The acting, music, and Stain’s introduction save a less thrilling “My Hero Academia”

“Fight on, Iida!” My Hero Academia Season 2 Episode 24
An adaptation of Issues 40 to 42 of the manga, available from Viz
Anime available on CrunchyRoll and Funimation

I told you things would get less interesting after Todoroki defeated Izuku–and I’m happy to be proven mostly wrong.

As I had said, following a climax, the descending action has to be less emotionally exciting in order to arrive at resolution. With yet another episode opting for a recap of the previous episode, rather than the traditional cold opening (and to save minutes for new content), we have our resolution: Izuku realizes there are ways to be heroic rather than just victory in combat, and Todoroki is on his way to recognizing he is not fated to be like his parents. The rest is falling into place, and it’s kind of boring: members of Class 1A are in the semi-finals, we don’t get to see much more of Class 1B, it’s all male combatants in the last round, and since the protagonist Izuku is not one of them, attention on how that Sports Festival wraps up is less interesting. Even the animated battles presented that eliminate Mina, Ibara, Tokoyami, and Iida are shorter and hence less visually impressive just on the basis of time, characters, and budget.

What I neglected to emphasize is that often the resolution is tied to closure–and boy, did All Might’s revelation bring closure and hit an emotional target that, if not exciting, with the acting in the English dub by Justin Briner and Christopher Sabat, and accompanied by the musical score, was cathartic. Add to this episode the continued work to make Bakugo more complex, the introduction of Stain to set up the next arc, and the witnessing of Stain’s brutality and how it will put titular character Iida into the spotlight, and My Hero Academia continues to surprise.

My Hero Academia S2E11 - All Might

The question of All Might’s origin story has lingered since Episode 1: if he can have his Quirk disabled by physical injury, and as revealed in Episode 3 can pass along One for All to Izuku, how did he inherit a Quirk that he could pass onto someone else? Much as All Might is surprised an inquisitive know-it-all like Izuku never asked the question, it’s surprising people like me (hardly as smart as Izuku) did not ask the question, too: it was right there in front of us for the longest time. The Season 2 opener bothered me slightly with All Might’s direct statement that Izuku reminds him so much of himself, after their initial meeting in Season 1 had All Might so emphatic that someone like Izuku, born Quirkless, could never be a superhero. While seemingly hypocritical on All Might’s part, or a bit of seemingly poor writing by Horikoshi, it’s actually paradoxical: of course All Might, contending with the stress that he is losing his superpowers, is worried he will be Quirkless again and hence not able to be a hero. The entire point of Izuku’s introductory arc was also to redefine All Might: Izuku showed heroism comes from spirit rather than only physical ability, and it was Izuku’s example that reminded All Might, regardless the limitations he must face, he still can do good work to save the lives of others.

Therefore, All Might’s revelation comes off more natural. Even though this is a comic book, with frequent exposition dumps, we can’t have All Might giving his entire life story to Izuku upon first meeting, especially when All Might was trying to hide his injury from the public and, knowing Izuku is too inquisitive, had to be honest enough to get the kid to back off and not investigate further. In that first meeting, All Might refused to name how he lost his abilities. That, along with some revisions we’re seeing to his origin story, make sense for Horikoshi: he had to focus his pitch to Weekly Shonen Jump on the most relevant information and characters, then he can expand and revise that information later as the story requires. Yet All Might’s reticence also demonstrates the secrets he continues to hold. The exposition dump that he offers to Izuku in this episode only hint at who is his mentor, the one who held One for All before him. I have been skeptical of All Might for some time given his secrets, while acknowledging that he is allowed to hold them, not only because he’s a person, not only because he’s a superhero with a secret identity, but also because he has been through a physical and emotional injury that, to make him confess to all of it, is a violation to his person. That All Might is pleasantly surprised Izuku never asked whether he was born Quirkless therefore endears Izuku again to the audience: intentionally or not, Izuku largely avoids being offensive.

This episode also brings another obvious problem to the forefront, as spoken by Recovery Girl and the audience: if Izuku keeps wrecking his body like this, he will so disable himself that he will not be able to persist with One for All. I’ve written before about the dangers of self-sacrifice in this series, and I appreciate that other characters are providing pragmatism to Izuku’s idealism. The multiple solutions to Izuku’s problem are going to take time, which can upset viewers who are going to wish Izuku would just get control already–yet, as My Hero Academia complicates superhero tropes and forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths behind those tropes, Izuku’s path to best using his Quirk without injuring himself is going to take time, it will let the series last for multiple arcs, and the good news is that there are other characters’ problems that will help give a reprieve and disrupt what can be Izuku’s monotonous, glacier-paced progression.

My-Hero-Academia-S2E11---Izuku's-teary-eyes-(GIF).gif

As one last point about the Izuku and All Might interaction, as I said above, the Funimation English dub knocks it out of the park: Briner and Sabat are embodying these characters. As Sabat said at Anime Expo last year (shameless plug: I’ll be giving two presentations a AX in July), he was worried he would make All Might just sound bored. While Sabat has sapped energy out of All Might’s delivery, he has managed to make this voice stand out in comparison to so many other characters, like Zoro in One Piece, that could sound almost exactly the same except for the changes made in performance. Briner still is stretching what his voice can accomplish in communicating the surprise and overwhelming responsibilities he feels. Coupled with the score, the emotions hit where they should. If you can subscribe to Funimation for the dub and haven’t, you’re missing out.

My-Hero-Academia-S2E11---Izuku-turns-around-(GIF).gif

As well, Studio BONES took the panels from the original manga and, in animation, brought out so much more in Izuku, such as the change to his eyes as he turns to face the knowledge that All Might too was born Quirkless.

There is less to pull from Iida in this episode, as the weight of this revelation won’t be felt until the next episode during his family reunion, so I’ll reserve my remarks until then. Rather, even though Iida’s name is in the title, the focus instead is on Stain, his philosophy, and what his introduction means for the narrative structure of this series.

My Hero Academia S2E11 - Stain rooftop.png

With Stain’s introduction, My Hero Academia, like some of the best serialized narratives, has figured out how to adeptly set up the arc that comes after the Sports Festival. This foreshadowing is handled better in certain series more than others: Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man, Steven Universe, and the 4Kids 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles understand how to juggle multiple narratives and set up not only upcoming arcs but arcs one or two seasons away. As well, Bungo Stray Dogs figured out how to set up the Guild and the Rats arcs early on (at the same time in the manga, towards the end of each season in the anime). Integrating the villains from future narrative arcs is less successful in other comic book series: both Arrow and The Flash depend on name-drops rather than the literal introduction of the next season’s villain.

In contrast to some of these weaker serialized narratives, My Hero Academia in the original manga did far better at introducing Stain, and his philosophical counterpoint to so-called heroes like Endeavor, and his more thoughtful insight compared to the pseudo-intellectualism of Shigaraki. Likewise, this season of the anime has done much better setting up later arcs, adding a new scene of Gran Torino in Episode 1, and in this episode introducing All Might’s predecessor, the previous wielder of One for All, long before we will get an actual flashback of this teacher. The foreshadowing should be a reward to the audience for paying attention, whether by reading the manga or spotting clues in the episode itself. (It’s analogous to how the My Hero Academia USJ OVA had a lot of foreshadowing for its twist ending.)

My Hero Academia S2E11 - Bakugo.png

The episode also helps clarify something from last week about Bakugo: he’s smart. I had pointed out the episode emphasized that Bakugo can figure out people’s abilities and strategies: while strategists like Izuku, Momo, and Todoroki have received focus, Bakugo can be observant and thoughtful. He wears down Ejiro. He figures out Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow is weak against light. Much as the anime added more to Mina’s duel against Aoyama to show her intelligence, these episodes have shown there is a thought process for Bakugo.

While Bakugo is intelligent, he is so narrow-minded as to let his short-term goals obstruct his long-term advantages. With Izuku removed from this competition, he has lost his rival. Sure, he now sees Todoroki as one–but the guy is upset that he doesn’t get to defeat the kid he has bullied throughout their schooling. It’s a good thing for Bakugo that Izuku lost: it gets his attention off of one target and onto improving his strategies, use of his abilities, and attention to other classmates who can serve as his rivals. The guy has spent his education up to this point as the golden boy, the one admired by everyone and having no challenge to try harder with his abilities. Now in a class full of powerful, capable students (and Mineta), Bakugo has to try harder. If he only focuses on defeating Izuku, he will not get very far. If there is no Izuku, if there is no kid with the strategy, Bakugo has to form that strategy. In a rather chilling idea, given the likelihood that Izuku is going to be out of commission at some point–whether because he cannot handle One for All, or because he loses One for All–when Izuku says this is the story of how he became the world’s greatest superhero, is that because he, like All Might, serves as the symbol that inspires others? Is Izuku going to be the example that serves as one to Bakugo and makes him change for the better? Will Bakugo retain his qualities, flaws and all, but supplement those with what Izuku has demonstrated–collaboration, decency, respect, intelligence, and observation? I hope so–but that seems more like fodder for a good fanfic, not for this show, which has its own goals.

It’s why something like the USJ OVA, which I just said at least foreshadowed its twist, is still so annoying: it’s cartoonish in having Bakugo be so erratic as to ignore the training instructions, so obsessive as to focus only on his disdain for Izuku, and so irresponsible as to focus only on killing a villain rather than rescuing Todoroki, his classmate and the villain’s hostage. While Bakugo’s blood knight qualities during his duel with Tokoyami are infuriating, they are mitigated by his awareness not to kill and that this competition demands he do whatever it takes to win. But there are uncomfortable qualities that are not going to be persuasive arguments because they are in the realm of what if: What if there was no Recovery Girl to heal injuries? What if Bakugo went too far with his explosive power? Bakugo has such a dangerous ability that I’m amazed he has not blown off someone’s face. That doesn’t suggest he is holding back or is responsible with his ability: that suggests the writing is weak here.

My Hero Academia S2E11 - Tetsutetsu.png

My annoyance persists about the removal of female characters from the final match, and I have to echo Tetsutetsu’s complaints about Class 1A being in the finals: it’s fine to have the characters we’re used to up to this point still be the focus, yet it is troubling when I am more interested in the odder abilities, more sympathetic backstories, and more engaging and clearer personalities of newer characters like Shinso and Mei. Mei will be back in an arc much later, and when My Hero Academia is willing to make an original OVA that brings back a very minor character from Tsuyu’s past, I am optimistic more original content can be created that lets the tertiary characters get some attention. I’m not asking for filler arcs: so far, My Hero Academia in the series proper has stuck closely to the source material without adding new stories, whereas the OVAs get to introduce new stories. This is important because it limits the anime from moving too far from the source material. While I hold to my complaints about the first OVA, I do appreciate that it emerged from what was introduced in Season 1–All Might’s anxiety about being a good teacher–and serves as a primer for Season 2, shifting the focus to Todoroki, who was underdeveloped in the first season and now thrust into a role as a main character in the second season.

Manga vs Anime

  • The episode adapts the latter 80 percent or so of Issue 40, all of Issue 41, and the first few pages of Issue 42. The episode takes its title from Issue 41.
  • Obviously, the major difference is how much new content the anime adds. Whereas Issue 40 ended with All Might reminding Izuku that self-sacrifice is part of being a hero, and Issue 41 begins with Izuku’s dismissal from the infirmary, the anime breaks up these two scenes with a look at how the remaining fights go for Iida, Tokoyami, and Bakugo.
  • As well, the anime adds scenes of Ingenium on patrol before confronting Stain.
  • When Recovery Girl kisses Izuku’s post-surgery boo-boo, in the manga All Might is in the hallway before walking back into the infirmary. In the anime, All Might seems to have stayed in the room during Izuku’s surgery.
  • The anime shows us a bit of what All Might’s predecessor looks like, before her introduction in the manga. Also, the English translation of the manga referred to All Might’s predecessor with masculine pronouns. The English sub and dub avoid such gendered pronouns.
  • The anime shifts when Stain licks his blade. In the manga, that image ended Issue 41, after Stain has disabled Ingenium. In the anime, this image is saved when Stain is far from Ingenium’s alley, when Stain is on the rooftop.
  • The anime adds dialogue to Tetsutetsu’s frustration that Eijiro lost to Bakugo.
  • The anime removes the manga’s caption for Momo and Mina as being part of the “ ‘Off-Panel Losers to Tokoyami’ Club.” I’m happy that was removed–we don’t need Mineta salt in the wounds.
  • The anime adds Tsuyu and Mineta reassuring Ochaco about Izuku’s injuries, and expands Ochaco and Izuku’s talk about whether he should witness the fight from the stands rather than continue his recovery in the infirmary.

Sub vs Dub

  • In Todoroki’s meeting with Endeavor, I really do not like the revision the English dub makes from the English translation of the manga and the subtitled version. In the Japanese, Todoroki says something more akin to saying he forgot about his father–which is vague, whether referring to his fire ability itself or the long traumatic history his abusive father has created. In the English dub, this is changed to Todoroki saying he doesn’t need his father. These two phrases are nowhere near the same, and it foreshadows something that seems far too spoiler-filled to toss in with a phrase like, “I don’t need you.” It’s also not what Todoroki said. While Todoroki is stubborn like any hero, for good reasons (Izuku’s determination) or bad (Bakugo’s explosiveness), he is also pragmatic and is not so quick to turn down assistance from his father.
  • I don’t know how I feel about how Iida’s mother was portrayed in the Japanese and English versions of this episode. The Japanese version sounded more devastated, which risks making her sound inconsolable and, given some gender implications, that could be stereotypical. The English sounded calmer, as if she is trying to be the rock for Iida as he is about to hear about his brother’s injuries.

Comic Book and Superhero Allusions

  • This is a stretch, yet the students’ nature of letting short-term victories obscure their long-term plans remind me of Octavius’s warning to Peter in Spider-Man 2 about brilliance but laziness. Bakugo is so focused on this victory that he ignores the value of collaboration. Izuku is so willing to wreck his body that he risks lifetime debilitating injuries. Even Ochaco’s drive to get scouted now has to be tempered by her father reminding her she has another year to compete in a future Sports Festival.
  • Like Bakugo, Stain has anti-hero traits that make him akin to certain 1990s comic book characters–granted, Bakugo is not villainous and not a murderer. In his design, Stain borrows the jagged scarf design from Elektra and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both pulling qualities from Frank Miller’s works. Even Stain’s facial design, including his lack of a nose, looks like Laird and Eastman’s Ninja Turtles. Stain standing on the rooftop has a water tower, which has been a pivotal structure found in artwork and stories of the Turtles and Daredevil. Stain’s knives and katana have been compared to Deadpool, whereas I see them more akin to those of Slade Wilson–who was already the inspiration for Deadpool.
  • Iida had already discussed coming from a superhero family in Season 1. Superhero families are common throughout comics, because as Jack Kirby said about the Fantastic Four, every reader either wants a family or can identify with how dysfunctional their own family is. Superheroes becoming families, related not necessarily by blood but by superpower, is common with Bat Family, the Flash Family, and the Marvels.
  • Speaking of the Flash Family, the Iida family has a design to their supersuits that looks very similar to how the most recent season of The Flash re-designed Savitar into a mechanical suit.
  • So, why are Ochaco and her classmates not surprised that some random person is meeting Izuku in the medical room? Or that they haven’t seen All Might in the audience but that this emaciated person has been seated with the superheroes? While All Might has not revealed his depowered form to Class 1A students other than Izuku, he is seen so often around school that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that students think he’s just another teacher–or maybe even just a wealthy philanthropist sponsoring the school, because comic books have never had philanthropists hanging out with superheroes while repeatedly insisting they are not Iron Man–I mean Batman–I mean All Might. Plus, All Might hiding in plain sight with a depowered form is typical of many superhero stories, including Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, DC’s Omac, and Ben 10.

My Hero Academia S2 Opening - Present Mic is the Joker.png

  • Present Mic is the Joker. Canon.

Acting

  • I’ve been re-watching the English dub of Yu Yu Hakusho, and man, Justin Cook has range between Yusuke in that series and Eijiro in this one.
  • Good work by Sonny Strait as well in his performance as Present Mic–and may his vocal cords recover from all that work.
  • The talented Richard McConnell portrays Stain–and he is doing a great job. Like Chuck Huber on Kurogiri, McConnell gets to bring a gravelly voice to Stain that is not the same as what can be heard in his other roles. There’s also a casting gag: McConnell had previously played another anti-hero with a katana, the samurai Mifune in Soul Eater.
  • Luci Christian, the voice of Ochaco, steps in to play Recovery Girl in this episode, using the same British-esque voice as she uses for the Narrator in both Okami-san and Kamisama Kiss. This could be a bit of a role reprisal as well: Christian used the same voice as the school announcer in Funimation’s advertisements for the series.

Random Observations

  • Endeavor can still go fuck himself.
  • We get more backstory about this world: after learning about Quirk Marriages earlier from Todoroki, we learn how the percentage of Quirkless persons has changed globally, where it’s now at 20 percent, whereas before that percentage was larger in the past.
  • How is there a rainbow after Izuku and All Might’s talk when there was no rain? Because Todoroki’s ice shower put up enough condensation to create that rainbow. Todoroki’s breakthrough created a rainbow for Izuku and All Might. That’s so corny and clever.
  • We got an entire episode without Mineta being a pervert. And even when he was blunt about Izuku’s limited chances of being scouted, he was still supportive of Ochaco in her worries for Izuku’s health. Cherish these moments: Mineta being a good person is rare.
  • I am still annoyed by the English dub’s use of bird puns on Tokoyami. My interpretation up to this point is that this society is very well-adjusted to the diverse appearances of its citizens and avoids the lazy insults based on people’s appearances. The English dub has instead added some of these verbal gags to have Tokoyami called “the bird” or “bird-brain.” It’s not creative, it’s not clever, it’s based only on his physical appearance. This is not like fan art where the obvious difficulties of Tokoyami’s appearance can create some humor with regard to how he eats and washes–something akin to Brooks’s introduction in One Piece and the immediate questions being how he eats and disposes waste.
  • I do love Itsuka needling Monoma for making an enemy of the hothead, victorious Bakugo.
  • Izuku broke the next-episode preview–and it is hilarious.
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