My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising Review

Heroes Rising Poster

Anime is at an all-time high in the West right now, and that is thanks in large part to My Hero Academia. The manga launched in 2014, but it was the English release of the anime that hugely contributed to a new anime boom in North America. Go into stores like FYE or Hot Topic, and one will find My Hero Academia merchandise littered throughout. It’s not hard to see why it’s so appealing, considering superheroes and comic book-based films are massively successful on a worldwide scale. Combine that with a distinctly Shonen Jump feel, and we have a winner. Unsurprisingly, My Hero Academia received a film in 2018, titled Two Heroes. Already, a second film has been released.

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising released in Japan in December. Its Western release is coming to limited theaters this week. The story takes place after the Overhaul storyline. Class 1-A has been stationed on a remote land called Nabu Island, where they work as an independent hero agency. In effect, they are operating as pro heroes with no supervision. The island is free of evil villains, until a character named Nine arrives. His quirk-stealing ability mimics All For One’s, and he has a few powerful subordinates as well. It’ll take Deku, Bakugo, and the rest of the class to formulate a plan and save the day.

Two Heroes was a very good movie, fun all the way through. However, Heroes Rising ups the stakes in almost every category; the battles are grander, the music is more cinematic, and most of all, it demonstrates what one hero is willing to sacrifice to save another. Heroes Rising is a must-see for My Hero Academia fans.

Everyone Contributes

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Credit: Funimation

The first noticeably exciting aspect of this movie is that Class-A are all their own. Besides the excellent chase scene intro, the adult pro heroes do not get in on any of the action. While fans of the adults might be disappointed, the series is about Class 1-A first and foremost. It’s similar to the Young Justice program; while it’s always cool to see the Justice League, the primary focus is on the young heroes.

The agency and the small things the heroes accomplish/coordinate are a lot of fun. One wishes they had their own agency for the rest of the series. In the first act of the movie, they are shown doing small tasks, like rescuing a kid from the water. These things are small, but as Aizawas says, heroism isn’t just about being flashy and beating supervillains. It’s also doing the little things and gaining the trust of the populace. Heroes Rising has a great script.

Of course, the heroes don’t only help out for the small tasks. For the big action scenes, everyone gets involved. Even Mineta, typically the least-engaging character, has a couple of scenes demonstrating heroics. In the previous movie, many characters sat out from the action, like Froppy. That doesn’t happen here; Koda, as another example, helps out in one very cool scene. Yes, Bakugo is given a lot of screen time, but this time, all the characters get to contribute. Tokoyami fans will be pleased in one of the climatic battles.

Midoriya looks fantastic throughout the film. One of the best scenes is actually the ending, where he says something that is nice callback to one of the earliest episodes of the series. Bakugo has his annoying moments as usual, such as saying “Don’t give me orders.” However, unlike many of his appearances in the anime/manga, he gets some depth in his scenes with Midoriya, especially in the climatic battle. There’s a level of understanding between the two that makes their scenes together engaging.

As for new characters Katsuma and Mahoro, the sibling relationship they have is sweet. Although Mahoro was a bit annoying at first due to her not liking heroes for seemingly no reason, she grows on the viewer as the film progresses. Her wanting to look out for her little brother was written very well.

The Stakes Are Real

MyHeroAcademiaHeroesRising_Katsuki Bakugo (left) and Izuku Midoriya [Deku] (Right)

Credit: Funimation

It would not be hyperbole to claim the action in this movie is the best out of the franchise thus far. The middle act features a couple of fights with an epic feel. Bakugo against Mummy was exhilarating thanks to the superb animation, and epic soundtrack. Blows were truly felt in the battle against Chimera. Of course, the viewer feels the plight of Midoriya as he deals with an extremely powerful villain reminiscent of All For One. This feeling of stakes is where the movie shines.

This isn’t just a fun popcorn adventure; the action has real weight. This is especially prevalent in the climax, when it comes to two heroes having to protect the kids from Nine. The last battle is something that will never be forgotten for a few reasons. This is on par with Midoriya’s battle against Muscular, and All Might against All For One in terms of emotional stakes. The climax goes in a completely unexpected direction. The writing introduces an idea no one sees coming, and how it unfolds needs to be seen. Heroes Rising’s climax is compelling, plain and simple.

Fantastic Visuals, But A Forgettable Villain

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Credit: Funimation

Nine may have the abilities of All For One, but he doesn’t come close to being as interesting. Nine makes for a good obstacle, and his abilities do lead to some cool visuals. An impressive scene is him summoning lighting, and the building behind exploding and crumbling. However, outside that, he comes across as a generic antagonist. He does get backstory. It doesn’t help sadly, making him seem like any ordinary villain, or as Bakugo so eloquently put it, “Same old crap.”

Nine’s subordinates are more interesting, but they aren’t given much backstory. Slice seems to genuinely care about Nine, but the viewer knows nothing about her. Chimera is probably the most fun villain to watch, and should have been the main antagonist. With all that said, everything else in the movie makes up for Nine’s generic character.

A Film Worth Watching In Theaters

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Credit: Funimation

A way to judge an anime film is if it feels like a filler side adventure, or an important extension of the media. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is the latter. Everything about it – the agency, the high stakes, the Deku and Bakugo stuff, feels like a vital piece of the franchise. This is a new standard for anime franchise films.

9.5/10

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising will be released in limited theaters starting Wednesday, February 26. Theater locations can be found here.

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd Review

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A Good Liberian Like a Good Shepherd is based on the visual novel of the same name. This anime is another in a long list of harem-based shows. For some reason, the idea of a school guy being surrounded by cute girls attracted to him is an immensely popular plot point in anime. Although it’s not always a bad thing, there has been so many shows with this kind of plot point that if an anime is going to use it, it has to add something unique. Otherwise, it’s just generic. School Days did this by subverting (very violently) expectations, as an example. So, what does A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd bring to the table?

The core story is about the main character, Kakei, learning about, and then deciding if he should become a Shepherd. Shepherds have the responsibility of making sure people’s futures are secure, thus helping them contribute to mankind. If say, someone who will become a famous singer in the future, dies prematurely, that can affect the world. Shepherds do good work, but the price is that once you become a Shepherd, your prior existence is erased. Memories of you will fade. Simply put, you’ll be forgotten. So, credit must be given to the writing for this intriguing part of the story.

With that said, A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd falls into the usual tropes. Kakei is surrounded by girls who just can’t seem to not like him. If you’re into this genre, where girls will stare wide-eyed as the main character gives emotional advice, then you’ll find the tropes endearing. But, it comes off as more generic than anything.

Don’t get me wrong though; the characters aren’t that bad, despite being put in some generic situations. The characters grow on you. As an example, Kana’s cheerful personality is always fun to watch. Her subplot a bit later in the show was interesting and down to earth. Although Kakei can be considered the main character, the show puts a great deal of focus on Shirasaki. Although she might not be too unique of a character, it’s hard not to appreciate her passion for wanting to make the school a happy place. Her speech in the final episode was really well written and inspiring.

The show is at its best when it’s focusing on the Shepherd aspects. Everything else can range from cute to just lacking purpose. The harem aspect was not needed, and ended up detracting from the experience. As an example, Tamamo has feelings for Kakei, but this does not go anywhere and is pointless. On the bit more positive side, I did like the library club’s purpose, and the friends worked well together. If the writing instead focused on one, singular romance, and better pace the Shepherd plot with the library club, things could have been much better.

An unfortunate thing in many harem-based shows is fan service. There’s no actual nudity in A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd, but the show likes to play around with it. You have the usual hot springs scene, and shenanigans, such as one of the character’s bikini accidentally flying off in the middle of a stage play. One major character is Kodachi. She was one of the most interesting throughout the 12 episodes. But, the camera can’t seem to help itself. Of course, her actual design is at fault too for being way too exaggerated. Pyra from the video game Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also suffers from this. These are interesting characters, but designed poorly.

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A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd isn’t bad overall. The Shepard aspect of the story is intriguing, and the characters are likable. There is some good writing to be found here, and the flashbacks were effective. With that said, the show can often feel incredibly generic. If you’ve seen many types of anime, you’ve seen the tropes displayed here. The harem aspect just isn’t engaging. The fan service is too much and adds nothing to the story. For a better show combining plot and slice of life, I recommend checking out In Search of the Lost Future instead.

6.5/10

MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn Review

 

Made in abyss

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

MADE IN ABYSS began as a manga written by Akihito Tsukushi. It’s probably more well known for its 13-episode anime adaption, licensed by Sentai Filmworks in North America. This year sees the release of two compilation films of the anime for limited theatrical release outside Japan. Compilation films are nothing new for anime – we’ve seen that with Attack on Titan and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Making a compilation film can be tricky, as it’s more than just merging episodes together. For a 13-episode series, ideally you want to have at least two compilation films, as attempting to squeeze everything in one runs the risk of key scenes being cut. MADE IN ABYSS follows the two film format, with the first installment, Journey’s Dawn, releasing in select theaters next month. Part 2, Wandering Twilight, releases later in the year.

Now, moving on to the actual film, Journey’s Dawn compiles the events of the first eight episodes of the show. That’s a hefty amount of content, but the film gets the story going at a reasonable pace without feeling overloaded. Journey’s Dawn follows a young girl named Riko. She and many residents live near a hole in the earth called “the Abyss.” Here, many adventurers have gone in, but those who have traveled too deep never returned. Each layer of the Abyss gets worst and worst, to the point where people can lose their humanity.

While Riko is scavenging for relics in the upper layers of the Abyss, she is attacked by a monster. While she manages to briefly get away, the monster eventually comes upon her. Before being eaten alive, a mysterious blast repels the creature. Riko notices a boy, but learns that he is a robot seemingly connected to the Abyss. A bit later in the film, Riko receives a note seemingly from her mother, who went into the Abyss 10 years ago. It appears her mother is asking Riko to come find her. So, Riko and the robot boy, named Reg, journey into the dangerous hole in the earth…

made in abyss journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

Journey’s Dawn begins brilliantly by establishing the setting and Riko’s mom. The Abyss itself is almost portrayed as a character, an otherworldly area of beauty, but also danger. Later in the film, we see an area called the “Inverted Forest.” As the name implies, the trees are upside down, giving a rather unique, unsettling look. We see creatures with unique features, things that appear almost alien to the world on top. The Abyss and the monsters that reside in it evoke a similar feel to the The Shimmer in the acclaimed film, Annihilation. The Abyss is a fantastic setting, making the viewer want to see more by the time the credits roll.

Of course, before Riko and Reg enter the Abyss, we get to see the world on top. This serves to introduce Riko and Reg. Riko is established as a kindhearted girl, as seen when she attempts to help the boy who saved her. She’s also a bit of a trouble maker, as we learn from the head of the orphanage. Riko’s unyielding cheerfulness is fun to watch, but she’s also capable of emitting genuine emotion. The scene where she learns about her mom’s whistle was effective. Reg is arguably the more interesting of the protagonists, a robot that doesn’t know who built him, and why. He’s capable of emitting emotion, but there’s also something distinctly mechanical about him. The entire sequence of him utilizing his “incinerator” as Riko calls it was effective. Reg’s more subdued nature makes for a great contrast to the bubbly Riko.

The first quarter of the movie does a solid job introducing the characters, and the motivation for entering the Abyss. The only negative thing was that Riko became attached to Reg rather quickly. That’s one possible danger of compilation movies: character development can feel rushed in comparison to taking it episode by episode. Thankfully, aside from the quick friendship between Riko and Reg, the film never feels rushed. The first quarter does a great job of establishing Riko’s friends in the orphanage. The emotional goodbye between Riko and Nat was well done.

Once the protagonists enter the Abyss, the story really gets going. It becomes something of a darker Journey to the Center of the Earth. The scenes with the creatures are tension-filled, and well animated. The character designs may give off a younger vibe, but there is some dark imagery in the film. The scene with a bird-like monster called “Corpse Weeper” chewing on human remains comes to mind.

The final act of the movie has Riko and Reg meet Ozen the Immovable. This was not only the greatest aspect of the movie, but one of the most well done things I’ve seen in any media recently. Ozen is a fascinating character and big highlight. I won’t get into the specifics, as spoiling these scenes would be a disservice to the film. What I can say, is that Ozen leaves her mark as one of the most notable characters in recent animation history. Every scene with her and the protagonists is a treat. Christine Auten did a fantastic job at providing the dubbed voice for Ozen.

Ozen Made in Abyss Journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

The flashbacks with Rika’s mother, Lyza, are effective. Lyza is an interesting character, someone the viewer wants to see more scenes with. Meanwhile, the soundtrack does a good job enhancing the film. One particular piece of notable music is the theme that plays when Riko shows Reg the sunset behind the village. The music also works to give dangerous sequences, such as the early monster chase, and the Corpse Weepers, even more tension. It will be a treat to see the music in Part 2.

Journey’s Dawn is a strong opening to the MADE IN ABYSS saga. At its core, it’s about a daughter looking for her mother in a dangerous, unfamiliar land. Family is a strong bond, especially between mother and child. Despite not really remembering her mother, Riko is compelled to go into the Abyss. Meanwhile, Reg is an interesting character. Who built him? What’s his purpose? How does he connect to the Abyss? These questions make the viewer greatly anticipate Part 2. The Abyss itself is a fascinating setting, full of terrible creatures, and unique imagery. There are not many negatives. The development between Riko and Reg could have been better in the beginning. But, it’s not a deal-breaker. Journey’s Dawn is definitely worth checking out. I for one am excitedly anticipating Part 2: Wandering Twilight.

4/5

MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn will premiere in Los Angeles at Regal Cinema on March 15th. A wide release will then commence on March 20th (subtitled) and March 25th (dubbed), courtesy of Fathom Events. You can purchase tickets here

In Search of the Lost Future Review

In Search of the lost Future poster

In Search of the Lost Future incorporates quite a few genres. It is part slice of life; the episodes can have an episodic feel at times. But, it also has an ongoing storyline that runs seamlessly for most of the 12 episodes. It is part romance, and even science fiction. It combines these genres exceptionally well to tell a story that is engaging, emotional, and humorous.

It’s not perfect though. The ending is unfortunately disappointing, forcing the review to shave off a star. Some shows and movies are consistently mediocre, guaranteeing a mediocre score. Meanwhile, some things are perfect, but the ending wrecks the experience. (An example of that is the film, Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion.) In Search of the Lost Future is fantastic, but the ending does not feel like a satisfying culmination of all that has come before. It is not drastically bad as in the Rebellion example, however. Lost Future is nonetheless a very solid anime. Its primary positive is the factor that helps secure a very good rating. What is that factor? It features an incredibly likable core group of characters.

To briefly summarize the story: Sou lives with his childhood friend, Kaori. They are part of a school club called the Astronomy Club. The group is a close-knit friendship between five members. We have Airi, Nagisa, and Kenny. Things take a turn for the interesting when Sou finds an unconscious girl at the school. This girl, named Yui, does not remember her past. It later turns out that she is an artificial intelligence sent from the future by an older Sou to change the fate of Kaori, whom is in a coma due to getting hit in a bus crash. Kaori is in love with Sou, who is oblivious for most of the story. If Kaori tells Sou her feelings, what will his answer be? And can Yui save Kaori from an eternal coma?

The Good

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You’ve probably seen some shows where characters have a certain trait, and that’s it. They don’t have much actual personality aside from one core trait. (This is seen in Dragon Ball Super with Vegeta.) Not too long ago, I wrote a review for the anime, Karneval. It was decent. but nothing spectacular. The characters were more on the mediocre side. The protagonist of that show had attitude, but not much actual character apart from it. This is not the case with In Search of the Lost Future.

Take Airi for example. She is the tough one of the group, whom makes sarcastic comments to Sou quite often. But, she has a lot more character than just being the tough girl. She’s incredibly down to earth, such as when she consoles Kaori late in the story. It’s obvious that she cares about her friends, and is passionate. When another member pushes Kaori, Airi goes on the offensive and attacks the person. Airi also likes Sou, but keeps it to herself because she knows that Kaori is in love with him. The viewer does feel sad for Airi, but at the same time admires her for her ability to put that to the side for Kaori’s sake. Next we have Nagisa. She was fantastic, and gets some intriguing backstory later in the story. One of the best scenes of the show was when she barges into the computer group’s room, and beats a program they were working on.

Sou and Kaori are likable focuses. In Kaori’s case, the writing is once again down to Earth. The bus accident early on was felt. Yui is interesting, and she takes an even more central role later in the story. Of course, her goal is to save Kaori. But, as Yui later learns, doing that will erase herself from existence. This is an intriguing plot point that engages the viewer.

The dialogue in this anime is really good. The character interactions are almost always fun and engaging. There’s plenty of humor, but also heart-to-heart. These are true friends, and it shows in the words and actions. Simply watching them interact at the mall made for a fun episode.

The Bad

Bad

The core characters are good, but Kenny had the least development. His running gag can be funny, but outside of that and his love of food, he didn’t have development. Still, he’s not terrible. It’s just that every other core character got personal scenes – Kenny got none. That’s not a big negative. The big negative, as stated earlier, is the overall ending.

Sou ends up rejecting Kaori in favor of Yui. (Sou has no idea that his future self created Yui for the purpose of saving Kaori.) But Yui ends up vanishing, thus erasing herself from the past timeline. So, Sou’s reason then for rejecting Kaori is that he can only see her as a childhood friend. It’s disappointing, especially during the original rejection. Sou liking Yui over Kaori was unneeded. Kaori does end up waking up in the future, so you could say it’s a happy ending. But, the conclusion just isn’t satisfying because Sou doesn’t reciprocate Kaori’s feelings, and he seemed to prefer Yui, an artificial creation.

You may argue that if Kaori and Sou did showcase romantic feelings for one another in the end, it would have been a generic ending. But generic is not bad in this case. The show builds up to that particular ending, and the way it does so makes that conclusion the only satisfying one. What we got does not do the story justice.

The Verdict

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In Search of the Lost Future is a near perfect anime affected by a mediocre ending. It’s still very good, earning itself a positive score. The core characters are excellent, I would even say some of the best. The story moves at a good pace, blending slice-of-life with ongoing plot. The ending does ruin the enjoyment a bit, but it isn’t terrible to the point that the viewer forgets how great everything else is. As such, Lost Future is not one of the all time greats, but still a very good watch.

8/10