Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia Season Two Part One
Limited Edition BD/DVD
After trading blows with real-life villains during what was supposed to be a regular training exercise, Midoriya and his fellow classmates have earned some well-deserved rest. There's no time for that now, though; in fact, with U.A.'s sports festival on the approach, it's looking like the students of 1-A will be tested even more harshly in the coming weeks. Facing down their fellow students on a stage broadcast across the nation, Midoriya will have to master his power quickly, and demonstrate he possesses the strength to follow in the footsteps of his mentor All Might. Actual villains are one thing, but can Midoriya compete against his own absurdly talented classmates?
The tournament arc has been a staple of the shounen genre for decades at this point. From Yu-Yu Hakusho's fabled Dark Tournament to Naruto's chunin exams to Dragon Ball's various pre- and post-Z extravaganzas, tournament arcs provide a terrific venue for demonstrating any author's ability to find the drama in the clash of unique, uneven powers. These arcs also remove the need for clear narrative reasons justifying any given fight; they allow best friends to spar unhindered by strict storytelling needs, and essentially reduce the appeal of tactical battles into a pure, unfiltered concentrate. There's a reason tournament arcs are so ubiquitous: tournament arcs are friggin' awesome.
Framed as U.A. Academy's annual “sports festival,” My Hero Academia's tournament arc is just as thrilling and exceptional as you might hope. The second season wastes no time in diving directly into this festival, tasking Midoriya and his classmates with competing with all of their fellow first years in a series of unique challenges. All the while, exuberant spectators cheer and professional heroes evaluate, judging the temperaments and capabilities of the students who will soon be joining them as professional sidekicks or heroes in their own right.
As a pure display of tactical action excitement, this tournament arc is satisfying from start to finish. The tournament's second round offers a clear example of these episodes' greatest appeal, as all the remaining students are tasked with grouping into teams of four and competing in “cavalry battles” in order to steal each other's headbands. Forced to design teams that balance strength, speed, and a variety of other qualities, these episodes play out like a thrilling strategy ballet, letting many of this series' less-explored characters and weirder quirks shine. New rivals are introduced, schemes are concocted and executed, and episodes generally revel in exploring concepts like “can Ochako use her movement abilities to mitigate Iida's speed” or “what happens if Bakugo is forced to close distance on Todoroki.”
All that stuff is well and good in an immediate thrills sense, but it's only when the tournament enters its single-elimination final round that this arc's thematic priorities come into focus. My Hero Academia has always posited that the essential nature of heroism is inspirational - “to be a hero” is to inspire others to greatness, to show through your actions and charity that other people can be greater than they feel capable. It was this instinct that inspired Midoriya, and Midoriya has gone on to inspire others through his own actions. Here in this tournament arc, that focus on inspiration is given a much more specific context: the relationship between parents and children.
Ochako first demonstrates this new thematic focus, as her savage battle with Bakugo leads into a poignant dialogue with her parents. But it's Todoroki who really shines in this arc, and who demonstrates through his unhappy relationship with his own parents that “inspiration” isn't always a positive thing. Facing down against Midoriya, the boy blessed with that most heroic of adopted fathers, their battle turns into a heartfelt argument regarding the nature of parenting, and how we can come to love ourselves in spite of our origins. Merging thoughtful character drama with thrilling action spectacle and a clear thematic throughline, U.A.'s festival rises to a staggering crescendo of shounen storytelling excellence.
It also looks great. Though My Hero Academia's first season at times struck me as an unfortunately conservative and slow-paced production, season two raises the bar in both these fields, doubling down on the beautifully animated highlights while moving rapidly through the arc's major beats. While individual sequences like that stunning Midoriya-Todoroki battle are elevated through gorgeous standout cuts by legends like Yutaka Nakamura, the animation in general feels crisp and lively this season, perfectly capable of bringing all this arc's many battles to life. That said, you shouldn't expect anything as consistently fluid as One-Punch Man; the adaptation plays conservatively where it can, and the show's overall reliance on reconstructing original manga panels still feels like a serious visual limitation.
My Hero Academia's music remains an unassuming role player, offering tonally appropriate orchestral backing, but never any melodies that really catch in your head or establish a unique sonic identity. As for the dub, Justin Briner is still a basically perfect take on Deku, while Clifford Chapin's Bakugo tends to humanize him a bit more than Nobuhiko Okamoto's permanent growl. On the flip side, I definitely prefer Kenta Miyake's incredibly deep-voiced All Might, which seems to better convey All Might's simultaneously intimidating and adorable presence than Chris Sabat's more standard take. It's a very fine dub on the whole though, and definitely comes down to a series of individual preferences.
Funimation's sturdy release comes in a chipboard case that dwarfs even the first season's box. At least half of this box space is dedicated to a flimsier sub-box, which contains a variety of physical extras. There are some 1-A student playing cards, an All Might keychain, and a couple of felt flags, perfect for waving during all your favorite students' performances. Finally, there's my favorite physical extra: a replica of the headband worn by Deku during the tournament's second round.
Along with that box of goodies, this collection's last physical extra is a hardcover booklet breaking down the various stars of the tournament arc. There are no real production insights or anything here, but it's still a flavorful inclusion, and I appreciated their goofy “power rankings” of all the tournament heroes. As for the discs themselves, the episodes are accompanied by the pre-season “episode 13.5” recap, along with an Anime Expo interview with My Hero Academia's terrifically talented character designer, Yoshihiko Umakoshi. While I really appreciate getting a chat with Umakoshi and watching him draw, the questions chosen for this particular interview are pretty terrible. Instead of getting any insight into his design process or dynamic history in the industry, we instead get empty puff questions like “what do you think it means to be a hero” or “what's your favorite scene in the series”? Finally, the collection also includes Funimation's “Inside the Episode” features, where key members of the dub cast reflect on each episode in turn. These are less “behind the scenes” features and more just casual chats featuring dub actors, so if you're generally a fan of dub commentary tracks, this will likely be a welcome inclusion.
Overall, the first half of My Hero Academia's second season represents a stunning new high for the series, and this collection certainly does it justice. The extras are deeply slanted toward dub features and physical knickknacks over production-related resources, so your mileage may vary on their value, but the release itself is a sturdy one, and even I appreciated grabbing a copy of Deku's headband. My Hero Academia is back and better than ever.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Combines thrilling action, great tactical interplay, and a sturdy emotional core to offer a phenomenal tournament arc
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