Reaper's Reviews: 'My Hero Academia'
Format: 13 episodes + 1 OVA
Release: April 3, 2016 - June 26, 2016
I recall my undying love for the superhero genre to as far as I remember myself first watching 1978's Superman and 1980's Batman. The idea of a larger-than-life hero, vibrantly dressed and packed with both power and determination, always managed to keep me excited and hyped. Even now, during the overstuffed 2010s, superheroes still find ways to keep me on the edge.
I was first introduced to My Hero Academia through friends. Its sheer popularity and the growing disdain I felt for shounen turned me off at first. But its through constant nagging and non-stop pestering that I've finally gave both seasons of My Hero Academia a chance.
And...well, I can't say I was disappointed. For the most part.
Just for clearance, this review only covers the first season of HeroAca, which aired in 2016. A second review for the show's second season will come up...at some point. I swear.
Story & Characters
Izuku Midoriya is one of these unfortunate few to be born without any superpowers - named “Quirks” in-universe - in a world where they are the norm. This is particularly disheartening to the young Midoriya due to his childhood wish to become a great superhero like his idol All Might, considered to be the greatest hero alive.
But, knowing what kind of show this is, Midoriya is eventually selected by All Might himself to become his successor after a couple of fateful encounters lead one to encounter the other. And alongside childhood friend-turned-bully Katsuki Bakugou, Midoriya enrolls into a hero academy where he aims to become a “Pro-Hero,” a professional and licensed hero.
This is the basic premise of HeroAca, which is not the first anime to tackle the subject of what if humanity was suddenly filled with superhumans. You have shows like Darker than Black and to a lesser extent One Punch Man. And of course there is the entire schtiek of the X-Men series. HeroAca, however, plays with this concept by making regular humans the oddity of its setting.
HeroAca’s world is a fascinating one, and in the short running time the show has basic laws and as well as a society structure established. We are soon introduced to how cruel Quirk user can be to their Quirkless fellow men, and how hard can it be to live in the world of the gifted without a knack of your own.
While it uses many basic shounen tropes: young hero with a motive, teenage rivalry and superhuman academy and etc, HeroAca has the most important recipe for its genre to work: heart. You’re almost immediately invested in Midoriya’s tale, and the hardships he has to go through; Midoriya is such a wonderfully rounded protagonist that you can’t help but feel for him throughout his journey to become a superhero. As far as shounen heroes go, he’s definitely one of the most likable.
Other prominent characters include Midoriya’s idol All Might - one of the greatest mentor characters ever - and Katsuki Bakugou - Midoriya’s hot headed rival. All Might is initially presented as he who lives to his title: the number 1 hero, but we are quickly shown that he is not as invincible as he claims to be. Bakugou is a hot-headed screamer who despite his violent persona, is a genius when it comes to his abilities and fights, but his short temper and intense jealousy and bitterness for Midoriya make him into a far more complex character.
Sadly, beyond those three, we don’t get much character progress from the rest of the cast, as HeroAca’s main class alone has about 20 students, not to mention teachers, unaffiliated pro-heroes, and of course, villains. To the show’s credit, they do give most of them at least one scene to make them memorable, highlights include Midoriya’s best friends Iida Tenya and Ochako Uraraka, classmates Tsuyu “Tsu” Asui and Minoru Mineta, as well as their homeroom teacher, Shota Aizawa.
The lack of substance for its cast stems from this being merely a bite-sized appetizer for a much larger narrative. Don’t get me wrong, this first season of HeroAca is good, even great at times, but it’s clearly just a 13-episode trailer that serves more as an introduction to the anime’s world, and as such, the pace can be noticeably slow until the final third of the show where we finally witness the stakes involved, which is a brief - if brilliant and intense - showcase of HeroAca’s gems. The early episodes are key in fleshing our principal characters out, but the story takes a while until it takes off, and when it does, the party is almost over.
Another problem is the lack in clear motives for the villains, and their lackluster portrayal as overall flat antagonists. For at least this season, the conflict is HeroAca is distinctively black and white with very little to no information given about the villains’ goals and motives, which does leave a sense of dissatisfaction in the end.
Animation & Art
This is Bones, people!
And Bones are almost always known for their rather high production values, with some spectacular-looking shows under their belt such as Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist and Darker than Black that still looks good and sharp a decade or more after their original airing. HeroAca has some gorgeously-animated action sequences and some breath-taking moments where the animation bumps to ridiculous levels. In particular, the final episodes are a gift from the anime heavens.
That said, the animation outside the action… can feel a little clanky. Granted, from what it looks like, this was done intentionally, and it does provide with some genuinely humorous moments and little laughs… But I do wish HeroAca looked smoother both in and outside the spectacle.
Regardless of inconsistency, I can’t express how much I love how vibrant and richly detailed HeroAca can be, as bright colors fill up the screen and each and every character feels unique and distinguished.
This is a double praise for both studio Bones - who could skimp on detailing and fleshing out almost a hundred different characters - and original manga artist Kohei Horikoshi who came up with all those wonderful designs in the first place. Hero customs are an important element of a superhero’s identity, and when having such a large a cast… normally it’s easy to just copy-paste your existing characters without much thought poured into them… But HeroAca makes each and every hero and villain - even the more minor and neglected ones - special in their own way.
Audio & Sound
Let’s not mince words here, the first opening to HeroAca - “The Day” - is downright one of my favorite anime openings of all time. I can’t express how much I freakin’ love this damn song and how fitting it is to the show. The ending theme “Heroes” is somewhat less memorable, but still a decent song to finish off episodes with.
The soundtrack for HeroAca is one of my favorites from the last few years: it’s filled with heroic-sounding melodies and inspirational themes that fuel each and every scene with excitement and anticipation. Hell, even if you don’t watch the show, you have probably heard of “You Say Run”, HeroAca’s unofficial main theme.
Not stopping there, the soundtrack has some more amazing songs, including the actual main theme titled “My Hero Academia”, All Might’s character theme, the sinister and excellent villain theme “Rampaging Evil” and one of my favorites tracks, “Villain Invasion”.
The dub was handled by Funimation and thus is guaranteed to be good. And to be honest, this might be one of Funimation’s best to date. Justin Briner breathes life into Midoriya with an emotional performance while Christopher Sabat simply nails it as All Might with his deep, intentional large ham that has a splendid tone of both authority and caring into it.
The rest of the cast is filled with some excellent voice actors as well such Clifford Chapin as the loud-mouthed Bakugou, Luci Christian (as Ochako), John Michael Tatum (as Iida) and Alex Organ (as Aizawa). In particular, I wish to give special praise for Monica Rial’s performance as Tsuyu, which is just phenomenal.
My Hero Academia has a good promise; it’s a touching, exciting and heartwarming adventure with instantly likable characters regardless of how much time was given for them. Obviously, given its limited time, only a handful of characters were given the spotlight, but it’s a good sign when you take a liking to so many characters with their own different quirks (no pun intended) and personalities, not to mention instantly iconic designs that make them easy to recognize.
Of course, this first season is but an appetizer, a 4-hour teaser of a larger-scale series. This is not necessarily bad, but on its own, HeroAca S1 may leave some disappointed and wanting for more. The world and the society depicted are truly fascinating, but the plot takes its time to get into overdrive, and by the time it does, it reaches its climax.
Despite all that, however; despite all my criticisms, I believe that HeroAca is worth it, especially because there is already a second season (which I will review as well) and even a third season, so the story is not done yet. HeroAca has a lot of heart, a key element that most shounen anime forget these days. Strong character drama and tactful action sequences fill those 13 episodes with life and emotion rarely seen in most 100+ episode epics.
- A fascinating setting and promising concept
- Likable characters, even if the majority of them are barely exposed
- Music is hype as hell and the English dub is amazing
- Takes a while to intensify and ends by the time it gets going
- Most characters don't get enough time to shine
- Villains are forgettable and one-note
& The Ugly:
- Deku's crying face
As for alternate recommendations!
- Let's start with a classic: the original 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the quintessential shounen titles. Before you ask, Brotherhood is also recommended, although I do suggest watching the OG show beforehand.
- My second recommendation goes to One Punch Man, another highly popular shounen anime from recent years that takes an interesting spin on the superhero genre, even though it's a little more comedic in its nature.