Since the birth of Japanese animation, thousands of action-anime (shounen) have come and gone, but only a handful have left a strong impression. One Punch Man, Dragon Ball, Fullmetal Alchemist, Hunter X Hunter, are a few of the small number that I consider memorable.
So when I read about a new shounen that is meant to be great, I find it easy to ignore the fanfare, believing it to be momentary hype.
Usually, the reason why these programmes fall short is systemic. The genre is action oriented; narrative and character development are pushed aside as it slows down the programme’s pace. It’s a shame as on the occasions when strong character development and action intertwine, the results are often potent.
Hunter X Hunter was great because the audience connected with Gon and Killua, wanting them to succeed as they were likeable, well developed characters. Similarly, one of the reasons why I love Fullmetal Alchemist is that the two lead characters have an unwavering desire to help each other return to their original bodies.
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Yes, both of these programmes have incredible action scenes, but these moments would have been less impactful if there was no emotional and narrative build up.
Boku No Hero Academia (BNHA) is another example of a shounen that hits all the right notes. Regularly combining humour, action, intelligent storytelling and heartfelt moments to tell the story of Midoriya and his friends.
The anime focuses on a class of future heroes who have come to UA Academy to develop their abilities. Each one having their own unique talent ‘quirks’ – ranging from powerful to weak. In this world, almost everyone is born with a quirk so, in a sense, everyone – and equally – no one is special.
Yet, even though the concept is interesting, BNHA could have very easily be cookie cutter. On the surface, most of the characters seem like well-worn genre archetypes, but dig a little deeper and it is clear they are all multi-layered, humanised individuals.
Midoriya, the protagonist, ascribes to numerous one dimensional zero to hero type clichés, but is unpredictable as he fights with intelligence and will purposely lose if he can help a friend. Similarly, his classmate Todoroki appears to be a cliché sully teen, but the viewer soon discovers that his anger is due to his troubled upbringing.
When he or any of his other equally likeable classmates battle with one another or a villain, it is enthralling to watch how they interact, create strategies and work together to solve problems. It is never clear who will be the victor or how that victory will be achieved.
This character build-up becomes even more rewarding during the second series as we continue to learn more about these characters. When one of them goes all out, it is usually preceded by a gratifying build-up over numerous episodes, leading to a satisfying conclusion. We know that they have worked hard to succeed, seen them fail and know their motivations behind their actions.
It is fine feat in a show where multiple heroes appear regularly and different characters weave in and out of narrative arcs, but that is part of the programme’s charm: an ability to quickly switch focus without it ever becoming forced or boring.
There have been more than a handful of occasions when I nearly stood up out of my seat due to anticipation. Each character has been fleshed out enough that I care about them and seeing intense conversations between two or more of them can be just as exciting as any action scene.
Colours play a huge role in this anime and the crackerjack animators at Studio Bones have done a hell of a job. When the energy is high, bright hues pop out from every angle, but during sadder moments, everything become less saturated.
However, even though the usage of colour is subtle enough that it never becomes jarring, the result is potent. One of the most effective scenes involves Midoriya’s hero, All Might, where intense swirls and splashes of neon hues, bright yellows, and a smorgasbord of colours bombard the viewer during the crescendo moment of a fight.
This, combined with a powerful orchestral score, the strong delivery of dialogue and facial animation that captures each character’s emotion, elevates Boku No Hero Academia from being an average anime to, potentially, being one of the greats.
Perhaps I am underselling it: only once or twice in my life have I been gripped by a TV show to the extent that I am hanging off every word, anxiously awaiting every battle, taking note of the days until the next episode is released, but BNHA has achieved that. Even better, it feels as if each week the show is becoming stronger, settling into a groove and, like its titular hero, aiming for the stars.