Friday, May 24, 2019

Retrospective on My Hero Academia Season Three


This post will contain spoilers for


My Hero Academia



You have been warned.



I love My Hero Academia. And with season four only months away,1 it’s hard not to think about the show that immediately shot to the top of my favorites list.

Still, I have to admit, I’m nervous. Season three was a mixed bag for me, showcasing some of my favorite moments in media but also suffering from problems that could grind the show to a halt if they aren’t addressed.

So what went wrong, what went right, and how can the writers make sure season four is a United States Smash hit?

What Went Wrong #1: The Forgotten Side-Cast

My Hero Academia has been rightfully praised for its charming, memorable, meaningful cast.2, 3 And what an opportunity season three presented to have each of them shine: the UA High’s top students arrive at a summer training camp... only to be attacked by villains who kidnap one of the students in an attempt to recruit him. It was a fantastic start to the season.

Funimation 2016-2018

But after that arc was over, many of its strong side-cast fell by the wayside. They almost feel like characatures of their former selves, present in theory but failing to grow and often contributing only one thing to the actual plot before fading into the background.

Take Iida for example. The straight-laced, diligent class president undergoes a life-changing arc in season two but barely features in season three. Other than two moments of note, he’s frequently relegated to comic relief in season three despite being one of the protagonist Midoriya’s closest friends.

No, no. It's not you, Iida. It's the show.

Or take characters like the bold and upbeat Kirishima. After playing a minor role in rescuing his classmate Bakugo, he becomes virtually presenceless in the second half of season three.

MISSING: My Crimson-haired Goodboi

These aren’t isolated cases; almost every side character ends up receiving the same treatment. Up until the halfway point of season three, each character felt like they were present and active even during down-time: chit-chatting or teasing one another, teasing each other, and of course, working together as heroes-in-training. But in the second half of season three, many of the side characters don’t get to do anything worthwhile. This only exacerbates the feeling they’re just extras (as Bakugo so often asserts). Which is an absolute crime, because these characters are all awesome!

Except Mineta. Nobody likes Mineta.

Funimation 2016-2018

What Went Wrong #2: Pacing Problems

A large part of this was due to the poor pacing of season three’s latter half. This was especially odd since My Hero Academia’s pacing had been on point up until this point, knowing exactly when to ramp up the tension and when to give the characters (and audience) a few episodes to rest.

While the first half of season three did an excellent job balancing combat with down-time to focus on the side-characters’ growth, the second half was bogged down by a lackluster plot that felt like a lesser rehash of the incredibly well-done tournament arc of season two.

Too many new students in such a short time
inhibited the provisional license exam arc
It’s hard to follow a good act, but season three’s provisional license exam couldn’t hold a candle to the UA Sports Festival. For one thing, while both arcs introduced a medley of new students to offer challenges for Class 1-A to overcome, the provisional license exam tried to introduce too much too fast. There were more new significant characters—(those who had some significant contribution to the plot)—introduced during the provisional license exam than there were episodes in it (ten characters introduced across seven episodes); by contrast, the UA Sports Festival was far more careful with how it introduced new characters, only focusing on six significant new characters across its eleven-episode arc.

While My Hero has proven it can handle introducing a chunk of new characters at once, the skill with which it does so simply wasn’t present in the provisional license arc like it was during the Sports Festival. For one, the numbers don’t lie: there wasn’t anywhere near the same amount of time to devote to developing ten new characters compared to how carefully the Sports Festival developed the key six characters in its arc.

For another, the provisional license arc was positioned in a poor spot to be throwing in new student characters. The Sports Festival came at a time when the show was still relatively new and at the beginning of a new season, so the viewers expected the cast to expand. However, the provisional license exam comes at the season’s halfway point immediately after the harrowing events of the attack on the summer training camp, the kidnapping and rescue of Bakugo, and the defeat of series main villain, All For One. At this point in the show, the heroes needed some down-time and the villains needed time to recoup their losses and regroup. Meeting more villains would have been natural, as we expected to see teases of what the villains are doing to amp up the tension. But we didn’t get more villains; we got a flood of new students from other schools, which seemed like a severe and disappointing downgrade in threat level when Class 1-A had just been fighting actual bloodthirsty villains in the previous arc. This left the new students’ introductions feeling forced, tacked-on, unnecessary, and worse yet: a distraction from the “real story” of what the heck the villains were up to.

But we didn’t get that story until the provisional license exam was over—seven episodes later. That’s half a typical anime season! To drag the provisional license exam out that long after the game-changing events at the start of the season was almost unforgivable.

All these pacing issues left the second half of season three feeling like filler. This plus the issue of fading side characters’ presences were only two minor problems season three faced, and they both highlighted the far more dangerous problem the series has: failing to pay off elements it had previously set up.

What Went Wrong #3: Lackluster Payoff

This flaw has been present in every season of My Hero Academia, but the first seeds were planted when Midoriya finally makes it into UA High... only to find his struggles at the school are just beginning.

Funimation 2016-2018
The show strongly implied Midoriya would butt heads with his homeroom teacher, Mr. Aizawa, who seemed to have a personal vendetta against Midoriya’s mentor, All Might, and Midoriya by extension.

But this never ends up being the case. Yes, Aizawa dislikes All Might,4 but he never takes this out on Midoriya.

Though I can’t complain that Aizawa didn’t end up being a jerk (he’s one of my favorite characters), the show did set up expectations for a plot that never happened. And this wasn’t the only instance.

Iida was certainly one of the most egregious examples, showing very little lasting change despite his life-changing altercation with the Hero-Killer, Stain.

Funimation 2016-2018
It’s heart-wrenching when Iida hears that his brother, a well-respected hero, has been attacked by Stain. Iida takes the news hard, but it stokes a fire under him... and awakens his darker impulses that he’s never had to face before. In a fit of vengeance under the guise of seeking justice, Iida hunts down Stain, disregarding the rules and his own morals to take out Stain no matter the consequences. He’s not here to protect society, as he claims: Stain himself points out that Iida is only here to satisfy his thirst for revenge.

Funimation 2016-2018

Once the situation’s resolved, with Iida barely escaping, he realizes the words were all too true, that he lost sight of what it meant to be a true hero. But he pretty much returns immediately to the exact state he was before the Stain arc. There was no growth, only a return to the norm.

Though this was disappointing in and of itself, what made the situation even more frustrating was that the show had made a big deal about this arc just before it began, leading the audience to believe something significant was going to happen to Iida, something so grave that the narrator—a future version of Midoriya—comments he wished he’d have talked to Iida more so he could have possibly prevented the ensuing events.5 What irony that nothing significant happens at all!

But nothing happened, Midoriya!

Funimation 2016-2018
Another disappointing set-up with no payoff occurs when Bakugo is kidnapped at the end of the summer training camp arc in season three. The show had previously revealed that the villains had been watching Bakugo since the UA Sports Festival, having noticed Bakugo’s darker and admittedly villainous tendencies that even his classmates have commented on.6 So when the villains actually manage to capture Bakugo and attempt to recruit him, you’d think there’d be at least some moment of weakness for Bakugo to overcome.

But there isn’t!

When the villains suggest Bakugo join them, he turns them down immediately. No struggle. No consideration. No turmoil.

While these events do cause Bakugo to open up emotionally, the change is specifically because All Might was forced to rescue him... not because the villains captured him. The capture itself does nothing for Bakugo’s growth. This situation was the perfect time to challenge Bakugo’s darker impulses, but it’s completely squandered. Why build up the idea that the villains were going to lure Bakugo to the dark side at all if it was not for a second going to be an issue?

Fortunately, the show has proven it doesn’t always struggle with failure to pay off a good build-up.

What Went Right: Cream of the Crop

Funimation 2016-2018
There was narrative good that came from Bakugo’s kidnapping. Not only did it grow Bakugo by helping him become more emotionally open, it also paved the way to one of the second-best fights in the entire show: Midoriya vs. Bakugo. What the second half of season three lacked due to negative plot space, it more than made up for with this confrontation we’ve been looking forward to since episode one.

But as much as I adored Bakugo’s emotional growth and his conflict with Midoriya, the ultimate example of how well My Hero Academia can reward build-up is the conflict between All Might and his nemesis, All For One.

Funimation 2016-2018

This was a perfectly set-up confrontation. The build-up had been going on for an entire two seasons prior, beginning with the tiniest hints there was a dangerous villain to be feared more than any others we’d seen or heard of. Someone had destroyed All Might... and if they could debilitate the world’s number-one hero... you knew they were going to be a major threat.

Funimation 2016-2018

As we began to learn more about the villainous All For One, we found out he was as cunning as he was powerful. This was a classic clever big bad guy, plotting the hero’s downfall from the shadows, putting out feelers with his feeblest followers to get a sense of the heroes’ true power and weaknesses. By the time we finally got a name and (part of) a face to go with All For One, I for one was dying for more.

And My Hero Academia and All For One himself did not disappoint.

Funimation 2016-2018
I have a thing for villains who can get under the hero’s skin. That’s pretty much exclusively what All For One does during and even after his fight with All Might. From predicting All Might’s moves down to the second7 to poking at All Might’s festering lack of self-confidence, All For One packs not only a physical but also an emotional punch. The build-up to this point and the sheer wickedness All For One exhibits makes his fight with All Might—Well, satisfying isn’t anywhere near a strong enough word to convey the feeling.

Funimation 2016-2018
It’s an emotionally-saturated fight. The tension’s there, the thrills are there, and I as the viewer couldn’t help but join in as the entire cast cheered All Might on. There was something transcendant about that moment. You weren’t just cheering on All Might; you were cheering on the very best that humanity has to offer—even while watching how depraved humanity could become. You were seeing the worst and best of our nature clash, and you were screaming for the best to win out against all odds. And it did. And it was glorious.

But struggles and sacrifices must come with a price, or they mean nothing. It’s the same with any story—if a character needs to give something up, it has to mean something, or the sacrifice is worthless... and so is the story’s tension.

Funimation 2016-2018

Unfortunately, My Hero hasn’t seemed to learn this lesson... and this has proven to be the show’s biggest weak point.

What Went Wrong #4: No Consequences

There simply are not enough meaningful consequences in My Hero Academia.

Though the fight with All Might and All For One was amazing... All Might survived. As with Bakugo’s arc, this has led to All Might undergoing some interesting development. But it also creates a familiar problem: the series almost explicitly stated All Might was going to die sometime in the near future.

Funimation 2016-2018
In a scene after All Might tells Midoriya about All For One, Midoriya proclaims he’ll make All Might proud... and you can see All Might’s face fall. He thanks Midoriya, but as the young boy walks away, All Might thinks to himself, “That’s not it, Young Midoriya. Probably, by that time... I won’t be able to be by your side anymore.”8 If that wasn’t warning All Might would die, I don’t know what is.

If they were going to take him out, what better way than him giving his all to fight All For One? All Might may have lost his power from the fight... but has he, really? We’ve seen he can still transform in moments when he’s feeling particularly moved. What’s stopping him from doing so out of dire need in the future? His sacrifice is pointless if it’s not going to be reinforced... if the consequence isn’t going to remain.

And the examples continue.

Midoriya has pushed his body past its limits and has barely suffered consequences despite multiple characters warning him of the impending “permanent” side effects. Time and again we see Midoriya using his arms far past the literal breaking point and even after physicians warn him that he may damage his arms permanently, the only lasting damage we saw for a long time was scars on his hands. Although Midoriya finally was forced to switch to using primarily kicks in his fighting stance, he’s still able to use the arms he should have damaged beyond repair (according to the show) at a slightly lesser power level in a pinch. He shouldn’t have been able to use his arm at all after the fight with powerful villain Muscle during the summer training camp!

And let’s not forget the Stain arc. As stated before, Iida learns absolutely nothing from this encounter—in large part, perhaps, because there weren’t strong enough lasting consequences. Iida suffers one momentary lapse in judgment and an injured arm. True, his brother must retire from hero work, but if Iida’s brother was going to be written out of the show... why keep him alive? Having his brother die would have pushed Iida even further and sparked some truly life-changing events.

The list, unfortunately, goes on and on. For instance, in the fight with All For One, the pro hero Best Jeanist attempts a daring maneuver to protect his teammates. He’s hit with a powerful attack that looks as deadly as a truck... and emerges injured but otherwise fine to pursue hero work once he completes recovery. It completely undermines the value of his sacrifice!

Or, going back to the provisional license exam: initially we get what looks like a delightful subvertion of expectation when Todoroki and Bakugo, two at the top of their class, fail the exam. But that’s okay, the show explains, because they can just retake the exam later! They are not penalized. They never once have to struggle with the realization that they’ve been held back while having to watch their classmates move forward.

Funimation 2016-2018

As much as I adore My Hero Academia, I wish it would finally allow some show-altering consequences.

Conclusion

My Hero Academia has proven it’s worthy of its place as a modern shounen phenomenon with its incredible characters and heart-pumping action. But if it’s going to continue to be the powerhouse (quirkhouse?) it was in prior seasons, season four is going to need to learn from the show’s previous mistakes.

It needs to pay careful attention to its side characters like it did before. It needs to let them grow. To let everyone suffer real, lasting consequences and true loss.

And it must deliver on the promises it makes... especially the promise that there will be real stakes I can get behind.

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Notes and References:
  1. Alex Osborn, “My Hero Academia: Season 4 of Anime to Premiere in October,” IGN.com (blog), December 19, 2018, accessed May 23, 2019.
  2. TazerLad, “How to Handle Your Side Characters - Part 1 - My Hero Academia,” YouTube video, 10:28, June 8, 2018.
  3. ThePedanticRomantic, “My Hero Academia - How This Simple, Silly Series Made Me Cry,” YouTube video, 13:22, June 9, 2017.
  4. My Hero Academia, “What I Can Do for Now,” Season 1, Episode 5, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 1, 2016, Funimation.
  5. My Hero Academia, “Time to Pick Some Names,” Season 2, Episode 13, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, June 24, 2017, Funimation.
  6. My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 15, 2016, Funimation.
  7. My Hero Academia, “Symbol of Peace,” Season 3, Episode 10, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, June 9, 2018, Funimation.
  8. My Hero Academia, “Listen Up!! A Tale from the Past,” Season 2, Episode 20, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, August 19, 2017, Funimation.
All photos are screenshots taken from VRV.co and are the property of Funimation 2016-2018. Used under US “Fair Use” laws.

My Hero Academia and all related terms are the property of Funimation. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

3 comments:

  1. That was a big write-up for this recap. I'm glad you weren't so soft on MHA like I've seen some fans have been on the internet. I liked how you mentioned the strengths and faults while also offering solutions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, yeah, I think this was one of my longer non-fiction posts to date. Part of the reason it was late getting posted!

      I'm glad you appreciated my review. I'm working hard to make sure I offer constructive criticism on this blog.

      I do still think MHA is a great show (heck, that was only reinforced as I was collecting images for this post). I just know it could be even better, so here's hoping season four improves the formula!

      Delete
    2. Oh, wow! I actually wondered about that with how long the post was.

      Sure thing. You were fair in your assessment of this season.

      That's fine. I feel the same way about other anime series.

      Delete