Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia Season 3 (Episodes 1-25 Streaming)
Having triumphed in the school athletic festival and even survived an encounter with the hero killer Stain, Deku and his classmates are ready to kick back and enjoy their summer vacation. Unfortunately, there won't be much time for relaxation this summer - as the vanguard of a new generation of heroes, their training will be continuing at a high-intensity summer program. And to make matters worse, just as their training begins, the League of Villains is preparing to spring its next plan into action. Whether it's through sparring with villains, earning provisional licenses, or preparing for their careers as pros, the stars of My Hero Academia will be harshly tested this season, as they prepare to enter a world on the brink of catastrophe.
My Hero Academia's second season represented a fairly dramatic step up from its predecessor. With all of the introductory work handled in the first season, season two was able to expand the story's scope through thrilling arcs that made great use of the show's ensemble cast, like the standout U.A. Sports Festival. That increased narrative scope was met by serious improvements to the anime production itself, like a better sense of scene-to-scene pacing and even more animation highlights. With the second season having raised the bar so substantially, season three had a pretty tough act to follow. So how does it measure up to its predecessor, and more importantly, how successful is it as a season in its own right?
The answers to these questions are multifaceted, but unfortunately, season three can't quite hit the standard set by number two. The season is divided into two relatively clear halves, with each offering its own central arc plus a few narrative stragglers. In the first, Classes 1-A and 1-B both go on a summer training expedition, which is swiftly interrupted by a League of Villains operation, leading to a messy free-for-all battle and desperate rescue operation. In the second, Midoriya and his classmates compete for their provisional hero licenses, sparring against schools from across Japan to earn the right to actually use their powers like pros. These arcs are very distinct and each have their own strengths, so it's probably best to tackle them individually.
Season three's first half is actually pretty spectacular all around, and demonstrates many of the strengths My Hero Academia has cultivated over the years. From an initial close focus on Deku and All Might, subsequent arcs have expanded the scope of Academia's focus, meaning that at this point, viewers have some built-in investment in the majority of Midoriya's classmates. Scattered across a dark forest and forced to reckon with villains on their own terms, these episodes offer thrilling action payoffs for many of 1-A's undersung heroes, much in the way the Sports Festival first increased Academia's breadth of focus characters. Additionally, with the fairly straightforward conflicts of early chapters replaced with a murkier riot of action, these episodes offer chances for unexpected team-ups, lots of desperate strategies, and all of the other tactical embellishments that lend flavor to traditional battles.
That training camp arc leads naturally into the first half's finale, where a rescue attempt by our young leads banks sharply into an all-out war between the League and society's peacekeepers. Building off the increased moral texture of arcs like Stain's, and letting pros like All Might take center stage for the first time, this rescue arc counts among Academia's greatest triumphs so far. Fusing Academia's heartfelt perspective on the nature and necessity of inspiration with high-stakes fights and gorgeous animation setpieces, Academia here rises to a crescendo so high it makes you wonder what could possibly come next.
Unfortunately, what actually does come next are a series of unfocused episodes and arcs that don't really make the most of Academia's talents. This season's second half is largely consumed by the provisional hero license exams, where Midoriya and his classmates compete to earn the right to actually use their powers in public. If that sounds like a relatively low-stakes conflict, you're not wrong - but the fact that this arc is centered on a conflict with virtually no consequences is ultimately the least of this half's problems.
The greatest issue with season three's second half is that it's simply not that exciting on an immediate, visceral level. The license exam arc certainly suffers from lacking the emotional stakes of the sports festival, but its fight scenes also just aren't that impressive in their own right. Having also read through the manga depiction of this arc, I feel confident that one of the main issues is that the license exam's action just doesn't really lend itself to animation. New characters and new powers are introduced through dramatic full-page spreads that look terrific in comic form, but lack the dynamism and beat-to-beat drama that makes for compelling animation. Concepts like “a character makes a giant whirlwind” or “Todoroki catches fire entirely” make for staggering single images, but don't translate to sequentially composed fight scenes. These fights weren't highlights even in the manga, but robbed of Kōhei Horikoshi's bombastic linework, they feel even less satisfying in animation.
Fortunately, what these episodes lack in dramatic spectacle, they work to make up for in narrative nuance. With Midoriya, Todoroki, and many other Academia leads having already experienced full personal arcs, Academia is able to now take a closer and more subtle look at the emotional substance of their lives. Midoriya is forced to grapple with his self-destructive nature or risk premature retirement, while Todoroki struggles with how his past trauma impacted his relationships with the people around him, and even Bakugo wrangles with feelings of extreme guilt and shame. Though I felt some character beats, like Ochako's increasing preoccupation with Deku, were poor choices, on the whole season three offers an increasingly nuanced emotional experience, matching the growing complexity of its overarching world.
In terms of production design, My Hero Academia is an institution at this point, and its continued sturdiness of execution will probably surprise no-one. The show can often struggle in translating things like one-off comedy gags into animation, but when it comes time for the big fights, the production soars. All Might's battle at the end of the first half is very likely the most impressive fight scene in all of My Hero Academia, while other battles, like a sparring match between Deku and Bakugo, demonstrate the vivid, kinetic impact of Yutaka Nakamura and Bones' other heavyweight animators. Once again, my main issue with Academia's execution comes down to its translation of certain manga highlights. The anime too often felt content simply to replicate single standout panels from the manga, instead of taking those opportunities to illustrate all the exciting back-and-forth that would have led up to those moments. Rigid loyalty to the source panels has haunted My Hero Academia since season one, but I feel like this season's battles might have suffered the most from that decision.
On the whole, My Hero Academia's third season feels like the settling into a steady neutral, after the show's awkward first act and standout follow-up. The show's conservative approach to interpreting manga fights hurts it considerably, and the season's second half lacks in both visual highlights and meaningful stakes, but My Hero Academia is still a solidly entertaining watch from one episode to the next. The halfway point of this season marked the end of an era in the manga, and the growing pains of moving beyond Academia's initial mode are clearly felt in its inconsistent second half's delivery. Yet for all that, Deku and his friends are an incredibly charming group, the pyrotechnics of their greatest fights are still a marvel to behold, and I'm eager to see how Academia continues to explore its thrilling world.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ The season's first half contains some of its highest peaks yet, and the increasing focus on subtler emotional conflicts is very welcome.
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