After watching the first season of Boku Hero no Academia (My Hero Academia), I can’t help but feel wanting for more of this series. The first season consisted of only 13 episodes. It adapted the general premise of the story and had its character roster in set. However, it missed the opportunity to expand more and build on those elements. Have no fear. Season 2 is here and it’s set to fill the gaps for you diehard fans of this classic shounen adventure.
One major part of the sequel is that the length is almost twice the duration of the first season. It consists of 25 episodes (including an anime original) as part of its storytelling. Therefore, expect almost twice as much as details. As an avid fan of the manga, I’m also rather impressed by the faithfulness of its adaptation standards. Expecting this show to hit a lot of its marks is no easy task and I had some doubts at first. Still, the sequel does a splendid job at crafting the essence of its story. At its core, the show is about heroes in a fictional world. Protagonist Izuku Midoriya (nicknamed Deku) tries to make a difference in his world by trying to become a hero.
Something that I often found appealing about Boku Hero no Academia is how stylish it establishes itself. It’s a typical shounen series yet is able to spread its themes and knows how to do so. The second season asks a question: what really makes a hero? From the first half, we get a tournament (U.A. Sports Festival Arc) that pits the best of the best between classes. While this may seem like a generic battle tournament you can find in many shounen series, Boku Hero no Academia sets itself to establish characters within its tournament. Prominent characters such as Deku, Ochako, Bakugo, and Todoroki gives the audience their insight on their reasoning for fighting. While some of their principles can be disputed, they sent a clear message that becoming a hero is no easy path. At least for these characters, being a hero is more than just about saving others. The Sports Festival arc also examines the background story of Todoroki, a character that we knew little about from the previous season. It invites moments of sympathy as we see how tragic his past has influenced his character in the present.
Meanwhile, the show still maintains its presence of antagonists. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Hero Killer Stain, a new villain with his own objectives and morals. Again, his character ties with the question of “what makes a hero”. In his mind, there are certain rules that establishes what a “true hero” is from the “fake ones”. Season 2 has psychology that makes antagonists such as Stain feel meaningful as a character. It motivates other heroes to realize what they are and what to fight for. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tenya.
As I watched more and more of season 2, I can’t help but realize that the sequel serves as a way to prepare for the characters/heroes for what’s really ahead. What I mean is that while the second season is rich in content, it still leaves some gaps to fill. Mainly, prominent villains such as Tomura Shigaraki and his right-hand man Kurogiri play very minor roles despite establishing themselves as a dangerous threat from the first season. All Might also plays a lesser role in this season despite still being the main hero. Although his role is still important for Deku’s development, it feels that his character dynamics with the boy is less. As a show loaded with characters, don’t expect everyone to get the same development as the main cast. While most characters gets some time to shine, others are left with less memorable moments or comic relief. (yes, I’m looking at you, Mineta) Finally, season 2’s storytelling can occasionally feel stale at times with the academy setting and themes. Luckily, the comedy gives the fans its entertainment value that’s deceptively fun to watch.
Bones studio (known for their adaptation of other super power and hero theme shows) returns with their animation quality. I must admit, season 2 sets the bar for is stylish animation. Battle scenes from the Festival Arc particular stand out that is simply mesmerizing. The fight between Deku and Todoroki is especially noticeable that captures the stellar choreography as I’d expect from this studio. Camera angles feel smooth with vibrant colors and body movements. However, there are a few scenes that feel stagnant especially during the fight with Stain. Perhaps some of those can be fixed later in BD/DVDs but it’s nothing too distracting. Character designs in this sequel also remains memorable for characters ranging from the barbaric design of the Hero Killer, pro heroes, and our main cast.
When listening to the soundtrack, I can’t help but feel that everything is on point. From character voice mannerisms to the battle OST, it succeeds far more than it fails. I can honestly say that the voice mannerism of the characters really brings out the personalities of the cast. Characters such as Stain, All Might, Bakugo, and Todoroki especially stand out this season whenever they speak with dynamism and purpose. The theme songs offers a classic hero-like tune that’s hard to miss.
If you’re going to watch this second season, just know that it will be a thoughtful experience beyond the colorful battles. Everything has a reason ranging from the story, themes, morals, and even character names. I can’t say this enough but season 2 really bought out what I had expected as an adaptation. It’s faithful on most parts and leaves me hunger for more each episode. That being said, season 2 is still far from resolving the end story. It actually feels more like building up for more as certain characters are foreshadowed and more threats looms in the horizon for the main characters. However, I came into this show with high expectations and left with awe. With season 3 announced, this sequel is nothing short of been a classic.
Minor plotting events will be addressed and forwarned in advance-
It's easy to point the finger at Boku No Hero Academia and label it as just one in the same with any other shounen that populates the medium. To make broad statements like the characters themselves are just repackaged personalities with only a fresh coat of paint and appearance to their name. Or something to the effect of its story being recycled. And if you were to choose that stance, defendants would be hard-pressed to argue against it. But if you did decide to adopt that stance, that then calls into question the very essence of critiquing a shounen in such restrictive terms, to begin with.
If a shounen isn't allowed to be about the fundamental fight between good and evil with said fights being carried out through the proxy of colorfully decorated personalities, then at what point does it cease to make sense for it even to be made at all? Or better yet, why bother to scrutinize it for doing what that genre has been predicated on since its inception? At what point does valid criticism capsize towards the side of pointless nitpicking? You won't always discredit comedies for having situational humor nor will you shame an action movie for delivering on its promise of cool fights and chase scenes. So why then is that benefit not allotted to shounens for being just that; a shounen? What I’m trying to say, in more words or less, is if a shounen isn't allowed to be a shounen without being reprimanded, what purpose does it even serve anymore?
With all that being said, couldn't a shounen that operates within the realm of its genre commonalities be allowed to revel in it, even if it may air on the side of self-indulgence at times? I say it should. Not every shounen could escape its role to become Fullmetal Alchemist nor should it be required to. In the same way, not every action movie is expected to be a seminal time marker in the way The Matrix did for bullet-time effects and stylized violence or Inception for its audiovisual craftmanship and technical proficiency. Sometimes, being the byproduct to ride the wave of other tentpole entries is just fine. And in that regard, Boku No Hero Academia has proven to be a steady entry in the ever-expanding superhero/shounen canon, and I see no reason to ostracize it because it isn't overly ambitious.
What can and will be critiqued, however, is the eternal mechanics of its universe and the functionality of all the moving parts—characters and their purpose notwithstanding. No matter the demographic or genre it services, poor writing isn't autonomous to critique, and in my opinion, that’s the space where a reviewer is needed to occupy. The utilization of literary devices is something all storytelling media shares, and it’s in this truth that we can adequately gauge quality-control in a fair manner. We don’t need critics to tell us that “SPOILER ALERT, shounens have very simple themes.” Anyone with a modicum of common sense could do that on their own. But what’s usually beyond the general knowledge of the viewing audience is the inner-workings that drive the content they consume. Basically, how well does the title in question use the tools at its disposal? And with that in mind, Boku no Hero Academia has some kinks it needs to iron out before it occupies any shelf-space alongside the genre’s cherished entries. Thankfully, this 2nd season shows promise of that possibly coming to fruition if they handle the content properly moving forward.
But before we open that can of worms, let’s get everyone up to speed.
Coming off season one's finale, our group of young heroes finds themselves becoming in-house celebrities on their school's campus, and for good reason. They fought against real-world villains, a situation that's already rare enough for students but made all the more alarming given that the face-off took place on school grounds. This places everyone on high alert as they move forward with the calendar year. And as new challenges emerge to face them, this period of their lives will serve as their first jumping off point into finding out what it truly means to be a hero.
These set of challenges first starts off with a genre staple, the tournament arc. And let's just be honest here, this 1st arc is only paying lip service to having a plot while the true intent is allowing physical alterations to happen, and that’s fine. Of course, the writers conjure up a reason to justify this event, and wisely, they made sure their pretext reflected in the show’s in-world rationalizing as well, taking the edge off for anyone that may have noticed it for what it was. Since being a superhero is its own profession in this world, many agencies choose this event to scout new talent, which also doubles up as a national sporting competition for regular civilians to enjoy. Which I must add is a far better excuse for this setup than what most people would give it credit for. And while this arc came with all the bells and whistles that make any shounen tournament fun, it was also the weakest part of the 2nd season for the reason that’s pivotal to making the whole thing work.
The thing that plagues this portion of the show’s run was something I praised the 1st installment of getting right the first time around. And no, it has nothing to do with the self-evident cliché of the arc’s existence. As I mentioned earlier, a shounen doing “shounen shit” is not my concern here. You don’t need me telling you how overused tournament arcs are, that point will already be reiterated to death by every pseudo-critic that will see this as an opportunity to attack “low-hanging fruit.” Instead, what I plan to address is the functionality of the show’s premise in this arc. And to address that, what needs to be called into question is something that’s perhaps the easiest for everyday viewers to comprehend: proper buildup and payoff.
The idea is simple, throughout the show, the creators will attempt to build up several things—whether it be story or character-centric—and then proceed to pay off their efforts through the natural metamorphosis of the narrative. That “payoff” can either be the central climax of the story or just the resolution of a subplot within it.
To get a sense of this idea in action, let’s take a look at the following scenario:
Let's say there's a superhero introduced who is explicitly stated to have the power to spawn water cannons from his arms. With the explanation of that character's ability, it’s reasonable to expect that the buildup will probably revolve around the use of said power or the resolve of the character being tested at a crucial moment. Whether against someone in specific or an event that calls for his particular ability, as long as that hero accomplishes or fails whatever the writers pit him against, it will serve as the payoff for his prominent introduction and highlighted power.
This doesn't always mean there needs to be a payoff right away, but if the story dedicates time away from its central focus to build up something or someone else, it's usually meant to foreshadow a future event later down the line where that knowledge the audience is given will be reincorporated. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Now, let's look at an example of that being done correctly in the 1st season of Boku no Hero, most notably with our protagonist Midoriya.
He's shown as an astute kid that studies the anatomy and abilities of other heroes. This has become so synonymous with what defines him as a character that it’s even caught the attention of those around him. The buildup established has constantly been paid off with every physical altercation Midoriya finds himself in, as he’s continuously shown using his opponent’s strengths to his advantage, while also working with the limitations of his own power.
The buildup: his excessive studying.
The payoff: his tactical prowess on the battlefield.
Now this is where the problem rears its ugly head in this season, throughout the entirety of the tournament arc, almost every buildup that doesn’t revolve around Midoriya or Todoroki, significant or otherwise, was poorly delivered upon, and in some cases, completely abandoned altogether. And no, this has nothing to do with antiquated terms like Chekhov's gun, but more so an inability to reconnect with things previously established.
To help you spot this on your own, I will highlight a minor event in season 2 episode 3. Obviously, if you haven’t seen up to this point, there will be light spoilers ahead. Skip these two merged paragraphs if you want to avoid them.
In episode 3 at around the 4-minute mark, characters Kirishima and Tetsutetsu are shown crushed under a gigantic robot, something that both characters ended up walking away from unscathed, thanks to their quirks. One could harden like a rock while the other hardens like steel, a quirk that makes them both the ultimate armor against things that would usually cause harm, or in some cases death, to any other student that found themselves in the same predicament. What’s important here is that the show took time to pause during the tournament arc to specifically highlight this, subconsciously signaling to the audience that it will come into play later on.
Not even a full 7-minutes later into the same episode, at around the 11-minute mark, the show introduces an obstacle for the students to get through. This obstacle is a minefield covered with non-lethal explosive charges, a fact the announcer reinforces. It can harm the students but not to the point of endangering their lives. Now, this is very important to note, because like we already established 7-minutes prior, two students survived what would in any other case be life-threatening injuries to other students without a quirk explicitly designed to counteract it. So it stands to reason, this obstacle would be perfect for two students who can quite literally become armor, right? Wrong, because as far as the show is concerned, the only characters that matter, at this point, is the three main ones. And even without zeroing in on those two characters in specific, everyone else, from the likes of Uraraka who’ve been shown to defy gravity to Hatsume who had gadgets made specifically for courses like this, are all left not using their advantages to overcome the obstacle.
And this kind of logic occurs throughout the entire runtime of the tournament arc. Where the 1st season paid extra attention to its characters quirks and how they can be utilized in combat, in this arc, these secondary characters are now just used as dick-measuring extras to place the main ones on a pedestal. What I just highlighted was only one of several times this occurred.
With that kind of logic, it would be like if the water cannon superhero previously mentioned were to end up finding himself in front of a burning building, but instead of using his Quirk to put out the fire, he stands there looking at it instead. If framed in the mindset that Boku no Hero does with its supporting cast, he would do nothing as the building catches ablaze, not out of negligence but out of failed returns on initial investment towards the character's introduction and build up.
Thankfully, the 2nd half of this season balances the power mechanics again. Something that’s complimented further with the far more exciting scenario they’re placed in.
What gives intrigue to the 2nd arc of Academia is how it chooses to challenge the notion of justice in a world overpopulated by quirk users. If 80% of the world have quirks, how can there be any stability in the superhero job sector? Well as it turns out, the answer to that question has already been pre-written into the show, but it’s only now that the idealism of the classroom environment has been traded out for the reality of the world they live in that we get to see the answer. Just because someone could run doesn’t automatically qualify them to be an Olympic athlete. In the same way, their quirks, the one thing they thought made them unique, doesn’t matter all that much if its usefulness becomes pigeonholed to limited tasks. So beyond the students being challenged to use their skills in inventive ways in season one during all their physical exams, what the school environment was really prepping them for was adapting in a world that doesn’t always play to their strengths. And this kind of thing can lead to compromise, and sometimes that’s not for the best.
This realization for those with an advantage could breed vanity, while others may grow in resentment to those at the top. So in that sense, justice in a world full of superheroes like this one could just amount to a rat race to profit and self-benefit. The idea of standing for what’s right could become lost in a world where the bottom dollar might be all that matters for some. A diluted cesspool of what it means to be a “hero” has effectively worked its way into the mix. And in a system where the good guys can become no more distinguishable from a business person thinking with a capitalist mindset, radical ideas of reform can begin to emerge. Ideas that may be voiced by a fanatic but may still contain some semblance of truth behind it. This is something that seems to be interwoven into the subtext of this 2nd arc while all the hero shenanigans happen on the surface. And perhaps a glimpse of future storylines to come. Either way, what’s important is seeing all the students hone their skills while realizing there’s much more to becoming a hero than what presumptions they may have had prior.
And yeah, a lot of this is based on conjecture, but going off the clues that the show keeps hinting towards, I wouldn't be surprised if the future installment of this series finds itself tackling the same sociopolitical dilemma that other superhero stories like Concrete Revolutio and Samurai Flamenco attempted to highlight. Either way, the future is looking bright for Academia if it manages to pull this off.
Of course, I don’t have to tell you that the art and animation look great; it’s Bones, good art, and animation is within their wheelhouse. If you liked the comic book apparel of the 1st season, this season just doubles down on that. I could go on and on about how much fun the fights were or how catchy the soundtrack is but honestly, you don’t need me to tell you that, the work speaks for itself. But what I do want to get across is that this season seems to show the efforts of its prior storylines finally starting to pay off. Where the 1st installment helped set up the world and characters that live in it, here, all that establishment is finally being used to craft something far more interesting than the sum of its parts.
So no, I don’t think Academia is quite at that level to be celebrated just yet, but the groundwork has certainly been laid for future installments to come in and shake things up. But until that time comes, let’s just enjoy a shounen that’s comfortable in just being itself.