, not helped by the difficulty of lip-sync when the camera is shaking and he is about to unleash his attack, the work meets the level of thrills Studio BONES has set for itself with Fullmetal Alchemist and Bungo Stray Dogs.

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This includes adaptations of details from the manga, such as the animating the manga panel’s transition of Izuku’s wavering pupil to his more circular pupil as he shifts from pain and indecision to pure instinct.

My-Hero-Academia-S2E10---Cement-Cubes-(GIF).gif

I know viewers will focus on this episode’s animator, Yutaka Nakamura, and his yutapon cubes technique, as explained by Canipa Effect: his animation tends to form cubes to show swift, powerful transformations. Actually, the source material makes Nakamura the perfect fit for adapting those issues of the manga for animation, because in Issue 39 Cementoss used square pillars, and sure enough, that’s what we get here. But Nakamura goes further and has even Todoroki’s ice form the shape of cubes–not spires, not stars, not crystals, but cubes.

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…Ice…cubes. Oh, darn it–I just got the joke.

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Even Zuku’s firebending Todoroki’s fire summoning forms squares–and has the same sparkle as All Might and Izuku’s use of One for All, visually connecting these heroes yet again.

My Hero Academia S2E10 - Hand 001.png

While the cubes deserve attention, so do the hands. The flashbacks to Episode 19 had emphasized some content from the manga on Todoroki staring at Izuku through his hand. The original manga chapter, and this episode, reverse that focus: now it’s Izuku looking at Todoroki through his hand. The placement of the hand emphasizes who is in control of the gaze. Whereas before Todoroki was summarizing who Izuku was and why they must be rivals, here it is Izuku’s turn to explain how he views Todoroki and make his opponent recognize how much power he holds back. Maybe hands will be the next trope associated with Nakamura’s work–if it wasn’t already, given his work on Fullmetal Alchemist and Ed’s automail arm.

(Oh, and if Horikoshi ends up having Izuku go full-Elric and lose his arm, that’s gonna hurt. Unless Mei makes him a giant Gundam arm or something. Actually, could that be a gag comic or animation at some point?)

The animation is at the top for this series, a vast improvement over the Season 1 finale that needed re-animation before home video release.

My Hero Academia S2E10 - Manga Cap 009.png

And it’s going to get a bit more boring after this.

I don’t write this as if I have a better idea in mind: it is simply a fact that, when you reach a climax, what comes after is less thrilling largely because it is reaching resolution. Otherwise, the stakes would get higher and higher with no payoff, or the following rises in action would wear out the audience.

I do fear that the next battles coming up–including Iida vs Ibara–will be less thrilling. Aside from Todoroki’s inner turmoil, the other characters up to this point lack the character weight to carry a story as emotionally charged as this one. And that is a good thing. As I said, a climax has to end, or else the audience is drained. And it’s not like the next episode will not introduce reasons to make us care for the well-being of Iida and, to a lesser extent, Bakugo. It is also a realistic limitation of the show’s budget that, after an episode like this one, to spend that money to have those shorter fights rise to the level of Izuku and Todoroki’s would be foolish. This is not to ignore so many excellent ways in which to use those characters’ abilities; rather, it does come to a point that the battles must be concluded and for this show to move on. The Sports Festival, while enjoyable, is likely going to drag out a bit. We have allowed Izuku and Todoroki to have break-throughs, and what comes next, in their conversations with their father figures–Izuku with All Might, Todoroki with that wife-beater–is the descending action. Plus, as hinted in the preview, the next episode introduces content for the next narrative arc, beginning with Iida’s family.

Even as I use the realities of climax and descending action to nitpick this episode and the next one before it even comes out, I take solace in two details. First, these three battles are previewed in the teaser at the end of this episode–and none of them were shown in the originating manga, giving the animators the opportunity they had with the previous multi-battle episode to expand content and let underused characters like Ibara, Mina, and Tokoyami show their strengths and weaknesses.

Second, by having three battles in a short span of time, each one will be less emotionally exhausting than the previous battles between Bakugo and Ochaco, and Izuku and Todoroki. With more comical characters involved–super-serious Iida, super-pious Ibara, and super…um…bubbly(?) Mina–there will be that release of tension that comes after a narrative climax. And it’ll be necessary, as with a character like Todoroki, his fight against Bakugo is going to reawaken so much emotional distress that this episode tackled.

The episode also allows Bakugo to demonstrate that he is intelligent in understanding how Quirks work. This is a vast improvement over his behavior in Season 1, in which he was deceived by Izuku and Ochaco, and in some other content, such as the USJ OVA, in which his fury and inability to work with others is so cartoonish as to be unrealistic–even for a cartoon. The problem that persists is that the boy is obviously not well. Even if he is performing the role of the hyper-violent anti-hero, like Wolverine, and I’m sure Bakugo is just putting on a performance, to say “I’ll kill you” to Eijiro comes across less as jock talk to unsettle his future opponent and more like a violent kid who needs to be talked to. All Might tried before, and the good news is that Bakugo already learned his lesson, or at least could say it aloud before All Might did. While I appreciate that he gets to be the one to explain the limitations on Todoroki’s abilities, rather than resident eggheads Izuku, Todoroki, or Momo doing so, his behavior in the next episodes is likely going to have me deeply concerned about how unhinged is this character.

My Hero Academia S2E10 Endeavor.png

One last criticism I have about the episode is a musical choice. As I wrote earlier after watching the episode, I hated the use of the song “You Say Run” when Endeavor shouts at the match that Todoroki has embraced their fire Quirk. Whereas Ellak Roach had suggested to me that the musical choice is one whose dissonance with the image is intentional–that we’re supposed to feel unsettled at that moment–it seems cheap. As I said before in this review, Studio BONES has to budget its money, and it is common practice in this anime, as with any Japanese animated series, to have a set number of background songs to re-use throughout a season. The choice, then, was to have the song continue as Todoroki flames on and Endeavor interrupts. There may not have been time or money to compose a new score, as the villain songs used in Season 1 would not fit tonally, and Endeavor, as a hero in terms of his occupation, not his identity, should not have a villain song. And to edit in a new song would break the narrative progression and the animation.

Rather, what I suggest is not putting in a new song instead of “You Say Run”: I want a darker re-composition of that song. Listen to current superhero shows on United States television: the music often creates leitmotifs for each character. A composer will revise those to suit a scene, or to foreshadow the identity of a character, the most recent season of The Flash using Barry Allen’s leitmotif in a darker form whenever his villainous doppelganger Savitar appears. “You Say Run” was the same song used when Izuku’s actions inspired All Might to defeat the Slime Monster in Episode 2 and Nomu in the Season 1 finale, so the song has long been associated with superhuman feats of heroism–and using it during Endeavor’s interruption emphasizes how different All Might and Endeavor are, without actually doing something to change the song to emphasize that fact. I wanted that: I wanted the music to still be “You Say Run” but in a way that shows how dark is this so-called hero Endeavor. But to edit an entire moment to fit in this song, for one use, is not pragmatic–although, I would say that such a darker version of the song “You Say Run” would be suitable when certain villains in later episodes are going to talk about the dangers these heroes present, and how accurate are those villains’ assessments, not in the rambling incoherency of Shigaraki’s rant last season, but in terms of how heroes have defined specific destructive or invasive abilities (such as those of Shinso, Mina, and Bakugo) as not heroic, while obvious monsters like Endeavor get to use that word “hero” as a job title.

Manga vs Anime

My Hero Academia S2E10 manga anime 1.png

  • In adapting Issues 38 to the beginning of 40, the anime re-arranges events to begin with Todoroki’s childhood memories of his mother, whereas most of that content was saved for Issue 39.
  • As in previous episodes, the seating arrangements are different, with Eijiro on Bakugo’s left in the anime, and Denki and Hanta sitting to Bakugo’s right without Jiro and Momo between them.
  • The anime also replaces Bakugo remembering looking at his hand after his bout with Ochaco with him first using his new superhero uniform to fully contain his explosive sweat. I’m not a fan of this revision. Bakugo looking at his hand had some meaning, whether to show his indecision or his awareness that Ochaco was going to force him to push himself. Re-using Season 1 animation about Bakugo’s outfit is rather cheap–which is the point when every show has a budget.

Comics and Superhero References

  • Todoroki’s backstory as the brooding young man with a tragic past is brought up again, alluding to those characters I mentioned earlier and others–Batman, Daredevil, Spider-Man, the Punisher, the really bad revisions done to Barry Allen’s origin.
  • And as I said, his mother is one big allusion to stuffed in the fridge.
  • I have to imagine the failure to put up barricades to protect the audience from ice, fire, and cement bits is a reference to the lack of OSHA safety standards in most superhero stories. I mean, look at SHIELD’s Helicarrier.

Random Observations

  • The use of black and white for the explosions helps emphasize that this is content adapted from black-and-white manga.
  • Aside from the Season 2 premiere, which had a longer version of the current opening sequence, this is the first episode this year with a cold opening, albeit one made of flashbacks. And it’s the first episode to have the title come at the very end–and I didn’t notice.
  • Morgan Garrett does great work as Todoroki’s mother, and Justin Briner is the MVP for this episode, even when Todoroki is the focus. How Briner kept his vocal cords performing those screams is impressive.
  • Earlier, I had shared some comparison images of how Ochaco was presented in the manga and the anime during her fight against Bakugo. In these Season 2 reviews, I have been tracing how this season the storyboards are pulled directly from manga panels, and whereas earlier posts earned Studio BONES much praise in their faithfulness to the original source (see the tags here on Tumblr), the reaction to that same faithfulness, and its departure, provoked criticism that the anime made Ochaco look far less badass than I thought she had (as summarized in the tags here). Whereas I think the presence of the blush stickers takes markers of femininity, innocence, and childishness–none of those being the same, even as the blush stickers are used for connoting those qualities, separately or at once–and redeploys them as gender-neutral markers, or ones that gain complexity and strength by their association with someone like Ochaco who is this powerful in that episode, the criticism points out that the application of those blush stickers exist to still have Ochaco remain traditionally feminine, cute, and hence disrupts what the manga accomplished by their removal. I have to agree with my earlier assessment and this new argument: I think both arguments are correct–and I’m trying to work through that paradoxical cognitive dissonance. I guess that’ll be my next talk at an anime convention.
  • I’ll have more to say about Endeavor because, as much as I despise this monster, his presence in the season has been as a foil to not just All Might and Todoroki but also to Ochaco and especially Bakugo. I expect my remarks about the similarities and differences between Endeavor and Bakugo will be at the end of this arc, when we get to the award ceremony. I’ve already referred to Ochaco as taking on All Might’s qualities in her battle, so it makes sense that she served as Bakugo’s opponent and hence, if Bakugo and Endeavor are analogous to each other, as a foil to him as well. That is not to ignore how Bakugo and Endeavor are also foils: Bakugo may be hot-headed, violent, and ambitious like Endeavor, but it is overhearing Endeavor’s backstory from Todoroki and Izuku’s conversation, and how Bakugo handles his final matches in the rest of this arc, that show how this knowledge about Endeavor has changed him since Episode 1. Bakugo is still a dick–but hearing about Endeavor, at least he’s realizing not to act like a monster.
  • Speaking of Endeavor, congratulations to whoever animates his flames–because I’m just happy that cycle-artwork has the lineart that looks so good, like something out of a comic book. That it’s not CGI makes me happy. And the other lineart in this episode was so good, having the right thickness that screams “comic book.”
  • Heh–Izuku had Bakugo’s face when he thought about the microwave.
  • Watching Todoroki lit up, I wasn’t thinking he was smiling because he’s joyful but because he’s really nervous and wants someone to extinguish him. I’m an awful person, aren’t I?
  • As is apparent in this review, I have a lot to say about the My Hero Academia first OVA, which deserves its own review because it’s a disappointing watch. It fulfills what it was to accomplish: stave viewers’ thirst for more content, and shift the focus to Todoroki and foreshadow what battle he faces in the Sports Festival Arc. The OVA also does much better work at emphasizing the value of collaboration, even if I think it gives too much credit to Bakugo, who comes across as even more erratic and irresponsible to cartoonish levels. Also, there are two moments of obscene fanservice that only increase my wrath against Mineta. This is not Is This A Zombie? where some fanservice is acknowledged as teenage hormonal desire and made into gender-neutral equal-opportunity gags and lustful gaze: this is a pathetic child scoping out his female classmates, and just slapping him does not go far enough–his behavior needs a Tsuyu-style tongue-lashing, and not the kind Mineta’s thinking of.
  • At least this episode had clothing damage that was focused on the guys and certainly did not intentionally sexualize them, even as the episode gives both male characters toned physique that, sure, that kind of a reaction will be read out of it by fans who want that service. And that’s especially appreciated when this episode shows Midnight’s power depends on ripping parts of her costume to form her daggers.
  • Wait…Midnight lost her mask. Does that expose her secret identity?
  • H/T to Classy Spartan for information on yutapon cubes and discussing the representation of Endeavor in this series. Spartan has been following My Hero Academia longer than I have and hosts the podcast Dub Talk.
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