From studio Bones, the sequel to last year’s hit shounen action series (and widely popular manga), My Hero Academia 2nd Season continues Izuku Midoriya’s spectacular journey to become the world’s greatest hero.
After receiving the opportunity of a lifetime to attend his dream school, UA Academy, Izuku Midoriya looks to leave his mark on the superhero world. Chosen to inherit the amazing powers (also known as “Quirks” in the show’s lore) of his role model, All Might, he must learn how to harness strength that is far too great for his own body whilst taking on his school’s annual massive sports festival. This event proves to be incredibly important to not only himself, but his fellow classmates and rivals. The sports festival finds Midoriya thinking on his feet and teaming up with new allies as he learns of the vastly different circumstances and inspiration for all of the fledgling heroes.
How Was It?
There are really important narratives that come with the booming success of My Hero Academia that are incredibly understated and deserve some light. On the surface, it is a smart show that stays true to its shounen roots with pulsing action and effective comedy bits but doesn’t settle for blending in with a lot of the genre. What has been occurring week to week as this sequel has been releasing, however, is certainly as noteworthy as the content itself. In a play to work alongside fellow streaming service Crunchyroll, Funimation announced earlier this year that they would air the dubbed version (via Funimation) of the series simultaneously with the subtitled one (via Crunchyroll). Compared to the past where dubbed releases would be staggered out by anywhere from six to twelve weeks at a time to the original subtitled versions, this has opened the door for many Western fans to experience the week-to-week excitement that accompanies the seasonal viewing of anime. MHA has found quite the audience in the West (something that Naruto series creator Masashi Kishimoto correctly anticipated happening), particularly in younger viewers just breaking into the anime scene. I experienced seeing such an experience first hand when a Funimation advertisement for the streaming of the series came on the screen before I movie I was in and a small boy shaking his father’s arm excitedly proclaiming “That’s All Might on screen!!!” as if he were a young version of the series protagonist, Midoriya. With everything moving to the ease of streaming and removing the barbaric necessity of making an audience stay up until three in the morning to watch anime on cable like back in the 2000's, these are the exact moves that need to happen to help pump quality anime into the mainstream for both young and veteran fans.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first season, the story plays a classic card from the genre- a grand tournament to showcase the many heroes at UA Academy. I’d be lying to say this move right out of the gate in episode one raised my concerns for just how long the series could sustain the elite level it had been working at last season. Thankfully, the show manages to make a tired scenario feel fresher with fast paced situations and clever team-building competitions that bring out more than just an expected “one on one super powered battle” format. I loved the second leg of the tournament in particular because the story throws a curve-ball in that the main “team” of friends agrees to compete and in turn changes the dynamic of the event. While some of the teams felt kind of tacked in, the sheer frenzy that came from seeing a lot of abilities for the first time not only working on their own, but in conjunction with others was really entertaining. Throw in the really unique scoring system they had in place for the round and it made for a couple of fantastic episodes that delivered in a refreshingly unique way (I wanted to use quirky here, but I saved myself from an unintentionally awful pun).
Where this season has reached not only its highs but also its lows has been in the third round of the tournament- single elimination fights between the heroes. Despite the unique means of getting there, this format left an unfitting average impression on the overall impact of the story (if you had a dollar for every one-on-one battle tournament in a shounen, you would be a millionaire). It isn’t a breaking quality by any means, but it creates a noticeable momentum shift that might take some viewers out of it. If you can hold up with the change of pace (which, quite honestly, isn’t asking a ton), some of the best moments of the season are to be had in the fights. Compared to the wild clash of wills running for the finish, there is very focused character development and ultra detailed fighting animation. It is true that the tournament style usually leads to either one or both fighters getting exposition time for powers or backstory, but it usually is pretty thin in depth (name three times a character’s backstory really stuck out from a shounen’s tournament), but there a few moments that are carried high on emotion and stunning effects. The fight everyone has talked about in Midoriya’s second round elevates things to a higher level than the rather expected “I have to save x character from x destiny” kind of memorability thanks to fast effects that mesh in a brilliant flurry of raw will. My personal favorite fight of the season has one of the main characters pushing and pushing until they are on their last ounce of strength in an uphill bout. It was less of the steamrolling someone usually gets at one point and more of brutal grind that found the losing end dragging by as best as they can. Maybe it comes with the advances in animation, but there is a striking effect that seeing a character shake and inch by that one point not too long ago was absent in action anime that leaves a powerful wince-inducing feeling.
Overall, this arc has lots of high notes that more than make up for the monotonous tone that individuals familiar with this particular genre might find a little tiring. Just when the show seems like it is going to settle in and become a predictable ride, it throws a new pitch that showcases a pleasant amount of creativity. A shounen anime about superheroes sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the themes of self-sacrifice and undying willpower stand out as striking and even give goosebumps at moments. As easy as it would be to take a half step over and follow the blueprint set before it, My Hero Academia rises above this and slams home a triumphant ride.
We’re still one full Summer season away from seeing the finale of My Hero Academia 2nd Season, however the first half is something that needs to be taken in and appreciated on its own to date. This high octane action/comedy/drama hybrid keeps a balance of everything it needs to be and feels a million times more unique than it has any right being with the company of its genre. While an underdog story is widely considered one of the most cliche structures to pick, the crushingly uphill battle young Midoriya faces on his journey keeps things from feeling stale and predictable. Fans of action animation, character development, or just anyone looking for a show that can accommodate for a wide audience needs to look no further than this classic in the making.