While superhero fiction has arguably reached an over-saturation point, Studio Bones’ adaptation of My Hero Academia has consistently stood out through incredible animation, strong battle shonen trappings, and an abundance of heart. The series’ latest film, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising embodies all of these traits, an indulgent montage of high-octane action choreography that once again demonstrates what Bones can do with the budget and time provided by a feature-length film. It’s a visual feast from start to finish that playfully pushes the bounds of what can be expected from this type of side-story movie.
For those not in the know, My Hero Academia tells the story of a superhuman society in which the vast majority of its populous have some sort of special ability, known as a Quirk. We follow Izuku Midoriya, a student at the prestigious hero school U.A., as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of his idol and mentor All Might. This particular tale follows the members of class 1-A as they are tasked with overseeing hero duties on a small idyllic island. At first, they carry out various mundane tasks to help the townsfolk, but it doesn’t take long until a selfish anarcho-primitivist appears to carry out his destructive agenda.
Alone and cut off from the outside world, our band of high schoolers need to survive against a cadre of deadly villains. As can be surmised from the plot, the movie is mostly a non-stop barrage of stylish fight scenes, animated with the type of verve and sense of impact that has made the show such a treat for fans of action series. The collision of fists, the concussive force of explosions, the thud of propelled bodies all convey a constant sense of momentum and kinetic energy. The action is directed with a sense of clarity and panache, myriad unique powers being showcased in tandem without muddling the frame.
The unrelenting power of the villains comes across through brutal violence and dramatic framing. Here our young heroes are battered, sliced, and blasted, giving everything they have in defense of their ideals. In many ways, the film functions as a satisfying payoff for the physical and emotional development we’ve witnessed for these characters, as the members of class 1-A are force to utilize every ounce of training and personal growth gained thus far. The students use their powers together in ingenious ways, fighting back against their enemies’ raw strength with guile and ingenuity. In one scene, an elaborate sequence of distractions makes the most of each individuals quirk, culminating in a decisive blow. In another, Quirks combine into a dazzling display of elemental destruction as the Earth is blasted apart. One of the unique strengths of animation is that it allows us to see anything and everything that the mind can conjure, and this film certainly takes advantage of these possibilities with fantastical battles that boast impossible acrobatics and abilities.
In terms of emotional stakes, Heroes Rising mostly leans on previously established character development and themes. It probably goes without saying that this film should likely only be watched by those who follow the show, as there isn’t much time for narrative between the lengthy fight sequences. But even still, the film hits on the ideas that define the series’ pathos, conveying the inspirational power of heroism with heartfelt sincerity. Our heroes aren’t only fighting for their lives and the lives of others, they are fighting for a fragile ideal. In a society that constantly stands on the brink of annihilation due to the proliferation of Quirks, these young heroes must show the next generation that their abilities should be used in the service of others rather than to pursue selfish goals. This sentiment doesn’t come across as an empty platitude, and the bombastic showdowns overwhelming affirm these guiding principles by showing us how these acts of selflessness affect two young siblings at the center of the story.
Unfortunately, the villains’ rationale comes across as quite flimsy in comparison. While this group of “big bads” boasts imposing powers that amplify the fight scenes, their ideology boils down to shallow “new world order” and “the strong deserve to kill the weak” babbling. Delving into their backstories with more nuance could have offered at least a sliver of moral ambiguity, and in the past, the series has done a good job injecting some degree of humanity into its antagonists. While their strength and resolve is demonstrated consinstantly throughout, these villains’ motives lack depth.
But even considering these fumblings, Heroes Rising manages to succinctly showcase the series’ core ideals amidst non-stop battle sequences. Although this type of side-adventure film is inherently limited by the fact that it cannot have huge ramifications on the greater narrative of the show, Bones pushes the boundaries on this premise. The conclusion is an audacious spectacle that seems ill-advised in premise but is so boldly executed in its kaleidoscopic glory, that it transcends the need for internal consistency. In a world defined by uncertainty and fear, we need the sort of clear-eyed optimism that beats at the heart of this story. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising doesn’t merely tell us that heroism is inspirational, it shows us as its young heroes pass on the torch of empathy and self-sacrifice to the next generation.