I've been an anime fan since the 90s and have blogged about anime since 2010. I've seen it all, done it all, and gotten the t-shirt.
There are dozens of "magical academy" type shows, trying to follow up the success of the format popularized by Harry Potter and Naruto. Usually the standard plot involves the protagonist (usually a boy) being a Chosen One, but also a struggling underdog. A love interest, rival, and best friend side characters appear. The hero usually has a special relationship with a mentor, from whom they get one on one advice and special training. Then the magical school is usually attacked by evil forces. The magical students' abilities are tested by this battle.
My Hero Academia doesn't stray much from this formula. You'd think that would make it boring or predictable - it's neither. This proves again that it's the execution of an idea that matters more than the strength of the premise itself. My Hero Academia's first season is a story that breathes new life into an idea that might seem old and tired out to the cynical observer. It's the next generation of magical academy show.
Midoriya is an obsessive fan of superheroes, who exist in his world. He really looks up to them, especially All Might, one of the most powerful. The problem is he can't really become a superhero himself, because he doesn't have a Quirk, which is a specialized super power unique to a person.
All this changes when he not only meets his hero All Might, but gets the chance to take on All Might's Quirk, which is called All For One. However, he has to keep the fact that it is possible to take one's Quirk a secret. All Might is more vulnerable than he first appears. His super-powered tough persona is a form he can't hold onto for as long anymore. This is also something he keeps as a secret, and it's also a secret entrusted to Midoriya.
The beginning of the first season progresses like you'd expect any shounen anime of the "magical academy" variety to. It's about Midoriya training, being challenged by a rival, meeting a cute girl, and making friends. But then, what you expect to be a relatively mundane training exercise turns suddenly deadly. Lots of villains show up and attack students and teachers alike, trying to kill All Might. The ensuing battle leaves three teachers, including All Might, severely wounded. And many of the students had close calls as well! The show gets darker and more serious suddenly, unlike some other anime, that take a lot longer to reach high-stakes battles or to take on a serious tone.
Themes and Key Ideas
Teenagers are not treated like children in this show, in that they're not treated as worthy of special protection. The adult villains' target is the kids' mentors, but they don't have any problem with the unfairness of fighting children as if they were adults themselves. The show also explores the concept of "presume competence", an educational guideline. Usually it means to treat non-communicative students with autistic disorders as if they are able to learn and understand, even if they cannot or do not always communicate their understanding clearly.
I think the presumption of competence should also be a general principle in education - you don't want to overburden children with adult responsibilities, but you should treat them as capable, thinking beings, and accept that they will quickly grow to meet whatever expectations are placed upon them. My Hero Academia embraces a revolutionary, unrestricted teaching style. The line between teacher and student is blurred, and kids are treated as trainee professionals. The learning is very hands-on and grounded in situations heroes would really face. The whole school is battling real villains by the end of it, with whatever training wheels they had quickly coming off.
Another major theme is the concept of passing the torch. Almost equal weight in the main story is given to All Might as to Midoriya. That is, the mentor, passing on his power and life lessons, is as important as the teenager struggling to harness that power effectively. In previous shounen involving a mentor, like Dragon Ball Z, the mentor's role in the story is usually limited. They exist to give valuable training to the protagonist, and then fade away gracefully, like Yoda in the original Star Wars movies. More recent stories, such as Boruto, My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic, and My Hero Academia, are doing more to explore the thoughts and feelings of the mentor as well as the protege. Perhaps this trend recognizes how inter-generational relationships have gotten closer, or that we now see teachers as real people, not mere vectors for knowledge.
There are many side characters, but these characters are the main focus in Season One:
Midoriya Izuku: My Hero Academia takes place in a world where superpowers, called Quirks, are the norm. Midoriya is born without a Quirk, but receives training and a secret way to inherit All Might's Quirk, which allows him to enter the Hero Academy. He's basically a hero "fan boy", and his extensive knowledge of the fighting techniques of various heroes comes in handy.
All Might: A major hero and Midoriya's mentor. He passes on a secret to learning his Quirk, One for All. This Quirk gives a persona burst of superhuman strength during a Smash attack. All Might projects a heroic image in public, but has weaknesses and limitations he keeps hidden, so that he can serve as a "symbol of peace" or a symbol of good in the world.
Bakugō: A fairly standard shounen rival character, he was a bully to Midoriya in elementary school. He sees Midoriya as weak and wants to challenge his worthiness to become a hero.
Uraraka: A fairly standard anime nice girl/love interest. Her Quirk is very powerful though, it's the ability to lessen gravity's effects on anything she touches.
Iida: The class rep/smart guy character. He is from a very wealthy family and wishes to be a hero like his older brother.
Tsuyu Asui: The oddball/quirky girl type. She's a frog-like girl with frog powers.
Shōto Todoroki: A serious student with a Quirk called Half-Cold Half-Hot, which exactly as it sounds, gives him freezing powers from one half of his body and heating powers from the other.
Shōta Aizawa: The homeroom teacher. His Quirk allows him to nullify other people's Quirks, but only as long as he can look at them without blinking.
Thirteen: A teacher who wears a space suit, and has the ability to summon small black holes to suck up anything.
|Title||My Hero Academia|
Manga by Kōhei Horikoshi, Illustrated by Hirofumi Neda, Published in Weekly Shounen Jump Magazine
2016 - present
As I said above, My Hero Academia makes something entirely new out of an old premise. How were they able to pull this off without being cliché?
Strong points of the series' first season, and the series in general, include:
- Visual appeal. The show's creators clearly put time and thought into character design. Each character has a unique design, a variety of outfits depending on the situation, but also a recurring hero costume that makes them iconic. Each character's outfit is a representation of their powers and personality.
- The limitations. Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson said that the real interest in magic (or superpowers) is not in abilities, but in limitations. We see Midoriya struggle with the limitations of his Quirk and the problems caused by the unconventional way he acquires it. Other characters similarly have to use creative fight strategies to make up for the limitations of their Quirks.
- The fact that they throw teenagers into a situation normally handled by adults very quickly. Other "magical learning" shows gradually build up to this. For example, in the first Harry Potter book, the first battle against Voldemort happens at the end of the school year. This makes it feel like a magical final exam. In contrast, My Hero Academia is a brutal, sink-or-swim contest for survival, against real villains. The real villains attack as early as episode 9.
My Hero Academia is a phenomenal show. The first season is interesting, exciting, and fun, and it definitely leaves you wanting more. I am hoping for more villain back story, more side character back story, and more character development, but the first season definitely has me "sold" on the rest of the show.
© 2019 Rachael Lefler