My Hero Academia the Movie -Heroes: Rising-

My Hero Academia the Movie -Heroes: Rising- English Dub
The aspiring heroes of UA Class 1-A have been given a new training opportunity during their winter break: To establish and maintain their own professional Hero Agency on the idyllic island of Nabu far off the coast of Japan. There, they'll experience the everyday travails of being heroes, for the first time without the support of their instructors or chaperons. It's a challenging assignment, but one the plucky students of UA are more than equipped to face – that is, until the arrival of a team of villains lead by the ruthless Nine and his eerily familiar quirk. Cut off from any backup and facing their greatest threat yet, it's up to Deku, Bakugo, and their classmates to face unspeakable danger to protect not only the people of the island, but the future of all Hero society.

Going purely by the synopsis, one could be forgiven for expecting Heroes: Rising to be a carbon copy of the preceding MHA movie, Two Heroes. Both are wholly isolated adventures predicated on putting the cast on an anime-original island, and pitting them against a team of villains only vaguely connected to any of the rogues of of the series proper. But where Heroes: Rising differs from its predecessor is in the details, with two main changes to the execution that make it both distinct and largely more engaging than MHA's first foray into cinemas.

The first and most immediate difference is with the cast. Rather than cutting things down to a half dozen or so principal characters to hog all the limelight, Heroes: Rising is a movie about all of Class 1-A coming together. The first half is bursting with fun character moments and gags as even the most tertiary of 1-A's students gets a scene to show how they're adapting to being pseudo-professional. And once the villains arrive to wreak havoc, that dynamic thankfully doesn't change. Deku and Bakugo predictably get the biggest and brightest moments, but every student gets at least one moment to both showcase their powers and contribute something unique and endearing to the conflict. Yes, even Mineta.

The second major change is with the villains. The film's hands are clearly tied when it comes to using MHA's established enemies, but makes it work by tying them into the series' larger thematic conflict rather than trying to approximate the League of Villains' personalities. The standout is the group's leader, Nine, whose motivation is leagues more compelling than than the forgettable crook from Two Heroes, and works well to integrate him into MHA's larger world while still feeling distinct from big bads like Shigaraki or All For One. No easy task considering some of the deliberate parallels the movie draws between them. His trio of supporters are less memorable – they practically scream Shonen Jump Movie Bad Guys from the moment they step on screen – but they provide some unique powers that make for exciting battles as the cast have to team up and strategize to take them down. The versatile and stalwart Chimera in particular delivers a wild action setpiece that gives a number of fan favorite heroes a chance to shine on their own. The movie's emotional through-line is similarly built upon the established dynamics of the cast, but this time it's centered on Deku and Bakugo's budding partnership/rivalry as All Might's dual successors. While the exact chronology of the film is left nebulous, for any of the important emotional beats to make sense it's recommended viewers at least finish Season 3 of the anime beforehand, because Heroes: Rising in many ways acts as a thematic followup to Episode 61. The pair in this film is a far cry from the pushover and bully from the beginning of the series, and through their relationships with movie-original kids Katsuma and Mahoro the question at the center of the conflict is one right out of the series proper: What kind of heroes will these two youngsters need to become if they really want to surpass All Might? The answer it comes to is both surprising and pitch perfect for where MHA is as a story at the moment, and is sure to have crowds roaring in the theater when it arrives.

In the end though, all this is in service of what fans of MHA have come to expect from the series: off the wall action animation, and it's here that Heroes: Rising delivers in spades. While some early action sequences feel a little awkward with regards to spacial reasoning – there are a few shots where it's hard to tell exactly where any combatant is in relation to their surroundings – the third act is predictably phenomenal. Director Kenji Nagasaki and his team at BONES run absolutely wild for the final half hour of the film and deliver some absolutely jaw dropping sequences back to back. Even if the rest of the movie were disposable fluff, the earth-shattering climax would be worth the price of entry all on its own.

Funimation's dub is an overall rock solid affair in its own right. The lion's share of the cast have had years now to grow into their roles, and even as a viewer primarily familiar the Japanese cast I can say the English crew all turn in a great job here. Standout among the returning cast is Clifford Chapin as Bakugo, who has always done well with bombast and bluster, but here finally gets to embody the quieter and more contemplative side of the character in some key moments. Of the newcomers, Johnny Yong Bosch leaves the biggest impression with a quietly menacing performance as Nine. Despite having limited screen time, Bosch infuses the character with both the cold and fearful energy of a dark messiah figure, and the growing desperation that takes over as he clashes with the heroes.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the English dub though is the central children characters, Katsuma and Mahoro. There are few jobs in voice-over work more thankless than voicing child characters, but actresses Maxey Whitehead and Dani Chambers handle the task with aplomb. Neither ever sound like actual child actors, but they deliver their lines with an energy and sincerity that makes the pair feel as young and innocent as they're written. I'd also be remiss not to mention Greg Dulcie's highly underrated work as the villain Chimera. Dulcie takes what little material he's given and manages to imbue a surprising amount of pathos into the character and his relationship with Nine that left me honestly wanting to see a whole OVA about their past together. Considering the character has maybe two dozen lines across the whole thing that's nothing to scoff at.

There are some awkward lingering threads at the fringes of Heroes: Rising, however. It introduces a number of interesting, even revolutionary concepts to MHA's setting and characters, but like Two Heroes has to either abandon or backtrack on them to make a clean break before the cast return to Canon Story Town. While it doesn't make the events of the movie any less entertaining in the moment, it's best to approach the affair as an interesting “What if?” story rather than anything significant to the narrative of MHA at large. Which is likely the intention given mangaka Kōhei Horikoshi's mention that the film's climax is partly based on how he'd originally planned to end the series. Combined with the questionable place of the film in the overall chronology of the series, it's probably something we're not meant to worry too much about in the long run.

On that note, the film's also likely to spoil a few things the currently airing TV anime hasn't gotten to yet. The most immediate is Hawks, a fan favorite among manga readers who's yet to make his debut for anime-onlies. His role is minimal, but it may leave some viewers feeling out of the loop during his early scenes. More pressingly is a particular scene in the second act that, without going into details, throws into question a pretty significant of MHA's established rules. It's never brought up past its initial introduction, but the implications of it will probably throw some fans for a loop, and another reason why it's probably better not to worry about anything in Heroes: Rising being 100% canon.

That being said, this is absolutely a must-see for fans of MHA's world, characters, and super heroic action. Whatever flaws it inherits from its place in the larger franchise pale compared to its strengths as a crowd-pleasing thrill ride, and it's almost certain to be a treat to witness in a theater packed full of fellow fans.

Overall (dub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : A

+ Thrilling action and climax, great moments of focus for fan favorites and dark horse characters alike, a genuinely interesting villain in a Shonen Jump movie
Can't quite escape the burden of being mostly non-canon, some character cameos and powers could mildly spoil anime-only fans for future arcs

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Production Info:
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Script: Yousuke Kuroda
Music: Yuki Hayashi
Original creator: Kōhei Horikoshi
Character Design: Yoshihiko Umakoshi

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