My Hero Academia: School Briefs, Vol. 1

By Kouhei Horikoshi and Anri Yoshi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Caleb Cook.

Shonen Jump series tend to have a lot of light novels based off their parent series, but just because those come out in Japan does not mean they are a success over there. Even Naruto, the juggernaut, had its post-series light novels quietly dropped after only three of the six books were out. But My Hero Academia is the new Juggernaut, the Deku to Naruto’s All Might, and so it seems appropriate that we give it a try with this first in a series of books about the “daily lives” of the cast. No major plot points, just fun. This book seems to take place around the 7th volume of the series, though if you haven’t read the 11th volume you may be spoiled for Bakugo’s mom. As that sentence indicates, the subject of this book is Parent’s Day, where out student heroes have to have the family visit. This being UA, the teachers have a surprise in store for them, however…

As you might guess, with a cast this big, not everyone gets a spotlight – even Bakugo is mostly sidelined. Not everyone is fond of Parent’s Day either, particularly Todoroki, who wants his mother to go but knows that she can’t, and really does NOT want his father to know about it at all. (Which leads to a great punchline at the end, that does not shy away from Endeavor being a horrible dad.) Fortunately, his sister is able to go. Meanwhile, Iida has tickets to an amusement park, and invites the main cast, but none of them can make it. So we end up with the odd foursome of Iida, Tokoyami, Kaminari, and Mineta. Meanwhile, Uraraka is trying to buy supermarket bargains (the book is great at reminding us how poor she is compared to the rest of the cast, particularly Yaoyorozu), but is distracted by an apparent shoplifter. And then there’s Parent’s Day itself, which turns out to be a lot more dramatic than the kids thought.

There’s good and bad in this volume. It’s trying to strike a balance between “engage new readers” and “write for fans of the series”, so there’s a lot of introductory stuff telling us who the cast is and how quirks work, etc. It makes it feel like a book that’s geared towards younger readers… were it not for Mineta, who is in this book quite a bit, and remains the worst thing about the series. Even something that is meant to be heartwarming, such as Tokoyami bonding with a lost little girl who’s scared of birds, gets ruined by Mineta saying that when she grows up, she’ll be a hottie and hitting on the girl’s mom. I hate him. He also drags Kaminari down with him, though that’s true in the manga as well. The book is best when it’s delving into things that Horikoshi has not had the time to really delve into, such as what’s it’s like for a child when their quirk first manifests (it can be terrifying), or enjoying the friendships of a group that is still learning about each other at this stage.

This is a fast read (don’t let the page count fool you, it’s short) and, Mineta aside, a lot of fun. There’s even a few touching scenes, particularly with Todoroki and Tokoyami. Fans of the series should like it quite a bit.

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, Vol. 1

By Hideyuki Furuhashi and Betten Court, based on the story by Kohei Horikoshi. Released in Japan as “Vigilante: Boku no Hero Academia Illegals” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump +. Released in North America by Viz.

My Hero Academia, the main series, is very explicitly based on the American concept of superheroes. And, despite the occasional foray into “yes, heroes really do die” and an examination of loss, for the most part it remains a very idealistic series that wears its heart on its sleeve. Therefore, there was absolutely room for a “grim and gritty” take on the Academia universe, though it won’t be featuring any of the main students. If Horikoshi read a lot of Superman, then (as he explicitly states in the author’s notes) Furuhashi is modeling this spinoff after Batman. And, given the design of the “let’s punch everything” vigilante Knuckleduster, it’s pretty clear we’re talking the Frank Miller Batman. That said, this is still My Hero Academia, so I don’t expect things to get completely hopeless. Mostly as, if the “mentor” figure is Batman, the “hero” is… well, Deku. Something the authors also explicitly admit.

Our hero is Koichi, who is in college and trying to hold down a part-time job. Unlike Izuku at the start of MHA, he DOES have a quirk – he can glide along the ground. Slowly. Most people think he resembles a cockroach. He spends his off time doing nice things like picking up litter, to the point where the neighborhood gives him the hero name “Nice Guy”. He also has run ins with a group of bullies… wait, he’s out of high school, so they get to be thugs – as well as a self-styled wannabe pop idol. And, thanks to a variety of circumstances, he also ends up trying to stop an underground drug trade, which makes people’s powers go out of control, turning them into villains, also also seems, very disturbingly, to be controlled by bees. But it’s OK. He can glide. The wannabe idol can jump really high, and then there’s Knuckleduster, who has no quirk, but is GOOD AT PUNCHING.

As I said, we’re dealing here with mostly original characters. Eraser Head shows up at one point to help compare and contrast the difference between licensed heroes and vigilantes, but the core of the series is our three “illegal” heroes. Of the three, Pop Step is the most problematic. My Hero Academia has been criticized a bit for having the female characters get less focus than the guys, and their costumes overly sexualizing them, and that’s not wrong. But over the course of the first volume, Pop Step is captured multiple times, threatened with rape, and the sadly very popular “covered from head to toe in gloop which probably reminds the reader of something”. Knuckle Duster fares better – he’s in the Frank Miller style, but it’s taking the good bits of Miller and leaving out all the claptrap. As for Koichi, he’s a nice kid, but so far is defined personality-wise as “Deku, only less shiny because this is a “grim and gritty” spinoff. He needs more oomph.

On the good side, the action sequences are very well handled here, and there are some nice creepy horror images with the bees. Vigilantes is a decent enough start for a MHA spinoff, and I hope it gives better development to its leads in future volumes. And stops having Pop Step get captured all the time.

My Hero Academia, Vol. 1

By Kohei Horikoshi. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

It has to be said, if you’re looking to succeed in Weekly Shonen Jump, ‘write the same thing as everyone else, only your way’ is a pretty good description of how to go about doing it. And to a degree, that’s what the author does with this new series. Even though the front cover parodies Marvel and DC Comics, and the kids are ‘superheroes’ in a Western sense, this is very much in the classic Jump mold – indeed, some of the amusing yet insane superpowers reminded me of the late lamented Medaka Box. Our hero as well is a sweet kid, the Naruto sort who starts off weak and bullied but will improve by leaps and bounds because he tries hard and refuses to back down when his principles tell him it’s wrong.

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Our hero Izuku (abbreviated to ‘Deku’ for reasons that Viz won’t explain because Jump titles don’t have endnotes) is the small guy on the cover, as you no doubt guessed. The world about 25-30 years ago evolved superpowers in about 80 percent of the population. And Izuku really, really loves superheroes – he’s pretty much an otaku. Sadly, he’s in the 20% that doesn’t have powers. This, naturally, leads to bullying on the part of all his school classmates, particularly Katsugi, who plays the role of the selfish ass quite well in this volume, though I suspect he will gain greater depth as the title goes on, particularly give his childhood past with Izuku.

Luckily, Izuku gets a superpower transferred to him from the other guy on the cover. Even more luckily, the power does not just magically make him a superhero – he has to go through an amusing and heartwarming training montage, complete with the usual ‘drag a refrigerator across the beach’ stuff, till he’s no longer a wimpy kid but rather a wimpy kid with a muscular build. And he doesn’t really get a chance to train with his powers, either – which means he’s in trouble when he applies to Superhero School, where the goal is to be awesome immediately.

Nothing here is really original, but also nothing here is really poorly done, either. The author has learned from Barrage, his previous series. Izuku is a bit of a shy coward without being unlikeable, All Might’s secret allows him to be hilarious as well as inspiring, and his new friend Ochako is cute, and not Shiemi from Blue Exorcist despite all appearances saying she is. The fight scenes look smooth and non-confusing, and there is actual tension as you wonder how this will get resolved – it also allows Izuku to be clever, which is the best way to advance when you also have cool superpowers. Add on a reluctant mentor and some random giant woman fanservice, and you can see exactly why this became a bit hit while Barrage was cancelled after 2 volumes.

If you want something you’ve never seen in Jump before… why do you read Jump, exactly? But if you want something light and fun, with potential for more, My Hero Academia may be right up your alley.