Every week there’s only one TV series which brings everyone in our house into the same room (technically, what this actually means is that it draws my son away from his computer, but it is the same end result) – My Hero Academia (also known as Boku no Hīrō Akademia). We’ve been watching it almost every week since it first aired. We’ve read the manga, purchased the toys, followed the spinoffs and now we’ve seen the movie. We’ve even sold fan art at AvCon. Thus I’m probably not the most unbiased of reviewers. That said, I’ve love to talk about the movie, so here we go.
The basic premise of the series is similar to that of Marvel’s The New Mutants or the movie Sky High. At some point in the future humanity has mutated to develop “quirks”, which more-or-less amount to super powers. Some gain the sorts of traditional powers we might expect: super strength, flight, speed or teleportation. Others gain less useful skills, such as the ability to produce sweat at will or being able to attract small objects to their hand. And then there are those who are born “quirkless” without any special powers at all.
As would be expected, when the quirks first emerged society started to break down – at least until the emergence of superhero vigilantes to restore order. After the usual issues raised by having a mass of unregulated and untrained superheroes fighting supervillains on the streets, society chose to impose order by requiring heroes to register, be licensed, and attend specialised training. Over the years this led to the situation where aspiring “Pro Heroes” attend high schools where they train as heroes, support or sidekicks. If they graduate they are awarded licenses to operate, and while at school they take part in events to showcase their skills in the hope that they will be selected by existing pro superhero teams. In Japan, the top school for aspiring heroes is U.A. High School.
The story focuses on Izuku Midoriya (Deku), a student at U.A. who always dreamed of becoming a hero, modelling his life after All Might, the greatest hero of the age and the living “symbol of peace”. After the disappointment of discovering that he was quirkless, Deku encountered All Might, who revealed that is ability was secretly a quirk called “One for All” – the ability to pass on his strength and quirk to another. He chooses Deku as his successor, and Deku starts following his dream at U.A. Along the way he meets villains, pro heroes, and an assortment of interesting classmates – including his childhood friend (and rival) Katsuki Bakugo, (who has nitroglycerin-like sweat that he can control), Ochaco “Gravity Girl” Uraraka, Tsuyu “Froppy” Asui (with the powers of a frog) and the rather odd Hanta Sero, who can extrude sticky tape from his elbows. The series is a lot of fun and has had considerable success in both manga and anime.
A successful Japanese series can go through an interesting lifecycle. Initially published as a manga, it may become a original video animation (OVA) – the anime equivalent of a miniseries – before turning into full animated television series of between 12 and 22 episodes per season. After some success we see the spinoffs – the animated movies, live action television series, musical stage plays and live action movies, with the occasional Hollywood spin on that final state. Most of these are simply retellings of the original story, but the animated movie can face some special difficulties. The television series from which it is drawn closely follows the original manga, and is often being animated at the same time as the manga is being written. In some cases it even catches up, causing the producers to create filler while they wait for new chapters to be produced. As the movies often come in the midst of this, they can neither follow the story outlined in the manga, (as the television series is doing that), and nor can they create new material which changes the status quo.
In many cases, the answer is for the movie to tell a unique story separate to the manga, set in an ill-defined period somewhere along the story’s trajectory. This pulls the characters out of the main arc to engage in an adventure that will have no ongoing ramifications. We typically see the characters visit an isolated location where they defeat a new enemy that they have never met before and which will never appear again.
All of this is not necessarily a bad thing – it is simply that you know exactly what to expect when you are going in. Thus My Hero Academia: Two Heroes is placed at an indeterminate time, seemingly at some point between the first and second seasons of the show. The movie opens with Deku and All Might travelling to an artificial island where quirks are being studied. On the island is an old friend of All Might’s, and their visit will coincide with the opening of a major event on the island. Upon arrival the characters state just how safe the island is and how no villain has ever penetrated its security. It isn’t exactly a challenge to predict what happens next, and the movie isn’t interested in surprises. Shortly after they arrive, a gang of villains take over the island, incapacitate all of the professional heroes, and only Deku and his friends are free to stop them from carrying out their plot. We did see it coming.
The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it hangs together about as well as any of the anime movies I’ve watched – not that it matters. The plot in this case is really just a vehicle to enjoy the characters. The movie can’t progress the overall story, so what it does instead is flesh out some of the characters who haven’t been explored in the manga, and shows them coping with a difficult enemy. In particular the movie explores some of All Might’s past while showing some of Deku’s development as a hero. The action scenes are well animated, and the characters hold true to their manga and anime depictions, so this is good, and while we know what the outcome is going to be I was still sufficiently invested in the film to have a really good time, and the epic battle at the end proved to be a very worthwhile payoff.
One disappointment, though, was with the backstory. There was a lot of it, and a lot of exposition, neither of which seemed to work. For an audience that already knew the story it was a distraction at best – for those who didn’t it seemed insufficient and left a lot of holes unexplained, and I suspect did little to provide proper context as to the events. Perhaps I’m mistaken, and there was something there, but a story based on the interactions between a large number of characters was always going to find it difficult to provide a summary that a new viewer could readily digest. That said, if you know the series you’ll cope with the exposition, and if you don’t you can still enjoy the animated spectacle.
Overall, we’d put it on a par with the better Pokemon and One Piece movies, and that’s not a bad place to be.