My Hero Academia
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 106 of
My Hero Academia (TV 5) ?
I said last week that, however this story of the Todoroki family progresses, it all but had to be through means besides the standard shonen approach to conflict resolution. There are a lot of things that can be effectively resolved through cool super-power fights, but crawling out of the impact crater of familial abuse and sifting through the emotional rubble just isn't one of them. Yet this is still an adaptation of a Shonen Jump manga, and the demands of the genre mean we can't really get a 13-episode saga of the Todorokis going to both individual and group therapy to sort out and communicate their feelings as it would be necessary in real life. So in a season already light on high-stakes action, MHA tries to split the difference this episode. The results are a bit messy on the narrative side of things, as “The Unforgiven” ends up feeling like two very different episodes patched together with surprising finesse, but still containing visible seams.
For one, the central villain of this episode just feels too thin. There's a good idea here – a villain from years before who saw the old Endeavor as a blazing inferno of cleansing fire he could immolate himself with returns, only to find those furious flames tempered by time and personal development. But that's also a story that needs more than a couple of minutes to properly land, and with how much else this series is juggling at the moment there is just no time. So Ending becomes mostly a neat-looking opponent to take down while putting Endeavor into an emotional bind. That would be less of an issue if this weren't a pivotal moment in the show's most emotionally complicated arc, but here it just feels a tad off that this random guy we've known for all of three scenes is what closes out this current story arc.
That act of beating him, at least, is pretty fun. When Endeavor freezes in the face of his worst choices, it's Deku & The Boys' time to shine, and it's a blast to see all three of them take immediate and decisive action. Deku confidently breaks out Black Whip to save several civilians caught in the crossfire, with a speed and confidence we've never quite seen from him before. Bakugo, shockingly, goes directly for rescuing Natsu, rather than attacking the villain head-on, and it saves the man's life by mere miliseconds. Todoroki blazes in with his flames, taking Ending down with his own flash fire without a moment's hesitation. These are all quick, simple moments that nonetheless demonstrate a change in each of these kids, acting in ways you'd never have expected from where they started their arcs. Their training in this work study may have been grueling, but they all made it matter in the clutch, and may just be ready for whatever dangers are waiting in the wings.
Thus concludes the Shonen Battle portion of this week's programming. Now we dig into the real climax of this episode and story arc: an uncomfortable, awkwardly public conversation between an estranged father and his son. It's certainly a bold way to close out this arc, but I wouldn't have it any other way. After a full season of grimacing contemplation and half-hearted attempts, Endeavor at last has to put what he wants into words, and then turn those words into action.
“It's okay if you don't forgive me. I don't want your forgiveness. I want to atone.”
Not gonna lie, reading that line – both here and in the manga – felt like letting out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding for nearly two years. Forgiveness is all well and good, but there is often a tendency – in both fiction and real life – to expect, even demand it, from people who are wronged. And I get that impulse. Seeing a genuine act of forgiveness can grant a powerful, cathartic feeling to a character and the audience. Hell, one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction, Planet With, is built on that exact idea. But forgiveness is something to be granted or withheld on the victim's terms, and there's no obligation on the part of anyone to ever forgive Endeavor. To hear both show and character acknowledge, then validate that, was something I'd wanted but barely dared to hope for. I still have issues with some of the particulars of how MHA has handled this story so far, and as it's still ongoing there's room to chicken out or take the easy route later on, but for now I can say that a lot of my biggest worries have been put to rest.
The question, then, is what should Endeavor do in the name of his so-called atonement? That's where the after-credits scene comes in when, at long last, the man makes a genuinely selfless choice: Fuyumi, Natsu, and Shoto will have a new home to welcome their mother to, and he won't be there. It's not exactly a legal separation, but again this is a children's cartoon, so I don't imagine we'll ever have a Divorce Court arc out of MHA. But the harsh emotional reality is that the best thing for Rei, Shoto and the rest of the family is to have a place to rebuild and reconnect, away from the walking, flaming, psychological trigger that broke them apart to begin with. If any of them want to maintain a relationship with him in any capacity, that's their business and their choice, but the best thing Endeavor can do is to allow them the space and stability necessary to make those choices un-accosted. It's a startlingly grounded moment for both the show and its genre at large, and all the more powerful for it.
There is doubtlessly more to go with this story, but for now, at least, this feels like a solid stopping point. It's been a long, often deeply uncomfortable journey to this moment, but it also marks for an uncharacteristically somber situation in MHA as a franchise. In that regard it makes sense why the series has rearranged certain things this season. This is a strong moment from a writing sense, but it's far from the action-packed climax that the anime traditionally ends its seasons on. So now it's kind of up in the air where this season will conclude in its final third. Presumably we'll be getting more info on the Meta Liberation Army, and just what the hell is going on with Shigaraki, but for once I'm just as much in the dark as anime-only fans.
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