First Impressions – Boku no Hero Academia

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The only way for me to approach writing about this series, I think, is to tell you a story of why I love it as much as I do.

OP:”The Day” by Porno Graffiti

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -1Forgive me if I ramble at times, but there’s a lot I want to say about Boku no Hero Academia.  By way of introduction, I recall a conversation Samu and I were having on our Random Curiosity Hunter X Hunter podcast.  One of the questions I posed at the time was “If Togashi Yoshihiro decided to retire and have someone else finish Hunter X Hunter, what mangaka would you want to see do it?”  My answer was Horikoshi Kouhei, the 29 year-old creator of Boku no Hero Academia.  And while that may seem like high praise for a mangaka who’d never even had a successful syndication before this one, he was really the only person I considered.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -2So what was it about Horikoshi and BnHA that elicited such confidence from me?  It’s hard to put into words – because for me, this is one of those series that you feel more than think.  My spin on Boku no Hero Academia has always been that it’s the work of a mangaka whose next series is going to be a masterpiece.  It’s rough at times, a bit awkward – and it puts me in mind of something like Yu Yu Hakusho.  That youthful edge is a strength as well as a weakness, believe me, because it imbues BnHA with an integrity and energy an older mangaka would be hard-pressed to match.  Not only would I love to see H x H reimagined by someone like that (though obviously I’d rather it never has to be by anybody) but in very real sense, I think this series is the perfect intersection of old-school and new-school shounen.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -3Did you ever have a series where you started imagining the anime as soon as you started reading the manga?  That’s what Boku no Hero Academia was like for me.  That adds a certain amount of pressure to today, and while it feels like it’s been a long time coming this adaptation has actually come pretty early in the process (the manga is not yet at 90 chapters).  When the announcement came that this was going to be a 13-episode season, a lot of folks were dismayed and took that as a lack of confidence in the series, but I think it’s anything but.  To cite the unfortunate example of World Trigger, I think that was a Jump series that was more or less considered expendable – get as much out of it as you can quickly.  I think Shueisha sees BnHA as a pillar of the next generation of Shounen Jump, and they’re going to treat the franchise with kid gloves.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -4Another example of that is the choice of Bones as the studio.  That “whoosh!” sound you heard when the announcement was made was the collective sigh of relief from the manga readers – Madhouse was really the only other studio that most of us even considered.  And Bones has done their usual superb job here – the animation is fantastic, the facial expressions are top-shelf, and they’ve captured the look and feel of Horikoshi’s work better than I thought was possible.  In terms of style this is an extremely faithful adaptation so far, right down to pacing.  Director Nagasaki Kenji, still in his mid-30’s, has worked with some elite talent at studios like Madhouse, Sunrise and Gainax, and may be getting ready to step up into the top tier of action directors in anime.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -11Might that pacing be a concern for new viewers?  I suppose it’s possible, but if nothing else it strongly indicates Bones has no intention of rushing through this material.  BnHA is a slow build for the first arc or two, taking its time to lay the foundation for the story to come.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of the character moments in this premiere because they’re crucial in events to come.  If you don’t get to know Kacchan, All Might and especially Deku very well indeed, what comes later is not going to have anywhere near the impact it should.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -12As ever I’ll take pains to avoid spoilers – though this is not a Boku Dake ga Inai Machi where such things are life and death.  It’s obvious from the first chapter/episode that Boku no Hero Academia is a homage to American superhero comics – Horikoshi even uses character graphics from Marvel and DC in his own character intro one-sheets.  It isn’t as if we’re running low on American-style superhero stories about adults or teens with superpowers, or even on Japanese takes on them (we just had a very good one in One Punch Man), but when something is as fresh and vibrant as BnHA is, there’s always room at the table.  And it will become increasingly obvious as we progress through this season and what I presume will be many to follow that this series is indeed amazingly bright, energetic and smart.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -13In this world, these superpowers are called “Quirks”, and begin appearing around 6 years old.  Why they’ve arisen is unknown, they they seem to have been accompanied by the loss of a joint in the pinky toe.  Quirks have given rise both to massive amounts of crime and to heroes who fight it, and no one loves heroes more than little Midoriya Izuku (Yamashita Daiki, Watanabe Akeno as a toddler).  And he loves no hero more than the legendary All Might (Miyake Kenta), greatest of them all.  But fate has been cruel to Izuku, and not just in the form of his childhood tormentor Bakugou “Kacchan” Katsuki (Okamoto Nobuhiko).  It’s left him seemingly quirkless – subject to the bullying of Bakugou and his friends, and his dreams forever out of reach.  Izuku’s loving Mom (Kawakami Aya) does everything she can for her boy, and feels a sense of guilt at the genetic curse she’s passed on to him.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -14It must be said straight off that the casting for these roles was crucial, and they all sound pretty much perfect to me (I might have dreamed of Ohtsuka Akio or Ishzuka Unshou as All Might, but Miyake is pretty great).  Daiki’s role is especially crucial, and there are hints in the premiere that he’s going to take the performance in directions we haven’t necessarily heard from him in roles like Onoda Sakamichi.  Izuku – dubbed “Deku” (“useless” or “scrub”) by Kacchan – is the heart, soul and engine of BnHA.  If you looked up “plucky” in the dictionary there really should be a picture of Deku (if he were a football club, he’d be Leicester City), as will become clear in weeks ahead.  He’s a truly great shounen protagonist, and All Might is in the running for my favorite “Aniki” in shounen too.  Everyone in Boku no Hero Academia is more than they seem to be, but it’s not Horikoshi’s style to beat you over the head with it – this is an action-adventure story first and foremost.

Boku no Hero Academia - 01 -15What really gives me hope about this adaptation is the way it got all the little details right, and in doing so captured the great sense of goofiness and fun that’s such a part of this series’ appeal – stuff like the autograph sequence, and little Deku waiting for the video of All Might to load on the computer.  As I said earlier I believe BnHA is a series that you feel more than think, and if that texture and detail had been glossed over in an attempt to hurry to the main events for the sake of new viewers something very precious would have been lost.  I hope you were as enraptured with Boku no Hero Academia right off the bat as I was, but even if not – I can assure you, the more conventional shounen rewards are definitely coming soon.  That’s the story of why I love this series as much as I do – thanks for listening.

ED: “HEROES” by Brian the Sun

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16 comments

  1. C

    Hahaha that goofy music that played when Kacchan bullied Deku and told him to go kill himself… You know, even Horikoshi himself admitted that he went too far with Kacchan at the beginning.

    But anyway, what an excellent first episode. My bar was set high because of BONES but they exceeded my expectations. This is going to be a treat to watch thank you BONES and thank you based Horikoshi.

  2. S

    Lots of subtle promise to come from this premiere, like all top shounen. All Might has a tragic Jolly Roger aura about him? And the bulling stuff at school was internet level brutal. It was a well paced episode that really nails empathy for Deku’s frame of mind.

    How does Boku no Hero place against One Punch Man for you? I think I might appreciate this a bit more for its reliability.

  3. S

    *relatability

  4. Well you know, OPM is a seinen for what it’s worth. Irrespective of that, I think these are two series that put an extremely different spin on a vaguely similar premise. In a very real sense Deku and Saitama are wrestling with issues that are diametrically opposed. Maybe BnHA is a little closer to my own sensibility, but I would rank the two series as roughly equal and quite excellent.

  5. O

    I’ve been caught up with the manga since August. A couple months ago, my roommate pointed out how much the characters yell and cry, and now I can’t stop noticing it (it really is true!). However, I think here it is kind of a good thing. This is definitely one of the most shonen-est shonen I’ve ever read, and the massive amount of emotion and energy from the characters is part of why that’s true. The first episode was great. Really hoping they keep up the quality!

  6. Youre quite right – this is an extremely shounen-y shounen. It’s smart and subtler than most credit it for, but it never strays too far from it’s shounen nature.

    Like I said, for me more YYH than Hunter X Hunter.

  7. P

    I agree with you 100 percent about the pacing. These details that Bones are going though right now are very important for the story even if at first glance they don’t seem like they would be. Nearly everything Horikoshi has written in the manga is important for the story and is crucial for later events (Horikoshi has gone on record saying that he has the entire story already planned). The first episode is especially crucial since it establishes Deku as a character and all the details about him need to be known for future events to feel more impactful.

    On the episode itself I think that it looks and feels exactly how I imagined the manga would be animated and more. Things like hearing All Mights laugh and seeing his movements made the character feel even more district and full of character then in the manga. And Deku’s hero enthusiasm was perfectly adapted. The next test will be how they adapt the ending to chapter one. If they adapt that scene well they will set the stage for the series and will have a good hook for anime only viewers.

  8. T

    I “just started” the manga (meaning I actually binge-read and am now up-to-date) and it is shounen-y shounen. I’m enjoying it a lot and for some strange reason, I thought of “Bakuman” while reading it and thought, “Oh! This so captures JUMP…” But I digress. I enjoyed the first episode a lot. Animation was great, pacing was great–I could go on. But it was the little things that thrilled me:

    1. Mt. Lady and her buns…I mean, pun…
    2. A foul-mouthed Mami–Mikoshi–sorry, Kacchan
    3. Deku as a kindergartener being so ridiculously cute while waiting for the video to load
    4. All Might had me LOL-ing so hard at the end with just one word

    I have an Osomatsu-san shaped hole in my heart, but Spring is looking up!

  9. I can’t seem to get interested in this series. It’s quite weird because I loved One Punch-man and Gamma (I think Gamma is closer to BnHA than OPM even though both relay heavily on parody). Interestingly enough, the premiere worked for me better than the first volume of the manga ever did (I read and forgot about it until today) perhaps I should give it a new try.

  10. Not quite enraptured, but I’m charmed enough that I don’t mind sticking around for more. That scene with little Deku crying got to me, though- poor boy looked like was about to go into shock.

  11. P

    I remember reading a few chapters when it was mentioned to be the next big shounen title but maaan Kacchan was too much for me.

    Does that kid mellow out? Seeing his over the topness animated got on my nerves all over again even if it’s Okamoto Nobu voicing him and this is coming from someone who never really lets any one character turn them off.

  12. I don’t feel comfortable answering that for fear of spoilers, but I would say this – one, Kacchan isn’t the main character, Deku is. It’s not like he’s in every panel. And two, we get to know Kacchan a lot better – I think that would be safe to say.

  13. I’m assuming the story gets a more positive vibe to it from this point because everything up to the final scenes were just demoralizing and depressing. I cannot begin to even imagine putting myself into Deku’s shoes, growing up in that environment.

  14. Y

    I know, right? Just what I was thinking! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this ep a good deal, but that bit with the suicide instigation was just… ugh. I like the fact that Izuku made a note of it and called Kacchan out on being such a prickly douche, even if it was all just inside his head. Still, I hope that bully changes, if only a little — he was borderline insufferable here.

  15. C

    The problem I had with ep. 1 is that was that it was so broad and over-the-top. The cardboard bully had no redeeming spark of humanity; he was 100% ambition, ego, and cruelty. The hero was insufferably cute, wore every emotion on his sleeve, and to me, was gratingly hyper. The premise is not that fresh: “Tiger and Bunny,” “Samurai Flamenco,” “Concrete Revolutio,”and “One-Punch Man” are obvious antecedents.

    That being said, Hunter x Hunter 2011’s first few episodes made it look like it had been remade as a light-hearted kiddie show; I almost dropped it, which would have been a huge mistake, given the excellence of the Chimera Ant arc to come. Because the MHA manga is held in high regard, I am going to give the show time to develop and watch at least a few more episodes .If it can reach the level of “Ushio to Tora,” that would be enough for me.

  16. G

    All Might reminds me of those retro Street Fighter character voices, and baby Deku is just so precious. Deku reminds me so much of Onoda in his earnest eyes, and Daiking voice acting enthusiasm is always spot-on. The first episode is mostly played for comic relief, down to the exaggerated effects and expressions but we see a hint of sensibility, example, Deku’s mention that if he really took his life, Kacchan would be an instigator. Glad to see the humaneness and sense of consequence even as this world looks pretty crazy.

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