July 18, 2021

There Be Heroes in Fiction Still

Season five of My Hero Academia starts off really strong for two episodes....then slips in to a tournament arc that last for no less than10 episodes. For those of you unfamiliar with the tropes of Japanese young men's comics, tournament arcs are a carryover from Japanese sports comics where the protagonists  find themselves in some gladiatorial style duel that last multiple episodes during which the heroes tend to wax poetically about fighting, deliver snappy one liners and generally provide the audience with writing and character development akin to watching paint dry. This seems to be demanded by tradition and marketing and is particularly a signature of the IPs at Shounen Jump, which produces the MHA manga and anime. For example, Tite Kubo's quirky and enjoyable series Bleach went to hell in a handbasket after editors demanded he pad out the story with tournament arcs and marketable side characters after season/volume one.

However, this show has avoided a full fledged tournament arc since season two, and Kōhei Horikoshi used that one to develop the lore and establish characters and their limitations, so it was not just padding. This season's tournament at first blush seem drawn out with 10 episodes dedicated to three training matches in superhero school, but those 10 stories advanced the plot and characters a surprising bit....and at no point in the process did anyone ever say "And now the fight TRULY begins." so it was not a complete waste of time.

More importantly, this is not a 12 episode season, but appears to be full length...

....and with the de rigueur gladiatorial shenanigans out of the way, My Hero Academia is proving to be exceptionally good this season, with a story that  delivers surprises, both horrifying and heartwarming in rapid succession. It does this without subverting expectations for their own sake with cheap gotchas. This is a solid superhero story done straight and done right. 

One of the questions Horikoshi is asking in this series is "What does it mean to BE a hero?" and, well, heroism is a tough thing. This series is kind of deconstructing a very Japanese trope of boys comics where the motivation is to be the very best because..."BEST!" Being a hero really requires motivations beyond min-maxing one's stats and achievements. There are successful heroes in the typical Shounen mold, and there are lessons to be learned from them, but this series explores the role superheroes play in this society in surprising depth and it's clear that more is needed than just badassery. Nietzsche's admonition to not become the monster one fights, while not directly referenced, looms large here. While this story is VERY Japanese in tone (superheroes, are not vigilante's but licensed, bonded professionals) the story explores the implications and definition of heroism we haven't seen in the genre since Ditko was looking at the subject in earnest. 

For instance, there's a whole redemption arc going on now with one of the background heroes, who has achieved his life's goal, and find's it tastes like ashes. I was actually enjoying the season during the tournament cour, but the last three episodes have taken it to a whole new level.

American superhero books seem to be in a bit of a nadir at the moment, with a number of today's writer's mocking the whole concept via seemingly endless deconstructions. There are suggestions that the genre is played out , and this suggestion is not without merit as U.S. comics have been recycling storylines since at least the '80s. However, with My Hero Academia, Kōhei Horikoshi has shown that the genre can still be fresh and surprising, without sacrificing the idealism of the old works or descending into cynicism. 

The standard the show sets for superheroes, All Might, is a sort of combination Captain America and  Superman, idealistic, conscientious, and both morally and physically brave. The show's protagonist (Dekku) is striving hard to meet that goal and be worthy of the mantle he's been entrusted with. Moreover, this show's protagonists, even the very idealistic ones,  aren't a bunch of Dudley Do-Rights, they're smart, usually punching above their weight, and get by on their wits. 

My Hero Academia continues to opine on the importance of not loosing one's idealism, or courage, a reminder that has special significance today. 

Plus Ultra! 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 10:01 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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