Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Streaming on: Funimation, Crunchyroll, Hulu
My Hero Academia is actually my favorite anime and manga of all time, though I would not call it objectively the best. My reasons for liking the series are intensely personal; when I first watched the anime, I was at a point in my life where the story resonated with me powerfully. An entire story built around not being defined by your origins, standing up and grabbing hold of what you want through perseverance and sheer force of will was an incredibly effective theme to a young burgeoning weeb.
However, my enjoyment of Hero Aca would not be so specific and personal for long. The world that Kohei Horikoshi has created is fascinating, its battles and concepts it brings to the table are some of the most imaginative in recent shonen, and it really nails down the appeal of battle anime post-Naruto. Big casts of well-designed characters with some ingenious powers are all necessary to the formula, but after the monumental peaks that the manga has hit in the last two years has cemented it for me as an all-time classic.
And for a long time, I considered the anime adaptation by Bones to be of the same caliber as Horikoshi’s breakout manga. The quality applied to the hype of these fights was stunned, paired with a masterpiece of a soundtrack that elevated even the more forgettable scenes from the manga. They managed to do all that and capture the distinctive art style that defines the series without skimping on any other aspect of production.
However, things began to change. With the start of season four, there was a noticeable downturn in animation. It didn’t help that the series was now embarking on the Overhaul arc, the longest and most poorly-paced story (even according to the author), and the Culture Festival arc, which just didn’t live up to the highs of what had come before. The end product was a few great fights, like Deku vs. Overhaul and Endeavor vs. the High End, a handful of really powerful moments, like anything with Nighteye and Mirio, and some terrible slideshow moments. Literally, most of Mirio vs. Overhaul was reduced to a slideshow.
The question now is whether or not the fifth season of My Hero Academia can buck the trend set by its predecessor, or if Bones has abandoned it in favor of a movie yet again.
If you are reading a review of a show’s fifth season without watching any of it so far, you’re bold, and I like that. I like that so much that I will stop for a moment to explain the plot to you. My Hero Academia is about the academia of aspiring hero Izuku ‘Deku’ Midoriya, who was born powerless in a world where 80 percent of people are born with a superpower, or Quirk. Deku meets and impresses the world’s greatest hero, All Might, with his bravery, so much so that All Might decides to reveal the secret of his power and pass it on to Deku. Deku now possesses a strengthening Quirk that destroys his body before he learns how to keep its pure destructive power under control.
By this point, Deku has gained mastery of 20 percent of his power, defeated a few big time villains, and made enemies with the League of Villains, an organization headed by All Might’s villainous rival, All For One, and his successor, Tomura Shigaraki. Now, Deku and his classmates are beginning a training exercise where they go head to head with the other class in the hero course, 1-B. Deku thinks he has a good handle on his power now, but as the secrets of One For All are revealed to him, he may have some surprises in store.
For a bit more background, My Hero Academia has had two movies and a third in production that is set to release later this year. Fans began to complain that the movies were taking precedence over the show in season four as the production values began to wane. It wasn’t until they cut the entire fight between Mirio and Overhaul that I realized that the animation hasn’t been this low since the lackluster season one.
Deku’s fights with Overhaul and Gentle Criminal were well produced, but you could not pick out all of the shortcuts that the animators were taking, especially with dialogue scenes. A Bones production could usually be relied upon for at least a consistent level of quality outside of their sakuga, but that was clearly on the decline. Even if they were not divvying up their artists between the show and the movie, the change came in sync with the movies, and I could see that being the case considering how lavishly produced both of the movies were.
I’m going to avoid spoiling either of the arcs that are set to appear in this season, other than the obvious stuff. The Joint Training arc is will most likely take up the first half, and the Metahuman Liberation Arc will be the second. Both arcs are worth being excited for, but longtime fans of the series will probably be most happy seeing the story return to its roots.
The Joint Training arc is something of a spiritual successor to the Sports Festival, which is still considered one of the best arcs in the show and one of the best tournament arcs in anime. Hero Aca is at its best when the kids are allowed to show off their powers in creative ways, and this exercise will be a good example of that. They’ve also started laying the groundwork for the Metahuman Liberation Army, which is probably one of the most out-there concepts Horikoshi introduced in the story so far, and starts delving into the lore of One For All. It’s one of the most interesting parts of the story, especially considering recent revelations in the manga.
The first episode of the season was anime original, but it bucked the trend of being egregious. The first episodes of the last couple seasons were recaps with a little bit of new material to make it go down easier, and they’re indicative of the worst recap episodes. Season three’s pool sequence is fun, but the exposition is dreadfully dull, and season four gave up on any kind of meaningful story. The season five opener, though, pits Class 1-A against the talents of the Big Three of the senior class in a practice match, even if it’s mostly Hado and Tamaki. The now-powerless Mirio settles for being an inconvenience as a victim in need of rescue, and falling back into the river they just saved him from.
The animation from the first couple episodes is…rough. There’s a decent amount of fight animation and choreography, but the dialogue scenes are hard on the eyes, there’s a lot of off-model characters, and everything just comes off as stiff. Even Deku isn’t immune to this sloppy art, with the key frames often looking amateurish. This screams of a season that should have been left in the oven for a few months longer, although I suspect they wanted the end of the season to coincide with the next movie, even if I don’t have proof of that yet. However, Two Heroes released before season four and Heroes Rising released in the middle of it in Japan, and close to the end in the US.
Now, the fist episode is non-canon filler, and the Todoroki family dinner doesn’t require the whole budget, but this just could have used more time to cover the absolute worst of the shots. I’m hoping that the Joint Training Arc proves me wrong; if it does, I will alter the review to reflect that. If you’re still seeing this, then, er, it didn’t.
This is a very important part of the story where we dive deeper into the mechanics of My Hero Academia as a world and the clash between One For All and all For One takes the center stage. If this season or the next are rushed and poorly executed, then the entire last act of the series is jeopardized. Maybe the polish of the animation doesn’t matter to you, it certainly won’t keep me from watching, but I love this series and want it to thrive.
My Hero Academia is coming upon the arcs where Horikoshi didn’t just hit his stride as an author, but brought the series to new heights. From this point, there is nothing but stunning artwork, fascinating information revealed about the world and the characters, and the stakes skyrocket past what was previous possible. I’m crossing my fingers that the first two episodes didn’t receive as much attention as anything to come because those two were just recaps or finishing off the last season’s storylines.
This is an incredibly difficult score to call, especially since what I know as a manga reader and what I see as an anime watcher are coming into conflict. I don’t want to give them preferential treatment because I liked everything that came before, but that doesn’t mean I should mark them down even though I know that the story coming up will be amazing if adapted properly. In the end, I decided to favor My Hero Academia; Bones and the creative team adapting the manga have shown a lot of care towards recreating it faithfully, and have given no indication they are going to change anything of significance. This is not The Promised Neverland where the mangaka was advocating making changes in the anime in response to backlash, I have no reason to believe that either o these arcs will be altered.
So My Hero Academia will receive a pretty good score, and like all of my reviews, I am not held to this opinion. Depending on the quality of the work from here, I retain the right to declare it a masterpiece or say I had my doubts from the beginning. Pleasingly Entertaining.
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