My Hero Academia
Episode 4

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 4 of
My Hero Academia ?

Our feet have stepped forward onto school ground and thus the "Academia" part of the title is in full effect as Midoriya and his peers face the U.A. high school entrance exam. If there was ever a time to cry "Naruto allergies" now would be when you back out. It's school! With super powers! And exams that challenge both mind and body! If we're lucky we'll also get an elaborate trick question posed by the instructors in a character-building philosophy exercise. It feels like whenever a new hit Shonen Jump property explodes there's a temptation from fans to call it a "deconstruction," and I think it's for the best we learn to hesitate when we use that word for a while. Maybe I'm missing something from the later chapters of My Hero Academia, but so far it feels safe to say that this is as honest-to-Goku shounen as it gets.

The episode centers on the exam's mock battle, where the potential students of U.A. (the most exclusive superhero high school) must traverse a city-style arena and combat against specialty-made robots. Among these kids are our protagonist Midoriya (who has yet to try out his blossoming All For One ability), the quirky heroine Ochako and her gravity powers, and the begrudged antihero Bakugo, who has already been established as an adept fighter with his explosion powers. There are a few other recurring faces, but I'm still internalizing the names (looking at you, glasses man).

Right out of the gate Midoriya is put in the position of underdog. Before the exam even begins his peers let out a sigh of relief when they see that he's apart of their exam group, assuming that's just a little less competition to worry about. Success is measured in points that you earn for each enemy defeated in the exam, so when Midoriya is stuck most of the game with a whopping zero points, the question is raised as to how we expect our main character to persevere throughout this series.

This is when the big punch comes in. As was the case in episode 2, Midoriya's strength comes from a desperate need to help others. As was also the case in episode 2, the audience is rewarded for following Midoriya's heroism in the form of a big spectacular super punch. This time the attack comes from Midoriya himself, as All For One kicks in at the height of his desperation and allows him to save Ochako (the girl who he has been referring to as "the nice person") from fallen rubble.

It is unquestionably a great individual scene. The music is heart pumping, the stylization of All For One in animation looks great and the recoil damage that Midoriya takes as a result of still adjusting to his power is especially brutal and plays out well in the plot of the episode. It's everything that I said were the strengths of the show in episode 2. MHA's unique ability to tap into adrenaline is still unchallenged as one most admirable qualities of any anime in recent years, and it's all wrapped in a bow of heart soaring action, big speeches delivered by All Might, and a crowd of naysayers being silenced. It's everything I come to watch My Hero Academia for.

However....

I do think this episode moves a little too fast for it's own good. It's been a while since I checked out the first couple volumes of the manga, so I'm a little hazy on how it was paced, but based on this episode alone I feel like this section of the story was begging to be a two-parter. It did its darndest to have it's own beginning-middle-end with a complete thematic goal, but when the middle scene (the punch) and the ending scene (the feel-good twist of fate) are so enormous in their sentiment, it feels like we're doing a disservice to ourselves by getting to them so quickly.

Shounen anime gets picked on a lot for being too slow a lot of the time, and with valid reason. However, one of the reasons I like shounen anime is that every step of the story has a chance to feel like a journey. This episode features a full story arc of sorts. We got to see some of Midoriya's peers go from laughing at him to respecting his courage. We got to see Midoriya struggle with a sense of defeat after he ends the exam with zero combat points, only to learn there were secretly "rescue points" also being factored in and that he finally gets to go to the legendary U.A. But none of it feels as special as it would have if we spent just a little more time getting there.

I'm imagining one episode that cliffhangs after the punch, with the continuing episode featuring the fallout and the ironic conclusion that ties it together. The extra time could have been spent moving around the battle arena and giving us a chance to feel like we're going through something with the characters. I feel like the scenario is interesting enough to warrant that.

I know it's still early in the series and this is pretty typical for the genre, but it's such a great example of several phenomenally executed scenes losing a little bit of their magic as a result of the rest of the story moving too fast. Whispers are telling me that this season of MHA is only going to be thirteen episodes long. If this is true then I know to be wary that Studio Bones may have limited economy to tell whichever portion of the story they intend to cover. Thirteen episodes a season sounds like a shame to me. That's not the right pace for a show like this.

My Hero Academia, at the very least, continues to be as pleasant as you've come to expect. There's so much compassion and altruism steaming out of every pore. I really believe that this is a story that inherently likes people; and not just fictional characters but the real human beings watching along at home. I hope that MHA's adventures in the land of animation doesn't tap out at thirteen episodes. I really want to see what kind of hundred-plus episode experience it becomes down the road, because some of us don't need efficient storytelling every second of every minute.

Also, just as an aside, I feel like it's worth noting that there's a famous hero in this world named Best Jeanist whose superpower seems to be wearing jeans and winning the so-called "Best Jeanist Award". So, you know, that's pretty great.

Rating: B-

My Hero Academia is currently streaming on Funimation.

Sam Leach writes about One Piece for The One Piece Podcast and you can find him on Twitter @luckychainsaw


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