My Hero Academia, and My Relationship With Superhero Shows.

So, I heard about My Hero Academia early on, before it aired, and I recognized that the manga was popular, and that the type of show that it is, that of the Shounen, American Superhero, action comedy series, would mean that this show would probably become popular no matter what. I am kind of cynical, when it comes down to shounen shows with this sort of very obviously cliche’d set of classifications. I’ve never seen Bleach or Naruto, because I am not interested in running into season after season of filler episode and cliffhangers that amount to nothing. I’ve seen the only real anime that qualified as taking very serious cues from American superhero shows, that being One Punch Man, and I thought it was pretty alright. Nothing incredible in terms of storyline, but a pretty fun show with some incredible action sequences. I would describe One Punch as being anime’s answer to Pixar’s “The INcredibles” being a humorous take on how a world with superhumans would not actually be all that it cracks up to be, or what people expect of it. Being a superhero can be a pain in the neck, unfulfilling job, and boring, especially if you are so powerful that nothing is ever a challenge to you. This was new, this was fun, this was popcorn. When I saw the articles for Boku no Hero Academia, I was immediately bored with it. Coming out with a superhero shounen show right after the most successful superhero shounen show in history? That’s pretty brave I’ll give the show that, but all that to say, I was just not in the mood. Over the years, I have become jaded to the American take on superhero stories, seeing how most of the stuff that comes out is all monopolized by DC or Marvel, and all of that is always very generic uninteresting attempts at kicking a dead horse. The best of the best that DC or Marvel can come up with nowadays, is just a simple but in the end forgettable diversion. I’ll probably go see the next Avenger’s movie, but am I excited for it? No not really. I’m too aware of what’s going on in the universe, and the number of new things that they can do with the existing material is so limited that I don’t ever see myself being excited for another DC or Marvel movie ever again, at least, not as excited as I was when I was a little boy. So when it came to My Hero Academia, I was unimpressed to say the least with the idea of an anime becoming even more like unto those money grubbing, reboot-mongering slugfests that are American superhero stories. I expected My Hero Academia to have nothing new to offer, but some fun fight scenes, and maybe a dramatic character arc or two, you know, the usual shounen fare, something that I can get at baseline with any classic, highly rated anime I could watch that isn’t currently airing. If I wanted to watch some shonen action, I could pick up One Piece again, finish Hunter x Hunter, or start watching D. Gray Man instead. Why should I waste my time for something that is probably just going to be common popcorn fare at best? So I put it off until the first season finished, and the second season was halfway through its run. That is when I started hearing from my friend, the mysterious friend who kickstarted my anime viewing experience, and continues to enrich it for me with recommendations time and time again, told me that he was watching My Hero Academia, and actually enjoying it. What got me, is that if you watch my youtube videos, you will know that he and I have been watching the second season of AOT and have not been impressed. At all. Not only were our expectations disappointed, but the level to which AOT has fallen in our eyes was completely unexpected or called for. So as kind of an off hand remark, he told me that, “Yeah, a lot of stuff happens in episode six, but I think I still liked the new episode of My Hero Academia more though.” He went on to say that while he felt like more of a pleb for liking the show, he still thought that it had better directing, and therefor enjoyment quality overall. This peaked my interest, and since I also was feeling somewhat disappointed with the direction AOT is going, I decided to lay down, (as I was feeling unwell,) and marathon this superhero shounen show until I finished it. I did not finish it in one sitting, but two days, and eight hours later, I had watched and finished season 1 of My Hero Academia. Here are my thoughts. With all of this buzz going on around this show, I had expectations. As you now know, my expectations were mostly negative, but my point is that, when there are tons of articles, and excitement, trailers, and hype whirling around the internet like bees around a soda soaked watermelon, it can give you some extremely unrealistic impressions. I’ve gone through the roller coaster of hearing about a new movie or show with tons of positive impressions, and then been disappointed, and so now I’ve swung to the other extreme, being cynical of any positive hype around a show. In this case, it was best that I actually come to this show with lower expectations, because as is my favorite adage for things like this, “if you want to enjoy something for the first time, come to it with the lowest possible expectations, and you will be pleasantly surprised.” This has worked for me more times than I can possibly count, from things like beef jerky, to Hollywood superhero films, it has been proven, that if I have high expectations for something, those expectations are always unrealistic, and I end up disappointed when leaving the theater, or eating the beef jerky, I guess, but the opposite is true. If I don’t expect anything from the gluten free, dairy free beef jerky, I find it amazing when it has a sweet, smoky flavor. Or when I went to Captain America Winter Soldier, I went in expecting a stupid heartless, mindless, action-bloated attempt at making Captain America fight against the twenty first century corruption in the government, and…was happy with how well it did exactly that, but also threw in some interpersonal drama too. So, with My Hero Acadamia, I found that many of my surmises about it being a reprinting of a bunch of American Superhero ideas and cliches to be completely correct, but I did not expect the atmosphere, stylization, and the light-hearted tone, to completely make up for the lack of originality with its source material. Course, that is not entirely true; there are definitely some very original decisions and choices that this show makes which sets it apart, both from the shounen anime norms, and the American comicbook cliches. The main thing which it subverts, is taking the idea of a world where superheroes exist, and making it absolutely wonderful. In this world, everyone has a quirk. Like, literally everyone. 99.999-ad-infinitum is the percentage of the world population without a superpower or quirk as it is referred to in this anime. And that one.00001 percentile? That refers specifically to our main character, the only kid in the world who is normal…except that for him to not have superpowers in a world where everyone else does makes him the abnormal one. This takes the superhero formula and turns it on its head. You won’t find any superhero like Batman or Spiderman, brooding on a rooftop somewhere, mourning the fact that he is the only hero of his kind. In fact the opposite is true. How much more cruel would a bully with superpowers be to a kid without them? This is what the main character Midoriya goes through everyday of his life, yet he maintains an optimistic and hopeful outlook, that one day his latent superpower will indeed manifest and he will be able to become the greatest hero in the world, much like his and everyone else’s heroic idol, All Might, who is basically like the in world equivalent to Superman, if Superman was blonde and Spoke Like Captain America, yet was living in Japan. This is where I must interrupt myself, and talk about our protagonist. Everything about him, the way he’s drawn, the color of his hair, his height, his backstory and ambitions, everything about him tells us exactly what kind of story this is going to be. The design of this character, and most characters in this show, are both extremely simplistic, yet complex. He is short, and thin, denoting his plight as the only human amongst gods, he has wild, spiky-curly hair which is black with green sheen, which is normal enough in an anime where people have candy colored hair, but is individual enough to set him apart. His hair is always out of sorts and unkempt, telling us that he might be a bit clumsy, and out of sorts, unable to control himself at times. Someone actually comments on his hair, that he ought to shape himself up if he’s going to be a superhero. Also, this is the first anime I have seen in which a male character has freckles, which of course display a sort of immature and dorky youthfulness as a character type. All of this kind of combines to give you the impression of emotional, weird and wacky, which is exactly how I would describe everything in this show. Every character is truly unique, and while most of the quirks are unoriginal, and can easily be found elsewhere in Marvel comics, the look and feel of every quirk and way it is used has its own visual flare that can only be found here. I’d like to posit that the reason this show is both cliched as well as enjoyable, is that it takes the same amount of pleasure in its superheroes as the main character does. Midoriya keeps a series of journals in which he draws every hero he has ever heard of, and lists their powers, their tactics, their pros and their cons, geeking out at the designs of their suits, and the uniqueness of their powers in combat. This is something which I myself did as a child, writing down all of my favorite heroes, drawing them, and then creating my own based on the powers I saw in comic books, trying to make them as awesome as possible. The fact that he does this, and you are really sold on the fact that he’s a superhero expert by the first episode, shows that the authors of this story had the same passion for superheros, and it shows. There are dozens upon dozens of supers in this show, and every single one has a unique design, and just looks awesome. I even have my favorite in a gunslinger hero who shoots every baddie in like a mile radius in the arms and legs the second he comes on screen. He only appears for a matter of seconds, but if I were a child, oh man, I would have made a collection of drawings, and written my own fan fiction about that guy. So anyways, the show draws you into the details of each character and hero, and contains the same wonder and awe that I think comics were always meant to inspire. So, back to how Midoriya tells you a lot about this show. This is important because it helps me get to some things which remind me of other pieces of media I think it is based off of. So He has green eyes which match his hair, and when he chooses a supersuit color, it is the green of his eyes, as well as matching his last name, Midoriya, which is just “Green” in Japanese with a “ya” tacked on at the end. This reminds me intensely of another such shounen anime protagonist, one who was small and thin, had crazy spiky green hair, was an underdog who no one expected of greatness, and who had ambitions which soared to the heavens. That’s right, it’s Gon from Hunter x Hunter. The similarities between this show and that are only apparent in spirit. They both have ambitious, green haired, underdog protagonists with limitless courage and untapped potential, but who is one among many with special abilities trying to reach the top like they are, and feature a host of obstacles, tests, battles and struggles which they have to go through in order to become the most powerful heroes ever! They also feature one insane villain with a disturbing laugh and creepy smile who commands a host of enemies, but that’s par for the course in any anime. So while I think that this show branches off from the norm very successfully in making a happy, black and white superhero future with clear lines of delineation from the good and the bad, rather than a grim-dark one where the superheroes have to fight for the government and the government is run by the corrupt and the only way to save humanity is to kill millions in order to save billions in a morally questionable ethical paradox, that if revealed could send humanity into another world war, but if it isn’t revealed it means that the heroes sacrificed their own honesty and goodness to perpetuate a lie. I’m actually a little sick of the dark and gritty superhero show, which is why My Hero Academia is actually a relieving breath of fresh air. Its premise, that of a young man coming of age in a highschool made to create superheroes out of the youth, smacks much of X-men, yet does not go into the dark and intense themes which X-men did, which takes much of the weight off of this show, whereas X-men has always been tasked with providing social commentary on the state of racism and xenophobia in the conservative west. This show instead is able to run full speed ahead to simply tell us a rousing tale of a young man who fought against his own fate to chase his dreams in a world where the odds were against him, and while that may be completely cliche, it is nice to be able to indulge in such a simple narrative now and again. That does not mean that this show is without deep themes, however, but most of the deep themes that are brought up are all positive, at least in this first season. The biggest one is that of sacrifice. The mc has it in him to become the greatest, but when it comes down to it, it is all for the sake of saving people that he wishes to be great, and of course he knows that it is cool when you can save people, which also is his reasoning for being great. But even when he does get a superpower, it is one which is so overpowered, that it breaks whatever part of his body he uses when channeling his super strength. This means that any time he uses his quirk, it is inherently an act of self sacrifice. Many other heroes won’t face the same dangers he does, even when they have more stable powers, but because of Midoriyas selflessness, he is able to save those people, and beat those villains, that no one else will. The second main theme here, is that of mentorship. Once again, Japanese culture succeeds in fostering this element where the west seems to have almost completely failed, and it surfaces the most here in the west in Asian stories, or anime of all things. The idea of the wise and powerful yet aging old sensei who teaches the young and impressionable hero, is definitely present in this show, just repackaged in a way that makes sense in an American superhero context. All Might’s interest in, and mentorship of Midoriya in this show, is so surprisingly close, so intimate and so emotional, that it literally steals the show. This is where the heart and soul of this show truly lies. The relationship of mentor and the mentee, is so strong, and I cannot help but bring up Rocky Balboa as a series of movies that the themes of this show really remind me of. The purpose of this show, is really to tell you never to give up, to always pursue what you know is right, to always be excellent, to push beyond the pain to become a better person, so that hopefully the ceiling of your mentors may one day become your floor, and one day you will look back and remember your friends, mentors, and even enemies, and be grateful for all the blood sweat and tears spent on their behalf, by their encouragement, because it got you where you are, in a place where you could reach your dreams, and catch your goals. That’s what this show is truly about. And to be honest, a show does not have to be about anything deeper than that to be enjoyable, it just depends on how that story is executed that makes it interesting or exciting. Heck, One Piece went on for almost 800 episodes, and I don’t think anyone is tired of the Shounen formula it used. On the contrary there are still tons of anime in production now which were inspired by this one plot thread. That of the boy who dreams. The Cinderella story. The one about reaching for the stars and bringing them down to earth, and having the spirit and willpower to do so. That’s what great shounen is about, and while My Hero Academia won’t be on any of my favorites lists, I bring it before you as an example of art that did not need to be unique or new in every aspect to be heartfelt and successful. It is actually kind of an inspiration, that no story, now matter how seemingly cliche it is can be enjoyable and meaningful if done the right way, and while I once again have to state that I don’t think My Hero Academia is a masterpiece, I understand why it is so popular, and give it a definite thumbs up for being an enjoyable yet memorable diversion, and a welcome addition to the superhero genre.