Story & Art by Hirofumi Neda
Original Concept by Kohei Horihoshi
Translated by Caleb Cook
Touch-Up & Lettering by John Hunt
Edited by Hope Donovan
When it came to the task of making a comedic spinoff of My Hero Academia, there was perhaps no better artist for the job than Hirofumi Neda. Neda has been a longtime contemporary and assistant of MHA creator Kohei Horikoshi since his first serialized work, Oumagadoki Zoo. As such, Neda knows Horikoshi’s art and humor sensibilities well. The humor in My Hero Academia: Smash feels like a natural extension of jokes and situations found in the original manga. Most of it is comprised of “what-if?” scenarios, twisting familiar moments from the storyline – often serving to undermine dramatic story beats with an absurd or sardonic punchline with surreal implications. The comics are structured in 4-Koma style, and each chapter is comprised of a series of self-contained vertical four-panel comic strips that together comprise the chapter’s story arc or theme. There are nineteen chapters in this first volume, each corresponding to a chapter of the original manga; ultimately, this first volume covers material from the first two and a half volumes of its parent series, through the end of the USJ arc.
Each of the books 4-Koma strips follow a predictable formula. At their most basic, the first panel establishes the premise, and the second panel sets up a conflict. Then the third panel provides a solution to the conflict, which is usually the point where the strip diverges from the normal “status quo” of MHA to indulge in something absurd. The fourth panel delivers the strip’s punchline, which serves as almost as a coda to the scenario. While this formula runs the risk of being monotonous, Neda manages to keep things fresh by subverting or surprising the reader’s expectations for how scenes will play. Most jokes revolve around characters making decisions they normally wouldn’t otherwise. If you’ve ever asked “what-if x happened instead?” about something in MHA, Smash is here to explore those possibilities.
Smash depicts the MHA characters as more flawed in contrast to how they normally are in the series. Often the joke is that a character will make a mistake that they didn’t in the series – for example, All Might mistakenly appears from the wrong manhole cover to rescue Deku or takes multiple attempts to get his autograph just right. The twist in strips that parody emotional story beats often undermine the sentimentality with irony; like revealing that the bullied kid that Deku sticks up for actually has a quirk that converts tears into battle power and was just stocking up, or a young Deku responding to his childhood dreams of being a hero being crushed by buying phony quirk supplement drugs off a banner ad on some website. In this way, Smash toys with the story by bringing outside reality into it, like when a character needs to pee really badly during a dramatic moment. It also likes to riff on the series’ goofier elements or weirder character beats, like when Uraraka recognizes Deku is getting worked up over having actually “touched a girl” and has an understandably uncomfortable response of “Umm…Like ew. No thanks!!” Much credit should also be given to the series’ expert localization, which takes advantage of the gag-comedy nature of the manga to indulge in silly onomatopoeia or phrases, like Deku saying “Dur?” or “Derp!” or “Guh-Bwah!” or “Pooper-Snackers!” which further flavors the series’ juicy jokery.
Smash’s more off-color humor and deconstructions of the series’ staple characters are definitely its best strength as a parody and strongest point of appeal for MHA fans. There are some surprisingly dark jokes, like Mount Lady’s assistant scheming to commit suicide so his wife and daughter can benefit from his life insurance policy, or a teenage pregnancy morning sickness joke involving Uraraka and Mineta. There’s also a lot of raunchy comedy too, including jokes involving a kid admitting to browsing porn on his dad’s phone or sniffing a female classmate’s desk. Mineta detractors should be warned that his perversity is amped up in this series, and he makes some particularly disgusting comments like “I accept all ages, from cradle to grave.” Readers should be warned that Smash has a dirtier sense of humor than its parent series, and its treatment of female characters isn’t always equal-opportunity in the comedy. Thankfully, most of the book’s humor is in good fun and Mineta aside, Neda’s interpretations of other characters are delightful. He seems particularly interested in minor characters like Mount Lady and Kamui Woods, and his strips arguably give them more characterization than they had in the original manga. Smash also likes to depict Deku as kind of an indecisive, socially awkward oddball, and in a way, this characterization reflects the spirit of the manga as a whole. It’s a version of MHA where the characters are less confident and more incompetent, but in a strange way, those very imperfections reflect a compelling sincerity at their core than reminds readers why they love them and the series in the first place.
While Neda doesn’t get much breathing room with most strips to show off his chops, Smash’s jokes are often elevated by the art. There’s a particular joke about Mount Lady accidentally picking up dog poop that could’ve been eye-rolling juvenile in most circumstances, but made me laugh out loud thanks to Lady’s absolutely horrified, sketchy-lined expression in the final panel. While comic strips often risk remaining just a conversation between talking heads, Neda manages to make great use of his space to draw interesting poses and expressions. Neda’s single-panel strips are particularly successful since they really a lot on the visual gag being really funny on its own even without the text, and Neda takes full advantage of the space provided to draw really memorable illustrations like a parody of the series iconic “You Can Be a Hero” moment showing All Might and Deku dressed as ballerinas. While the series’ structure limits what it can do artistically, Neda’s chops and instincts are sharp enough that Smash’s art is a strength of the book rather than an afterthought.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with Smash, and it was quite a long time. In spite of its relatively short 130-page length, the book is text-dense enough that it actually took me three times as long to read as a normal 180-page volume of MHA. However, while I liked Smash, it’s difficult to recommend it to general readers, especially non-fans. In his author’s comment, Neda refers to Smash as “crude.” I’d agree, not necessarily because the content is vulgar, but because the comedy is a series of punchlines without the punch. It doesn’t flow like a normal story – the scenes are disconnected and there’s a lot of context absent from them. There’s very little continuity between strips other than them being organized in the roughly chronological order of how the story of the series progresses. But Smash doesn’t work as a humorous alternative to the main story. Not every moment in the manga is replicated and oftentimes there will be non-sequitur strips that interrupt the flow of those that parody the main storyline. The first chapter of MHA is around 50 pages long, but the equivalent material parodied in Smash only clocks in at about 7 pages.
I wouldn’t recommend Smash to newbies looking for a funny summary of MHA to get through the story faster. There is some context to the world and characters – the book opens with a strip that restates the series’ premise, and usually when a new character is introduced they’re accompanied with a text box which summarizes their personality and what their quirk is. They also tend to debut in strips that focus on them and their relationship with Deku or another established character. However, Smash not really an abridged-series version of MHA; there’s just too much story missing to enjoy it as one. At best, Smash is a series of sketch-style comic strips inspired by MHA that serves as a humorous supplement to its parent series. Neda describes the book as kind of like bloopers that play during the credits of the movie, which is a sentiment I’d concur with. Rather than enjoyable in its own right, Smash is superfluous bonus material for existing MHA fans to amuse themselves with. In that regard, I wouldn’t say it’s a smashing success, but it’s still a lot of fun!