Thoughts on Boku no Hero Academia (Season One) (Spoilers?)

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I am so very tired of superheroes flooding the mainstream. Marvel/D.C. Studios seem to release a film every four months with substantial box office victories. Animated films such as Big Hero 6, the latest Spongebob film, and the upcoming Incredibles 2 are becoming more common. Even anime has gotten the hero fever with the quick green-lighting of One Punch Man and Boku no (or MyHero Academia. First hearing about it, I could only sigh and huddle into my own mindset of “Superheroes are cliché now,” ignoring something that fits the shounen tag to the dot. As the years went by and the hype of the series continued to grow ever bigger through its second season, I ended up succumbing to my curiosity and decided to watch it after completing the latest Summer of Anime. Sitting here, typing this out, I’m both impressed and cautious of what the future may bring.

Long has it been since an anime has pulled me into its world as well as Hero Academia has. Planning to watch two episodes, I would zoom through six straight without skipping a beat. If I really wanted to, I could blaze through the entire anime in one sitting, though not without difficulty, but more on that later. Though I often scoff at the notion, the aspect of one destined for great things is something that’s hard to ignore, especially when done in an endearing way. I was enthralled by Wonder Woman and I was charmed by Deadpool, though both suffer from a similar evil as Hero Academia does, which makes its whole tragically underwhelming. Hero films at their core appeal to the emotional side of a person’s heart, that in which is relegated through the psyche of characters and their ambitions. Here, this is done splendidly.

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Imperfect as it is, the manner in which Deku, as he’s so affectionately referred to, goes about his tragic life as a Quirkless is invigorating for those in a similar position. Yet, as I have said many times in the past, the weak, cowardly character is by far the easiest character in all of fiction to develop. Such was the case for The Good Dinosaur, such was the case for Yuri!!! on Ice, such is the case presently. On top of this, his crybaby persona, along with his peers’ personality quirks, feel a little too hamfisted. One can almost be justified in saying this cast is one-dimensional, as there’s a fine line between having a distinct personality and having a singular personality. Deku cries all the time, is scared all the time, has a lot of monologues with himself trying to dispel doubt, but always displays the most heroic attitude in the most pressing moments. One can easily grow tired of constantly being reminded of who he is and what he’s fighting for. We. Get. It.

What helps is that Deku, while clearly being the main character, is not the only character to receive attention. In a class full of powerful, supernatural kids, many of them receive enough attention to embellish both their powers and their temperaments. There are times when one isn’t aware that Deku is onscreen, as other characters take full control over a scene with their own power (both figuratively and literally). It really aids in making a series feel bigger than one or two characters when despite the main group’s exclusion from the spotlight, the series continues to showcase side characters and their own performance with the trials facing them. I often complain that a cast can be far too big to allow everything and everyone to be developed in a way that makes the group feel whole. Not only is the effort shown in Hero Academia, it uses that effort in the most efficient way imaginable. There aren’t many characters I don’t like.

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Pacing and progress are also good features, as the weight of situations and their accumulation feel natural, aside from a very quick ten-month montage in the third(?) episode. Perhaps I’m too used to slice-of-life flicks where a span of months can go by in only a few episodes (Looking at you, Acchi Kocchi), but Hero Academia has a smooth and consistent timer that knows when to put things to an end. Somewhat formulaic in its structure, admittedly, though I suppose that’s to be expected from a shounen flick. I almost never checked the time in an episode nearly throughout, as the key pieces were enough to hold me over on their own basis, which makes for a satisfying viewing—one I haven’t had since Berserk, and who knows since before then.

But… there is something that drags Hero Academia down to the level of my mortal enemy in anime: the typical shounen. It comes in the form of the last four episodes.

Evil. Out of nowhere. Infiltrates with ease and starts spouting garbage evil jargon for the sake of it. Heroes are caught off-guard and can’t thwart them easily. A large battle ensues. All hope seems lost, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the worst, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the wo—WHEN SUDDENLY HELP ARRIVES! This goes on for four episodes. Constant use of deus ex machinas and the most cliché quick-thinking solutions and THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! make it a very irritating experience that quickly grew tiring. Up to this point, I thought the series would only use these tools minimally. Much to my chagrin, they use them as a crutch in the most important of situations. And this isn’t to say these episodes were devoid of good, as a lot of variety in character spotlight makes the situations rich in development, but there’s far too much “Been there, done that” to compensate for the helping of character interaction.

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Perhaps I expected too much from a high-profile shounen series, but the overall animation is only decent here, with series like One Punch Man destroying it in nearly every regard. There was one particular scene in the final episode that was flashy and fun, but aside from that, I can’t recall any particular moment that really “wowed” me. One really shouldn’t complain, however, as the animation and design is clean nearly throughout, so it tops the typical romcom any day. On the topic of design, I really enjoy the way the designs speak from the characters. Bakugo’s spiky, disheveled hair and wide, fanged grin displaying his chaotic nature. Iida’s trim face, thin spectacles, and proper attire showcasing his authoritative demeanor. Ochaco’s blandness showing her no-personality character. There’s something for everyone here.

I can assure anyone that, despite the miscues, I’m excited to indulge in more heroic adventures once the second season wraps up. I’d even go as far as recommending this title to, well, anyone, as I feel the most overused of clichés won’t bother general people as much as it does me. Even with those in place, cynical viewers can latch onto the carefully planned narrative progression and plethora of likable characters. While not necessarily a challenging series, it’s simplicity done almost entirely right, and I for one applaud it.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Entry #23: Hanada Shounen-shi (SoA 2016)

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If you could consider this show a slice-of-life, it’s a damn good one.

Early on, I thought to myself that this story is actually quite similar to Mushishi in structure. It’s fairly episodic and it stars a single male character (in this case, a bratty child) who interacts with spirits and assists them with their troubles and past grudges while alive. Though, as one who hasn’t seen Mushishi, I can’t be certain how similar these two series are, but by the halfway point, I felt that Shounen-shi had developed a style of its own—that while similar, it isn’t quite the same.

Before any other aspect, I’d like to focus on Shounen-shi‘s art direction. This is an anime made in the early 2000’s that was adapted from a manga published in the mid-90’s. However, I’d argue that the design could be dated back to a time even earlier than that. This anime feels distinctly late-80’s or early 90’s to me. Back to a time when “moe” wasn’t even considered a thing, and when characters in anime actually looked their nationality. This is not the bright and colorful swarm of animated flair that anime of today tries so hard to strive for. It’s a simple, down-to-earth sort of style that reaches back to the olden days. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to “good.”

The appreciation one has for the design and overall animation (which I think flows smoothly enough) is entirely subjective. It’s an all-ages (aside from language and comedic nudity) rendition of humor and depiction of home life. Lots of tears, snot, piss, and other bodily fluids are shown in full glory throughout. When someone cries, they have a fountain of snot running down their face. When someone is scared, their eyes and mouth transform to sizes far too large for their faces. Lots of the kids’ comedy relies on slapstick and name-calling, along with making fun of differences in others. It’s a rather simplistic atmosphere that is highlighted by the design, and for that it prospers, but unless you like that sort of thing, you’ll be missing the designs of modern titles.

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Speaking of atmosphere, it’s a different one in Shounen-shi. Never have I seen so dysfunctional a family in anime as the one I’ve seen here with the male lead. They absolutely love and care for one another, but the animosity they have between them would imply the household is inhabited by a bunch of children. This, however, is also highlighted by the fact that the family is poor and (implied) without a lot of proper education. And the households of other characters with family members who are successful or uphold some sense of honor or spiritualism seem to be a lot more considerate, well-mannered, and structured. While the aim of the show seems to be of a light-hearted slice-of-life, the social commentary with the behavior of families throughout the small town seems ripe with intrigue. Though, they never explore it.

The stories told that revolve around the main character are rather trivial, and is probably the biggest flaw of the series. I can understand that a lot of people have regrets in their lives and desire that second chance before feeling comfortable moving on, but to make that the basic message for almost every story? It gets a little tedious. The sum of most stories play out like this: ghost appears before male lead wanting a favor. Male lead either tells them to fuck off, leading the spirit into forcing him to comply, or accepts. Through a series of events, the spirit learns something about themselves or the person involved with their dilemma and grows from it. The spirit moves on and the male lead gets in trouble for some reason. Very little does it break from this type of set-up, and it even makes some use of it with other recurring characters’ problems, too. Which, for the sake of character growth throughout a series, makes this admirable, but ultimately, I’d like to see a little variety, too.

One other marvelous thing concerning character growth is the male lead himself: Ichiro. He’s a nine-year-old troublemaker who is constantly being punished, has horrible grades, and only thinks about having fun. Through use of getting to help spirits and learning about their experiences in life, he grows himself as a witness to these tragic tales. By series’ end, he becomes someone worth admiring, and someone who still retains his core personality while also remaining his age. The growth of Ichiro is marvelous, and while it isn’t always absolute, he always plays back to the feelings of others rather than himself, in spite of his immature ways.

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The structure of the anime, as I mentioned above, is rather episodic in nature. Lots of one-episode stories that play back-to-back at random points in time, with vague hints at time progression. Later on, stories will become two episodes long, with the final story being a whopping four episodes long. Interesting note about the way the stories are set up, too: the first episode ends on a cliffhanger, and immediately cuts to a different story as if it never happened. This confused the hell out of me, leaving me to look up the episode list to see if the website had made a mistake in episode order. Turns out, the first episode cliffhanger isn’t continued until episode thirteen. I found this incredibly strange, but otherwise intriguing. It also implies that the first episode is actually far into the fact that Ichiro can see ghosts, as the first episode also neglects to mention much about the accident or anything else from it, waiting until episode twelve to get that all settled.

I think characters are probably the biggest strength of this anime. There’s a charm to the feel-good atmosphere to this show, and everyone enjoys a happy ending. Seeing a happy ending five hundred times is kind of grating, but that may just be me. I can see why this anime, while underviewed, is rated so well. It’s very sentimental and relies on tragic tales with happy endings for the bulk of its mass. People eat that shit up. The recurring characters all have their own weight to the story at some point or another, and even when the spotlight isn’t on them, they make themselves known to exist, which is a nice touch. I feel the series is a story nurtured with wanting to be a pleasing, healing anime, focusing on dealing with tragedies and the lives we all have to live and being able to choose how to live them. Lots of “parents telling kids how to live their lives” plots in this anime…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect a lot from this show based on the cover alone. I thought it would be a childish display of trying to pull my heartstrings with calming shots at nature and kids being stupid kids. Turns out the kids share the roles with adults in terms of importance, creating an environment that doesn’t chastise nor cherish the decisions made by people throughout their lives, so long as they find their solace at any point during, or after their lives. It is, essentially, an anime telling people to be happy, while displaying the simplistic and realistic design of an anime from years ago as a sort of selling point. Does it sell? It does for me. It could for you, too.

Personal Score: B

Critical Score: B-

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Thoughts on Tsuritama (Spoilers)

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It doesn’t have much flare to it at first glance, and it has the audacity to not put any female characters on the cover(!); Tsuritama is an anime that’s a little more involved than others of its kind.

To the more experienced anime-goer, the name Kunihiko Ikuhara is a common favorite among those who like their anime with glamour and substance. With titles like Mawaru PenguindrumShoujo Kakumei Utena, and Yuri Kuma Arashi, Ikuhara has become well-known for his heavy emphasis on symbolism and over-the-top displays of color, sexuality, and seemingly nonsensical plot or characters. Personally, I feel Ikuhara’s work indulges in his clichés far too often for me to find much enjoyment out of (I’ve had Penguindrum on-hold for years and dropped Yuri Arashi), but I’d much rather have the anime industry at least try to have the standard of creativity that Ikuhara places in all his projects.

The reason I’m mentioning any of this is because Tsuritama is an example of a show that does just that; has a good variety of creativity while mixing aspects of symbolism into its premise. Not to mention, very entertaining.

I plan to spend a good chunk of this entry explaining the ways I feel this anime is symbolic and of what, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, skip down to the second to last paragraph or so. In any case, the story is about a teenage boy named Yuki who moves to Enoshima, a small island just off the shore of Japan, with his grandmother. The anime takes note that Yuki moves around all the time, establishing that Yuki has no sense of “home” anywhere in particular but wherever he is with his grandmother. Upon his first day of school, it is revealed that Yuki has a strange flaw to his character: whenever he’s put under stress, he makes a wild, tiki-like face as his face turns as red as his hair. It’s easy to see that Yuki is afflicted with a low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, partially because of this flaw or the flaw is attached to him because of it. Insert Haru, a strange boy who claims to be an alien that attaches himself to Yuki on the basis that he needs him to go fishing with him. How bizarre.

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There are also two other characters that become important in Tsuritama: Natsuki, a loner and dubbed “Fishing Prince” of Enoshima, and Akira, an Indian(!) adult in his mid-twenties (or so he claims) who works for a secret organization to monitor Haru’s activities. Together, these four make up the major cast of the series, and provide a collective link to the central character Yuki and his inner person. As I’ve stated before, Yuki is a young boy who has no self-esteem or confidence in himself. He’s constantly moving from place to place and doesn’t know the feeling of camaraderie between friends or any sense of identity for himself aside from the negative ones. He’s essentially a slab of clay that has yet to be touched by the hands of the sculptor. He’s the perfect starting point for character growth and development. Insert Haru, who establishes himself as a strange and uncharacteristically optimistic boy who knows nothing about anything but his own drive to pursue his passion of fishing. Quite a combination, huh? I suspect a reason for that.

But before I dive into the core of things, allow me to also establish the characters of Natsuki and Akira. Natsuki is a loner and a pre-established pro at fishing. His personality comes off as gruff and uncooperative, almost like a boy with conflicts within his family that influence his judgment of others outside the boundaries of just family members. By his debut, he’s already as good as he can be at fishing, giving him the “mentor” role among the cast. Akira’s motivations are entirely through observing Haru. With his involvement in a secret organization, he’s unsurprisingly skeptical and all business. Prior to his direct involvement with the three others, he’s usually seen lurking in the background, watching and listening to everything going on. He also has a “pet” duck named Tapioca, who never leaves his side and can apparently speak to Akira. Also, the organization he works for is called “Duck.” They even have poses.

In my speculative mind, these four characters make up a single being. In this case, the single being is Yuki, with Haru, Natsuki, and Akira being a representation of himself in different settings. Haru is his inner desire for ambition, goal-seeking, and need for companionship. His charismatic personality quickly makes him a popular person within Enoshima, specifically to people he comes into the most contact with. His tireless pursuit for Haru’s company and his involvement with fishing presents Yuki’s innate desire to break out of his shell. Whenever Yuki fails or becomes flustered by his facial flaw, Haru is present to snap him out of it and push him more towards his goal. Forcefully, sure, but with the best of intentions, I assure you.

Natsuki is Yuki’s goal. He is the person that Yuki looks to become, and the inspiration of his desire to fish. Natsuki’s constant challenging allows him to become better acquainted with the difficulties of fishing and to show that following through with a goal or striving to pursue a passion shouldn’t be a one-step program. The level of talent and the image of Natsuki serves as the placeholder for Yuki’s ambition and also allows for Natsuki to open up through use of similar interests.

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Akira is the symbol of Yuki’s ever-present doubt and complacency. His hesitance to directly approach anyone is like that of a shadow that will never leave. And the fact that his goal is to observe Haru, the figment of Yuki’s ambition and drive, makes the polar opposites all the more fitting. There’s even one scene in episode three(?) where Yuki is trying to cast bait into a pail some ten meters in front of him. After many fruitless attempts to land the bait inside, Akira actually comes up to him and asks why he doesn’t just give up. That is strong evidence to show his symbol of complacency. And hey, I finished Welcome to the NHK! recently and that seems to have influenced my image of “secret organizations” to some degree.

There is also a distinct irony in the setting of Tsuritama. Something I neglected to mention earlier is that whenever Yuki begins to show mannerisms of his facial flaw, a square image of water begins to submerge him. That’s easy enough; nervous people do express a feeling of drowning whenever they’re put under stress. But seeing as the goal provided in the series is fishing, an activity so predicated on water itself, almost gives a sense of overcoming one’s fears. Not to mention, fishing involves catching creatures that are the complete opposite of Yuki in this case: beings with a (albeit unconscious) sense of identity and feeling of comfort in a particular environment. One could make the case that fishing is symbolic of Yuki trying to “fish” himself out from drowning in his own self-loathing or stress.

However, the entire series isn’t completely symbolic. All that I’ve mentioned previously is within the first half of the show. In looking at it that way, this show is broken up into two parts: the character based, symbolically-charged first half, and the plot based, emotionally-charged climax of the second half. I found the first half of the show to be far superior for all that I’ve mentioned above, but the likability of the cast isn’t lost upon the stripping of their symbolic nature. The show, by its end, is still an enjoyable and pleasing one, but also one that tends to dip itself inside the proverbial bowl of liquid cliché. To be fair, a lot of things that arise out of the plot by show’s end are foreshadowed by things present in the first half, so it’s not like it pulls anything out of the ocean randomly. However, I can’t help but challenge the closeness of the main four by series’ end, specifically with Akira. There wasn’t a lot of time to showcase his experiences with them, and he seems to have become a trusted member of their pact either off-screen or by default awfully quick. It leaves much to be desired out of the inevitable “last (insert activity here)” between characters who bond through said mutual interest.

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Otherwise, the only genuine flaw I have with Tsuritama is that is doesn’t have much of a… spark to it, I suppose. It doesn’t have much of a hook to it nor does it have any sense of entertainment for those who aren’t accustomed to looking underneath the surface. I enjoyed this anime greatly, but for those who aren’t quick to appreciate symbolic changes of standards, there isn’t much for them to take in. Perhaps the more relatable issues that arise out of Natsuki’s homelife or Yuki’s grandmother’s musings, but that’s about it, off-hand. I don’t feel the character interaction is strong on its own and the overall design isn’t exactly eye candy. I guess the “underdog” story is handled well enough.

Speaking of design, before I wrap up this whopper of a post, allow me to further explain Tsuritama‘s style of art. It has a lot of quirky kinks to it, like spinning triangles in mid-air and chibi-like alien UFO designs. There’s a lot the animators took advantage of to strengthen both the symbolism and the overall experience. However, it only really applies to those situations, as the characters, while memorable-looking, aren’t anything spectacular. The fish seem glazed over and the overall environment isn’t exactly breath-taking. In a word, it’s “passable” on a pragmatic level, but it overexceeds itself in a creative sense, which I feel makes up for most other choices. I did feel some characters looked too much alike, like, well, any female character not including Yuki’s grandmother. And putting aside characters that are drenched in zaniness, such as Akira and Haru, the overall design is, again, passable at best.

I chose to watch this anime because I had it on my Plan to Watch list for a while, and I wanted something a little different after indulging in Princess Lover. Not only did I get exactly what I imagined, but I got something a lot more worthwhile as well. Tsuritama is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking series about the troubles of escaping one’s shell and finding one’s place in life. It’s also got aliens and dragons and secret organizations named after a duck, so you’ve got that angle working for you. It blends the symbolic and the realistic well within the first half, but stumbles a bit later on, making the flaws present in the first half all the more apparent. Regardless, it’s a show I would recommend to just about any fan of anime, and would even recommend it as a starting anime for those new to the anime world. It may be just me, but by show’s end, I got a distinct Studio Ghibli feel from this anime. It’s probably the focus on aliens.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.