One of the biggest anime this spring is My Hero Academy, which returns for its third season from the Bones animation studio (Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Space Dandy, Mob Psycho 100). The series of superheroes is based on a Kohéi Horikoshi comic that began in 2014 in the comic anthology magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. The first volume was the second most sold-out graphic novel of superheroes last year, just behind Batman: The Killing Joke, and since then it has become global with more than 13 million printed copies of the series.
What is My Hero Academy about?
In a world where most people have superpowers, Izuku Midoriya high school student is part of the 20 percent of the population that was born without them. But his dream is to become a superhero and attend the main Japanese school for aspiring superheroes, UA High. After a fateful confrontation with All Might, the greatest hero in the world, he learns that his idol is dying and wants to wear his cape. His chosen successor, of course, is Midoriya.
This eventually leads to Midoriya inheriting the powers of All Might and attending UA High, where All Might is training the next generation of heroes. But when a group of villains appears seeking revenge, Midoriya and the other students feel compelled to grow up faster in heroes or become a burden.
So, what kind of superpowers are we talking about?
In MHA they call superpowers "oddities". The closest analogue could be mutant skills in Marvel Comics, which include both striking powers and mutations such as wings or lizard skin. Midoriya's friend / rival, Bakugo, can create explosions in his hands, while his other companion Tsuyu has a quirk that gives him frog skills (sticking to walls and jumping long distances) and some of the physical characteristics of a frog , like a long tongue.
All the signs also have specific names: Bakugo is called "Explosion", probably because the government follows them. So naming them seems a good way to track and categorize them, especially if several people have similar quirks.
Wait … does the government track its superpowers? Did not that kind of thing lead to terrible problems and a "Civil War" in both the Marvel comics and the movies?
Yes in both accounts. Although MHA resembles current Japan, it actually establishes itself in the near future, at a time when people with peculiarities are accepted by society. Six or seven generations have passed since the first whims began to appear, and while there were initial social problems when the whims became more generalized, they only receive a brief mention.
And again, people with quirks are not a persecuted minority like the mutants in the X-Men comics, but the majority, and they are directing things. Therefore, tracking powers and making laws about their use is more about basic law and order than the systematic oppression of a group of people. It allows an accreditation system through schools where students can learn to use their peculiarities and obtain a hero's license.
This looks like a great global construction …
That's why MHA really does not go too deep and mentions most of this spontaneously. All you need to know is that you need a hero's license to be a hero, and you need to go to school to get the license.
So, what is the focus of the show?
While there is a larger fight of heroes against villains (people who use their quirks to break the law) in the world, the series focuses more on the personal struggles of the characters. A common aspect of all the series that are published in the comic anthology magazine Weekly Shonen Jump (other famous examples are Naruto, One Piece and Dragon Ball) is that they all have three themes: friendship, struggle and victory. Although each one interprets differently, it usually means that the characters struggle to achieve something, but eventually overcome those obstacles with the help of their friends.
Midoriya's fight is to become a hero and successor of All Might. Everyone can fight to be good teachers and accept that soon he can no longer be a hero. Some of the other students struggle with their pride, personal doubts, living up to family expectations and even abuse of parents. They may have superpowers, but they are still only children in high school and their struggles reflect that, in addition to the larger fight between heroes and villains.
Why does All Might look so different from the other characters?
Instead of following the model of more traditional Japanese heroes, the design of All Might is more reminiscent of the American superhero comics of the 70s and 80s with strong angular features and many black shadows. Later in the series, the anti-hero character named Stain appears, which looks like a combination of characters from Image Comics of the 90s (for example, Spawn and The Maxx) with clothes through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
These design choices are intentional, but they are not incongruent with the rest of the aesthetics of the show. Depending on how the superpower of a person manifests, sometimes it can cause drastic changes in appearance, which offers a great visual variety.
Should I read a lot of comic series to get the whole story?
No, but there's a comic called My Hero Academy: Rangers. If you catch up on the main series and you're interested in building around the world and what's happening outside of a high school student's perspective, then I'd recommend it, but it's completely accessory. It is also available for free to read online in English.
Okay, so, where can I look or read My Hero Academy?
You can buy the comic book digitally or physically in virtually any digital or physical bookstore. The entire anime series is available for subtitled transmission in Crunchyroll, with English dubbing in Funimation, and both in Hulu.