After a break that felt like forever, My Hero Academia is back. Like me, you were probably excited for a fresh adventure with the kids of UA High’s hero course. Like me, maybe you were left still and blank faced, like an animatronic waiting for the next cart of riders to drift by. But hey, it’s totally possible that while you were waiting for the third season premiere of this popular series, you forgot the plot and all of the characters. In that case, this episode has you covered.
Thinly veiled in a nothing story about Class 1-A spending the end of their vacation at the pool, we get a recap episode. The major events of the first two seasons are worked into conversations and flashbacks, and at one point a teacher even goes so far as to read a list of all of the students and brief descriptions of their abilities. It’s a lot… of nothing.
Mineta (Ryo Hirohashi) continues to be the worst, no matter how ostentatious of a lampshade the show hangs on his garbage. With Kaminari (Tasuku Hatanaka) in cahoots and the guileless Deku (Daiki Yamashita) in tow, Electric Boy and the Purple Pervert have contrived a scheme to “train” in the school’s pool at the same time as their female classmates have it reserved. Fit to burst, Mineta and Kaminari’s bubble is burst when they discover that Deku invited all the guys from their class. What’s more, the girls are wearing modest school swimsuits instead of bikinis!
This gag would be a minor quibble in the sense that any reminder of Mineta’s existence is a minor quibble, but it festers as the episode drags on. My Hero Academia gets a lot of credit for fixing a lot of the issues prevalent in the shonen genre: drawn out fights, inconsistent animation quality, endless filler arcs that don’t develop characters or further the plot. And while “young boys” is literally the name of the game in shonen, that will never be enough for me to cut the genre slack in its depiction of women.
It’s all too rare that women in shonen get to show off physical prowess. Usually, they’ll get through whatever struggle with magic or agility, and in the rare instances that they are physically powerful it’s played as a joke. You were expecting this skinny cute girl to be weak, but she’s actually very strong! Isn’t that unexpected? Isn’t that different from every other depiction of a physically capable woman in fiction? It’s a trope that’s pervasive across media, genre and culture. Every so often, a woman gets to be large and strong… and the subject of fat jokes or transphobia.
There are girls in Class 1-A–Tsu (Aoi Yuki) and Ashido (Eri Kitamura)–who are suggested to be physically quite strong, but they’re the minority among the girls, who are already the minority in the class. Most of the boys pose some element of overwhelming power, while all of the girls have “useful” abilities, or clever tricks. Not even getting into Pro Heroes, there are four boys in Class 1-A whose shtick is “strong boy who is good at fighting,” and that’s without including the “fairly strong boys with some other extreme combat enhancement.” The girls have cool abilities, but time and again they’re shown to be more “suited” to supporting the devastating powers of their male classmates.
A pool episode might be a weird starting point for this jag, but it’s inspired by the one thing season three’s premiere offers: a swimming competition between Class 1-A’s boys. The girls are all there. They’re all wearing competition swimsuits, even though they reserved the pool for “sunbathing” (cool tanlines?). But, more than anything, this episode is about reiterating things we already know. Bakugo (Nobuhiko Okamoto) is a jerk. Deku, Todoroki (Yuki Kaji) and Ishida (Kaito Ishikawa) have a friendly rivalry. Mineta is a worthless creep.
Deku is the only one who even swims! Everyone else uses their quirks to skip the swimming part entirely. It’s a joke that only lands when the ever-straight-laced Iida skims along the dividing ropes, avoiding the water like most of his peers. Ultimately, like everything else in the episode, it left me wondering “Why? Why bother with this?” Why go to the pool if Deku’s the only one swimming? So Mineta can dream of seeing his classmates in bikinis? So a bunch of students who literally just raced each other in the last season can race an incredibly short distance, without competition from the girls?
I’m not going to take this episode as a bellwether for the direction of My Hero Academia, but when they start a season with an episode that shows so little of what the show gets exceptionally right, it lets stand–in stark contrast–all of the things that it gets typically wrong.