My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is the latest film iteration of the popular anime series that's become a sensation in the past few years. It owes a debt to the X-Men, in that both follow specially-powered people in and around a school designed to teach them how to utilize those powers. Despite being tied to several seasons of a TV show and one previous movie (Two Heroes), Heroes Rising works as a stand-alone feature. It's certain to please fans, but anyone curious about the MHA phenomenon could walk in cold, follow the general plot, and have a pretty good time.

The story finds a class of young students traveling to Nabu Island. There, they will have the opportunity to put their studies to good use doing heroic deeds for the locals. Initially, it's all relatively mundane tasks, like rescuing animals from trees. Then something unexpected happens. A villain named Nine arrives, intending to steal the "Quirk"-- or special power -- of a little boy named Katsuma who lives on the island. One of the students, the Quirk-less Deku, gets the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a big-league hero by leading his colleagues into battle against Nine and his army, which includes a wolf creature and a mummy.

Heroes Rising has very good animation. There are many action sequences in which characters pummel and pound one another. Such scenes are often stylized in ways that make up for the missing level of excitement you get when fights are accomplished with live actors and stuntmen. Colors are strategically used, foreground/background placement of combatants suggests the shifting of power, and Quirks are conveyed in a dramatic fashion. CGI is utilized intermittently for especially complex visuals, but by and large, this is traditional 2D hand-drawn animation executed with skill.

Although it's a basic good-versus-evil tale, the plot holds a level of interest. The Quirks used by the various characters are imaginative and fun, which creates dramatic stakes. Whenever a hero pulls out a power that seems unbeatable, a villain will whip out something that's even more grandiose. The mummy, for instance, can control his victims after wrapping them up in his bandages. Underneath the formal story is a nice theme about young people wanting to make a positive difference. Deku has a strong desire to help others, to give something back to the world. That makes his journey engaging.

As someone who only occasionally dips a toe into the world of anime, I find the inevitable conclusion of these movies slightly baffling. Like Dragon Ball Super: Broly and One Piece: Stampede, Heroes Rising ends with a long set piece of mayhem in which magical forces are blasted all over the place in one big, messy eruption, rendering it difficult to tell what's happening. This seems to be the requisite anime finale, probably more satisfying to fans than to outsiders.

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising should keep the franchise humming right along, and it might even bring some newcomers into the fold. A strong sense of humor, sometimes of the self-aware variety, adds to the entertainment value. Whether you're already a devotee or just someone looking to see what MHA is all about, you'll find plenty to enjoy here.

out of four

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is rated PG-13 for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.