With Bakugo, “My Hero Academia” shows your fave is problematic

“Todoroki vs Bakugo,” My Hero Academia, Episode 25
Adapting Issues 42, 43, and 44 of the manga, available from Viz
Anime available at CrunchyRoll and Funimation

Well, that was an ending–and, in terms of doing more with Bakugo and the animation, it’s somehow more disappointing than the manga’s version.

Granted, “Todoroki vs Bakugo” improved upon some details from the source material, including the already effective reunion of Todoroki and his mother, and clarified Midnight’s powers, something not as clear in the comic panels and gutters (despite the clue in her name). Comics are thus a double-edge sword. Composed of panels, they are a series of frozen moments, so they cannot communicate movement as easily as animation without having more page space to extend that action into multiple panels. However, the benefit to comics is that they tend to allow audiences to sit and meditate for the longest time on moments frozen in time, like All Might’s heartfelt outreach to Tokoyami and Todoroki, or the humor behind Bakugo’s fury. Meanwhile, when I saw Bakugo shaking in his chains, I wasn’t amused–I was horrified, because whereas characters like Todoroki, Izuku, and Ochaco have reached tenuous resolution to their plots, Bakugo and Iida have not–and Bakugo lacks the kind of sympathetic background to his story. The flashbacks in the cold opening improve upon the manga so as to clarify why we should sympathize with Bakugo–and it’s still difficult.

After the previous episodes, I should have expected the cold opening would again be a set of flashbacks to clarify the development of a character. This cold opening was especially important as I had forgotten Bakugo’s tearful frustration last season about Todoroki’s impressive abilities, a flashback that is original to this episode and not present in the corresponding issues of this Sports Festival arc. This episode also adds, when Bakugo has flashbacks while speaking with Todoroki, not just Izuku trying to save him from the Slime Monster, which was present in the manga, but also Izuku helping him out of the water. The success of such flashbacks is that they show how Bakugo thinks Izuku is condescending him, offering help for so long while seeming to have hidden his super-strong Quirk One for All. However, the flashback in the cold opening also reminds me what a violent young man is Bakugo, and how he repeats death threats at his competitors (“I’ll you you”) in the same breath that he says doing so will make him a “champion.” That’s disturbing, especially when we have seen how deplorable self-professed heroes like Endeavor have behaved, the supposed sins an anti-hero like Stain seeks to punish, and the brainwashing and pseudo-philosophy inherent to the work by Shigaraki and his mysterious sensei.

So much of this series is be bound up in Bakugo’s rivalry with Izuku–that I forgot, even after writing about it before, that this season has positioned Todoroki as a foil to Bakugo as well. This cold opening is effective at reminding viewers of this setup–which makes the payoff lacking. I know the anticlimactic feel to this episode is intentional, as Bakugo is the one to give voice to it: his victory is hollow when Todoroki’s abilities should have let him be victorious.

What does Bakugo learn from this? For now, it seems to be very little that helps his character. By eavesdropping, he learned how Todoroki’s family history make him reticent to attack with all of his ability. In combat, he learned Ochaco is a good strategist and, like Todoroki, would have beaten him if she had not exhausted herself. Bakugo is going through a humiliation conga not unlike Momo: these are characters who have been at the top of their game for so long that they are struggling with the realization that there are other people who also are talented, skilled, and likely to get the attention they have loved for so long and still crave. Unlike Momo, Bakugo is going to keep getting that spotlight: he was one of the main four characters last season, and even with Todoroki now as one of the main five characters, Bakugo’s spotlight hardly diminishes, especially as Ochaco is going to take a back seat. That’s part of a much longer discussion about who gets to be a hero in this show, so I’ll table some of those remarks for another time.

Whether you like this episode may depend on your regard for Bakugo. I wrote earlier how previous episodes have added much needed complexity to the hothead, showing he is observant, thoughtful, and intelligent. Then this episode comes along, and we’re back to the cartoonishness of the USJ OVA: loud, violent, threatening to kill his competitors in a sports competition, having to be chained and muzzled–this is all apt for an anti-hero adapted for a comical superhero series, yet it clashes with so much content presented so far. My Hero Academia has to struggle with adapting such a wide variety of superhero motifs from Japan, the United States, and elsewhere that Bakugo’s anti-hero qualities clash with Izuku’s innocent earnestness, All Might’s Silver Age goodness, and Ochaco’s bubbly enthusiasm. Even Todoroki’s brooding and slow adaptation to trauma clash with Bakugo, not because we know why Todoroki behaves how he does–because that explanation does not help with problems to a character themselves–but because Todoroki does not go out of his way to be a dick or threaten to kill people in a freaking sports competition. When Todoroki was violent last season, it was to intimidate villains trying to kill his classmates so that he could seek information as to their motives and, in his hope, prevent further violence. Bakugo just wants to scare someone in public at a competition to be scouted. There is nothing redeeming here, and if you want explanations, there are none: this is not Ochaco seeking a scout so she can support her family financially; this is not Iida upholding the legacy of his family; this is not Izuku wanting to be a role model to others. This is a loud, brash, angry boy, so reflective of so much violence in hyper-masculine posturing.

This performance by Bakugo–brash outcries and flashy spectacles–will be important in the next episode, in which Class 1A students try to come up with superhero names–and every one of Bakugo’s is rejected. There is substance to Bakugo, and it is hidden behind how spectacular is his personality, his Quirk, and his actions. When the smoke from his explosions clear, what is behind those brightly-colored flashy shows is just a tiny young adult. He therefore seems to lack an identity of himself: he defines himself against others. True, what Izuku will choose as his superhero name, “Deku,” is one coined by Bakugo, yet it is one he has re-defined with Ochaco’s help. It is apparent Bakugo cannot define himself on his own when, upon confronting Todoroki in the preparation locker room, his own remark, that Todoroki fight him with everything he has, is seen by Todoroki as “the same thing” Izuku said to him. When Bakugo tries to impress Todoroki, all Todoroki thinks about is Izuku. Both of these young men are fixated on their rival. Whereas Todoroki is using Izuku to understand how to respond to his own abilities, Bakugo comes across as just straight-up repeating Izuku.

Bakugo has the same goal as Izuku: be the number one hero. And what comes after that? For Izuku, it is the endless work of daily tasks to help the lives of others. For Bakugo, there is nothing left: he uses his ability for daily fame–that’s it. For Izuku, his self-destructive tendencies are to break down components and reassemble them into something better–an example for others to follow. For Bakugo, there is no step after destruction: there is just the explosion, and the physical damage left to clean up, and the years of emotional and mental damage he has committed onto Izuku that, thank goodness, Izuku has been able to live through. For Izuku, the work is collaborative and endless: like All Might, his heroic acts inspire others. For Bakugo, the work is externalized and conclusive: there is no work done by his part, just the work of admiration done by his audience to celebrate him–and when that audience is gone, when the crowds at the Sports Festival leave, all he has left is a medal strap shoved in his mouth, like a rabid animal who needs something to chew on. Even the episodes focused on Bakugo do less to develop him than others: this battle developed Todoroki, his battle against Ochaco developed her, the previous season of his fights developed Izuku. Even the depth Bakugo’s satellite character Eijiro gains makes Bakugo’s look more shallow than it really is.

The anime had the opportunity to make more obvious certain details about Bakugo that could’ve made his conclusion in this arc more satisfying–and it didn’t. On the one hand, that’s so that there is still more to the character to remain unresolved and which is relevant in later arcs. On the other hand, the anime keeps the part from the manga where Bakugo is a raging ball of anger who had to be tied up and muzzled. I’m fairly certain I laughed when I heard the description and first read it in the manga. But seeing it animated, I wasn’t laughing: I felt really uncomfortable. Even the humor of All Might putting the medal onto Bakugo felt lackluster. In the manga, there was more time to let the reader pause at each panel and appreciate the comedy unfolding: All Might is so sincere in his advice and hug to Tokoyami and Todoroki, and he is so out of his element dealing with Bakugo. Here, we’re not dealing with a character: we’re dealing with a caricature.

The good news is that Bakugo gets more complex with time. The problem is that this complexity could have come sooner here, and Endeavor was that outlet. The anime My Hero Academia had the chance to reinforce how similar Bakugo and Endeavor are. That would have lent depth to both characters–and we don’t get it. It’s a shame, because again, adaptations should not be only faithful to the source material but a reward to viewers who already read that content. If the adaptation is the same as the source, it’s redundant. A good adaptation gives something new. This adaptation gives something new in terms of seeing static panels given animation with much less new in plot and character. Bakugo accidentally revealed to Todoroki that he had eavesdropped on his discussion with Izuku about Endeavor’s awful behavior. We have no obvious reflection by Bakugo as to why that discussion was important to his arc in this episode–and hearing something, just internal monologue by Bakugo, could have improved upon the manga to cement how this destructive desire to be number one through the use of largely damaging powers–fire for Endeavor, explosions for Bakugo–destroy not only the person but the community around them, isolating Endeavor from his family, isolating Bakugo from his classmates. It’s a tenuous similarity between Endeavor and Bakugo, and making that similarity more obvious may have added something more conclusive to Bakugo’s arc to make the previous episodes focused on him seem far less of a waste.

My-Hero-Academia-S2E12---Bakugo-teeth-brushing-(GIF).gif

At least Bakugo’s actor in the Japanese version, Nobuhiko Okamoto, gets to show off his talents. Even the last moment of the episode, irising out on his face, is something pulled from post-credit gags that appear in Blue Exorcist where Okamoto played the protagonist Rin Okumura. Clifford Chapin as well is impressive in how pathetic and overwhelmed he makes Bakugo sound when he is shaking the unconscious Todoroki.

My Hero Academia S2E12 - Todoroki and his mother.png

But this episode recognizes Todoroki is the focus, so Bakugo comes as an afterthought, his story concluded before the commercial break, as All Might’s words do not seem to have reached him. Really, as demonstrated since his role as a main character in the USJ OVA, which premiered between Season 1 and Season 2, and his advancement to the main title sequence, this Sports Festival arc has had Todoroki as the main character. As I said, when the climax to this arc is Todoroki versus Izuku, and when that same episode effectively concludes both characters’ arcs–Todoroki realizing he can use his fire, Izuku realizing another way to be heroic–it’s inevitable that any subsequent battles are just resolving outstanding issues. I am thankful this series is realistic regarding the difficulties of trauma, especially for Todoroki realizing he still does not have the wherewithal to use his fire ability without associating it with Endeavor’s awfulness and his mother’s traumatic experiences, including the traumas he himself has felt. The editors recognized Todoroki was the focus when they had the episode proper end with his reunion with his mother, and saving the reunions of Izuku, Ochaco, and Bakugo with their parents (all from the manga) kept to Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque post-credit sequences.

Granted, this episode did not have the best source material, having to do the heavy work to translate some confusing panels into more coherent content. For example, reading the manga, and without having full awareness what Midnight’s abilities were (“She can make her clothes into needles–but can also release sleeping gas?”), I didn’t realize she was the one who knocked out Bakugo.

My Hero Academia S2E12 - Todoroki on the verge of crying.png

Moving onto the medium itself, I was less impressed with the animation than in previous episodes. Todoroki’s delay opening the door was _not_ one of those problems: the pacing and editing were excellent to show Todoroki’s indecision, hint he may not bother to open the door, then expand upon the original panels to show much more of his mother’s reaction to his arrival. Look closely when the camera pans up to Todoroki’s eye: you can even see how shiny his eyeball is, as the tears he is holding back are reflecting the light. Those are excellent qualities. The acting in the animation as well before this reunion also communicates a lot of information. The surprise Todoroki’s sister, Fuyumi, has upon his departure, including whether to do so without asking their father first, shows a lot about how awful Endeavor is. That the staff at the hospital is surprised by Todoroki’s arrival shows either how quickly they recognize Endeavor’s son, or their surprise about whom he wishes to visit, given that his mother has likely had no visitors ever.

My-Hero-Academia-S2E12---Bakugo-knocks-away-ice-(GIF)-A.gif

But in battle, the animation is less impressive. Learning from his prior fights against Sero, Izuku, and Iida, Todoroki does not over-use his ice abilities: he’s taking the simplest path in blocking Bakugo. And as he is just going through the motions, without his heart in this battle, Studio BONES has less substance to exploit for thrilling eye-catching camera maneuvers and detailed animation. Todoroki summons ice–and we just cut to the ice wall already created.

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Likewise, Bakugo’s quick work to get rid of the ice is just limited animation of punches, although the explosions have impressive ballooning and movement, and the smudge animation to show Bakugo’s speed as well is very good, especially when he unleashes his final spinning attack. Much as Todoroki wants to finish this quickly but is not really into it, so too is the animation–and that makes sense, given Todoroki’s demeanor as well as the budget and the descending action after this arc’s climax. It’s still a disappointment but an acceptable and inevitable one.

Manga vs Anime

My Hero Academia No 42 vs E25.png

  • The anime adds to Bakugo’s flashback, which was originally of Izuku trying to save him from the Slime Monster, another one of Izuku helping him out of the water.
  • When showing monitors around town in the manga, we see All Might. The monitors in the anime remove All Might and instead show Midnight and Todoroki.
  • The anime does add Todoroki flaming up, whereas the manga never showed it. The outcome remains the same, as Todoroki’s flames are not there when Bakugo delivers his final blow.
  • The anime also adds the reactions from the audience, which has this hilarious moment of Koda covering his face.
  • In the English translation of the manga, Tokoyami refers to Midnight as “camera shy.” In the English dub of the anime, he refers to her as a “media darling.”

Sub vs Dub

  • The dub has Tokoyami refer to Bakugo as a “feral animal”–which, after my annoyance at the endless bird remarks about Tokoyami, I appreciate this revision for him to give it as good as he has been getting it.
  • Izuku’s mother, Inko, sounds much more snarky responding to him in the English dub. I’m not complaining.

Music

  • When the fight between Todoroki and Bakugo starts, was I the only one who heard the background song bleep out “fuck it”?
  • The near re-orchestration “You Say Run” during Todoroki and Bakugo’s fight sounds so good, adding more drums and some guitar.
  • A new ending theme is confirmed. To repeat myself, I found this arc’s ending theme was condescending to female characters who were either removed far too easily (Momo) or largely excluded in the Sports Festival–and I’m cringing that, given the focus on male characters in this next arc, it’s going to be more of the same.
  • Seeing as this opening so far was focused only on the Sports Festival, which ended, we should be getting a new opener, too, one focused on Stain and Gran Torino–and likely a bit grittier. Until I hear the new opener, bye-bye to this arc’s really good theme song.

Random Observations

  • Why was Bakugo brushing his teeth? Because having that medal touching even his mouth has debased him.
  • I will write about Iida and his reunion with his brother at a later time, as the setup here is relevant when Stain attacks later.
  • I know the manga explains where is Izuku’s father–working overseas–but man, anime, you _can_ toss in a line that makes that point now. I know the manga didn’t explain that detail until much later, but you’re an adaptation, anime: adapt.
  • So Midnight releases a sleep-inducing aroma from her body to make people fall asleep, hence the name. Okay, makes sense. But she needs to expose _more_ skin to make that work better? No. I don’t believe that, when we have characters like Bakugo with reservoirs to store their excess explosive sweat, that Midnight can’t store that aroma to weapon her sleeping power. This is more dumb fanservice. Also, the idea that her ability is more effective on men than women has its own problems, even if I can shrug that off as pheromones. Even Young Justice got around that gender bias by revising Queen Bee’s abilities to have influence over some women, which was important for revealing one character’s sexuality…before she was killed off because, hey, we got a fridge, and it happened in the comics, so make it happen here to. MAN, I AM CRANKY WITH THIS EPISODE.
  • And the cranky factor only increases when I learned there’s a bonus chapter of the manga that ends with Midnight and Mount Lady in a “cat fight.” The joke is supposed to be constructed around women of different age groups having conflicting ideas about women being sexualized, which can be great for a focus on waves of feminism–and that’s not what we’re getting, because it’s a simple joke about Mineta getting off on this. Please, do not adapt that–and treat these characters better.
  • I can’t tell whether Funimation re-dubbed Bakugo’s yells at Izuku in the Season 1 flashback–as Chapin’s “damn it” repetition sounds different.
  • Also, screw you audience members booing All Might for getting the catch phrase wrong–the guy’s under a lot of stress, and I don’t see you people doing half the work he’s done! You’re going to feel really bad when he goes through some real shit later!

My Hero Academia E25 - Bakugo is Tora.png

  • Ever seen Tora and Bakugo in the same place? Same person. By the way: dub that series!
  • Next episode focuses on the characters deciding their superhero names. How…thrilling. Even after I pointed out how important the naming is with regards to Bakugo’s lack of an identity, I’m sorry to sound unenthused, as world-making episodes are important, especially after the intense action of this arc. But I really hope the next episode adapts more than just the superhero name decisions. And if you’re going to do that, at least surprise us–like this fan art did.
  • How is Aizawa’s voice now audible despite the bandages? That’s as inconsistent as whether Spider-Man’s mask obstructs his voice.
  • We’re never going to know what Todoroki’s mother was holding in her hand, are we? Or her name, are we? Screw it–we’re calling her Yuki.
  • And while we’re at it: make “Kacchan” Bakugo’s superhero name canon.
  • And that wraps up the reviews of the Sports Festival arc. Thanks for reading all of these! Reviews will be back when I return from Anime Expo and a new arc of My Hero Academia starts July 8.
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