Boku no Hero Academia – 04

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The feeling I get watching that episode preview at the end of this week’s Boku no Hero Academia is hard to put into words.

If ever one needed proof that it’s a demographic and not a genre, one need only look at the fact that both Boku no Hero Academia and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge are considered shounen.  Both run in shounen publications (though the latter is in Gangan Online, one of the most eclectic – and finest – sources for atypical shounen manga anywhere) and feature high school boys as heroes.  But shounen is a big tent, with room for a dizzying array of genres and styles inside it – which is one of the reasons why I love it so much.

Still…  When one hears that word – shounen – somehow, it’s Boku no Hero Academia and (the very few) series like it that spring to mind for me.  I’ve thought a lot about why I love Boku as much as I do, given that it’s not especially groundbreaking and can certainly be picked apart intellectually if one is so inclined.  It’s flawed, for sure, and full of familiar cliches and tropes.  But if I know anything about this series by now, it’s this – Boku no Hero is a show you watch much more with your heart than your head.  It’s big and visceral and emotionally transparent, full of larger-than-life iconic characters and big noises.  And in that it has few equals, which is why I think it comes as close as any recent series to being emblematic of a concept as broad and elusive as shounen.

I have seen the first couple of arcs of BnHA compared to the “Hunter Exam” arc of Hunter X Hunter, and I don’t think that’s completely off-base – Horikoshi-sensei definitely has some of the spark of genius for breathless storytelling and iconic characters that Togashi does.  I would say, however, that subsequent viewings of “Hunter Exam” reveal that even at that early stage, Togashi was offering clues that H x H was to become the subversive deconstruction of shounen than it would later be openly.  I don’t necessarily see as much of that in the early chapters of Boku no Hero – I think this series is more transparent, but as we saw this week, it can be shockingly ruthless when the moment calls for it.  Like Togashi, Horikoshi is a mangaka who seems to know no fear – and that’s a trait that unites virtually all writers of great shounen manga.

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The true nature of the challenge facing our hero (and this is a series where that term really applies to the protagonist) is clear from the beginning of the Yuuei entrance exam.  He’s facing off against a huge gaggle of kids who’ve been nurturing their quirks since toddlerhood, and Izuku hasn’t even had a chance to take his for a test drive yet.  I’ve seen this series criticized because Izuku doesn’t end up trying to succeed without a quirk, but my goodness – in this context, does that charge really stick?  He’s been given nothing, including by birth – Izuku had to earn that quirk by his own blood, sweat and (lots of) tears.  I see it as a take on the trope of the poor kid trying to earn his way into the elite school full of rich kids who were born into their position.

Sadly for Izuku, he earns zero points even as his rivals are racking them up ass over teakettle.  Even the “Ii Hito” Ochako piles up 28 of them, though she looks pretty flustered in the process.  The hope of the underdog is always the wild-card, and in this case it’s the “zero point” monster Present Mic promised us – an opponent which was clearly intended to scramble the deck and test the examinees’ mettle in chaotic and unexpected situations.  As it happens Ii Hito is trapped under a pile of rubble as the gargantuan 0-pointer approaches and everyone flees.  Everyone but one, of course – and if you don’t know who that one is, you’re watching the wrong series.

My favorite moment of this sequence comes as Izuku and Iida pass each other like two ships in the night, going in opposite directions.  Nagasaki-sensei frames this in slow-motion and in addition to looking brilliant, it calls home the importance of the occasion.  Iida, a thoughtful young man, seems to slow this inconceivable occurrence down to slow-mo n his own mind – but he keeps running.  Again we see Izuku setting the example for heroism that he learned from All Might – it’s not what you are, it’s what you do when the moment calls for it.  By going back to help Ochako, Izuku is not only risking his life but dooming his chance to score a few points and possibly pass the exam, and that’s not even considering that he has no real idea how he’s gong to help her.

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No doubt about it, what happens after Izuku squeezes his buttocks and screams “Smash!” is the most Togashi-like sequence of Boku no Hero Academia so far.  It’s brutal, and Bones spares none of the brutality in the translation – Izuku’s fist is torn to shreds, his arm is shattered and his legs are bent at gruesome angles.  This is the power All Might tried to hone Izuku’s body to contain, and the results are harrowing.  In Boku no Hero consequences are a very real and harsh thing, as the sight of Izuku’s tortured body takes pains to show us.  It’s only the intervention of the powerful healer Recovery Girl (Kozakura Etsuko – Ryo-ohki for crying out loud!) that prevents Izuku from being laid up for months, but the boy is still out cold – and finishes the practical exam with zero points.

One of the great unsung heroes of Boku no Hero is Izuku’s mom, and that’s one reason why the resolution of this ep is so great.  She lives and breathes every trial and heartache along with her son, even as he pursues a dream which fills her with terror for his safety.  When he receives the results she’s every bit as anxious as he is, and those results come in the form of a holographic video of All Might, who only now reveals to Izuku that he’s on staff at Yuuei.  And the truth is revealed – Izuku has 60 “rescue points”, thanks to his actions in helping Ochako.  And it’s self-evident when you think about it – indeed, how can a school for heroes ignore heroic actions by those who want to attend it?

I love series about kids where there are adults like these two – role models, protectors, ultimately supporters.  They nurture the next generation, and ultimately entrust the future to them.  All Might’s joy at delivering the news to his protege is so heartfelt, so pure – just as is the reaction of both son and mother when they receive it.  That’s the essence of this series, every bit as much as the violence and the action – the sheer depth and clarity of the emotion.  It’s great shounen in my book – it shoots from the heart, straight to the heart.

 

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17 comments

  1. s

    inspiration….it’s how this anime goes about conveying inspiration that makes me feel like it rises above the other generic shounen. And even if you did try to intellectually nitpick at academia (the strutural elements of the story still hold even after combing for complaints)…there’s not much to grasp at. It’s a simple narrative that builds on itself and therefore it protects it’s narrative from being clunky and full of holes. It just what is what it is, but that thing that it is is inspiration; it embodies its themes and thrusts them forward…that’s why academia is good.

  2. s

    PS. ochako and izuku’s mom are a delight to watch; we can see where izuku gets his mannerisms from. It seems ochako kinda gets sick after using her powers; either that or she has high levels of anxiety which would make sense cause she noticed izuku’s anxiety and we see her actively trying to calm down before the test.

  3. B

    Easily, my favorite anime of the season. Absolutely, love the MC. Your favorite moment is also spot on. “How people act after they’ve seen this shows their true nature.” Which really solidifies how awesome the MC is in my opinion.

  4. There’s a really interesting comparison to make between this series and One Punch Man, and how they represent wildly different views of (super)heroism. Here our hero who doesn’t apparently get any points formally in the “hero exam” actually earns them for his morals and spirit rather than simple combat proficiency. There the system managed to stick the most powerful (and if not the most heroic, still one of the most decent humans amongst their ranks full of egocentric assholes) candidate they ever saw into class C over a stupid technicality. OPM’s cynicism may be fun, but BnHA’s starry eyed idealism is sometimes refreshing and uplifting to witness as well.

  5. C

    So the implication is that Dekumom got fat because she accidentally started Deku’s diet regime? I thought it was stress eating due to perceived guilt over crushing her son’s dreams. Poor woman, seriously.

    And where the fuck is Dekudad? I really hate this cliche.

  6. T

    I hear you about the dad cliche. It speaks quite strongly about the soul-crushing work culture that makes dads almost absent in their children’s lives.

    Between Winter and Spring, we have two shows with Best Moms (Boku Dake and this). I’d like to see one with Best Dads. (I’m almost tempted to say Hunter x Hunter but that’s just because that’s what I’m marathoning right now. Ging doesn’t exactly count as Best Dad, huh? He’s Cool Dad, but Best Dad…)

  7. C

    Indeed, everything seems to imply that Dekudad is just a regular salaryman. And yeah, I agree, this has been the the “year of the moms” so far.

  8. Ushio’s Dad is pretty decent. But yeah, really good anime dads are pretty rare (I like the farmer dad in Flying Witch, actually). The good thing here is that at least All Might is almost like a great dad.

  9. H

    I’m personally a fan of Shigeru from Natsume Yuujinchou. He is a great father figure, and while he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, the times which he does with Natsume is quite sweet.

  10. Shigeru is fantastic, but if you want to go back to older series there are quite a few you can pick out over the years. The current cupboard is pretty bare, though.

  11. Staying in battle-shounen land, the precursor of all of them, Dragonball, has both Goku and Vegeta being terrible dads (not to talk of THEIR respective dads who were one awful, the other dead). Of the Big Three, Naruto would have had a great dad had he not died when the protagonist was a newborn (and even then, sealing that monster demon in his son was a pretty dick move). In One Piece Luffy has just managed to see his dad’s face for the first time – on a newspaper. So yeah. Bleach’s Ichigo though has a pretty decent dad in Isshin (even though he still hid a lot of stuff from his son). And while Edward might have more than one bone to pick with him, all in all, given the extraordinary circumstances, Hohenheim was actually a pretty good dad. At least in the abstract “going to give it my all to fix my past fuckups so that you can have a country to grow up in” sort of way.

    Oh, and how could I forget – Souma’s dad looks pretty awesome!

  12. Y

    As far as Luffy is concerned, while I agree that Dragon seems to be almost completely negligent in regards to his familial duties (excluding that one time in Lougetown… sort of), I also think we shouldn’t be too quick to judge — remember that we still don’t know why he decided to start the revolutionary movement. It might be for the same reason Hohenheim left Trisha, Ed and Al: to right some personal wrong and/or make the world a better place for his loved ones to live in. And speaking of FMA, while Edward remained almost childishly (albeit understandably) antagonistic towards his father for the larger part of the series, Alphonse seemed to have a perfectly decent relationship with him — even if it was awfully short-lived.

  13. Yeah, that’s why I mentioned only Edward. You’re right about Dragon, but a couple scenes with Ivankov suggested that at least he’s not the most emotionally open man (as opposed, say, to HIS father Garp who wears his heart on his sleeve all the time. Reminds me of Joseph Joestar in a lot of ways. Talking about bad fathers – the guy had a son from his mistress in his 60s and never even bothered visiting him!). And I somewhat doubt Luffy and Dragon’s ideals would align; I think Dragon’s Revolution risks being too self-righteous and rooted in politics for Luffy’s deeply anarchic heart.

    Truly, One Piece’s best father is Whitebeard… and he doesn’t even have biological sons (well, unless that new guy is really his son and not some fake). Just a dad of a big extended family of pirates. Well, and King Cobra Nefertari seems pretty okay with Vivi.

  14. Z

    Simone, you think Whitebeard is a better dad than Thunder Soldier/Kyros?

  15. G

    You have a typo there – you mean to say Izuku and Tenya, not Izuku and Midoriya right?

    It’s anguish every time the end credits roll, and I die and revive each time with an episode. With this type of hero shounen, I think cliches define it, since they all talk about courage, integrity and selflessness and it doesn’t work without them. It’s mostly the characterization that can make or break a series, and this one is a hit in all spots. I love Deku so so so much.

    Just an afterthought, why do all the judges look so non-human? It almost makes the scene comical to watch.

  16. Z

    I knew that this was a great show because as the final seconds of the show rolle don, I had a giant grin on my face. Its a genuinely happy moment when Izuku walks out of his room and gives his Mom that big grin and couldn’t help but copy it. What really rings true for me is the heartfelt emotion displayed by the cast. All the named characters are tropes for sure, but they own their trope. They are the people that tropes are based on and not afraid to show it.

  17. T

    There’s a lot to love about BnHA, but for this comment I just want to express how much I love the humor of this show, like that Best Jeanist line and Ochako vomiting rainbows.

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