My Hero Academia

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

With Spider-Man: Far From Home already in theaters, and Joker seemingly not following anything from the comics, we don’t have any superhero movie to look forward to for half a year, until Birds of Prey comes out in February. This will either make people jump for joy or look for the next big superhero property to fill their craving, but if you find yourself among the latter group, here’s a secret: the next big superhero thing has been here for a while already, and it is fantastic.

Remember the Kurt Russell superhero movie Sky High, the one about superheroes attending high school? What if it was an entire TV show, and a really good one at that? Welcome to the world of My Hero Academia, where 80% of the world’s population has some kind of superpower which they call “Quirks.” It’s like a reverse X-Men where instead of super-powered individuals being outcasts and an oppressed minority, they are the ruling class and the overwhelming majority. We follow young Izuku Midoriya, a kid who is part of the 20% of people born without a quirk but still enrolls in the top high school for aspiring heroes in the hopes of becoming like a superhero after receiving a great power from the number one hero in Japan.

It is a fast paced, action-filled coming-of-age show about finding your place in the world, all while posing interesting questions about the practicality of a world with superheroes. Now let’s get to why you should be watching My Hero Academia.

What Makes It Great

A great superhero story needs great superpowers, and right out of the gate My Hero Academia shows us a huge variety of quirks. As the story goes, the first quirk was discovered when a “luminescent baby” was born in China (yes, literally a glowing baby) and after that we see people with super-strength and gigantification, smaller powers like being able to levitate only small objects, being able to sweat nitro-glycerine and detonate it at will, and even weird ones like a chief of police whose head is that of a beagle dog (don’t get me started on the polar bear-looking school principal). Honestly, it is weird but also fascinating. 

With such a variety of quirks comes a great variety of action set pieces. This being a show about heroes-in-training, there are a lot of practice fights as well as real fights, and My Hero Academia excels at doing one visually stimulating action scene after another. The animators at Studio Bones (Fullmetal Alchemist, Space Dandy) know how to create fluid movements and fight choreography that honestly just couldn’t be done in live-action. Not only that, but there are consequences to the action that follow the characters throughout the story. Unlike comic-book stories in the West that are constantly resetting the status quo, My Hero Academia tells a linear story. Early on, Midoriya learns that his body wasn’t built for his newfound abilities, so he breaks his arms and legs after using his quirk for the first time, eventually causing permanent damage due to horrific injuries, forcing him to change fighting styles until he can control his quirk.

As we follow Midoriya’s schooldays, we meet his professors, his classmates, and his future rivals. The show has an ever-growing ensemble full of colorful characters who bounce off each other with great banter that makes for a fun way to learn about the world of the show while you wait until the next time they’re fighting each other. Though not all of them are as well developed as Midoriya, they are likable enough to make you anxiously wait for the next time a minor character is on screen, while learning to love Midoriya as a hero.

What It Brings to the Conversation

From the get-go, the setting to My Hero Academia offers unique opportunities for world building that aren’t common in superhero stories. Given that we start about 100 years after the first quirk is found, the show skips most of the conflicts that arose from suddenly having super-powered individuals everywhere, and instead mentions previous events in passing. This means there is no equivalent of Captain America: Civil War, despite every hero being known and registered, because the story just skipped it in favor of saying not every hero was in favor of it. Whenever we do hear or see references to past conflicts and developments, it hints at a fascinating and long history.

Though we mostly stay within the confines of the prestigious U.A. Academy and follow Midoriya’s school routine, in the background is a compelling and grounded look at how superpowers could actually work in the real world. As Midoriya and his classmates slowly start to venture out into the real world and face real issues, they see that having the government regulate and dictate when you can use your quirk may not be the best idea. Quirks are all registered, so there aren’t really secret identities. Being a hero is a paid job (they’re referred to as being “Pro Heroes”) and there’s even a national ranking of superheroes, with the top ones getting the best sponsorship deals and side gigs, appearing in commercials and even movies. We learn in the first feature-film based on the show that only Japan has laws against quirk use in public, and that crime rate in Japan is now at 6% while the rest of the world has a crime rate of about 20% as people are free to use their quirks as they please – for better or worse.

This is mostly explored in the second half of the seasons two and three, as we are introduced to the concept of vigilantism in the world of My Hero Academia. Stain is a former vigilante-turned-villain who starts killing Pro Heroes because he’s disillusioned with them being in it mostly for the money. He wants to return to a time where heroes saved people just because it was the right thing to do. Likewise, the show has recently started to explore how an overabundance of heroes has turned people complacent, relying on Pro Heroes for almost everything and refusing to help those in need in favor of waiting for a professional to come in. While some comics have explored these ideas throughout the years, it isn’t common to see them all in an easily-accessible show that follows through with those ideas instead of being a one-off. It is basically a world where Syndrome from The Incredibles won, and everyone is super.

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

Because of the instant familiarity with the superhero genre, My Hero Academia serves as an entry point into the concepts of shonen and even fan service. (By the latter, I mean scenes that aren’t relevant to the plot and usually include cleavage shots and female characters with scantily clad outfits. MHA suffers a bit from this and tries to play it for laughs.) As for the shonen bit – meaning an anime aimed towards young adults that follows a young boy acquiring a great power – My Hero Academia hits all the familiar tropes and themes like friendship, the struggles of a young protagonist, and overcoming obstacles, and executes them really well. If you’re familiar with classic shonen anime like Naruto, One Pieceand Dragon Ballyou know what I mean; if not, this is a great introduction to the biggest genre within anime. 

This is both a fantastic coming-of-age story and also a great superhero story that reminds of the best Spider-Man comic book runs. My Hero Academia feels like a comic-book brought to life, with sound effects and onomatopoeia being visually used on screen to emphasize emotions and thoughts in a comedic way. It is also the rare (though not the only) anime that is inspired by American franchises. Where shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and even Steven Universe were heavily influenced by Japanese animation, it is refreshing to see it go the other way around. 

But most of all, My Hero Academia is a great show to get hooked on before the next Marvel film comes out.

Watch This If You Like: Spider-Man, Sky High, any superhero movie.

My Hero Academia is streaming on Hulu.

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