My Hero Academia is an ever-growing cultural phenomenon. The series explores superheroes outside the context of Western comic books. And this world continues to expand with the release of its second film, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising. We spoke to lead English voice actors, Justin Briner (Izuku Midoriya/Deku) and Clifford Chapin (Katsuki Bakugou) ahead of the Blu-ray/DVD release. We talked about what My Hero Academia has taught them, the relationship between their characters, and how the My Hero Academia film differs from the episodic anime series.
Mae Trumata: My Hero Academia has been consistently releasing at least a season per year in the last few years. It has had two film releases in just the span of three years. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content that needs to be covered for this series?
Justin Briner: I would say no. I think one of the benefits to their production schedule for the anime is that there are kind of breaks built-in. No one gets too overloaded by the material. You have some time to breathe after these big additional arcs and breathtaking moments. So, I don’t know, I think it’s been positive.
Clifford Chapin: No, not particularly. If there’s anything that’s ever hard on me, it is the upkeep of yelling and such like that. But I’m never overwhelmed by the content. If anything, it’s only my own human limitations that ever keep me on edge, but no. I think we release at a really good pace. And you know, having the film alongside the season was very exciting, and we got to record the video game around the same time. So, we were very much in the headspace of the characters and living that world. It just felt really alive, and it’s a very exciting thing to be a part of as it’s happening like that.
MT: To Justin, at the start of the anime, Deku’s “quirklessness” was a big focal point. As the series went on, that has kind of disappeared into the background. Would you like to explore that more in the future and maybe bring it back a little bit?
JB: I would say yeah, I think it’s definitely interesting. Being quirkless, and growing up as a child that way in a superhero society, really impacted Deku I think. That part of him will never truly go away, you know; what he’s been through, how people acted towards him during those days. But I think it’s more of a testament to—if you believe in yourself and your skillset, and you have very clear goals and passion, then you can follow them. And sometimes, it’s going to work out for you.
MT: And Cliff, on the opposite end of that, Bakugou used to be Deku’s tormentor and bully. Do you think you’d like to revisit that part of him and see how much he’s developed as a character; maybe see him work through what he has done before?
CC: As an actor, I would like to maybe see that redemption element come into play a little bit more. But I don’t feel that—I don’t know that I would ever want to go back and revisit that time. Because I feel like the story is at its best when we’re feeling how far we’ve moved from it. Which is actually something that I really liked about the Heroes Rising film.
It felt like that was something we were so far beyond. And getting to explore those elements of Bakugou and Deku interacting now, as more mature young heroes—it felt really satisfying. There’s a part of me that feels like, if we were to go back and revisit that time, we would almost be losing a little bit of what we have gained. And so, I really am most excited to see the story just to continue forward with those elements in mind.
MT: And I really like the dynamic between your two characters; both of you as voice actors for your individual characters, and together when working or fighting against each other. Do you guys ever do anything behind the scenes to cultivate that chemistry that you have?
JB: I would say, you know up until fairly recently at least, we had the benefit of getting to travel together, see each other in the halls of the studio, this and that. We were never too far apart. And Cliff and I bond over video games, comic books, that sort of thing. So we definitely have shared interests and likes that we get to talk about, and chat, and hang out.
CC: It’s funny that Justin’s and my actual relationship is not at all like what Deku and Bakugou had grown up with. Whereas we are much more friends and colleagues, and we get along – I would like to think very well [laughs] – but that furthers, actually I feel, the performance. It’s that, if I go to the booth and we have a big fight scene against each other or something like that, I know Justin’s going to come into this with his teeth grit and he’s going to really lay down a good performance. It makes me want to perform a better performance as well.
MT: And how different was it to record Deku and Bakugou working together in the film? As opposed to in the main series, where we usually see them fighting instead. Would you like to be able to do more of that in the future of the series?
JB: I would say it’s different in kind of the best way. Moments in the film are sort of the moments that fans of these characters, and fans of their dynamic and friendship, have wanted for such a long time. So, it’s great to see them working together, and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and getting play off of that. Because they have such a unique, special history to them that finally, it’s coming to fruition. And I think that’s really beautiful.
CC: I completely agree in what Justin says. It’s what the fans have been waiting for, and it’s what I felt like I have been waiting for. It was the moments where they were not only forced to work together – which we had already sort of seen in the series – but the moments where they accept and excel at working together. It was such a cool moment! I loved all of those moments in the film; to see them on the big screen, everything was incredible so I hope we get more. I just can’t wait to see it.
MT: And Justin, in the film and throughout the series, Deku kind of fluctuates between his patience and this overbearing determination that he has to save people. How do you as his voice actor ensure that you strike that delicate balance that is in his character?
JB: It took a little detective work, for sure. But thankfully, I’ve been living with this character for such a long time. I understand now what he’s been through, what makes him tick. These little nuances are often a little surprising to me because he’ll do things that even I didn’t expect. I just try to take each moment as it comes, make it seem real. Because these kids and these students are very real to a lot of people, so I just want to try and capture that most of all.
MT: And Cliff, do you often find it difficult to give Bakugou’s voice nuance whenever he’s at his most vulnerable or emotional?
CC: I want to say that I don’t, but that’s like a very cheap answer. It’s that I have been so eager for us to explore these nuances with Bakugou that when they present themselves, I find that if anything, I tend to overdo it. Colleen who is our voice director, she’s always really good about navigating me in the same space of, “I don’t want you to be too vulnerable, I don’t want you to be too much this thing”.
We have to stay within that space of Bakugou and keep true to that character, which is always the goal. If anything, it’s almost like wanting to portray that more vulnerable, more authentic, less of a façade Bakugou. It’s something I’m very eager to do. And just finding the ways to step into it a little bit at a time is the real challenge. It’s actually the most exciting part as an actor I would say.
MT: And Justin, we’ve obviously seen Deku’s relationship with the many different characters evolve throughout the series. Are there any characters which you would like to see more of the dynamic Deku could have with in the future?
JB: Oh gosh, I love all the characters in class 1A! Anytime they get some limelight, I think is really special. I would just say more characters—anyone! I just love seeing Deku’s relationships kind of flourish and blossom, and people start accepting him for who he is and what he brings to the table. So yeah, just more—more of everyone!
MT: And Cliff, Bakugou is obviously one of the many characters, and probably the most prominent character with a lot of sarcasm, witty remarks, and nicknames for everybody. Do you ever improvise any of those lines or the nicknames that he gives to those people?
CC: No [laughs]. I trust very much in the authorial intent that has been established in the manga; that has been established in the anime. I try to live very true to what that story is and what the writers have set the word for the character. Me improvising is not really necessary. And I just try to live in the truth of the story that’s been created.
MT: And going back to Heroes Rising, what was both of yours’ initial reaction to Deku and Bakugou working together to defeat Nine?
JB: Well, I remember I hadn’t seen it yet and Cliff had I think, before me. So, all I knew about it really going in was [laughs] him kind of cryptically like, “did you watch it yet,” and I said, “no, why, I don’t—what happens”. And so yeah, I eventually found out what happens, and I’m just blown away. It’s a feast for the senses; it feels good on a character level, it feels good on an animation level, the sound—the everything! It’s such a beautiful, awesome, climactic moment. And from at least my experience with it, seeing it in theatres a couple of times, people go crazy for it! So, I’m really excited about that.
CC: It would not be an exaggeration to say, just overwhelming excitement. When I got to watch through it before we started recording, I was kind of losing my mind. Justin is not wrong in saying it to you that I was like, “do you know what happens, have you seen it,” because I was so excited! I just knew that those moments were going to be phenomenal when the audience got to see them. The hype was real is all I can say, because I’m so thrilled.
MT: So films like Two Heroes and Heroes Rising are really good; fans get to see the characters in different situations separate from the overbearing grittiness of the main series. How is it for you as voice actors to be able to explore other parts of the characters in these films that you don’t normally get to explore within the main series?
JB: I think it’s nice and it’s sort of refreshing. It’s like a different style of telling a story—a film. While you have the show, it’s lineated into these arcs, you have little moments for each character in each episode, in the film it’s one whole big shebang. Every character gets their little moment in the sun. And you get to tell a story maybe with characters that aren’t always together, or just have been brought together for this event that’s happening in the film. I think that’s something to be celebrated and I’m excited to see more of it. They’ve been very creative so far with their application of it so I’m looking forward to more.
CC: Totally the same. In the series, you have a slow build-up of development that we have seen it now, over the eighty-something episodes of the show. And there’s a lot of payoff for that. But in the film, you sort of always get to see the immediate culmination of what that work has led to. And that’s just always going to feel really satisfying; to see those characters just step-up and rise to a challenge, or overcome another challenge. Because you’ve seen them already developing into the point that they can face those things. I agree with Justin completely in that I hope there’s more, and I’m eager to see it when it comes.
MT: One last question, what does My Hero Academia personally teach both of you as a people?
JB: It’s taught me to dig a little deeper, to look for what makes a person, what people define as “value”. I don’t know—watching these kids grow up through the several seasons of the show so far has really made me look at people and friendships in a different way. It’s interesting how even I’m learning lessons, and I’ve been out of high school for who knows how long! Yeah, I think it’s great.
CC: It’s going to be a lot of the same. My Hero Academia has even enriched my interactions with fans, and fans of the series. It’s amazing how much My Hero Academia touches people’s hearts. And to get to be any sort of part of that is an incredible experience. It’s very humbling and an honour. If anything, I feel like it just propels me to continue to try harder and become better and stronger, and do a better job every day.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is available on Blu-Ray/DVD and Steelbook now.
Interview conducted by Mae Trumata
Photos and video clips provided by Funimation.