You might be forgiven for thinking that we last saw the heroes of UA’s legendary Class 1-A on the big screen a few years ago at this point. But no: it just feels like it. The release of Funimation’s My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising was one of the last Normal Things to happen before 2020 decided to 2020 itself all over the place. Now, a welcome reminder of that Before Time — it’s homeward bound!
To mark this week’s home release of Heroes Rising, Gizmodo got on Zoom — as is standard protocol these days — with Justin Briner and Clifford Chapin, the voices of My Hero’s dynamic duo themselves, Izuku “Deku” Midoriya and Katsuki Bakugo. The film is set in an undisclosed future point in Deku, Bakugo, and the rest of the class’ lives beyond where the anime currently is in the adaptation of Kohei Horikoshi’s smash hit manga. It occupies an interesting space not just for Briner and Chapin, but for our young superheroes themselves.
While they continue to lend their voices to the English dub of My Hero’s fourth season and beyond, the film marks the last time the actors got to celebrate the spirit of the series in person with fans. For Deku and Bakugo, Heroes Rising doesn’t just present a future where the duo has to put their past grudges behind them, they must also confront a foe who sees them bend all the rules we ever thought we knew about My Hero’s most potent superpower to save the day. Check out our interview below, delving into their thoughts on missing My Hero fans, preparing for the twists and turns of Heroes Rising, and how they prepare as voice actors for shonen anime’s penchant for perpetual screaming.
James Whitbrook: It’s been quite a year we’ve had since Heroes Rising came out. You’ve both had time to sit with reaction to the movie, but what’s it been like for both of you as voice actors, adapting to the world that we now live in?
Justin Briner: It’s quite a shift And I think it’s nice that we had the premiere of Heroes Rising to have a high note before all this happened, but, as for me, speaking solely from the voiceover standpoint, my work and home lives collided in a big way — I wasn’t necessarily prepared for that. I got a very good piece of mind from keeping them separate, so I could go home and not have to worry about things. Now, whenever I’m home, I’m like, “should I be working?” So yeah, that’s been a difficult adjustment. I, most of all, can’t overstate that I’m thrilled just to keep working on the shows that I have been working on, so I’m very grateful to everyone who helped get short-term fixes together so I could keep working and keep doing that. It’s been different, but enough’s the same that I’m grateful.
Clifford Chapin: Yeah, and to kind of echo what Justin just said, I can remember being in the theatre and tears coming to my eyes when the big climax is happening, just because it was such a big, powerful moment in the thing that my life had been building to. Like a goal achieved, sort of. And then for 2020 to become what it was, it’s amazing how as terrible and depressing 2020 has been, it has only furthered how much I appreciated that moment in time. To be there with the cast, and so many fans, and in the press and everything, it was just an incredible moment and such a highlight of my year, of my life, and it only — I only look back on that night more fondly as time goes on.
Whitbrook: Heroes Rising brought us to this undisclosed, vague point in the future of the My Hero timeline, and the entire cast, but especially both of you as Deku and Bakugo, are approaching these characters in a somewhat new light. They’ve matured, they’ve become more confident in themselves and their relationships with each other — especially Deku and Bakugo, who have always had a testy relationship, putting it mildly. How did you both approach this new relationship that they have in Heroes Rising where they’ve both matured a little?
Briner: I think it just feels like a pretty natural progression for them, and as a fan of both characters I really am excited to see that. I think it’s just something that happens as you keep growing up, you know? You cool off about certain things. Or you learn more. You understand and empathise. So, I feel like that’s just what they’re going through. Of course, everything is escalated because you live in superhero city, but aside from that, it’s just sort of how these two kids would end up growing up together — especially now, that they’ve proven they respect each other, they can be honest with each other...I think there’s finally a trust building between them that I just think was really great to explore.
Chapin: For me, my performance as Bakugo has kind of changed a little over the course of the series. The way Bakugo acted in season one kinda changed in season two — he had to be humbled a little bit. He had to realise “maybe I’m not the best student by proxy of all my classmates in middle school anymore” — he had to grow past that. So, I developed with my performance as you get into season two and beyond, I always portrayed him very harshly. But knowing we were so far beyond that point in this movie, I tried to really relax how I approached the lines.
I tried to really relax how I approached the lines, especially in the beginning when they’re just sort of like lounging about the hero agency area, the call centre. I tried to make him not come across as so aggressive to everybody, as maybe we would back in the show. If anything was really interesting to me [it] was knowing that this was set in a sort of further ahead point, where Bakugo had relaxed a little bit more. It was then interesting to go back and record the rest of season four, where we were still sort of growing out of the fallout of the second fight between Bakugo and Deku. I felt like I had to jump really far into character progression and then step back to actually experience the character progression: go to this relaxed place and go back to a harsher place. That was sort of the most interesting and if anything, challenging, part of my timeline.
Whitbrook: I wanted to ask, when you guys were first getting ready for the movie, looking through the script when you hit that moment — the big fight between Deku, Bakugo, and Nine — what was that reaction like for both of you? Did you immediately start ringing each other up and start screaming at each other? What was that feeling like when you realised, “Oh my God, they’re actually going to do this”?
Briner: You are closer on base than you think. My first exposure to it was — because we were able to get materials early, we had a pretty quick recording schedule for this — so while I was in the studio one day, he found me and was like “have you seen it? Have you seen it?!” When you hear a recommendation like that, you’ve gotta go and see it. Of course, it blew me away. Like, character progression aside it’s just beautiful to look at. It feels great in the context of the movie because the characters have been beaten down so far at this point you really want them to fight back, and they do, in a really spectacular way. So yeah, it hit everything for me.
Chapin: It was just totally like a mind blown sort of moment. Just the thought that the characters had come this far, that they’re willing to go to this level to defeat an enemy. To reach this level of working together and sacrifice was just unbelievable, to me and, obviously, me...the first time I’m watching this it’s too good to be true. There’s no way this is what’s going to stay. I’ve seen anime movies. But to even witness it, experience it, was for just that brief moment, just an incredible moment. And I got to say lines I’ll probably never get to say again and will have no reason to ever say again. It was so fulfilling and gratifying. The entire experience of seeing it.
Whitbrook: Doing a lot of anime and a show like My Hero, you’re used to doing a lot of screaming and shouting for extended periods of time. When you are preparing for such an intense VO session like that, what sort of headspace do you guys get into as actors just to prepare?
Briner: Well, of course, I think when you have a big moment like that to look forward to, just on the baseline you want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, you’re warming up beforehand, etc. Staying hydrated. But I think for me, personally, knowing what I did the hardest part for me was not giving it all away at once. I had to build into that incredible moment. Because for the show sometimes, for the fights, you dive right in and start fighting. But for this, it was very meticulous, the way they built up to this unbelievable moment to the point where it’s happening you’re like, “No — no way. Really?” So, I think for me, and I’m thankful for my directors in this case, too, they keep me on track. They know where to build and it’s just really cool to collaborate with them.
Chapin: For me, Bakugo is always at a 10, so it’s kind of hard not to just immediately give it away. So, when we got to that last big push, I actually recorded a day before Justin did, or it might have been hours, I can’t remember. It was so close working on it so fast, I just know I was a little bit ahead of you. To get to that moment I was like, I gotta really grit my teeth and make this big one monumental. Everything that follows after this is downhill. Because it’s just — this is the most important scream, maybe of my life if not just the film. And I don’t know about you Justin, but I yelled “Detroit Smash” so hard that I felt woozy. But it meant so much to me to get to be in that moment and live it honestly. I give you my word I put it all in that recording.
Whitbrook: Now you’ve had the time to reflect on this movie, and to go back and carry on recording for season four — the treadmill just keeps on going. What do you think you’ll both take from the experience of Heroes Rising, and what it does to the characters as this universe continues to expand and get crazier and crazier?
Briner: For me, I loved their development so much, so I hope you get to see traces of where that came from in the series. But aside from all that, what really sticks with me now that I’m removed from the show for a bit, from society as a whole, is, who hasn’t missed a beat in all this. The fans, every week, like clockwork, are going nuts about each new development in the manga or each new announcement about the anime. I’m just really missing the enthusiasm, the electricity of being in a room full of people who love what they’re here for. So just thanks for being who you all are, you know?
Chapin: I’m in the same sort of spot, where it’s like, if there’s anything I’m excited for with the upcoming season and hopefully more seasons to come, is that I look forward to seeing them grow to the point they were in Heroes Rising and beyond it. I look forward to seeing what the relationship and dynamic develops into. And if there’s one thing that I take away more every year, more every day, is just how gracious I am to be part of it and get to experience it. Justin reads the manga and I don’t, personally. But the fans are so excited to share things that happened in the manga with me and it’s exciting. It’s an honour to be part of something that the fans who are so passionate and vocal want to reach out to me to share their excitement about it with me. It’s incredibly humbling. I don’t really know any other way to put it. It’s an honour. I hope to forever do it justice the best I possibly can, and forever live up to everybody’s expectations.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is out on DVD, Blu-ray, and digitally on October 28.