My Hero Academia
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 112 of
My Hero Academia (TV 5) ?
There's a clear deliberateness with these last two episode titles. “Name: Origin” has been the series' shorthand for important, revealing stories about the central players, building into All Might's motto of remembering one's origin to gird determination. So at first glance it's strange to see two of them back-to-back. But it makes sense with the rhetorical point this entire MVA arc has been building up to. The trauma of Tenko Shimura's family hurt him, left him alone and lost in a world so gripped by Pro Heroes' bystander effect that they left a bloody child wandering the streets to his own devices, but it did not make him the man he is today. Tomura Shigaraki, the villain, was neither born nor made – he was designed, custom built by the first person to reach out to him.
That's an important distinction to make, in my book. While the modern trend of crafting more humanized, sympathetic villains in fiction has allowed for a lot of interesting ideas to flourish in the media landscape, there's also a tendency to make things a bit too reductive. The abuse Tenko suffered and his violent retaliation didn't turn him into a villain, rather it left him vulnerable, fragile, and the perfect subject to be groomed into the misanthropic manchild he is now. All For One himself recognizes that with enough time and proper support, the kid could very well have grown up to be a kind and loving person. So he made damn sure that never happened, raising his apprentice to embrace violence as the only outlet for his feelings, and keeping the cold, dead hands of the past clenched tightly around his neck. AFO's always been a smirking evil bastard, and here we see him at his most sickeningly smug, crafting a child into the loaded weapon he's so proud of, he even put his own name on it.
Though Tomura himself doesn't see it that way. While one might hope this trip down memory lane would make him reconsider his life's purpose as the “Symbol of Fear” his master made him into, Shigaraki goes the exact opposite direction. He fully embraces the lessons AFO taught him – after all, what could be simpler and more appealing than the idea of destroying everything he hates? No need to search through painful memories, or dredge up restrictive emotions like regret or guilt – just enjoy the pure catharsis of eliminating anyone or anything that makes him angry. That's the ultimate goal of his manufactured arrested development, and seems to be what MHA views as the most dangerous kind of evil. For him, other people aren't humans with their own lives and feelings, but a collective of stimuli that must either be subjugated or destroyed. Shigaraki has liberated himself from the shackles of empathy, and god help anyone who stands before him.
Though not even prayers are able to help Re-Destro, who witnesses this rebirth from the front row. The leader of liberation can't even put a word to what he feels staring down Shigaraki's final attack, even as it pulls up his own childhood memories. Like much of this arc there's a lot up for interpretation about Re-Destro's decision here, but between being raised from birth as Destro's successor and his internal monologue about the restrictions of blood and destiny, I think he both fears and envies Shigaraki throwing off his past and choosing his own future, even one so bleak. Combined with the terrifying power on display and getting maimed himself, he ultimately hands over the reigns of liberation, revolution, and supremacy; an act of submission that not only brings Gigantomachia to acknowledge his master's successor, but promises untold mayhem in the near future.
Thus we're just about caught up to where we were before this arc started, oddly enough. It's kind of surreal to think the framing of this arc – in the anime anyway – makes it one long flashback to fill in the details only hinted at during the Endeavor agency story. In that respect it is a little wonky – knowing the outcome of the League subsuming the Meta Liberation Army, and seeing the Bad Doctor going to town on Shigaraki, does make much of this resolution a foregone conclusion. The execution and emotion of the story in the moment is enough to make it work for me, but it is a bit disappointing to not have that “a-ha” moment as all the pieces fit together.
That's a consequence of telling this story out of order from the source material, but ultimately I think it works fine just for the fact that this season ends with the stakes at their highest. More importantly, this episode itself makes a damn fine conclusion to My Villain Academia on its own, turning our central villain into a terrifying existential front on two simultaneous levels. There's still one episode left, likely to set us up for the coming conflict, but on a story and character level this is absolutely the climax of MHA season 5, and about as strong as one you could hope for.
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