Fair warning: I make my distaste for various aspects of the show-in-focus very clear, as well as my eternal dislike for Naruto. While I do operate under the reality that I write with just my opinion at the forefront, without any sense of condescension towards those who loved these shows, I expect some feelings to be rather bruised, if those individuals don’t appreciate alternate perspectives.
Also, I’m writing without any knowledge of the Boku no Hero Academia manga material.
First, some bone-picking with Naruto
Naruto exists as one of my least favourite anime main characters ever. Naturally, it’s not just what’s inside this so-called underdog’s skull and guts that annoys me, but literally every fibre of external existence that surrounds him. The narrative and fictional constructs of the Leaf Village (and the Ninja world by extension) itself pretty much establishes an eventual melting pot of exaggerated prejudice that failed to provoke any sense of sympathy from me, despite my well defined philosophies and world views that considers stereotypical, racial and religious hatred and discrimination to be pathetically shallow, intellectually unaware, and just basically swine-shit pitiful. Nevertheless, instead of wanting to pat Naruto on the back when he gets knocked over the 57th time by the same bad guy, I honestly wanted to squeeze myself into the monitor, walk over to the battered and whiskered face, and just finished the job myself. Putting him out of his misery was pretty much the best thing that could’ve happened to him, had it not being for that mystical Armour of Sacred Plot, of which he always dons. Shame it didn’t improve his common sense stats.
Sympathy is a well-known tool that storytellers utilise when trying to attract audiences: the everyday man character is fighting for the hopes and beliefs of the reader, so naturally, the emotional need to follow alongside the main character as he/she goes through every trial and tribulation all the way to the end, establishes the groundworks of the relationship between the storybook hero and the bed-ridden child, who stayed up well beyond sleep time to finish the story.
Here’s the thing: relatability needs to work in both ways. The Shounen genre main character-in-question needs to possess enough handicaps for him to require some hard musclin’ to succeed, but at the same time, he should be capable enough to not hint at a need for intense pity, which is an emotive disease that’s akin to pedestrians avoiding eye contact with a street beggar: an audience’s refusal of recognition of existence is not a good way to go for a main character. I failed to find Naruto appealing as a character, because he was an intensely unbalanced creation that somehow manages to mix in the worst elements of BOTH extremes: he possesses the spirit of a demon, which grants him immediate power boosts that’s above pretty much every character around him, but at the same time, his pathetically bone-headed personality and a serious lack of common sense, makes me want to throw a handful of spare change into his empty ramen bowl, without even wanting to sneak a second glance at his face.
Now, with the introductions of the major themes complete, and with the knowledge, that I actually found the first episode of Boku no Hero Academia largely enjoyable and well-suited for weekly viewings thus far, allow me to dig a little further into the narrative tics that prompted me to pen such a negative-sounding title.
Yes the world is shit, don’t try to make it any more obvious!
Much like One-Punch Man, Boku no Hero showcases a world where superheroes have become the norm within society, where hoards of super powered beings fights evil on a daily basis, motivated by the promise of fame and compensation from the media and the government. However, as a result, the established frames of this relationship between the heroes and society, means constant competition between heroes for public status ranking. Almost immediately, Boku no Hero starts to flex its social commentary muscles, that attempts to analyse the celebrity paradigm of the world’s social ranking conventions. But, as a bonus, the plot point of our main character being one of the 20% of the population not to develop superpowers, means a brutal streak of discrimination is about to come our way as well.
From the get go, the world showcased by the title, is one of disdain and stains with unlikability: despite its surface of bright paints and extravagant style, the guts reeks of extreme depictions of the worst of societies, showcased in the most exaggerated formats possible: a new superhero subverting an old guard, by show up the size of a building, with her curvy ass right on display, playing to the crowds and the press. Then there’s the oh-so-overused class bully who has an extreme case of self-superiority, and students who seem to be destined to be grown up as supremacist Nazis. So yes, on a purely emotional-response level, the world’s first impressions on me does not appeal in a manner that’s akin to curiosity and a desire to see the main character change its self-perception. Rather, its unlikability stems from its utterly unrealistic proportions. Put simply: shallow and unlikable world building.
Social commentary on discrimination and social injustice are in my opinion, best depicted in a manner that’s akin to normality: by introducing these elements in methods that mirror real life, the painful obviousness of those depictions on screen; without being overly throat-shoved and hind-lighted; makes the afterthought reflections even more effective, when it comes to getting the point across. Grand Theft Auto V’s vast game world is a realistic parody of everything American (and by extension, the western world as a whole): its characters and world’s organically assholish demeanours are so alike to our real life counterparts, that we can’t help, but be amused and disgusted with the bullshit that our lives deal us with on a daily basis, as a result of being subjected to humorous world building elements that throws Social Darwinism’s disgusting shit stained body in our faces, without us realising at first.
Yes, it has only been 20 minutes into this apparently highly anticipated manga adaptation. But this is called first impressions for a reason: we humans are slaves to our primitive needs to judge things on sight: some of us eventually learn to peel beyond the surface layers, but that knee-jerk need to form immediate assumptions sleeps in all of us: a potentially good tool for creators to utilise, if they know how to make us like, or at least be fascinated with the world they are presenting, the moment the screen’s pixels light up with their artworks.
Beyond that however, Boku no Hero Academia’s rather outward sense of style, was certainly more than enough to smoothly sail over rough waves and into my weekly watch list. Allow me to muse on a little further.
My Still-kicking Fascination with Moral Figureheads
Unlike the above discussion with exaggerated depictions of discrimination, figureheads for good always seems to have a much better time with convincing me to like something: campy ‘Captain America’s and ‘Superman’s? Why not?
Of course, it has to be noted, I like some of the optimistically singsong elements of the above mentioned superheroes, purely because of their nostalgically treasured presence in my childhood. My favourite superhero movies nowadays, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron (Yes, I actually like the sequel more. Another post for another time, perhaps) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all had moments of downtime mundanity: Cap’s morning run gag, the dinner party, which was the home of well-known hero figures, arguing over the legitimacy of Thor’s hammer, and of course, the rag-tag band of misfits of the Guardians. Yes, darker elements of grit do exist, but its the former moments of everyday interactions that help supplement the more thriller-esque feelings of danger.
I feel mounts of tension during the excellently varied action scenes of The Winter Soldier, because I care about Cap, since he lives in a world that is more morally ambiguous; he’s a man out of his time. His heroic disposition is his moral naivety; he still believes in serving perfect justice, and bring about peace in the traditional manner and fashion. The reason I find Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe my favourite main hero, is because of his cautious optimism: he’s realistic in his beliefs, yet still believes in them unnervingly.
Which brings me back to Boku no Hero again. All Might’s presence in the first episode was certainly a bright spot: beyond the vaguely hidden word play of ‘all right ‘ and ‘the almighty’, his sparing presence in the episode almost demonstrates an muted sense of respectable homage to the superhero story genre being an cultural representation of the American Dream: he embodies the heart and soul of a hero, one that ensures the public, that everything’s ‘all right’, and he’s the fist of the almighty. With the ending hook that features a bleeding All Might, I have a feeling that this character will be integral in the overall plot progression of the show. It would be interesting to see how a perfect moral compass plays with the interactional climate of the cast.
As a Shounen lead character, Izuku rides a fine line between an optimistic dreamer and a pitiful fantasist: having being told the inevitiability of his status below the 80% of the population that develops superpowers, his unnerving desire to become a hero anyway was met with understandable (but like I said above, MONUMENTALLY overblown) backlashes from classmates, doctors and teachers alike. It would be totally reasonable for him to give up trying. However, what Izuku has over Naruto, is that he actually shows human fear: he couldn’t bring himself to fight with the class bully (I refuse to acknowledge that blond creature by name), he’s a booksmart fanatic of superhero stats, but couldn’t bring himself to confidently ask All Might about his chances at making it in the hero business: his reactions to his situations are perfectly human and understandable, even if his goals and desires are akin to a human desiring to fly without any aid. In that sense, I am willing to throw myself behind Izuku’s back, and hopefully cheer him on, if his situation doesn’t get any worse; after which I may have to give up as well (hey, don’t judge, I’m an optimist, partially grounded by realist reason).
Anyways, that was my INCREDIBLY long reactions to Boku no Hero Acadmia’s first episode. Like I expected, I had a lot to say about it. Overall, as the Shounen title of the season, I will be following it weekly with relatively high expectations; as I do when it comes to most Bones productions. Also, take this as a little insight into my views on anime world building and discrimination’s portrayal in multiple mediums, and how I feel they can be better polished for more impact, both on a social commentary and on an entertainment manner.