One of the grand traditions of anime is not the filler arc, but the film adaptation. No matter how obscure or unsuccessful a certain show may be, you can basically count on a movie getting released shortly after the series starts airing. Did that 26-episode series tie up all loose ends and leave no room for continuation? Enter the movie. Did the second season complete all major arcs and end things on a bittersweet moment? Now there’s a movie!
For the more popular series out there, multiple movies tend to get made. Just look at stuff like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, or even Bleach. There are a ton of films that may or may not be directly related to the series they are based on. It’s almost like these animators are being worked to the bone just to pander to fan expectations.
Enter My Hero Academia. An extremely popular modern anime, it was a no brainer for a film adaptation a few years back. Now we’re entering the second film and something has gone wrong. This is not the action-packed, humor-filled, light-hearted romp that Two Heroes was.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Release Date: December 20, 2019 (Japan), February 26, 2020 (USA)
Let me preface this review by saying that I’m not exactly into My Hero Academia. I was introduced to the series from the 2018 film Two Heroes by my friend. He really loves the anime and invited me to come see the American screening of it with him. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the film avoided typical anime movie tropes. It acted as a great introduction to the series for those completely out of the loop and featured some pretty solid animation to go along with its fight scenes.
Heroes Rising is not that film.
The beginning of the movie starts with a highway chase already in progress. Some villains are making off with important objects and it falls on the number one hero, Endeavor, to stop them. After an action scene that is entirely too brief and made on what looks like a shoestring budget, we learn those villains were copies of some kind and that the real threat was using it as a distraction to the heroes.
Cut to our main cast as they are getting assigned some new roles. Now that All Might, who was the former number one hero, has retired from duty, the class of 1-A is just about ready to be promoted to full-time heroes. They still need some training, so they are sent off to Nabu Island as a way to improve their skills. The island is mostly peaceful, but the point is that they’ll be completely on their own for the first time.
After what seems like an eternity of nothing happening (both in the film and in real-life), a very typical anime plot turn of villains appearing happens. Enter a mysterious figure named Nine and his merry band of misfits. With quirks that the class of 1-A hasn’t yet seen, Nine bears a striking resemblance to the great evil “All For One” that makes main hero Midoriya uneasy.
Trying to sum up the plot just a few days after seeing Heroes Rising is really quite difficult. Unlike the first My Hero movie, the narrative in this film ties directly into the events of season four from the anime. If you’ve only watched the first film -which was more of a substory than directly related to the anime-, prepare to be completely lost. None of that film’s events or moments are ever referenced and the lack of All Might is incredibly confusing. My friend did explain how All Might retired after years of service, but Heroes Rising is not as accommodating to newcomers as the last big-screen adaptation.
There’s a moment where it tries to catch you up, but it’s in a very lazy, almost comatose manner. The film recaps the basic story of My Hero Academia with dry narration, very limited animation, and still shots of characters looking all action-packed. This is one of those low-budget, “holy shit, we have to do something” kind of anime films.
My friend even kept mentioning how the general animation quality was practically lower than that of an average episode. You don’t need flashy drawings or a wallet-busting budget to make something special, but Heroes Rising really does feel phoned in. It’s telling that after 45 minutes, neither of us really even remembered why the heroes were running around Nabu Island anymore.
The biggest offense is that all of the funny and quirky interactions between each character are practically absent in Heroes Rising. Two Heroes showed Midoriya and Bakugo bantering with each other and forming a friendly rivalry. That, apparently, is a big part of the anime, but it feels forced here. Bakugo yells at Modoriya during the beginning, but then the plot continually throws exposition and keeps moving instead of letting any specific moment shine. It’s like everyone forgot about having fun or informing the audience what was happening.
The rest of the cast, too, is barely developed in any capacity. I’m struggling to remember names despite leaving Two Heroes knowing everyone. There’s a ton of “new” characters, but I could really only describe them by physical attributes. Bird guy, Ultimate Muscle knock-off, headphone lady: this film has no time for expanding on essential elements and would rather recap the backstory of a group of villains that mean nothing to My Hero Academia.
That last sentiment is probably the overall biggest issue with Heroes Rising: Nine is an incredibly ineffective villain. As the film explains, the man becomes weaker the more he uses his quirk. He can steal abilities from other people and is looking for a specific healing quirk, but the ultimate plan to take him down is to stage a war of attrition that makes him kill himself. Instead of that, though, he continuously gets stronger and I’m wondering if even the writers had no idea where to take him.
It doesn’t help that the budget seems to have been saved for the last fight scene. In a confusing mess of colors, flashes, punches, and crazy beams, the last action sequence is the only time you would know this is a film version of an anime. It comes way too late to make up for the middling pace, subpar writing, and lack of characterization, but I guess we got one cool moment.
I know I’m being a bit harsh on what is meant to be a movie made specifically for fans, but My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising really is one of those subpar anime movies. The general plot is just an excuse for everyone to be together again and for the writers to throw in references only die-hards would get. Anyone that saw the first film and was hoping for anything even remotely similar is going to be left confused and disappointed.
Your mileage will definitely vary on this one.