Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
Training for the students of U.A.'s hero courses continue up in the mountains! Forced to strengthen not just their bodies, but their actual Quirks, Midoriya and his fellow students will be pushed to the limits, even as the specter of the League of Villains hangs in the distance. And when the league finally does make its move, both class 1-A and 1-B find themselves stranded in the dark, surrounded by a dangerous group of killers and criminals. U.A. is rushing to prepare these kids for the future, but the perils of the adult world are chasing them down even faster than expected. Can Midoriya and his friends survive out in the wilderness, pitting their untested Quirks against their toughest opponents yet?
Volume eight of My Hero Academia was a transition phase, as the story continued to detail the fallout of the Hero Killer Stain incident, as well as set up various pieces for the next arcs. Based on the early pages of this volume, you might think we'd be moving into training arc territory - the manga takes a fair amount of time to establish 1-A's new teachers, and the concept of specialized Quirk training is given a great deal of narrative focus. But just like with the USJ visit and Gran Torino's training, it seems like My Hero Academia is never content to simply let a training arc play itself out. Shortly after arriving at their forest training grounds, My Hero Academia's cast find themselves attacked by a new crop of villains, in what could well be the story's most viscerally satisfying arc yet.
My Hero Academia's ensemble approach to shounen storytelling has always been one of its greatest strengths. Seeing the various members of the cast all reflect off each other thematically in the sports festival arc, or watching Midoriya, Todoroki, and Iida embrace new tactical options in a three-on-one fight, is a unique pleasure that helps it stand out within the genre. The last time the whole 1-A class fought together, we were only closely acquainted with maybe a fifth of the cast. By now, the entire group has grown into load-bearing heroes, and so Kōhei Horikoshi is able to make every single classmate the hero of their own dedicated battle.
The underlying setup of this volume's continuous siege war makes great use of its many characters. Attacked by a group of ten new villains while in the middle of a test of courage, the students and their chaperones find themselves naturally separated into small groups, with a lack of communal direction and information resulting in a variety of distinctive conflicts. While Midoriya rushes off to save a young boy he knows has been isolated, Eraserhead fights to defend the students back at the lodge. While Shoji grapples with Tokoyami's rampaging Dark Shadow, Kendo and Tetsu-Tetsu from 1-B work to tactically overwhelm a poisonous gas Quirk. My Hero Academia's ninth volume is a trove overflowing with action riches, each conflict rising and falling like waves pounding the coast.
This volume's diversity of simultaneous conflicts lets Horikoshi demonstrate both his understanding of dramatic fundamentals and his increasingly astonishing art talents. Midoriya is challenged by an enemy whose Quirk is very similar to his own muscle-enhancing ability, in a fight that ultimately comes down to “how hard can Midoriya actually punch.” That's not a weakness of the conflict, though - with the actual tactics framed in the simplest possible terms, this fight instead becomes a demonstration of both how impact can be demonstrated visually, and also how far Midoriya has come on his thematic journey towards heroism. Having consistently demonstrated the ability to inspire others that lies at the heart of heroism, this turns into a rapturous “All Might moment” for our hero - bruised and almost broken, he wagers his life to save another, embodying the astonishing All Might footage that once inspired him to fight.
Other fights demonstrate the many ways this story's wild Quirks can facilitate tactical duels. Kendo and Tetsu-Tetsu get one of the best fights on that front, as their opponent's combination of knockout gas and a literal gun forces them to apply their resources as carefully as possible. Elsewhere, Tokoyami succumbing to the pull of his Dark Shadow offers some of the most striking visual setpieces My Hero Academia has yet offered, before even his rampaging is turned into a tactical weapon by his teammates. All of these fights feel urgent and fresh, bringing new members of 1-A to the fore and pitting them against a remarkably inventive set of enemy powers. You can't walk ten feet in this volume's forest without tripping over an astonishing, perfectly realized battle.
In the end, what most surprises me about this volume is that theoretically, this really shouldn't be a consequential fight. This volume is mostly about the League of Villains testing the waters, sending a message, and possibly recruiting a new ally. And yet, in spite of its theoretically inconsequential nature, Horikoshi's flowering talent turns this into one of the most thrilling arcs in the genre. My Hero Academia has become scary-good, and I can't even imagine what comes next.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A
+ Makes terrific use of My Hero Academia's rich cast, offers some of the most exciting fights of the story to date, brings all of it to life with gorgeous art
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