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08/11/2019 11:27:31 •••

Shonen, Refined

This review brought to you by a comment I was halfway through writing, before I realized I should really just write my own review.

My Hero Academia is a series that's much more popular here in the states than in its home country, and always has been. I think the best take on that is that here, we see it as a superhero show, and find that the shonen elements it brings to the table breathe new life into an often-stagnant genre, while over there, they see it as a shonen show whose superhero elements are a thin coat of paint that fails to disguise the fact that it's actually pretty old-had.

I am here, bluntly, to defend the first take, and to argue against the second.

First, My Hero Academia, while skillfully using a similar skeleton to shows like Dragonball or Naruto, also subtly subverts them. Izuku is a good-hearted hero in the vein of other protagonists, but he avoids falling into either the Goku bin of a dim-witted brawler driven by his base drives or the Yusuke bin of a clever guy with a hot temper alienated from society. He's smart, but struggles to properly apply it, kind, but has a stubborn streak that gets him into trouble, perceptive, but also tends to read too much into things. There's more meat to chew on there than is common in the genre.

And this is true of the rest of the cast. Todoroki, whom I once saw written off as "emo rival," is a complex character who believably develops each story arc he's in. Iida, the straight-laced class rep, has got a boiling hot temper and can be impatient. Uraraka, the seemingly-standard supporting character, has got her own dreams and ambitions. Even Bakugo, a character I hate and who stubbornly refuses to become a better person even three seasons in, at least has how he got to be the unlikable cuss he is today explored properly. And All Might, far from being a stock mentor, is so well-explored and charismatic that his trope page once declared him the work's deuterotagonist in convincing fashion.

All Might is brave and compassionate, but also a bit self-centered, and proves that old adage about how great performers aren't necessarily great teachers. And his story arc subverts every "mentor" beat that a series would normally go through, even that one. For that matter, while the villains are much flatter, the series still explores what made them the screwed-up people they are today, and in the case of All For One, even puts in a subtle thing where he acts like much more of a prick when his would-be heir isn't in ear-shot to require grooming.

And the storyteller is an expert at the traditional pitfall of this style of shonen: Loads and Loads of Characters. While fan-unfavorite Mineta gets far too much screentime and far too little development, he otherwise skillfully wrangles them from story arc to story arc, never underutilizing or forgetting core classmates. I can only compare it to the greatest sports manga of all time, Eyeshield 21, in how well it makes sure that multiple cast members always feel like they have something to do, whether they're part of the core team or not.

Similarly, emphasis is placed on the fact that the students are still students, and not truly up to snuff with actual professional heroes. The audience never feels like the pros are useless and the teenagers in training have to do everything. Indeed, most villains are not a match for trained professionals with years of experience, which makes sense.

And, the aesthetics deserve a great deal of praise. Whether it's stellar, iconic music, vivid drawings and colors, or excellent-looking animation, this is the best looking and sounding shonen on TV currently airing, to say nothing of the incredible voice cast and localization in the English dub. Special shout-outs to Christopher Sabat, putting in the performance of his illustrious career as All Might, to Justin Briner's fantastic turn as Izuku, and to Newton Pittman, who takes what could be a very-irritating gimmick to the English-speaking ear as the character of Twice, and makes it work well.

I enjoy My Hero Academia a lot. If you're a fan of shonen and you're not completely burnt out, then check it out. You'll only have to suffer one tournament arc. If you're a fan of superhero stuff and want to see a Japanese twist on the formula, this works better than One Punch Man by virtue of taking it seriously enough that the humor doesn't undermine the drama, and by virtue of having a better supporting cast that it handles better. And, if you just like good storytelling, then the third story arc especially brings together a lot of story threads in satisfying fashion.

08/08/2019 00:00:00

Having recently started the fourth season, fine, two lazy tournament arcs. And also, the filler\'s generally not great.

08/09/2019 00:00:00

I'll have to disagree. At the end of the day, despite his studious nature, Izuku doesn't display any more battle tactics than any shounen fighter that's not an idiot (aka their strategy is hit'em harder), in fact, more often than not he reverts to said hit'em harder strategy. You also "say" the supporting cast is new or fresh but don't really go much into detail and what little you do give us...isn't. I do agree about All Might tho.

The rest are not things that are actually wrong, but that praise the series without actually adressing the main point of it being refined from other shounens. Your argument is that it's above regular shounen while what we actually can take out of it it's that is above bad/mediocre ones.

08/09/2019 00:00:00

I was more talking about his characterization than his battle tactics, because, at the end of the day, refined shonen is still shonen. And I thought I did go into a bit of detail on several members of the supporting cast (Iida having a lot of depth compared to other \"straight-laced class rep\" friend characters, Ochaco having her own dreams, goals, and ambitions beyond romance and otherwise doing \"standard female support character\" things, Todoroki actually growing up and changing as a person rather than sticking like glue to the same issues he had upon his introduction, etc.), but I guess my point about the broader class was this:

Most shonen writers are really bad at balancing big casts. They tend to come up with a lot of new, often fan-favorite characters every story arc, then neglect them afterwards in favor of a small central cast and another batch of new characters. Doing a genuinely good job of balancing an ensemble cast is actually quite a rare talent, which is why I name-dropped the only other comic I think ever got it right.

Further, I point out that the story beats are a refinement of usual shonen stuff. This isn\'t like Bleach, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, and too many imitators to name where the supposedly-elite experts are useless and the teenagers in training have to do everything themselves, or are thrown in the deep end to sink or swim and kill each other. The professional heroes do have agency, and are legit better at doing their job than the students. The one time the class goes off on their own to try to do something instead, they don\'t jump in after the pros get trounced and clean house. They do something quick and sneaky to grab a hostage and then bail.

Furthermore, the average villain is consistently shown to be no match for the average professional hero, or even groups of students. This is actually quite rare for shonen, where dangerous villains with Story Breaker Powers are the norm. But, it makes sense. After all, villains, even competent ones, are still self-taught amateurs, while the professional heroes and students have years of training.

I could go on, and probably end up re-writing the review, but that\'s my overall take. Aside from a few relatively-dull and boilerplate tournament arcs, the show is still recognizably part of its genre, but isn\'t afraid to throw out or dramatically retool genre conventions. That\'s not necessarily an argument that it\'s \"above regular shonen,\" but rather that it\'s the shonen equivalent of a Revisionist Western, albeit probably one of the less openly deconstructive ones.

08/09/2019 00:00:00

@marcellx Really? In the anime thus far, he's pretty tactical in battle. Like coming up with ways to work around his power's limits, beating Bakugou and Iida, working with Tsu and Mineta, the plan to rescue Bakugou, using Ochako and Sero to win the License Exam, etc. The "hit 'em harder" strategy usually tends to cost him physically.

Or do you just mean relative to other shonen heroes? From what I've seen of shonen I do agree to a point; protagonists like Gon and Naruto can be pretty clever despite being "idiots."

08/09/2019 00:00:00

Or do you just mean relative to other shonen heroes?

That is my point, there\'s the bottom of the barrel like Natsu from Fairy Tail, but Goku, Naruto, Luffy, Gon, etc. can come up with 30 inovative moves, 7 strategies during combat but probably not be able to read at a 3rd grade level.

And I thought I did go into a bit of detail on several members of the supporting cast

But all of that was still too generic. Deep straight-laced: Uryu from Bleach, Yukio from Blue Exorcist, Jafar from Magi; Dreams beyond romance: Nami and Robin from One Piece, Lucy from Fairy Tail, every female Pokemon companion; Evolving as a character...ok even you have to admit you\'re reaching way too much here, it\'s easier to list the characters that don\'t do that. ex. Tien, Picolo and Vegeta.

I actually thought you meant not droping stablished characters like in Dragon Ball. However I would have to disagree with the balancing of loads of characters. Half the class is pushed to the background (has Sugarrush ever done anything?), it took until the second tournament arc to finally know what 80% of class B can even do despite them being prominent in the background. The sportsfield arc rushed through all of their battles and they could had been pretty much taken out of the fieldtrip arc with how much they mattered. Also the complains that the Gentle plot was in-manga filler.

This isn\'t like Bleach, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho

Kids were constantly being saved in Naruto by the much stronger adults (Kakashi taking down the rain ninja, Jiraiya saving Naruto and Sasuke from Akatsuki, every time someone went overboard in the chunin exam and tried to kill someone). In Bleach Ichigo overused his protagonist power-up (kina like how Izuku can technically kill every hero bellow rank 20) but for the most part the ranks are consistent, even a liutenant with a bankai will get creamed by a captain. Even then that rule is not always followed, given the defeat of Muscular and Stain. I do agree it does work and feel like an actual school for the most part (danmit AM).

So finally, that\'s my take. I get what you\'re trying to say about \"refined\", but you\'re taking the worst aspect that some shounen have taken and saying MHA is refined for not doing that, even if the result is not that neuanced either. There are boring invinsible heroes like Yugi and Natsu, but not being that, while comendable, isn\'t groundbreaking or even rare, ex. Luffy loses a couple of times. Then you have Saitama who uses this issue and turns it on its head to it\'s benefit. I think the best way I can put it is that in that sense MHA is One Piece while you\'re trying to say it\'s One-Punch Man because is not Fairy Tail.

08/09/2019 00:00:00

I mean, One Punch Man is not a great example because it\'s literally a comedy whose premise is mocking the genre, whereas My Hero Academia is an example of the genre that simply does things with a bit more forethought and effort than its older peers tended to. Essentially, that One Punch Man is Blazing Saddles, while My Hero Academia is more like, say, The Magnificent Seven.

(Yeah, I\'m not gonna bother italicizing the titles for this part, it\'s making me tired and frustrated just thinking about attempting that with my burnt out old mouse.)

And those aren\'t great comparisons. Uryu, for instance, never has a moment where he betrays his seemingly iron-clad ideas about honor and chivalry to do something dangerous, reckless, and reprehensible for deeply-personal and understandable reasons. (Most of the rest of them just weren\'t great comparisons period.) I\'m not saying they were shallow and boring characters by comparison, but it was refreshing to me to see a seemingly-stock \"honest and righteous class representative\" character do something so opposed to his values, yet still human and relatable, as go rogue to try to get revenge on the man who crippled his brother.

Would you say the use of adults or authority figures in most shonen is \"constant?\" People compare My Hero Academia to Naruto all the time, yet compare how silly and bizarre the Sasuke Retrieval story arc is when you look past the cool fights toward how it all relies on bizarre misunderstandings and adults being left out of everything, and compare it to either of the relevant story arcs in My Hero.

From what you\'ve written, it kind of sounds like you just don\'t like shonen as a genre. And, well, fair enough. Like what you like, man. Live your best life.

But part of my point is that My Hero Academia is still recognizably shonen, if shonen that has evolved a bit past its predecessors. Like, if, like a regrettably large number of fellow students in a college course I once took on the Old West in fact and fiction, you just hate Westerns period, you\'ll probably like Blazing Saddles but not The Quick and the Dead, or Silverado, or The Searchers, and that\'s okay. Whereas I, who like Westerns, enjoy the parody while still enjoying all these other movies that evolved the genre while remaining part of it.

It just sounds like, to you, \"evolving\" the genre means going from a fish to an amphibian, and you dislike applying the term in the case that it instead turns into a fish of a different kind.

08/09/2019 00:00:00

Reminder that \"Shonen\" is not a genre.

08/10/2019 00:00:00

Didn't Uryu join the enemy for a chance to take revenge over the death of his mother in the final arc?

Most of the rest of them just weren't great comparisons period.

Yukio is so straight-laced he became a teacher to a class the same age as him, who turned traitor because of his feelings of resentment toward his brother, of inadequacy in general, among some other issues. How is that not a great comparison? Jafar is a no-nonsense secretary adult, that we find out in the prequel series was a bratty assassin with parental abandonment issues.

People compare My Hero Academia to Naruto all the time

But that's the thing. Naruto, despite it's massive popularity, was also riddled with plot holes, idiot balls, etc. (same as Bleach). In a 1 v 1 direct comparison I would agree, but it's about how MHA compares as a whole.

From what you've written, it kind of sounds like you just don't like shonen as a genre.

From this point on you went on to make a lot of baseless assumption. My argument "relies" on thinking that overall shonens have a higher quality than you're making them out to be. In the begining you say the purpose of your review is to demonstrate that MHA is more than what the east perceives it, another shonen. Not a "bad" shonen mind you, just another one with good popularity but not a DBZ/One Piece level one. You went on to list several examples, comparing them to some of the worst issues (100% determination hero, females who only revolve around romance and so on) and praising it for not adering to them, but at the same time implying this is the norm (which is why I pointed out several other examples that also don't fall into them). My point is that there are things it does that are interesting (ex AM's deeper analisis as a flowed person), but not enough to make it stand out as your making it, which is not helped when you bring stuff like "Todoroki developed" as examples.

If you disagree with OPM then take a look at Hunter x Hunter. Which explores Gon's Protagonist Centered Morality as a bad thing in general and not only when badly handled, where a goblal thread is taken out by nukes and biowarfare and a supersaiyan power up should be a death sentence. This takes tropes that are accepted and understood as under the suspension of disbelief (we personaly only care about the characters who's names we know; we wanna watch fights and hell yeah we're hyped for Goku's super saiyan god transformation). It's still a shonen that follows the same beats, but adds underline realism instead of just not falling into detriments.

Reminder that "Shonen" is not a genre.

And neither is Dark Souls but all the parties understand the urban definition of the terms used. Hence why no one has used Death Note, Lucky Star or the Ace Attorney anime as viable examples.

08/10/2019 00:00:00

We\'ll just have to agree to disagree on the basis that our tastes are too utterly incompatible to properly compare then, for I do not see how you can look at the still-exciting-but-frankly-archaic storytelling of Dragon Ball Z or One Piece, with its annoying horseshit that walks hand-in-hand with everything it does right, and sincerely say My Hero Academia does not represent any kind of evolution or improvement over either.

08/10/2019 00:00:00

I didn't say it doesn't offer any improvement of them. Quite the contrary, it does, just like there are several issues and hipcups that MHA has that other titles don't and even improve upon them. How implemented and/or effective these fixes, analisis and subvertions vs the level, how many and how often and/or implemented it's idiosincrasies, is how a series' quality is judged and that arguably, when you add up it's possitives, negatives and meh's the perceived result is generally that is a good (very good if you want) but not great show, similar to it's running brothers Black Clover and Seven Deadly Sins. That it started out very strong but as it has gone on, certain things (changing it's main hook up, un-solidified rules, forgettable villains, etc.) level it more evenly.

08/10/2019 00:00:00

And neither is Dark Souls but all the parties understand the urban definition of the terms used. Hence why no one has used Death Note, Lucky Star or the Ace Attorney anime as viable examples.

As long as you know.

08/11/2019 00:00:00

\"Shonen battle manga\" is probably a better descriptor, I admit, but as the most popular variety of shonen, and in the context of the subject matter, I do think it\'s a \"genre\" in the same way \"Doom clone\" was a genre before the term \"first person shooter\" got coined.


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