Monday, August 17, 2015

To Be a Real Hero

Recently I read through one of the more popular recent series in Japan's Shonen Jump magazine (essentially a magazine with comics aimed at boys) thanks to a friend lending me the first volume of the story. And let me tell you, even if Japan has been lacking in recent years in the anime department, My Hero Academia is a distillation of everything that appeals to me in not only manga but in stories as a whole.

My Hero Academia stars hopeless wannabe hero fanboy, Izuku Midoriya, who lives in a world where superpowers are so common, they comprise 80% of the world's population. There powers are called "Quirks" since almost everyone has a different one. All, that is, except our main character. You see, Quirks develop in early childhood and never at any other point which means he is destined to be normal since those without Quirks cannot be superheroes (so far, there doesn't appear to be a Batman like hero in the story to prove this wrong, so for now I'll go with it) and Izuku is a bit of a wuss as it is.

Though he's a big superhero fan to the point that he actively studies them and knows almost everything about them, he is bullied by a former childhood friend of his who has an incredible Quirk (he can uses his sweat to cause explosions) and sees Izuku, or Deku as he calls him, as merely a worthless pebble in his path. Nobody else thinks much of him, either, his own mother blaming herself for him not having a Quirk (which is not actually her fault, but she is fairly neurotic), but nobody telling him the one thing he wanted to hear.

Though everyone writes him off, one day everything changes. The "#1 Hero in the World", All Might, is in town battling a slippery villain that keeps getting away. A creature made of liquid, he tries to take control of Izuku's body before he is saved by All Might. The two meeting is what changes the course of Izuku's life and lets him learn that he can be a hero, after all.

What I enjoy most about this manga is that though he is a normal kid who has a penchant for being pushed around, he has a sense of justice of wanting to do the right thing. When all the heroes with superpowers are too scared to intervene for either vainglorious, petty, or legitimate, reasons, it is powerless Izuku Midoriya who runs out into the battlefield to save someone's life despite having no chance of succeeding. All Might is inspired by what has occurred and offers him a chance to be a hero for real. All he has to do is have All Might's power passed on to him.

This is is only the first volume, meaning it mainly centers on Izuku getting his powers by earning them and taking an exam to enter the most prestigious hero school in the world, but even here you grow to like the characters. Izuku is not only smart, but he's very admirable, constantly facing impossible odds with all he has despite being scared out of his mind. All Might is a hero who is experienced and knows the trials of being a hero and doing the right thing, he educates Izuku on how it is not about being "cool" or popular, but about being good-- and that is the hardest thing in the world to do.

It's pretty funny, as well. There are a lot of weird powers and comedic bits based on Izuku's natural cravenness and All Might's image as a "super cool hero who saves people with a smile", not to mention well-timed comedic pratfalls as well. What absolutely floors me is the lack of raunchy humor or over the top gore which had become more common in recent manga. To be sure there are jokes about girls being from a different world and some violent scenes where blood is drawn and bone or two is broken but it isn't graphic at all but well in the natural world of the story. As far as it goes is a woman heroine called Mt. Lady who can increase her size to be a giant and people commenting on how beautiful she is. That's pretty much it. It's less explicit than a Silver Age comic book.

I have been reading recent chapters in the North American version of Shonen Jump, which releases new chapters at the same time they are released in Japan, and I can say without reservation that it keeps up its pace or heroes trying to be good and stopping the villains who merely want to destroy. I have to hand it to Kohei Horikoshi for creating a series for everyone that has such universal appeal. This is not something that comes around every day.

All in all, I heartily recommend My Hero Academia to anyone who enjoys a good action adventure story. Though it's still rather new, it is probably the best popular manga currently running. It is certainly the one with the most heart and a real breath of fresh air compared to certain other trashy series out there.

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