The Amazing, High-Stakes World of My Hero Academia

One of my favorite recently released anime, My Hero Academia, returned for its third season in April, and it’s upping the ante. The stakes were high from the beginning for the characters of MHA, but this latest season seems poised to take them to heights and depths far beyond what we’ve seen for them before.

If you haven’t checked out this series before, read on to learn about some of the things that make it so great and why it should be on your to-be-watched list.

Funimation

The world of My Hero Academia is something straight out of a comic book. In this alternate universe, the majority of all people on Earth have some kind of superpower, or “quirk”; it could be something as simple and minor as being able to telekinetically move small objects toward oneself or as impressive as causing explosions at will. Those who have quirks that can be used for combat or defense often choose to become heroes and use their powers to safeguard the populace—inevitably, there are plenty of people with quirks who choose to become villains, and it’s the heroes’ job to stop these malefactors from doing too much damage. In so doing, they help maintain balance and peace, which is no easy feat in a world where almost everyone has the ability to do truly amazing things.

Enter Izuku Midoriya, the main focus of our story. He’s a teenager ready to begin his tenure at UA High School, the premiere school for training young heroes to use their quirks to their full potential. But there’s one problem: Midoriya is part of the small percentage of people who don’t have any sort of quirk at all. This has plagued him his whole life, but instead of dissuading him from his seemingly impossible dream to become a hero, it only stokes his desire to become like the amazing heroes he so admires.

Midoriya’s life changes forever after a fortuitous run-in with All Might, the most famous hero in the world and the one Midoriya idolizes most of all. After this fateful meeting, Midoriya’s unreachable goal becomes a possibility at last. All Might agrees to train Midoriya so that he is strong enough for All Might to pass on his power to him. This concept in itself is unfathomable to Midoriya—as far as he has ever known, such a thing is unprecedented. People are born with quirks; they aren’t given them. But as soon as All Might deems that Midoriya is worthy of his power and has become as strong as he can, the impossible becomes possible. The quirkless Midoriya is now superstrong, with an explosive punching power that has the potential to overpower even the strongest of enemies.

Despite this, Midoriya is still far from becoming the hero he’s dreamed of being. Because All Might’s quirk is so powerful, it’s far too much for Midoriya’s body to handle, even after all his grueling training. Using even a small portion of the quirk’s potential power can leave him with broken limbs and spent strength. If you think this is enough to stop him from using it, though, you couldn’t be more wrong. Midoriya’s dedication is such that he’s always ready to use his new powers to come to the aid of his friends, no matter the dire cost to himself. It’s this tension between Midoriya’s determination to become a great hero and the limited capacity of his body that drives the story forward, and that keeps Midoriya striving for ever-higher levels of greatness.

Japanese-language My Hero Academia poster

Promotional image for My Hero Academia. Funimation

My Hero Academia is a unique anime in that it combines a lot of Western influences and with traditional anime tropes and story style. One of the big ways it does this is through the premise of the story itself: though there are a few anime out there featuring superhero characters (Sailor Moon and One Punch Man are being two examples), there seem to be very few that depict superheroes as a Western viewer would know them. The list of anime characters with special powers is nearly endless, but for the most part, they tend to be supernatural abilities, or powers that they have by virtue of being part human, part some other kind of creature, rather than a single-note superhuman skill like antigravity powers or the ability to manipulate electricity. The latter style is something that’s much more familiar to a Western audience, and to see it represented in anime form brings a new dimension to it—by combining familiar comic-book styling with the tropes of a classic shōnen anime, the resulting homage to both art forms feels original and compelling. It’s a fascinating fusion, and one that seems inevitable. What anime or manga fan hasn’t told friends unfamiliar with the genre that it’s “kind of like comic books, but different” in an effort to explain it? It’s a combination that seems so obvious and so innovative at the same time, and I can’t think of a better way to present this mashup than what My Hero Academia has done so far.

Another way the Eastern/Western fusion comes into play is the artwork of the series. Though it has many key features of traditional anime style, there are departures. The colors are heavily saturated, and the line work is thick and bold, giving the images a high-contrast, dynamic feel. The screen often separates images into different panels, making them look like they sprang to life from the page of a comic book. There’s even a halftone texture effect used from time to time, mimicking the way some of the images in vintage comic books appeared to be made up of hundreds of dots. These style aspects work together to draw the eye and remind the viewer of both the excitement and the nostalgia of classic comics.

The sense of East/West fusion begins to recede a bit when it comes to the plot and characterization of My Hero Academic—although there’s still a mixture of influences here, both of these aspects in particular feel pretty purely shōnen to me. The pacing, the story progression, and the characters’ personalities were all very familiar after other shōnen anime I’ve seen, in ways that are sometimes hard to describe. Thankfully, we haven’t been barraged with filler (yet) the way we might have been by now with similar battle-shōnen anime, but the other iconic aspects are all there: the cyclical story arcs, the way the characters seem to periodically “level up” in a way that’s almost video game–esque, the training montages, the friendly rivals and die-hard frenemies, the main characters’ desperate need to prove themselves and be the best in their own way, and, of course, the characters’ ability to shake off horrific injuries with far less severe consequences than they’d have in real life.

From my perspective, this is both a positive aspect of the series and something I’d critique it for. On the one hand, I’m a fan of most of these story and character features; I generally enjoy them whenever I see them, not least because they make me nostalgic for the series I loved when I first started getting into anime. On the other hand, they are the sort of anime tropes that are the most likely to feel abrasive, overdone, or repetitive before long. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often in My Hero Academia, in my opinion, but it does happen, and those are the moments when I find myself starting to tune out while watching the show due to feeling like I’m watching something that I’ve seen a lot of times before.

And with the characterization in particular, the case of the overdone trope can become almost off-putting. Midoriya, is the worst offender for this as far as I’m concerned—though his desire to improve the mastery of his quirk so that he can use it to protect his friends is, of course, admirable, he pursues it to the point of punishing himself. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to jump through the screen and hold him down so he’ll just stop already. (Not that I could, since he has super strength, but you know what I mean.) I understand that this is the point of Midoriya’s character to some extent, and that it’s supposed to be something he’ll have to wrestle with and overcome in order to reach his true potential, but there are only so many times I can watch through my fingers and cringe as he shatters all the bones in his arm yet again until it’s no longer informing me about his story arc any further; it’s just distracting me from everything else that’s happening, both to him and around him.

But though I may wish the show would tone things down a little bit with some of these more shōnen-y aspects, I understand why they are there and what they’re trying to say to the viewer. Once I can take some time to process the intensity I’ve just witnessed, I see each episode for the compelling work of art it is, and I can appreciate all the ways that the story and the characters are growing. As I mentioned, things are really ramping up in this latest season for all of the characters, and it’s pretty clear that we’re going to be treading some new and difficult ground with them as the season continues. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story takes them, and to cheering them on as they reach toward their true potential, both as superheroes and simply as people.

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