This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
“This is torture, in the form of baseball.”
There have previously been six Original Video Animations (OVA) bonus installments over the course of My Hero Academia’s previous five seasons. Each has been used in creative ways, whether it’s superfluous Quirk showcases, valuable training exercises, or compelling backstories and origins for popular supporting characters. There’s even been a gratuitous zombie installment that feels like Halloween-themed DLC for the series. All of this is to say that My Hero Academia has had fun with its OVAs, but they’ve always been opportunities for fun experiments rather than epic storytelling.
The new OVA episodes that bridge the gap between seasons five and six feature the best of both worlds with two eclectic stories that embrace completely different extremes. “HLB” is a ridiculous look into what America’s favorite pastime would be like if superheroes were allowed to play with their powers, while “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” is a more conventional villain-busting outing that puts Endeavor’s Agency up against one of the anime’s weirdest Quirks. These two OVAs represent the dichotomy that’s helped My Hero Academia thrive for more than 100 episodes and they’re easily the series’ most entertaining OVAs yet. “HLB” and “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” are the perfect appetizers before the heroes and villains barrel ahead into darkness when season six officially arrives in October.
Sports anime is a rich sub-genre of the medium that covers ping-pong, synchronized diving, skateboarding, and everything in between. Baseball has the reputation as America’s favorite pastime, but it’s a sport that anime routinely celebrates. Every series from Dragon Ball Super to FLCL to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure have indulged in a baseball-centric filler entry. My Hero Academia is in very good company in this respect and the fact that they establish “Hero League Baseball” as an institution and not just a one-off lark is encouraging. It begs the question if HLB will become a recurring way for the characters to relax or if it could possibly even fuel a My Hero Academia spinoff that’s purely focused on Quirk-y baseball.
“HLB” is a hilarious delight and there’s never any doubt over how the episode’s biggest priority is to sell the series’ strange sense of humor. Present Mic and Eraser Head’s apathetic color commentary doesn’t disappoint and is reminiscent of their awkward energy during the Joint Training Exercises of season five. It gets funnier every time the Hero League umpire robot shrieks out, “Strike!” after each missed ball, even if it’s a simple joke. Mineta’s shocked disdain when Cellophane gets crushed by a gigantified Mt. Lady is another unexpected highlight of the episode and it might be the only reason that Mineta is included in this outing. One of the most satisfying gags from “HLB” is a recurring glimpse of Tamaki Amajiki, completely resigned to defeat, as he mopes out of the same stationary corner of the stadium for the entire game.
An ongoing hurdle that My Hero Academia faces is how to properly showcase all of its characters as its cast continues to balloon to greater proportions. It’d be easy to picture a version of “HLB” where Bakugo, Todoroki, and the typical standouts of Class 1-A dominate the baseball diamond, which is why it’s so satisfying that “HLB” turns into an opportunity to celebrate the supporting characters. “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” focuses on the typical My Hero Academia favorites so that “HLB” allows others to find their voice and establish a niche.
The animalistic Gang Orca and Shishido–MHA’s take on Kraven the Hunter–lead the competing Orca and Lionel teams. The intense rivalry between these two comparable Pro Heroes drives forward much of the competitive energy in “HLB.” However, heroes who are typically slighted like Minoru Mineta, Mashirao Ojiro, Kamui Woods, and Kyoka Jiro all make their mark here. There are also heroes who have certain Quirks that have struggled to make a mark in combat, only for them to be perfect for the rules of baseball, like Mt. Lady and her ability to grow or Mezo Shoji’s Dupli-Arm advantage. Shishido also reverts to his raw lion form a few times, which is exciting, but still controlled within the context of HLB.
The humor and unusual action of this episode give audiences a lot to appreciate, but “HLB” is also one of the more beautifully animated episodes of My Hero Academia. These aesthetic triumphs aren’t the point of the episode, but they’re hard to not acknowledge. None of these Quirk displays hold back once the ball is pitched and it results in constant visual spectacles during each batter rotation. “HLB” is deeply silly and aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also in the episode’s favor that these heroes’ inherent desire to serve and protect ends up uniting them, even when a sports rivalry has them lost in their heads.
“HLB” is likely going to be the episode out of these two OVAs that receives the most attention, for both better and for worse. “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell!” is a much more typical episode of the series that wouldn’t be out of place showing up somewhere in the first half of season five. Some of the most entertaining moments from My Hero Academia’s fifth season involve the true friendship that evolves between Midoriya, Bakugo, and Todoroki as they continue to intern together at Endeavor’s Hero Agency.
These three budding heroes are all exceptional on their own, so it’s a delight when they’re able to work in tandem and go above and beyond with their hero skills. The mystery that surrounds the underestimated graffiti villain, Smiley, is effective. However, it’s the character’s intimidating Quirk that elicits uncontrollable laughter in his targets that leaves the biggest impression in “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell.” For a brief moment it’s as if Deku and company are trying to foil Gotham’s Joker before he releases more laughing toxin.
“Laugh! As If You Are Hell” fluctuates between small-scale vandalism and city-wide destruction. Endeavor doesn’t view Smiley as a serious threat until his own home becomes subjected to the vigilante’s Banksy-esque pop art. Episodes of this nature are largely dependent upon the effectiveness of the new guest character. Smiley’s design feels perfect in its own way and while it’s definitely a heightened look, it doesn’t come across as too outlandish. Smiley isn’t the most compelling one-off villain that My Hero Academia has examined, but it’s helpful that he just wants to share his art with the world and isn’t motivated by conventional villainy. Much of “Laugh!” relies upon the heroes setting up a sturdy attack on Smiley, only to then get reduced to respective laughing fits and blow their attack. It’s an entertaining structure, but one that gets repetitive rather quickly and so it’s appreciated that “Laugh!” switches up its routine as it gets deeper into its story.
“Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” is a tight installment that features some smart ways to retaliate against Smiley. It’s brilliant to turn to Mei Hatsume and her support skills to craft a robot that’s not affected by Smiley’s Quirk even if the plan isn’t ultimately successful. The same is true for Bakugo’s bold blindfolded assault on the superpowered artist. It’s so satisfying when Deku chooses to use empathy to solve this problem as opposed to the perfect Quirk counter. It’s an important reminder to the audience that powerful Quirks are integral, but they still can’t compete with raw emotion and matters of the heart.
In the end, Smiley and Deku share a surprising amount in common in terms of their undying commitments to do what they love even if they’ve been denied such rights by society’s gatekeepers. It’s a powerful message that works as well as it does because Smiley comes across as overwhelmed and lost. He never truly feels like a severe threat despite the genuine danger that he poses to society. It’s no coincidence that the messages that adorn Smiley’s art are inspirational phrases like “Life is beautiful” and not “Death to Pro Heroes.” “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” is an uplifting reminder that compassion and understanding are the most powerful Quirks of all.
“HLB” and “Laugh! As If You Are In Hell” aren’t essential episodes of My Hero Academia that answer crucial questions or expand upon mysterious figures. They’re silly, spirited celebrations that emphasize the versatility of the anime’s Quirk-filled world and how superpowers can do so much good in the world beyond the fighting of crime. Season six of My Hero Academia is prepared to break the audiences’ hearts through catastrophic conflict, but these two playful OVA episodes provide a much-needed calm before the superpowered storm.
The two season five OVA installments of My Hero Academia are now available to stream on Crunchyroll. Season 6 returns Oct. 1, 2022.