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
Forgive 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.
So 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.
Did 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.
Another 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.
Might 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.
As 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.
In 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.
It 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.
What 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