OP: “Peace Sign” (ピースサイン) by Kenshi Yonezu
Spring 2017 anime starts out with a bang, two of the biggest sequels of the year (and in one case, many years) popping on April Fool’s Day. Boku no Hero Academia recently crossed a huge milestone for any manga, 10 million volumes in print. That’s one good year for Shingeki no Kyoujin of course (and I exaggerate only very little), and that’s obviously the most anticipated sequel of this or any season for a long time. But Boku no Hero Academia is no slouch in the hype department either, and it’s by far the more important show of the two for me.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a series that combines quality and popularity better than BnHA does. This is the epitome of modern shounen for me in many ways. The youthful flaws in Horikoshi Kouhei’s writing aren’t that difficult to spot, but somehow they add to the charm of Academia. We’ve seen many Japanese takes on the American superhero genre, but somehow Horikoshi seems to get it on a visceral level better than any of them. He’s written himself the perfect hero in Izuku Midoriya, and the perfect mentor in All Might. Their relationship is the fulcrum of the entire series, but there’s so much color and character in the supporting cast that the series never feels like it’s fixated on the two principals.
It seems to me that reaction to this premiere is pretty positive, which frankly surprises me a bit (in a pleasant way, of course). Maybe more viewers have read the manga now and know what to expect, but more importantly I think is that they’ve simply realized that BnHA won’t be rushed. This isn’t an action series of breakneck pacing from start to finish – Horikoshi always takes his time in building the foundation before he pours the concrete of the arc’s plot. The characters drive the story in Boku no Hero, not the reverse, and Bones and Nagasaki-sensei have thankfully chosen to be faithful to that. We have two cours to look forward to this season, which should be perfect for the two major arcs it intends to adapt.
The first of those, it should be obvious now, is the “Sports Festival Arc”. We’ve seen those in plenty of shounen series of course, but BnHA goes at it with a difference. For aspiring heroes, stuff like the sports festival is much more than a fun school activity. One could almost look at the three years at Yuuei Academy as an audition as much as an education, and with 80% of the population having quirks the competition in the hero business is intense. The first question is of course whether the sports festival will proceed at all what with the League of Villains having infiltrated the school’s training exercise at the end of the first season. But among other things that was a huge P.R. black eye for Yuuei, and cancelling the festival that’s among the biggest spectator events in Japan is another one the academy simply can’t afford.
No, the show must go on – and the kids (especially Uraraka) have no problem getting pumped up for it. She reveals to Deku and Iida that her reason for becoming a hero is a rather practical one, money – she wants to provide for her working-class family and take care of her parents. As such something like making an impression at the festival – and potentially securing a good internship for herself in the process – is crucial. Deku understands the importance of all this too, of course (heaven knows his saint of a mother deserves to have him make it big and let her relax a little, though she’ll never cease worrying about him) but something is clearly weighing on him.
I love the mentor-protege relationship between All Might and Izuku as much as any “Aniki” relationship we’ve seen in manga or anime for ages – it’s timeless and for me, pitch-perfect. My favorite moment of this episode was All Might’s observation that he and Izuku are so alike – because by God, they are. They have hearts as big as all outdoors, both of them – and that makes them perfect for Boku no Hero Academia, because it’s the massive amount of youthful earnestness this series brings that makes it impossible not to love. It’s noted that the villain Shigaraki is a “man-child” – and the principal notes that in that sense, he’s not that different from the U.A. students. Both Izuku and All Might are children, really – it’s literally true in Deku’s case, but both of them are a reflection of what being childlike can mean when a gracious spirit is guided well. Shigaraki is the dark side of that spectrum – and that makes him all the more terrifying for what he might become.
It may seem as if not a whole lot happened in this episode in terms of plot, but (and it seems folks understand it now) there’s no wasted time in Boku no Hero. Everything that happens does so for a reason, and it’s our understanding of and identification with these characters that gives the series its emotional traction. I can point to things here and there about BnHA that could be more polished or elegant, but I wouldn’t change them even if they could – there will be plenty of time for that to come out in Horikoshi-sensei’s next series (which I suspect will be his Hunter X Hunter, with this one being his Yu Yu Hakusho). Boku no Hero Academia isn’t flawless, but it’s a perfect version of itself as is – and it feels great to have it back on-screen.
ED: “Dakara, Hitori ja nai” (だから、ひとりじゃない) by Little Glee Monster