Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia - Volume 22
The scrimmages between U.A.'s top students continue, as classes 1-A and 1-B square off in a series of four-on-four battles! Can Iida and Todoroki work together to overcome the stars of class 1-B? Is Bakugo capable of collaborating with a team, or will he simply leave his three companions in his explosive wake? All that these students have learned both as heroes and friends will be tested, as the stars of My Hero Academia face off in a set of battles like nothing before!
There are a variety of ways storytellers can work to make audiences feel invested in the outcome of a given fight scene. They can imbue that fight scene with clear dramatic stakes; emphasize either the emotional or physical results of victory, thereby giving the scene a sense of consequence. They can rely purely on aesthetic flourish, conveying actions so dazzling in their execution that they evoke a visceral sense of wonder. Or they can revel in the tactical complexity of some specific faceoff, illustrating the conditions of battle in terms the audience can understand, and thereby allowing the audience to feel the rush of contenders racing to “solve” each other's abilities in real time.
My Hero Academia's twenty-second volume is entirely consumed by battles, as classes 1-A and 1-B compete to show off how much they've learned, not just about controlling their quirks, but about collaborating and triumphing over adverse circumstances. Centered on a series of purely exposition matches, there's not much sense of “emotional consequence” built into these battles - but as four-on-four battles between heroes with wildly divergent superpowers, they are an absolute buffet of visual spectacle and tactical back-and-forth. In fact, in terms of grounding his fights in dynamic, ability-driven contrasts and clearly conveying the strategic flow of battle, I'm not sure Horikoshi has ever before pulled off such a satisfying series of fight scenes.
Rather than feeling less exciting because all of these matches are essentially scrimmages, the fact that these battles are taking place between classmates who are all aware of each other's powers actually enhances the fun. We've seen characters like Iida and Bakugo fight their hardest with their backs against the wall, but this volume offers something different: a demonstration of all these heroes at their professional best, taking note of key powers possessed by their opponents, and collaborating to overcome unique series of distinct obstacles.
Part of the fun of this volume comes down to its consistent sense of discovery. While the students of 1-A competed against 1-B back during the sports festival, we only ever received a brief snapshot of 1-B's powers, or even their full class roster. Not so in this volume, which finds both visual theater and thrilling tactical conceits in the unveiling of 1-B's full roster. At the same time, the back-to-back Overhaul and School Festival arcs mean that we also haven't seen most of 1-A themselves in action for quite some time. Watching Todoroki work to balance his use of powers, or Bakugo genuinely evolving into a reliable team leader, gives these fights a satisfying sense of emotional payoff. My Hero Academia's ensemble setup has always been one of its strongest features, and few arcs have embraced the potential of that setup like this one.
Finally, this volume is also greatly elevated by Horikoshi's accelerating understanding of visual storytelling. Many of Academia's earlier fights were dramatically hamstrung by a lack of visual clarity; exciting things were happening, but the flow of battle had a tendency to get lost in the visual spectacle. In volume twenty-two, in spite of Horikoshi attempting to depict four-on-four battles within a labyrinth of industrial piping, the momentum of battle is always clear. The twists of these fights are conveyed so clearly that there's virtually no need for exposition, letting Horikoshi's beautiful impact panels and vivid explosions take center stage.
All in all, My Hero Academia's twenty-second volume is easily one of the series' strongest so far, in spite of not really pushing the plot forward in any way. Fights this exciting are their own reward; and overarching narrative aside, it feels wonderful to check in on 1-A as a whole, and celebrate all the progress they've made both as heroes and friends. My Hero Academia continues to offer all manner of terrific thrills.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Absolutely brimming with tactically thrilling and visually dazzling fights that celebrate My Hero Academia's ensemble appeal.
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