Reviewby Nick Creamer, Mar 2nd 2016
My Hero Academia
Class A's unexpected run-in with villainy continues, as the students fight to survive until help can arrive. All Might is soon to join the battle, but given these villains are actually there to capture him, will his powers be any help at all? And looking towards the future, even if the kids survive this battle, there are many challenges to come. Handling more villains might be a ways away, but that doesn't make the daily hero academy life any easier - especially with the school's vaunted sports festival coming up. Would-be heroes will fight to rise above their peers, all with an eye towards the uncertain professional future. Fighting villains is one thing, but standing out in a crowded hero landscape is business.
My Hero Academia's second volume was a whirlwind of challenges and cliffhangers and punches, cramming a full day of two-on-two hero battles and an unexpected attack by actual villains into a few action-packed chapters. The manga's third volume unsurprisingly can't maintain that pace - after a few chapters spent wrapping up that villain arc, it slows down, running through some exposition and revisiting the class and preparing for its upcoming sports festival. This makes for a somewhat less immediately satisfying read than the second volume, but the manga's general strengths are still apparent throughout, and the setup work being done here promises to reap plenty of interesting dividends down the line.
The first several chapters, where All Might attempts to hold off the villain force until backup can arrive, offer a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion to the last volume's major arc. In contrast to those chapters' diverse expression of powers and hair's-breadth victories, this section is largely a race against the clock between a hero whose power is punching really hard and villain who's designed to take punches really well. There are some dramatic showcase panels here, and the extended demonstrations of All Might's unique art style (big “Americanized” block colors) is a nice flourish, but a segment focusing on All Might inherently demonstrates how much less interesting he is than Midoriya as an action hero. Midoriya wins through tactics, desperation, and luck - his fights are as satisfying strategically as they are gripping dramatically, whereas his teacher is simply a really strong dude.
The manga continues to feel a little out of its element in the following chapters, as the cooldown from the villain arc segues to ramping into the upcoming sports festival. My Hero Academia is not a manga that excels at subtlety, and so these quieter, more board-adjusting chapters don't have quite the forward momentum of the others. By only capturing the tail end of the villain arc and the opening sparks of the festival, My Hero Academia finds itself in a somewhat awkward dramatic space during this set of chapters.
That said, the fact that this segment feels like a step down is less a serious failing of the work than a reflection of the high standard it generally sets for itself. In spite of not being quite as captivating as the average volume, these chapters still demonstrate plenty of the manga's strengths, from its great characters designs and expression work to the welcome camaraderie and just general goodness exhibited by most of its cast. My Hero Academia's leads are diverse, likable, and driven, exactly the kind of heroes-in-training you'd expect to become the leaders of tomorrow.
That focus on “tomorrow” comes into sharper view in the volume's second half, where explanations of the sports festival's importance offer some interesting insight into the world of My Hero Academia. One of the most compelling things about My Hero Academia as a shounen template is that this story exists in a modern and fully established world, where heroes are already an accepted part of a larger societal and economic infrastructure. The sports festival isn't framed solely as a way to prove their mettle - it's also a scouting opportunity, where professional heroes, promoters, and the general public are all watching to see the next generation's stuff.
Students fret to each other about the potential career dead end of becoming a sidekick, while others in the business school challenge each other on how they'd market one or another particular hero. When a student in the support course uses the first challenge as a chance to show off her own gadgets, her battle cry is “eyes on me, all you corporations out there!” While the leader of the villains seems too immature to really back up his speeches on the ambiguity of heroism, there's a nice edge to the way the manga itself frames the less high-minded practicalities of heroism as a career path.
In addition to providing some compelling worldbuilding details, the opening act of the festival arc is also just fantastically entertaining. With the buildup chapters concluded, the festival's first round provides ample opportunity for dramatic action panels and creative applications of superpowers. Midoriya once again gets to demonstrate what a well-designed protagonist he is, as his continuing inability to master his own power leaves him making tactical gamble after gamble in order to keep up with his classmates. Explosions pow and lasers zing and students dip and weave beneath crumbling robots, offering a rousing demonstration of just how fun action for its own sake can be.
Overall, My Hero Academia's third volume is a bit less of a consistent high than its second, but still offers great fundamental strengths and some compelling highlights. Additionally, the volume's reflections on the larger superhero world seem to imply that the story will eventually gain a welcome moral complexity, or at least acknowledge the inherent pragmatism necessary when pursuing heroism in the real world. Things are still looking up for this very entertaining manga.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Art and characters remain strong, sports festival arc offers some great action highlights, and the worldbuilding elements are adding some nice complexity to the series.
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