My Hero Academia gets more popular by the day and with Heroes Rising, the franchise’s second (and notably larger) trip to the theaters, it’s easy to see why. Thanks to creator Kōhei Horikoshi‘s blowout battles, drama both cute and cutting and, if we’re being honest, a supremely whimsical imagination when it comes to quirks, the superhero manga turned anime has a following that could rival either of the Big Two’s.
Heroes Rising takes MHA’s best aspects and builds on all of them. The cast returns to form by focusing on class 1-A, who the anime is just beginning to catch back up with. Per usual, their relationships range from pure and adorable to explosive and tense (mostly looking at you, Bakugo). When the time comes for 1-A to prove its mettle against the newly introduced Nine and his team of villains, Bones Animation Studio delivers with precise combos that even the X-Men would be jealous of. And hey, Mineta, the eternal Achilles’ heel, isn’t nearly as bad as he could be. Interweave some extra character development and a final sequence that’ll put you on your feet, and Heroes Rising is just about everything a fan could hope for.
Unfortunately, it does fall for just about all the pitfalls of a feature film like this one. First and foremost, it’s hard to create stakes in a story that a portion of the fanbase may never see, and the plot is aware of that fact. Not seeing this movie won’t hinder your watching of the anime in any way because its main takeaways are null by the time the credits roll – but at the same time, watching this movie means accepting the fact that its stakes are relatively toothless. It’s a bit jarring, especially in juxtaposition with the mid-season finale of the show’s most recent season. But, admittedly, it’s difficult to care about that when you’re too busy, laughing, smiling and intermittently picking your jaw up off the floor.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way and take a look at Heroes Rising’s new villain, Nine (Yoshio Inoue/Johnny Yong Bosch). Given the aforementioned stakes struggles, any antagonist is going to have a tough time, but when it comes to this Bane-looking baddy, his biggest issue is an identity crisis.
Although there are definite explanations in the plot, Nine lacks the depth and ingenuity we’ve come to expect from My Hero Academia when it comes to both quirks and motives. Prior to discovering his motivations, the mystery there seems worthwhile. Though, with each new bit of information, the most obvious answer quickly becomes more and more clear. Nine’s villain monologues will sound familiar. Not only in general, but inside the series itself, too. Characters go as far as pointing it out themselves. But, when it comes time to cash that check, Nine comes up short; a middling attempt at trying to connect the feature with the show’s continuity, without being too relevant. It’s far from crippling, but in the moments in between, Nine’s shortcomings are hard not to think about.
Luckily, character designer Yoshihiko Umakoshi goes hard on every other new personality. The cigar chomping Chimera (Shunsuke Takeuchi) is a definite favorite of mine, tropes and all. He’s gruff, a literal wolf boy, wears a trench coat and is exactly the type of person you would expect from that description. He’s a delight to say the least. Nine’s other cronies, Mummy (Kousuke Toriumi) and Slice (Mio Imada), have their own set of imaginative quirks as well and make for some especially dope action scenes (I’m looking at you Tokoyami). Just like in the anime, as soon as these characters appear on screen, you’ll be counting the seconds until the next piece of insight on who they are and what they’re capable of.
The same is true for the movie’s cutest character additions, Mahoro (Tomoyo Kurosawa/ Dani Chambers) and Katsuma (Yuka Terasaki/Maxey Whitehead). Without giving too much away, the two kids quickly become a large part of Heroes Rising as Mahoro, the protective older sister and Katsuma, the shy little brother, get to know the cast. Their relationship with class 1-A is at first dubious as Mahoro tries to test their capabilities as heroes and Bakugo (Nobuhiko Okamoto/Clifford Chapin), as is tradition, blows up in the best way while Deku (Daiki Yamashita/ Daiki Yamashita) runs damage control. What results is a revealing contrast of approaches that subtly redirects narrative attention back on Deku and Bakugo. Even though we’ll likely never see Mahoro and Katsuma again, by the time the credits roll they’ve made a lasting impact on the relationship between the two rivals (or boyfriends if you so stan).
Unfortunately, Heroes Rising does seem to favor one over the other in its final scene. Just as the water works begin, there’s a pause and a definite knee-jerk with the realization that, yes, that’s all there is. This is, admittedly, the one moment where something feels physically missing from the resolution. That said, the door is left open here. If Mahoro and Katsuma ever turn up again, hopefully MHA shows a little more love to the forgotten sibling.
Now, a moment for My Hero Academia’s all-important battle scenes. Director Kenji Nagasaki punctuates them throughout Heroes Rising, making for a balanced pacing. Given that there are four villains of considerable power, the kids have no choice but to isolate them. So, rest assured that at some point, your favorite member of class 1-A will get their moment in the sun and it will be awesome. Sero (Kiyotaka Furushima/Christopher Bevins), Mineta (Ryô Hirohashi/Brina Palencia) and Yaoyorozu (Marina Inoue/Colleen Clinkenbeard), for instance, set up a Rube Goldberg machine of an onslaught. Jiro (Kei Shindou/Trina Nishimura), Kaminari (Tasuku Hatanaka/Kyle Phillips) and Ojiro (Kousuke Miyoshi/Mike McFarland) hold absolutely nothing back in a final bid and it’s all highlighted by a Deku and Bakugo team-up that can only be topped by their season 3 face-off. Ironically, Nine’s over the top capabilities are a huge part of that spectacle. Bones Animation handles all of this as cleanly and with as much fervor as anything else that comes out of that studio; in other words, hold onto your popcorn for the climax of Heroes Rising.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is a pure dopamine rush of friendship and Shonen showdowns. Funnily enough, a large part of that is thanks to the fact that its resolution has little to no bearings on the anime. Letting go of some of those stakes lets this movie take some seriously wild turns that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I want to be frustrated with the fact that characters literally forget events from Heroes Rising for no reason other than plot demands – but it is so so worth it.
As we wrap up, let’s put Heroes Rising’s climax in perspective. Horikoshi is quoted saying that the premise of this film is one that he originally intended as a finale to the manga. Over the course of watching, you may presume that comment has to do with the fact that class 1-A is on its own, defending an island from villainy and becoming a real hero crew. By the time the movie ends, you will realize you were probably wrong and that (at least what I assume) what Horikoshi is hinting at takes place much later and in the most epic way possible. So epic that it begs the question: what in God’s name is he going to do instead of this?
So, you could go on and live your life without having seen Heroes Rising and your continued My Hero Academia viewing will go on unaffected. Or, you could go and see this movie and, at the risk of being extremely corny, have a new understanding of what it means to be plus ultra. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising hits theaters on February 26.