Every so often an anime will take people by surprise and become the talk of the (anime-based) internet, and last year My Hero Academia was just such a show. Blending western comics with shonen manga was a unique move by the manga’s author, Kōhei Horikoshi, but one that succeeds, though mostly through the characterization of the central character, rather than the setting alone. So let’s take a look at the complete first season, now out in a rather eye-pleasing collectors’ set by Universal Pictures.
The world of My Hero Academia is based around the fact that 80% of the population are born with “Quirks”, or superpowers, that manifest when people are children. This has led to the rise of both superheroes and supervillains, so much so that there are now schools and classes that teach children how to use their Quirks to become heroes. Sadly for Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, our protagonist, he is one of the 20% who were born Quirkless, which is even more devastating, given that he has grown up idolizing All Might, the strongest hero in the world (and clearly based on squeaky clean invincible hero Superman), and wants nothing more than to be like him. The first few episodes really makes you feel sorry for Midoriya, seeing his friends gain powers but not him, seeing him compile endless notebooks full of information about the heroes and villains of the world, and getting picked on by a rather nasty school bully named Katsuki (who was actually a childhood friend of his…)
The following paragraph contains spoilers for the first three episodes in the series; those wanting to remain unsurprised should skip to the next paragraph!
Midoriya’s story starts to turn when he meets All Might in person and finds out his big secret: All Might can only stay his buff and super-strong self for a few hours a day after he was critically injured in a fight with a villain a few years ago. After bonding over this secret, Midoriya inquires if someone without a Quirk could become a hero, to which the now frail-bodied All Might answers no, and recommends he become a policeman instead as a way to help people. Hearing such feedback from his idol brings Midoriya to the point of giving up – that is, until he finds himself running headfirst to try and save Katsuki from a villain, despite not knowing how he’s going to help. When All Might saves the day he tracks the young boy down and tells him that he has the instinct of a hero, and confesses that his Quirk, “One For All”, is actually passed down from one person to the next. He thinks that Midoriya can be his successor, bringing the young boy to tears at the thought of being able to achieve his dream after all.
The events outlined above occur in the first two-and- a-half episodes of this 13 episode season, so the beginning, or origin, I guess, doesn’t hang about. It pulls on your heartstrings just enough that you really want things to go well for Midoriya, but doesn’t overdo it or linger for too long. The series soon moves ahead to the U.A. High School, the top school for hero training, and how during the rather grueling entrance exam of battling giant robots, Midoriya meets all kinds of fellow students, all with amazing Quirks and varied personalities… along with Katsuki who resents his old weak and helpless “buddy” being classed as the same level as he (and generally confused how he got this far). This mini-arc leads to, as the title may have tipped you off, the series becoming school-based, though obviously a school where the lessons include how to defeat foes and save innocent people while being a hero.
Some of Midoriya’s classmates include: overly cheerful Ochako Uraraka, whose Quirk is Zero Gravity, the ability to make any object, or indeed herself, float free from gravity; Tenya Iida, a serious student who is focused on becoming a great hero like his older brother, has the Quirk “Engine”, which gives him super-powered speed due to jet engine-like tubes in his legs, and the aforementioned arrogant and bitter Katsuki Bakugo has the Quirk “Explosion”, which as you’d imagine, make anything he touches explode if he wills it. There are many other members of the class with personalities and abilities that are varied and fun to follow, but I’ll refrain from making this a list of characters article… That is My Hero Academia’s main plus point though, the whole cast of characters are extremely enjoyable to watch and very likable. The last few episodes puts them in real danger and you do get a lot of satisfaction in seeing them hold their own and prove themselves.
The Opening is “The Day”, by anime opening theme veterans Porno Graffitti, while the Ending is the appropriately title “Heroes” by Brian the Sun. The animation is beautifully fluid, bright and well-detailed, which is not surprising given it was animated by Studio BONES. The background music by Yuki Hayashi is perfect for the subject matter, right down to a bombastic 1978 Superman-esque theme that plays throughout the show. The English dub is a solid effort from FUNimation. Midoriya himself (Justin Briner) sounds suitably pathetic, warm and brave at the right times, and getting Christopher Sabat to pretty much do his Major Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist for All Might is spot-on. Most of the rest of the class is your classic range of young American voices, that neither sound off or especially right, in that classic dub way.
The Collectors Edition comes in a rigid cardboard box housing two Blu-ray amaray cases (oddly, one case holding the complete series on DVD and the other holding the complete series on Blu-ray, rather than mixing and matching like most DVD/BR combi packs do), an 87-page artbook, a Midoriya keyring and a notebook, complete with All Might’s signature in the middle two pages (exactly as seen in the series). It should be noted that all extras are exclusively on the Blu-rays, and are not present in the DVDs. They include the whole Anime Expo 2016 panel, Meet the Character vignettes, Artist sketches (which is a little pointless given the near-100 page artbook full of sketches…), Inside the Episode features for all 13 episodes, interviews with the cast and crew, plus your normal mix of trailers and clean openings and endings. Most extras are with Episodes 10 – 13 on Disc 2, but the Expo Panel is on Disc 3.
My Hero Academia is a lot of things. It’s a new successful property from Shonen Jump! Magazine, it’s a cross of Western comics and manga, it’s a school-set shonen series AGAIN, but most importantly, My Hero Academia is a really well-told story about a boy who wants to become a hero, and despite all the odds and setbacks, begins to achieve his dream. He is soon surrounded by friends and supporters as he starts to come out of his shell and become that hero. It sounds like an unoriginal cliché, but it’s done so well that you won’t care, hell, you won’t even think about it. You’ll just watch the show with a big smile on your face, and you can’t really get higher praise than that. Highly recommended.