To most American audiences, the Japanese anime franchise “My Hero Academia” would seem strange as a superhero show.
Sure, it possesses many tropes we associate with superhero fiction. However, the premise proves an odd fit for conventional heroes. In the “Academia” world, most people possess powers, or “quirks,” and many of them are weird, bizarre or downright uncanny.
For example, the hero-student speedster Tenya Iida has literal engines in his calves, complete with exhaust ports.
Yet, the animated series, based on the bestselling “Shonen Jump” manga “Boku no Hīrō Akademia,” produced two film spin-offs. The second, “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising,” propelled itself to the number one spot at the American box office on its opening night.
It quickly rose to the eighth highest-grossing anime in the United States, knocking out popular series ‘Dragon Ball Z’ from the top ten.
Compare that to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey,” the recent continuation of the Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe which includes Batman and Superman.
With Margot Robbie returning to the title role, an aggressive marketing campaign and a budget of $100 million, many thought it would be the next big hit. That wasn’t the case. The film barely broke even, suffering from a reported title change following its release.
Made on a shoe-string budget, “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising,” by comparison, was a larger financial success than “BOP.”
How did a film spin-off from a Japanese animated series gain a comparative victory over a franchise that had all of the power of a gigantic Hollywood conglomerate behind it?
There are two very simple reasons.
For one, Studio Bones, the company responsible for the “My Hero Academia” show, avoids getting entangled in politically correct quagmires while still staying socially conscious. This has sometimes been to their detriment, with angry SJW commentators making claims of misogyny after a female character was slightly redesigned from manga to animation to appear “bustier,” according to the accusers.
Fans rallied in support of the show and the outrage mob died down, though the latter launched other attacks. Despite this, the creators continue to bring quality content and compelling plots, earning a growing fanbase.
On the flip side, the creators behind “Birds of Prey” were quick to tout their “ally” status to the politically correct audience. In doing so, they sacrificed character development and clever writing to score cheap points with social media snobs who likely never read the source material. This put a bad taste in the mouth of longtime fans of the DC Comics superhero team.
SJWs did not back down.
They claimed that “toxic fandom” was behind a conspiracy to sabotage the movie due to its mostly female cast. That only further alienated the fanbase, leading to a backlash that ultimately sank the film.
The second is that “My Hero Academia” avoids tampering with their legacy characters, knowing fans cheer them on in times of hardship or the heat of battle.
Mainstream American comic book companies seem to revel in mocking their fans, claiming they are “subverting” their expectations. Both DC and Marvel Comics have been accused of taking beloved longtime characters such as Captain America or Batman and ruining their legacies with retcons that favor more “diverse and inclusive” characters that readers have rejected as poorly contrived.
As more fans complain about these changes happening at DC and Marvel, the companies refuse to back down, continuing the trend and choosing to rely on sales of their film adaptions and rereleases of older content to keep them afloat. They also seem to be in denial that fans have begun to turn to indie comics and, dare I say, manga and anime for content.
“My Hero Academia” creator Kōhei Horikoshi and the writing staff take great care of the writing for the characters. For instance, the protagonist Izuku Midoriya was born with no quirk, but he desires to follow in the footsteps of the “symbol of peace” All-Might.
At first, the hero turns the boy away, but after seeing the powerless boy rush in to save a friend without thought of his own safety, he takes the young man as an apprentice. He gives the boy his power “One For All” which gives Midoriya incredible strength and speed.
During their arc, All-Might, though he has comedic moments, is not maligned or given the politically correct treatment. Thus, when it comes time for him to pass the mantle of the “symbol of peace” to Midoriya, you don’t feel cheated, you nod your head in understanding.
That goes for the supporting cast as well. The female characters are not forced on you or made to be mannish caricatures in the vein of “Birds of Prey.” Instead, the girls’ femininity is presented as strength. The same for the male characters and masculinity. They’re not treated as toxic, but as young men who are looking up to the heroes who are ahead and allowing themselves to be mentored.
Are they perfect? No, but they’re compelling and even inspiring at times.
As comic book companies sales droop, “My Hero Academia” and other Shonen Jump titles continue to thrive, even creating a spin-off book series. As interest in superhero flicks wain, the anime, which was only meant to be three seasons, just got renewed for a fifth.
The success speaks for itself.
The comic book pros of America have forgotten what creating those meaningful characters can do for both fans and casual readers. They should look to the example that is being set or they’ll be left behind.
Jacob Airey is an author, nerd culture commentator, political writer, videographer and pop culture critic. He started his website in 2012 where he covers a vast variety of topics including movies, television and comic books. He is also the author of the fantasy novel “The Seven Royals: All Good Things.” You can follow him on Twiiter @RealJacobAirey