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My Hero Academia’s third movie was a challenge to translate into English

‘My neighbors during quarantine must have thought I had approximately 30 Japanese schoolgirls living in my room’

Anime characters in a frame featuring illustrated icons from New York City Comic Con Graphic: Sonny Ross for Polygon

Sprawling five seasons, a sixth on its way, and three movies, the My Hero Academia anime can be thought of as an inverted X-Men where mutants are the majority. The franchise’s third film, My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission, premiered in Japan in August and will have its US premiere in October. At the 2021 New York Comic Con, the English dub cast and crew congregated for a panel to discuss bringing the characters to life in English.

Based on the manga written and illustrated by Kōhei Horikoshi, the 2016 anime takes place in a world where individual superpowers — Quirks — are the norm. A young Quirkless Izuku “Deku” Midoriya is bestowed a superstrength Quirk and a mentorship by the superhero All Might in hopes that Deku will grow into his fist-punching successor.

World Heroes’ Mission looks promisingly epic and takes its heroes into grueling territory. In a 10-minute English-dubbed clip played for Comic Con, viewers saw a robed cult leader of Humarize who believes Quirks will bring about Doomsday. Congregants deploy a gas that intensifies each civilian’s Quirk to the point of overwhelming their bodies and killing them. Later, a battalion of Class A-1, Deku, and older superheroes dive from aircraft to find and defuse a dangerous “Trigger Bomb” that could repeat the previous carnage.

Attending the Comic Con panel were Ryan Colt Levy (Rody Soul), Cristina Vee (Pino), Sarah Roach (Clair Voyance), Lisa Ortez (Burnin) and the series and film ADR script writer Jeramey Kraatz. With the exception of Ortez, the English cast in attendance are new to the Academia universe, playing characters who didn’t previously appear in the series.

Voiced by Vee, who was hired for her creature sounds, Pino is the cute, pink bird sidekick of Deku’s new friend, Roddy Soul. “They’re a team. It’s like having a pet you can talk to. That’s what Pino is to Roddy,” Vee said. Her co-star Levy added, “It’s a love of friendship and partnership. It’s one of the most wholesome interactions I’ve ever experienced.”

Having worked with the series across five seasons, Kraatz talked about scripting the English version. “Someone like Deku I can write easily. [His English voice actor] Justin Briner is amazing. He talks faster than anyone. Every time Deku’s doing his patented muttering, I write, ‘just have to say this fast as [you] can and cut it off somewhere.’” Does he overwrite them? For other characters, Kraatz said, “We usually bracket a few words. For [Deku’s] lines I often bracket an entire three sentences.”

Kraatz faced the challenge of translating and directing English for new, movie-exclusive characters without the manga for reference, since he works closely with manga visuals to understand the characters. “But when you have someone like Roddy, you don’t know what the voice actors are going to sound like because we don’t have the manga to give their backstory,” he said.

Kraatz’s writing process is completing a “fast draft” and picking out the emotional beats. He said, “This movie has a lot of emotional beats I can’t wait for you to see. We figure out how to amp up this process and what the audience wants to take away.”

He agreed with the moderator that it’s like Tetris. “A lot of moving parts,” he concurred. “You have to be a writer, a problem solver, and an actor to act out all the lines. My neighbors during quarantine must have thought I had approximately 30 Japanese schoolgirls living in my room, because if Ochaco [a character in the series] is yelling something, I have to yell like Ochaco.”

Levy said, “It’s a really really special movie. You’ll be surprised by how unique it is and potent it is. It’s a powerful and special walk through this universe [it] hadn’t quite done yet.” He summed up the appeal of the anime, “The greatest gift of this show [is that] it teaches us to be resilient and to be powerful and loving and to do the right thing. It’s so important we take these things to heart. It’s not just like being a superhero. I wish I were [one]. But we can be a hero to each other in the smallest of ways.”

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission will have its US premiere on Oct. 29, in English-subtitled Japanese and an English dub.