To Be Heroine is a truly unusual take on isekai where one girl must fight for her future using anthropomorphized articles of clothing, but is there more to this web series lurking under its silly surface? This week, Nick and Micchy delve into this ambitious Chinese coproduction.
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You can check out To Be Heroine on Crunchyroll!
Hey Micchy, just wanted to let you know I decided to check out that new show you recommended! I just have one question though:
Because seriously, what the fuck is To Be Heroine...
To Be Heroine is a delightful cartoon from China about friendship, the pain of growing up, and also What If Clothes Were People.
Okay that answers my first question. Now I have another one: why
the fuck is To Be Heroine?
What, you mean you didn't want to watch the adventures of the glowing baby with the solid gold underpants? This is truly refined entertainment!
It's certainly a confident production, if nothing else. The first episode alone is one of the most unique premieres of the season, between the shifting language tracks, the totally unexplained isekai setup, and the horrible talking babies running around in nothing but their undies.
To Be Heroine is the new spinoff of the 2016 anime To Be Hero, which won over certain folks (me) with its heartfelt story about fatherhood, remarkable animation, and poop jokes. Produced by a Chinese company with animators from all over the world, To Be Heroine is also unusual in that its Japanese broadcast is only partially dubbed.
So I can imagine why new viewers might be confused.
Anyway, Heroine throws its silly isekai setup at you right off the bat, but it's essentially a coming-of-age story for its protagonist Futaba, with the supernatural shenanigans serving as an absurdly on-the-nose metaphor for what's going on in her life.
On-the-nose meaning that all of the awful babies in the show are named after her real life friends.
Oh yeah, for the sake of consistency, I'll be using the Japanese names to talk about characters, even though the show itself localizes those names in an even more confusing fashion than Thunderbolt Fantasy.
Which really sucks for Futaba's glasses-friend because everyone just calls him by this twice-translated nickname that is infinitely more memorable than his actual name.
Both Tooru and Hikaru are such utter nerds, I love them.
Joking aside, I will say I was intrigued pretty quickly by TBH's premise. Obvious metaphors aside, there's a solid emotional core at the heart of all its wackiness that grounds what could otherwise be a lot of random nudity/sex jokes.
Yeah! Futaba's a high school girl worrying about normal-ass things like going to college, not disappointing her parents, and her deteriorating relationship with her two childhood friends. Naturally, they show up in the alternate world as these absolute turd babies.
Y'know I get what they're going for with this whole returning to childhood thing, but did they have
to make all the characters into terrible babies?
To Be Heroine wouldn't be a worthy successor to To Be Hero without its fair share of horrible characters that deserve to be punted across a football field.
Case in point: Min's rando boyfriend
Moemoe there was an important character in the first series, but I have no idea what he's doing here or why Min hasn't thrown him back on his spaceship.
Yeah he's an alien invader who commands the power of boogers.
Look, you kinda gotta roll with this show; the first series especially doesn't hold back at all when it comes to gross humor. Anyway, Futaba's parents have this life plan set out for her: study hard, get into a good college, find a high-paying job. To this end, they're convinced that her goofy friend Hikaru is a bad influence on her studies. Hikaru's a happy-go-lucky guy on the outside, and his good nature has held the friend trio together for as long as they can remember.
That's ridiculous because Hikaru is clearly a wonderful friend, the type of pal everyone should wish to have.
This feels like a pointed attack.
Editor's Note: The height difference between Nick and Micchy is nothing to sneeze at.
On the surface, Hikaru's an unending ball of optimism, the one light (get it) keeping Futaba from losing herself to the soulless grind of exams. But paradoxically, he's the one in the cast who got dealt the lousiest hand in life.
The show's played coy with exactly what happened to him, but we do know that ever since his father disappeared, he's had a rough home life and has clung to the childhood promise he made with Futaba and Tooru years ago. But as they've gotten older, their relationship's changed in ways none of them are totally able to deal with.
The three of them promised to always have each other's backs when they were kids, but as college entrance exams draw near, Tooru and Futaba have realized that they can't remain together forever. One of my favorite conversations in the show is when Tooru confronts Futaba about this. Will she opt for a lesser school just to stay with him? Or should she simply watch out for herself and trust him to catch up to her? She could choose the path to success that her parents have laid out for her, but that would also mean leaving behind the people she cares about. There's no right answer, no "fifth choice" for her.
It's a good scene that cuts to the heart of TBH underneath all its weird isekai shenanigans. Growing up means making tough, scary decisions that you're not ready for, which can make you absolutely miserable.
And that's how the other world is born. It's an escape from her reality, but only the surface elements have changed. I think this is where TBH sets itself apart from most isekai anime. Instead of offering her a power fantasy where she is The Best, this new world only puts her in a different position so she can confront her demons in a different form. The power fantasy is really that she can face her parents, who she perceives as being complicit in Hikaru's disappearance.
That one was pretty rough to sit through. I was never in that situation growing up, but I knew plenty of kids who lived with a lot of the same pressures as Futaba, and that's what I think makes TBH worth watching. Beyond the (admittedly rad) animation, the core of the isekai premise is to externalize Futaba's struggle, and that conflict is as gripping as it can be hard to watch.
Hikaru's goodbye texts absolutely destroyed me.
Gotta say, when I started the show about clothes turning into hot guys, I wasn't expecting the anime version of Born To Run.
Hikaru's idea is a childish fantasy, but at this point in her life, Futaba desperately needs a childish fantasy to keep going.
Fun fact: item #15 on Futaba's to-do list for Hikaru is "stop being chuuni." I have to wonder how much of that is meant for him and how much is her projecting.
Considering Futaba's internal conflict involves ikemen ninja fights, I don't know where she gets off saying that.
Can't forget the anthropomorphized bra cups who turn into glowstick-waving dominatrices.
But for real, To Be Heroine really surprised me. Going in, I admit I was pretty dismissive about it; I just expected a nonsensical fart fest, but there's a rock solid emotional core to the story that go me invested in ways I didn't expect.
Granted there's still farts, but that's kind of the charm.
That's basically To Be Hero(ine)'s modus operandi: legit compelling emotional drama disguised under a layer of raunchy comedy.
I had a similar experience with To Be Hero, but in keeping with that first series' faults (I hate the Japanese dub of To Be Hero), To Be Heroine suffers in its Japanese localization.
Right, I'd heard there was some controversy about edits made for the JPN broadcast, but it's hard to tell exactly what those changes are when that localization's the only version widely available.
To fit a Japanese TV slot, the show had to be edited down from its online streaming version. There are a few deleted jokes and a handful of scenes were rearranged entirely, but for the most part the cuts consist of shaving off a few seconds here and there. In terms of what happens, you're not missing much, but I do think the edits disrupt the pacing of the show; scenes don't get enough time to breathe, and sometimes the comedic timing is off. And it's gotta suck to be one of the animators watching their work be tampered with like this.
Yeah, that's something I did notice, but I didn't want to just assume it was caused by the broadcast edit. The series has really tight pacing that doesn't totally flow the way you'd expect, and it can make for some real whiplash during emotional moments.
TBH's editing and pacing have always been a little offbeat, which to me is part of the charm, but I'm not a fan of how the localization exaggerates those quirks. In any case, at least the adaptive script and voice direction retain the tone of the original thing, which is more than I can say for To Be Hero's localization.
It's a shame, since there's a lot of passion in TBH's animation and direction. One of my favorite aspects is how the show plays with the frame throughout each scene, with the picture literally pushing at its own borders.
Right, most of the real-world scenes are letterboxed, literally restricting Futaba to a suffocating fraction of the space around her.
It's a striking way to control the atmosphere of any given moment, but they also use it for pretty great gags too.
But even with the warts of the international release, To Be Heroine is such an earnest and unique series that I think folks should check it out. There's an attitude in anime fandom to be dismissive of Chinese animation regardless of its quality, but I'm really glad you told me to try this out, and I think others might feel the same if they give it a shot.
The optimist in me hopes that one day, both versions of To Be Hero(ine) will be available to an international audience, but until that happens, those of you who don't speak Mandarin would do well to at least check out Crunchyroll's broadcast version.
And if they don't, they'll have to answer to Min.