Since it first aired back in 2016, My Hero Academia has secured its place as one of the best, if not arguably the best shounen action anime of its generation. Set in a world populated by humans born with unique super-powered abilities known as “quirks,” the series follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a young boy who dreams of one day becoming a hero despite being born without any powers of his own. After being taken under the wing of All Might, the world’s number one hero, as his secret apprentice and gifted with the elder hero’s awesome generation-spanning ability One for All, Midoriya is accepted to the U.A. Hero Academy, and soon embarks on his personal journey to one day succeed All Might as the world’s greatest hero.
The second standalone spin-off feature of My Hero Academia since 2018’s Two Heroes, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising takes place some weeks following the conclusion of the first arc of the series’ fourth season. With All Might now retired in the wake of his climactic showdown with his nemesis, All For One, Midoriya and his classmates are charged with a work study assignment protecting the residents of the small island of Nabu while continuing to hone and train their powers. Things quickly turn sour however when the island is attacked by a group of villains led by a mysterious assailant known only as Nine, whose ability to steal the quirks of others eerily resemble that of none other than All For One himself. Cut off from the mainland and with no way to contact their mentors for help, it’s up to Midoriya and his friends to uncover Nine’s plot and rescue the island from disaster.
There’s more than a few passing similarities between this year’s My Hero Academia film and its predecessor—both are set on picturesque island locales and all but entirely separated from the stakes of the series’ main storyline. You don’t have to be a fan or consistent viewer of the My Hero Academia series in order to understand Heroes Rising, as the first half-hour of the film generously brings the viewer up to speed through a hodgepodge exposition constructed from a piecemeal series of flashbacks, which itself raises the question of what if anything one might get out of this film that hasn’t already been done and done better by the anime itself.
With the notable exceptions of the film’s opening high-speed chase and its climactic finale, the production values of Heroes Rising all but mirror that of the main series itself, which shouldn’t be all that surprising given the film was produced by the same staff of animators behind the My Hero Academia series, including the anime’s chief director Kenji Nagasaki and lead screenwriter Yousuke Kuroda. While that commitment to consistency in itself is laudable, Heroes Rising doesn’t do much else to distinguish itself as a story worth telling in a full-on feature when it could have been just as well told through a three-episode arc of the series itself. It also doesn’t help that, much like in the case of Two Heroes, regardless of how particularly intriguing or significant the revelations behind the origins of the main antagonist’s powers may be, said revelations likely merit little more than a passing offhand mention in the anime itself, and so the impact of these revelations feels preemptively dulled.
Sure, the action is thrilling and the visual effects are stellar, but Heroes Rising as a whole only manages to graze the surface of what makes My Hero Academia the series itself so great. Heroes Rising feels like an hour-long filler episode capped by an exhilarating 20-minute spectacle that’s as impressive as it is ultimately inconsequential, and maybe that’s enough for fans of the anime. Newcomers to the series, however, would be better off just starting with the series proper before working their way around to giving this one a go later.
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Writer: Yousuke Kuroda
Starring: Daiki Yamashita, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Yoshio Inoue, Yuka Terasaki
Release Date: February 26, 2020
Toussaint Egan is a culturally omnivorous writer who has written for several publications, including Kill Screen, Playboy, Mental Floss, and Paste. Give him a shout on Twitter.