My Hero Academia
Episodes 1-2

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 1 of
My Hero Academia ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
My Hero Academia ?

In the world of Shonen Jump, Kōhei Horikoshi was always that artist who just needed a big break. His seniors Masashi Kishimoto and Eiichiro Oda launched mega hits with their first weekly series, but for Horikoshi it took a few tries. Between Ōmagadoki Zoo and Barrage, it was clear that he was one of the most talented up-and-comers with his explosive yet polished art, attractive character designs and fun stories, but for whatever reason he never struck the right nerve to be popular with the reader base at large, or even stick around long enough to get an anime series made out of one of his manga properties. At least, that was the case until My Hero Academia.

We've had the classic Shonen Jump experience in all sorts of different flavors; ninjas, pirates, grim reapers, etc. and now it's time for good ole American-style superheroes to have their turn! (Has there been a good cowboy-themed one yet? I'm waiting on something like that.) I say all of this as a person who is more-or-less ambivalent to superheroes in general. I don't personally draw any excitement from that style, nor do I think Japanese entertainment emulating western entertainment is inherently ground-breaking or interesting. However, like One-Punch Man a few seasons before it, none of that stops me from thinking that My Hero Academia is pretty gosh darn great.

My Hero Academia occupies a world where 80% of the population is born with at least one unique power, called a “Quirk”. These can be anything from the broad spectrum of powers you've seen in other super media, or more bizarrely specific stuff like being able to slowly pull small object closer to you (like the protagonist's mother). Since this phenomenon occurred in the world, seemingly as a product of natural evolution, many people have been raised to take on superhero identities and fight against those who use their powers for evil. Of course, 80% doesn't include everybody and thus you have sad sacks like out hero Midoriya who was born Quirkless.

What follows is your usual Shonen Jump story about ambition and hope in the face of adversity. You see, Midoriya wants nothing more than to have a Quirk of his very own so he can grow up to be a great hero like his idol, the mysterious Superman-like figure, “All Might”. He's teased by his power-friendly classmates and it just tears him up inside that his dreams might never come true. I think the scene most people are going to take away from the first episode is one where a child Midoriya ugly cries with a smile on his face, heartbroken as he watches internet footage of All Might saving the day.

The first two episodes of the show split the first manga chapter in half pretty evenly (debut chapters in Weekly Shonen Jump tend to be longer than the rest). I've noticed some angst from fans over this, worried that the dramatic payoff being delayed to episode 2 would fail to hook new viewers, but I can't imagine it gets in the way all that much. My Hero Academia is just a treat to look at, with Horikoshi's designs and Studio Bones' animation style feeling like they were made for each other. I'm trying to think of the last time a property and a studio felt like such a perfect match. The thick outlines, bold colors and so on have never felt more at home. Even if episode 1 ends on a soft cliffhanger, I'm sure many people will keep tuning in to the show just to look at it.

However, that said, episode 2 is where the show really gets to show its strengths in full force. We learn All Might's secret; that he's actually a sickly, scrawny guy who doesn't look like he could win in a fight against anybody. The blood that he's constantly spitting up also doesn't bode well for his potential fate. “You know how guys at the pool are constantly flexing and posturing? It's like that,” he says to explain his power and why he has to “deflate” after his limited time with a muscular build. All Might already looks pretty cool as a superhero, but I love love love his skinny design. It's so creepy and angular, but he also looks so pathetic you can't help but see a friendly face in him.

The two have a private conversation about the realities of being a hero. All Might puts on a smile whenever he fights as a way of never showing weakness to the public. When Midoriya asks him if somebody without a Quirk could possibly be a hero, he pragmatically says, “I don't know.” All hope seems lost for our little hero-who-never-was, but since this is the beginning of a long-running action show, the sense of defeat doesn't get to last long.

The winning moment of these debut episodes comes with the big rescue scene, when one of Midoriya's classmates (Bakugo, the clear antihero-to-be of the series) is trapped within the body of some kind of sewage villain and none of the local heroes are able to fight without hurting the kid inside. It's Midoriya who acts on instinct, panicking his way over to the monster and trying to pull his rival out against all odds. Despite the terrified childishness in his eyes, he's doing what none of the other heroes were able to do: risking his life. Even All Might is surprised by this, allowing himself to summon the courage and risk his health by fighting beyond the regular three hours he gets to use his strength each day.

The thing that makes this scene so important is that it puts it's best quality front and center. Kōhei Horikoshi is still an undefined talent in many ways, especially considering that people have their hearts set on My Hero Academia being the next Naruto or One Piece, but right out of the gate he's always had one skill that he's miles above anybody else on; he has an almost supernatural ability to depict adrenaline. The energy and passion that goes into his big make-it-or-break it scenes is frankly from another planet. His stories have a talent of sucking you into the heightened drama in ways that I honestly can't put my finger on.

Part of my fascination with this series lies in trying to figure out why it clicks so perfectly. I could praise the music, editing, voice acting etc., all of which is top notch, but I'm still not satisfied with that. There really is some kind of magic at play and I don't think I'm going to figure out the recipe any time soon, but that just makes me all the more excited to see what comes next.

The first two episodes of My Hero Academia (which serve as the complete introduction to the series) are as indicative of the genre as you can imagine when it comes to plot, but the execution makes it shine so much stronger. I'm already in love with All Might as a character, and even though Midoriya is still unproven as a protagonist (I would never hold his feeble-ness against him, but he's still a bit of a vanilla cracker) I'm aware that the conceit of the series is that he'll have plenty opportunities to impress us over time.

The second episode in general is especially strong, with an action scene that is so up my alley in its infectious passion and rumination of self-doubt and inner strength that could easily be construed as clichéd (and I begrudge no one who feels that way) but it comes at just the right time for my own personal tastes. I'm pretty familiar with the Shonen Jump brand and my favorite things about shows like One Piece are its ability to make clichés like "power of friendship" seem cool, so I'm giving My Hero Academia the benefit of the doubt as far as what comes next.

Rating: A

My Hero Academia is currently streaming on Funimation.

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