My Hero Academia
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 18 of
My Hero Academia (TV 2) ?
I could spend these reviews breaking down how My Hero Academia tackles the various clichés and tropes that the Shonen Jump formula is known for, but as much as I like those things, in order for a Jump series to mean anything it has to have a je ne sais quoi that sets it apart. The tropes are just a springboard at the end of the day, and if My Hero Academia was just a finely tuned Jump superstar, I don't think there'd be much to write home about. But the reality is that MHA does have that something special in its magic touch of adrenaline. The calvary battle should be the most banal of all the sports festival games, but it's proving itself something mighty in this back half.
Last week did a great job driving home the character dynamics of the broader cast, something that's endearing me to the core story behind this show even more, and now this week is all about finally having fun in the ways that the first season excelled. A big part of the experience is the music; certain tracks in this show have a hypnotizing quality where you suddenly feel like the action is all around you, like it's the only thing that exists in the world. If you want to pick apart what an anime adaptation can bring to a Shonen Jump series, I've always found it in the strength of individual moments far more than adaptational consistency or pacing. The manga has these moments too, thanks to the earnestness of the characters and Kohei Horikoshi's bold artwork, but it's places like this where the anime really shines.
So we left off last week with Midoriya's calvary team facing off against Todoroki's. Todoroki's team is challenging because it's the most star-studded when it comes to the 1-A students, and it includes the likes of Iida and Momo (not to mention Todoroki himself being the biggest powerhouse next to Bakugo). It's here where Iida's declaration of rivalry has the biggest consequences for our main character, as he pulls out a special move from his Engine quirk that he had been keeping secret until now, so their team is able to completely blindside Midoriya and steal his ten million point headband. Elsewhere, Bakugo's team are taking vengeance against one of the other classes, who had been using their underdog status to get one over on the more popular 1-A kids. This episode does a good job letting these three groups share the spotlight. All of them have a contagious determination.
This sports festival is ultimately leading up to a proper one-on-one tournament style thing, but for now it's interesting to see it tackle the spirit of proper shonen sports manga, where the excitement is centered around the twists and turns that must exist within the rules of the game. The pulse-pounding thrills of this episode come from the ticking clock and the characters' desperate need to overcompensate for whatever chip they have on their shoulder. We spend about half of the runtime with Bakugo, and even after his team has enough points to survive elimination, they're still gunning for Midoriya's headband. Katsuki Bakugo won't settle for anything less, darn it! I mean, he ultimately has to once the buzzer comically ends the match, just as things are getting their most intense in a three-way fight between Midoriya, Todoroki, and Bakugo, but that's how it goes sometimes. All the expected characters are going to be here for the final game: Midoriya, Ochako, Bakugo, Todoroki, Iida, etc., so there's no big surprises, though it is interesting to see such a significant portion of the students drop out of the running compared to the first game.
I know people want a faster paced show, but now that I realize we're already nearing the end of the sports festival, I can't really imagine a version where they condensed these first two games into fewer episodes, unless there's a surprise turn waiting for me at the end. This episode gave me exactly what I was waiting for out of MHA at the beginning of the season. Those all-encompassing, passionate moments are in full force. For now, it's still in the name of good sportsmanship, but the past few episodes have been hinting at Todoroki's emotional baggage, so I'm taking this as a promise that things are about to escalate from good fun to something bigger.
My Hero Academia has a switch where everything lights up and becomes exciting, almost no matter the scenario. That's always been this anime's biggest strength, and the question for me has always been whether or not its underlying story will take it all the way. It's kind of a silly question, since I more-or-less know that it does, but it's days like this where I just want to sit back and appreciate that I can still get enthusiastic about this stuff. I loved this episode, and if this fervor can carry on through to the next game when stuff starts to get real, this is going to be a delight of a second season.
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