My Hero Academia had been building up to something big, not just in this arc but throughout the whole series. Only the best would have satisfied all the viewers who were looking forward to All Might’s deeds depicted in all their heroic glory – and that’s exactly what we got. The result was an all-time high not just for this series but for action anime as a whole, which also forces us to look towards the future to understand how it changed everything.
Storyboard: Shinji Ishihira
Episode Direction: Setsumu Dogawa
Chief Animation Direction: Takahiro Komori
Animation Direction: Takahiro Komori, Takashi Mitani
Animation Direction Assistant: Nobuhiko Kawakami, Yuka Shibata
Key Animation: Isao Sugimoto, Daigo Kofuku, Takenori Tsukuma, Kaori Higuchi, Keiji Shigesawa, Akiko Otsuka, Tomoyuki Oshita, Tomomi Ishii, Tomomi Noda, Erika Okada, Yuki Ito
Masahiro Yamanaka, Tatsuro Nagai, Yukiko Musa, Miwa Katayama, Takafumi Hino, Shotaro Tamemizu, Cedric Herole, Yuki Sato
Masaya Sekizaki, Nobutaka Masuda, Shu Sugita, Takashi Mitani, Yuki Nakajima, Yutaka Minowa, Makoto Tsuruta, Yoko Kadokami
─ Shinji Ishihira was tasked with the difficult task of storyboarding the latest two episodes and therefore handling the whole fight. While he’s often looked down upon because the mediocre anime adaptation of Fairy Tail is his best known work, but that feels like an unfair mischaracterization; Ishihira is also behind more warmly received titles like Log Horizon, as well as notoriously quirky anime like Heybot!. But most importantly, he’s widely regarded as a trustworthy storyboarder among his peers, hence why studio BONES has been relying on his services since the early days of his career. Among the most notable contributions to their series there’s climactic moments like the iconic Mustang vs Lust fight in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the closure to the BREW mini-arc in Soul Eater. This is to say that even though he doesn’t come across as a glamorous choice like more renowned directors, for the studio he was a safe bet likely to satisfy the viewers despite the impossibly high expectations. It’s always tricky to attribute certain kinds of decisions from an outsider’s perspective – exactly who decided to deviate from the source material’s framing, whose corrections made a difference, whether the animators improvised a lot or not – but Ishihira’s work has turned out well so consistently that it’s impossible not to credit him to some degree.
─ At the same time, episode director Setsumu Dogawa did a stellar job bringing Ishihira’s blueprint to the screen. He’s been interpreting tricky boards like Rie Matsumoto’s or otherwise important ones like this, ensuring people’s vision actually materialized into something we can enjoy. Storyboarders capable of conceptualizing memorable shots or with an outstanding grasp of the flow of an episode can do a great deal to elevate the material on their own, while in theory making no drastic narrative changes. However, if they’re not around to supervise how the whole thing is going to be produced, things can go unexpectedly wrong – and that’s where figures like Dogawa come into play. Though it’s easy to group all these creators under a vague label of “directors“, there’s much more nuance to it. Series and episode direction might as well be entirely different skillsets, while the storyboarding and episode direction duties represent the creative and technical duality of handling an episode. And in all those levels, this episode fared very well!
─ Duo of animation directors behind episode 42 Takahiro Komori and Takashi Mitani returned to handle another crucial part of the story. Usually the workload between two animation directors gets divided so that each of them supervises one half of an episode – using the commercial break as the divide rather than a perfectly even distribution of cuts – but this time it wasn’t the case. Mitani was asked to exclusively oversee the action scenes, while Komori focused on the cast’s emotional responses to the fight and its aftermath. I’ve already written a post focusing on Mitani’s achievements and his effects animation proficiency but I feel like he’s considerably evolved past that in a very short amount of time. This time around he successfully replicated the robust visual identity that Yoshihiko Umakoshi brough to the series, which is no easy feat when the iconic designer has to focus all his efforts on the movie. This is specially apparent in the overwhelming climax of the fight, an euphoric display of emotion featuring raw lines and a fierce eye shot that wears its influence on its sleeves. This went a long way on convincingly portraying All Might as the strongest hero before passing the baton. And while Mitani was busy with those bombastic moments, the more experienced supervisor Komori brushed up everyone’s work and tried to make the sentimental parts as heart-wrenching as possible through his corrections. Forget about living up to the expectations, the team at studio BONES exceeded them!
─ And speaking of that overwhelming climax of the fight, let’s take a look at the crew of key animators behind it all which consisted – with one exception – of people who worked on the show in past. The exceptional case was of course Cedric Herole, a French animator who’s likely best known for his work on DRIFTERS‘ stylish opening. But even before that caught the attention of fans all around the globe, he had already been delivering nothing but high quality animation for years, so no one should be surprised that he was entrusted with the beginning of the climax with All Might and All For One charging at each other and clashing. Yuki Sato, one of this season’s most reliable animation assets, presumably followed him up with the sequence where All Might is pushed back and has to resist the attack. The baton then gets passed from a regular to a former one – Masaya Sekizaki was all over the second season and not so much on the third one, but he still remembers how to nail HeroAca‘s highlights so he did a great job with All Might clenching his fist and throwing a powerful left hook. This quick succession of animators with very different circumstances working together towards the same goal, then passing their work to the coloring and compositing teams who did just as extraordinary of a job, shows how much of a collective success this episode was.
─ The touching lead-up towards the finisher with Nana Shimura passing One for All was, based on the credits order, handled by industrious freelance animator Nobutaka Masuda. And then came the long-awaited United States of Smash sequence, which was for the most part animated by one of the most versatile young artists in the industry: Shu Sugita – beautiful hair maestro, delightfully bouncy animator, and also 2DFX expert. He was assisted by none other than animation director Takashi Mitani, who inserted the fantastic brushpaint-like cut in-between Sugita’s work. The sheer intensity of the animation showcased here once again reminded me why I adore this medium so much and also that computer graphics can’t replicate this no matter how much has the craft improved in last few years. Whether drawn on paper or on tablet you can only achieve this result with hand-drawn animation and I would like to devote my endless thanks to the people who are doing their utmost to preserve and improve this artistry.
─ Even as a someone who’s been actively avoiding the manga I couldn’t escape the anticipation surrendering the big moment the anime was about to cover. I went in as blindly as I possibly could, and still quickly understood the fans’ enthusiasm and crazy high expectations. The anime crew managed to satisfy both kinds of viewers: those like me who weren’t sure what they were walking into, and most impressively, the fans who asked for an almost impossible feat like this. Everything in the series so far had built towards this episode and the staff responded, which is why I held back its analysis a bit to tackle a very important question: what happens now? The team behind this adaptation gave it their all towards this episode, so what will they do now? Episode 50, titled End of the Beginning, Beginning of the End, gives us a very important hint; Tatsuya Saito, the person who had managed the whole production of My Hero Academia over the last two seasons, retired from his position after episode 49, was replaced by his senior Takashi Koike and moved towards other projects like Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan. Much like within the show, the baton has been passed. There’s no doubt that the show might struggle a bit since herculean efforts like this take their toll on the team, but we’ll have to trust the new generation to be able to fulfill everyone’s dreams. And HeroAca has convinced me that’s something worth believing in.