Any anime fan will tell you: “My Hero Academia” is big right now, both in America and Japan. It’s an engaging, endearing series about a world full of superheroes that’s captured the hearts of viewers worldwide. Crunchyroll Expo gave us and some other lucky outlets the opportunity to sit down with Justin Briner, who voices the protagonist Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, where we discussed his role, what the series means to him, and the impact that “My Hero Academia” has had.
Justin’s road to voice acting began when he was very young. “My parents did acting at local theater and community theater before I could even remember, so I was always sort of tapped into that community and the theatrical world,” he explained. After continuing his theatrical studies through high school and college, he tried to find a career path that provided a means of artistic expression and fulfillment.
“So the cartoons and the video games that meant so much to me growing up and brought me so much joy I thought were a wonderful avenue to take everything I learned from stage and use to express these cool and unique characters that you don’t really get to see in plays or musicals.”
After getting in touch with FUNimation, he had a general audition with the studio. “They must have liked the cut of my jib,” Justin reasoned. “They kept calling me back in.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
As the protagonist of “My Hero Academia,” Deku is a unique character in shonen anime. The kind of sensitivity Deku portrays is often seen in stark contrast to the hyper-masculine heroes of “Dragon Ball Z” or “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” and that’s a difference that makes him appealing to both Justin and the viewers.
“What really drew me to Deku initially and continues to compel me is that [he] has always felt like a very real portrait of mental health growing up. He deals with real relatable issues; he struggles with his self worth, he’s trying to forge his identity in this super heroic society, and he’s dealing with his inadequacies as people tell him that he’s less than what he dreams he can be.
“I think on one level or another everyone can relate to feeling that growing up in some capacity. So I’ve just really tried to tap into that and portray that as honestly as I can, and I think that’s what’s drawn a lot of people to root for Deku, because they feel that someone in this class is someone that they can relate to as well, and that makes you root for them in a way that we wish we had someone rooting for us growing up.”
As he answered further questions about the role, Justin elaborated:
“Deku is at his core emotionally vulnerable, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and I think that’s so beautiful because his friends love and accept him for that. It’s never portrayed as a weakness, his crying has never gotten in the way of him being a hero – it’s out of gratitude and out of just having to vent these strong and powerful feelings that he has. It also doesn’t take away from the times when he has to really steel up and fight the big fights. It’s great to play a character that feels so real and is so honest with himself and is able to adequately express himself and identify what he’s feeling in those moments.”
Indeed, there are multiple moments of high emotion throughout the series, which has touched countless viewers’ hearts. Even on his side of the microphone, Justin still feels every emotional moment, to the point were some episodes are too powerful to rewatch.
“Of course the theme of the sports festival fight with
Todoroki was really beautiful – the feeling that you are your own person and what has come before you doesn’t identify who you are and you don’t have to be ashamed of where you come from. There’s a moment recently where, after All Might had his fight with All For One, Deku realized that he has sort of lost his emotional crutch – now he has to shoulder the burden that used to belong to the most powerful man on the planet, and I think that’s very difficult, that’s a real coming of age theme.”
Just as Deku’s character resonates with Justin, so have fans around the world fallen for the class of UA and all the heroes-in-training within. The show’s success came as something of a surprise, but there was a moment of realization when the cast realized what they were a part of.
“There were sort of whispers around the studio when they g
ot the rights to the property and auditions started that it was going to be a big deal. But we didn’t really see the repercussions of that popularity until this year especially, when they announced the movie, they announced the video game, [and] they put it on Toonami, so that it’s exposed to a whole new audience. It’s taken a little time, but now I think the cast and I sort of realized it at the same time and looked at each other like ‘Oh… this has become a really really big deal.’“
But the success has been an amazing experience for Justin, who describes his experience traveling to meet fans and interact with the Japanese crew as “something beautiful.”
“We did Anime Expo with Yamashita-san and I got to pick his brain a little bit about his process and what he likes (and what his favorite foods are) and also with Horikoshi-sensei at San Diego Comic Con. Being part of exposing them to their international audience – which they sort of understand exists, but they get to see them just crazy and wild and energetic and just so passionate for something they worked really hard on – I think that’s kind of cool to just bask in the experience.”
As part of the anime’s success, a full-length movie will be hitting theaters soon. The English dub has already been recorded, and Justin is thrilled at what new elements it brings to the franchise.
“What I love so much about the opportunity to do this movie is that it expands the universe in such a cool way. Now we find out that there’s this super science community that’s been around this whole time, making wild gadgets and everything, which is something we’ve only had a little taste of around the school. So yeah, I just want to see more characters, more of everything.”
Justin elaborated: “What I really love in My Hero is when we get the arcs that build the universe up, like the sports festival, we get to see everyone else who isn’t in the main class get to show off and prove why they are also super. So just more of that, please.”
Throughout the interview, Justin’s gratitude to the fans and love for the series was clear. The entire experience of being a part of “My Hero Academia” has been, in is words, “infinitely rewarding.”
“I love being able to tell such a real honest, emotional story,” Justin concluded. “It’s been great getting to travel and share my passion with people who are equally or more so passionate about the project as I am, and the more I get to talk to folks and see who their favorite characters are and who their favorite relationships are the more it deepens my understanding of the material. So it’s really amazing and to get to share that sort of international love for the series with everyone is really really great.”
While the “My Hero Academia” series continues through its third season, there’s no telling how many more years of the UA class’s heroic adventures await. In the meantime, you can check out our coverage of Crunchyroll Expo 2018, and keep an eye on G33k-HQ for more interviews from the convention. Our thanks once again to Justin Briner for taking the time to speak with us, and to Crunchyroll Expo for the opportunity.