Why was My Hero Academia: Heroes: Rising, the second film of the popular school-life, superhero anime series, told as a film rather than a television episode, a manga arc, a video game, or one of the many other mediums tied to the franchise? In the weeks following Heroes: Rising’s initial reveal, series creator Kōhei Horikoshi said that he hesitated when considering a second film after Two Heroes. “In a certain sense,” he wrote, “one could say that this movie will be finale-ish for MHA.” Horikoshi wanted spectacle, so we got a movie.
Horikoshi has also stated that he can’t imagine making a third film after this one, and it makes sense: Heroes: Rising is the series’ visual peak, so grandiose in terms of action and animation latitude that the 100-minute-long movie would feel cramped if shown on a TV or within a manga panel.
Drawing from ideas once intended to be used in My Hero Academia’s final battle, the film drops Class 1-A into a superhero-themed disaster movie, where standard obstacles like tornados, hurricanes, and firestorms have been replaced by a formidable villain squad. The action anime is so indebted to disaster genre tropes, it even has a moment where the entire town is evacuated to a crowded community center when all hell breaks loose.
Heroes: Rising introduces fans to Nine, a test subject of the series’ controversial doctor. The new villain can absorb quirks in the same manner as the source material’s Big Bad, All for One, and at the beginning of the film, he tears through Japan (quite literally) in search of powers. As far as the My Hero Academia rogue’s gallery is concerned, Nine and his team are immensely intimidating villains in design, but lack any depth beyond their visuals. Members of the main series’ baddie group, the League of Villains, comment on Nine’s impressive ability ... and that’s the extent of his development. Remaining members only get second-hand “hype,” building off Nine’s mystique and how much effort it takes Class 1-A to defeat a single villain. The film’s villain quartet is all muscle for Horikoshi’s grand spectacle.
The movie finds Class 1-A assigned to protect a bucolic town for a month without adult supervision from teachers like All-Might or Eraserhead. The task is intended to be an easy one, allowing the fledgling heroes to gain experience interacting with civilians. On a given day, their most daunting task is assisting an elderly woman to carry a few groceries. Their rural community service is disrupted by Nine’s villain team. The attack puts My Hero Academia in a rarefied group of disaster films like Geostorm and Sharknado where the heroes can physically fight a swirling cloud of faceless devastation.
Despite featuring 20 distinct students, each one gets a moment to shine: Crow-faced student Tokiyami controls a Dark Shadow quirk so adeptly in combat you can’t help but revel in his growth; Mineta is even allowed to land the decisive blow on a villain, somewhat redeeming his regular perverted behavior in the series-proper. The film is at its strongest when focusing on the main series’ lesser-seen characters like Koji Koda and Mashirao Ojiro, who both use their quirks during crucial moments in the film. Having the spotlight pulled away from mainstays like Midoriya and Bakugou is a cathartic experience. Delightfully, there’s even a 15-minute chunk where the headliners are entirely absent, allowing the whole ensemble to flex their combat skills.
Bakugou and Midoriya still get their moments, with the film’s final battle revolving entirely around the duo and their bond. The fight is impeccably animated, featuring all of Studio Bones’ classic techniques like Nakamura Cubes. However, the conflict does feel out of character for the series; more like a Super Saiyan brawl out of Dragon Ball Z than the tactical conflicts My Hero Academia is known for. At times, this fight channels the fan-fiction element that non-canon anime stories often have difficulty escaping.
Every character in Heroes: Rising is pushed to their limits. Understanding the film’s stakes is a tad reliant on understanding the Kamino Ward arc, in which All-Might makes his final stand against his nemesis and the League of Villains’ leader, All For One. The film often compares Nine’s attack to that iconic battle, in terms of destruction and strength needed to defeat him. Implicitly, this presents each student hero as having a resolution equal to All-Might’s, or says that this will be an equally formative experience. Although it’s unlikely the shockwaves from this film will be felt in the main series, it does creates some parallels with the canon Pro Hero Arc, which focused on the hero Endeavor. Like the Pro Hero arc, much of this film felt like watching the students coming to terms with All-Might’s retirement.
Viewing Nine’s team as intimidating is also reliant on knowing why his benefactor, the League of Villains, is a looming threat. This won’t be a problem for anyone keeping up with the franchise, even casually, but it’ll be difficult to bring uninitiated pals to a screening. For the spoiler-adverse, Heroes: Rising is sprinkled with a few minor elements that occur right before the manga’s current arc. Past these little anachronisms, the film is isolated from the rest of the franchise.
Kōhei Horikoshi worried about topping My Hero Academia’s first movie, but he did it with a visually striking, sakuga-filled film. By pitting these fledgling heroes against a horrid disaster, the entire ensemble was allowed to shine. If the creator’s words are to be trusted, and this is My Hero Academia’s final film, the series has departed on an exciting high point, among the series’ greatest moments.
My Hero Academia: Heroes: Rising is now in select theaters.