July 19, 2018

The 900th Post: My Hero Academia (?!)

Hello, and welcome once again to Cross-Up, your one stop shop for dozens of Kingdom Hearts posts all sorts of posts on video games, movies, TV shows, and more.  And in this case, “more” happens to include anime.  And manga, by extension.  So let’s not delay any longer.  My Hero Academia has been making waves for a while now, and it’s time I use this milestone celebration -- the 900th post here on this blog -- to take a closer look.

Here we go.  These are The Top 5 Best Girls of My Hero Academia.

…Oh, wait.  No it isn’t.  Never mind.  Continuing on.

If you’re wondering why I’m doing a post on this instead of finishing the overview of my Kingdom Hearts X A Goofy Movie fanfic, then let me answer that with a completely unrelated statement: every so often I find myself wishing I’d named this blog “Shit My Brother Says”.  The amount of times the things he’s said and the various opinions he’s shared have been a font of inspiration.  It’s almost as if I should pay him royalties for fueling the blog so regularly.  Almost.

So here we are.  At some point recently, my brother found out that you can watch My Hero Academia via Funimation’s online resources (like their site, for one).  Having gotten a recommendation from me -- and probably given the push from the Twitterverse -- he decided to watch the first episode.  When I came in one day, he said that he’d taken the plunge.  And I could feel my eyes light up.

Then he said the first episode was boring.  And then I had a different reaction.

I don’t even know why I got so upset.  Sure, I’m a fan of the series (even if I don’t talk about it much), but I’m no fanatic who lives or dies by the Detroit Smash.  Maybe it’s because I thought the show would be a slam dunk to anyone, even someone as jaded and skeptical as him.  I mean, how could it not?  It’s got action.  It’s got superheroes.  It’s got…action.  Action is kind of his thing, you see.  Imagine my surprise when a potential bonding moment between us (like arguing who’s the best boy) seemingly gets dashed before it’s even sparked.

Or, alternatively, it’s the fact that I feel like he somehow missed the point -- the core -- of MHA.  I mean, I guess this is how it must feel for people whenever I talk about Star Wars: there are very obvious currents and throughlines, but they went completely unnoticed because of preferences, expectations, and biases.  Now I’m on the other side, and I get to hear my brother call the show “boring” because the main character didn’t get his powers in the first episode.  Which, by covert extension, means “insufficient action”.

It’s gotten me thinking.  Like, I don’t want to spend this whole post shitting on my brother’s opinions…even if they make me grind my teeth down until I’ve got nothing left but blood-soaked gums.  No, for the past few days I’ve been trying to see things his way.  Trying to understand how people could watch MHA and not think it’s amazing.  And to be clear?  I’m absolutely NOT saying that MHA is without flaw, or a revelation, or that it’s impossible for anyone to think it’s bad.  Certainly, there are flaws that can be pointed to and pointed out.  It’s just that whenever I hop online, everyone’s too busy being hyped or emotional or googly-eyed.  I guess I just found all the right echo chambers.

Still, the first step is to try and understand where my brother’s coming from.  And to do that, I have to…uh…shit on his opinions a little.  See, the conversation didn’t end with me being overcome by limitless blood rage.  He compared MHA to One Punch Man -- which I also convinced him to start, albeit with the first couple of episodes only -- and saw the two as “basically the same thing”.  I disagreed with him, and strongly, but because he’s spoiler-averse, I couldn’t explain why the two shows are vastly different in the detail I wanted.  Also, I suspect he wouldn’t exactly be receptive to it; trying to expand upon my points, opinions, and impromptu analyses has earned me a sharp “shut up” in the past.

I did eventually convince him (?) to give MHA another try, though I had a backup plan in mind.  With the announcement of Vento Aureo’s adaptation, I trotted up to him a few minutes after our chat and said “You can start Jojo instead.”  He wasn’t too excited about the prospect.  Why?  He said that “it wasn’t what he thought it would be”.  Before I could ask what he meant, he went on to explain: “I thought it would be about a bunch of cool dudes, being badass and getting into cool fights.”  My response?  “No, that’s Jojo.”

He literally just described Jojo.  And assuming that he still thinks Jojo starts and stops with Stardust Crusaders, I’m starting to wonder if the guy just doesn’t get anime.  

Or maybe he doesn’t have the patience to get it -- to get Jojo, or MHA, or anything that doesn’t provide instant gratification in the anime world.  Given how One Punch Man started, I can’t say I’m surprised he stuck with that above the others [citation needed].  And with all of that made clear, I’m starting to figure it out.  I’m not only able to see the potential problems with MHA, but anime in general.  As long as some of the big names follow the format they do (I.e. progressing over the course of years, and sometimes across decades), there’s a problem that only the best of the best can hope to overcome.

With MHA, it’s a matter of patience.  Whereas One Punch Man is the story of the man who’s the strongest hero by default (the name is very appropriate), MHA is the story of a boy who wants to be a hero, who models himself after the strongest hero, and due to what’s effectively a birth defect he’s forced to start at step -8.  You’re not going to get instant thrills from a story like that.  It has to build up, and build, and build, and build, and build.  Constant struggles, constant conflicts, constant aggressors, constant development; it’s the stuff that forms arcs small and large.  Which to be clear isn’t unique to anime; it’s just the nature of the beast for plenty of stories.

There’s a decisive difference between Midoriya at the start and Midoriya at the…well, not end, because we’re a ways out from that.  That’s the magic of character development.  Paradoxically, that’s also the curse of character development.  In order to get to the shining, stalwart hero, the audience has to deal with a weak, timid child who’s not averse to crying his eyes out.  Where’s the fun in that?  Where are the thrills?  Where’s the pulse-pounding action?

I know it’s there.  You know it’s there.  But in order to get there, you have to wait.  Patience is a virtue that lets you see what a story has to offer.  Anime is no exception (and neither is manga, in a number of cases).  Want to reach a point where Midoriya doesn’t break his arms every time he uses his powers?  Too bad.  Watch him nearly kill himself over and over (which IMO is an interesting take on superpowers, but whatever).  Want to see ultra-destructive super moves thrown out between combatants?  Too bad.  Wait for it.  Want to see your favorite character be relevant?  Too bad.  Sit down, shut up, and wait.  

It’s part of the Shonen Jump cadre, so there are certain expectations that -- in the eyes of some -- need to be met.  When they aren’t, there needs to be something to bridge the gap.  Something to placate until the spectacle can show up in full force.  And what is it here?  That may be the real reason why my brother was ready to give up on MHA -- a fault, and a demand, that all stories inherently share.


Midoriya doesn’t start MHA with superpowers -- with a Quirk -- even though he idolizes the number one hero, All Might.  He learns as a kid that he’ll never manifest any powers, which breaks his hopes and dreams harder than Macho Man Randy Savage ever could.  After that?  He’s forced to look on with quiet acceptance that he’ll never be more than what he is at that moment.  A weakling.  A pretender.  A loser without even the slightest prospects.  A target for ridicule.  A magnet for bullying.  His only crime was that he wanted to help others -- but thanks to being dealt a bad hand, he’s left a meek, nervous outcast.

That’s all pretty much within the prologue/opening arc.  But just because he ends up getting powers -- possibly the best powers, considering they’re sourced directly from All Might -- doesn’t mean his problems are solved.  If anything, he just gets new problems.  He’s made into superhero school, so now (at the outset) he has dozens of opportunities to use the powers that’ll shatter his limbs if he tries to do something as audacious as make a passing grade.  He’s earned the ire of his favorite bully just for existing.  He comes in direct, potentially-lethal contact with villain after villain after villain.  And he has no choice but to bear pain that’s both physical and emotional with a straight face, because it’s for the sake of an innocent dream.

It’s literally impossible for me to not feel something for Green Naruto Midoriya.  It’s the sign of a good story when you can care about the people in it, no matter how fictional or improbable they may be -- which is why I’m almost duty-bound to give MHA high marks.  At the same time, I realize I’m getting played.  Even if the execution is on point, the storytelling at play here is still technically part of the creator’s tool kit.  It’s all a big trick, a chain of tricks and traps to get me to care about this character, and that character, and that one over there.  Oh, and that guy too over by the water cooler.

You can see the nuts and bolts without even squinting.  This guy just wants to be a hero, but faces countless obstacles!  Feel bad for him!  This guy has a rough personal life!  Feel for him!  And also this guy, whose family is basically broken!  Now feel!  Feel!  Feel!  Feel!  It’s an extremely delicate procedure.  You’re asking the audience to open their hearts to words and drawings at best, and as many times as it takes until the story wraps up (or the money runs dry).  And because MHA is the kind of story it is, you aren’t just asked to care about Midoriya.  Students, teachers, heroes, law enforcement, civilians, vigilantes, and even the odd villain -- any of them, on a moment’s notice, could become a new empathy sink.  And you just have to sit there and deal with it, no matter how exhausting.

Given how hard a story can fail when it demands empathy yet fails to earn it, there’s a simple, underlying question at play.  “Why should I care about someone else when I could easily just care about myself?”

The way I see it, MHA (and stuff like it) isn’t just an investment of time.  It’s an investment of a part of yourself -- the willingness to open your heart and insert it into the story like the coin slot of an arcade cabinet.  Do you care?  Can you care?  And even if you do, are those feelings genuine or simply a knee-jerk reaction to what’s put in front of you?  When you see Midoriya bawling his eyes out, do you feel for him because of the pain he’s been forced to endure for nearly the entirety of his life and the frustration born from his nigh-eternal uselessness?  Or do you feel for him because “he is crying, and crying is bad because it means he is sad, and now I am sad because he is crying”?

It should be blatantly, blindingly, blisteringly obvious where I stand.  But I get it.  I get that there are ways in which MHA fails to live up to the hype.  Why there are some people who might say that it’ll flame out and be replaced by the next popular thing.  I know they’re out there; by extension, I know they have their reasons for not buying into the show wholesale, as so many others have (though I hope those reasons are legitimate, instead of “GRRRRR I HATE IT BECAUSE I HATE IT”).  I could hardly call myself a human being if I didn’t respect their opinions.

So I guess now I understand my brother’s point of view a little more.  Or not.  I mean, it feels like I could have started and stopped this train of thought by pointing out that he’s the same guy who once broke out into mad laughter when asked to care about other people’s feelings.

No, he is not Bender.  I don’t even know why you’d ask.

Let me be clear: if you’re familiar with the series, I don’t need you to hurry to the comments and tell me why MHA is good.  You can if you want, but I’m not the guy that needs to hear it.  I know it’s good, and I can point to specific instances that prove it (did someone say “United States of Smash”?).  You probably know that it’s good too -- and, despite that, you can argue about its problems and faults.  But it’s fine.  The quality of a story is tied to how much its strengths cover for its weaknesses.  Net gain and such.

And without a doubt, I want to talk more about those strengths some other time.  This series has really taken off, and I’d bet there’s a damn good reason why -- and not just because “he punches real good” or “it’s filled up Naruto’s slot”.  When will that be?  Good question.  But given that this post basically owes its origin to an earnest desire to passive-aggressively spite my brother, I’ve got an urge to do it sooner rather than later.

So yeah.  I’ll be seeing you guys sooner rather than later.  Thanks for reading, thanks for sticking with me, and here’s to the big 900.  Even though, like, the first 30% of that number might as well have been shitposts.  But hey, a milestone is a milestone.

Also, Iida is best girl.



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