There was every reason to think “Training of the Dead” would be the better of the two Boku no hero Academia specials released in 2017. For starters the first was a Jump Festa special and those, as a rule, tend to be something less than first-string productions. But we also have a story co-written by the BnHA anime head writer Kuroda Yousuke and Horiskohsi Kouhei himself, and Horikoshi designed the new characters. And to what should be no one’s surprise, TotD did indeed turn out to be much the better of the two.
In point of fact what Horikoshi did here was build this OAV on the foundation of a bonus chapter in the manga, “Tsuyu’s Ribbit-ing Diary” – a backstory for Tsuyu. Specifically, her friendship with Habuko Mongoose (Uchida Maaya), a fellow friendless girl who thinks of herself as kind of a scary freak (and being she’s a mongoose with a snake head, who can blame her?). It was just a short omake in manga form, but here we find Habuko as part of a quartet of students from Isami Academy who come to Yuuei for a joint survival training exercise (truth be told, I can’t find much reason for that except that it was needed for the premise).
The idea here is to split the hero students into groups of four and have them play a survival game, where the goal is simply to do just that – survive. Deku is teamed with Tsuyu, Uraraka and Ashido and, given that it isn’t a team with a lot of brute combat force or surveillance ability, they reason the best strategy is to sit tight and lay low. Bakugo has other ideas of course, and he proceeds to blow through two competing teams on his own. He’s headed for a grudge match with the Isami team, given that he’s immediately started a feud with fellow hothead Fujimi Romero (Kimura Ryouhei).
For the most part this episode – as most OAVs are – is comedy-driven. But the most interesting element for me is Romero’s (love the name) quirk, which is to emit a pink gas which temporarily turns everyone who breathes it in into a zombie. And we pretty much follow Romero rules here, as brain activity shuts down, strength becomes super, and anyone bitten likewise turns into a zombie. The funny bit is that everyone keeps using their quirk in random fashion (which means they maintain a kind of afterimage of their personality). And when All Might tries to put a stop to the out-of-control exercise but realizes he can’t hold his hero form, the other students think he’s a zombie too. And the piece de resistance is, so do the zombies.
This whole sequence is highly amusing, but truthfully, I kind of hope we see Romero again not just because Kimura-san is (as usual) great here, but because this is one of the nastiest quirks we’ve seen so far. These zombies can do themselves serious and permanent damage while they’re under the influence, and even Romero himself is not immune to its effects (at least when bitten by one of his zombie slaves). I’m not sure just how useful this quirk is if it’s as indiscriminate as it seems (I guess your allies would have to have gas masks), but it’s undeniably powerful.
I think the bottom line here is that “Training of the Dead” passes the Hippocratic Oath of OAVs and specials – it actually feels like a part of the parent series. Having Horikoshi (and Kuroda) on-board obviously helps in a big way. This could easily enough have been a change-of-pace episode of the original series and I don’t think anyone would have batted an eye, and that’s a pretty high level for an OVA. It’s funny, it’s well-paced, and it actually takes the mythology in a couple of interesting directions. I don’t want to see zombie-heroes in every episode, but for a one-off it’s a highly effective hook.