My Hero Academia
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 20 of
My Hero Academia (TV 2) ?
Things getting deeper and more personal between our main characters as the one-on-one tournament rages on was something I was pretty sure was on the table, but I didn't think it was going to happen so quickly. There are two things that My Hero Academia has got down pat by this point: adrenaline-pumping action, and a nuanced, empathetic approach toward its characters (even for the poo-heads like Bakugo). This episode demonstrates both of those things with impressive skill.
Midoriya vs. Shinsou is the first and longest fight to get covered in this episode, so naturally it's the most important. Shinsou is a dead-eyed, purple-haired kid who belongs to the General Studies course of U.A., thanks to the fact that his Quirk couldn't get him through the Hero Course's entrance exam. You see, that entrance exam involved robot enemies, and Shinsou's Quirk is Brainwashing, which requires a human mind to take over. This is something he accomplishes by simply getting his opponent to verbally respond to his questions.
The following match plays out in two stages: one where Midoriya is trapped under Shinsou's spell and told to walk himself out of bounds, and one where Midoriya has gotten free and must physically force Shinsou out of the ring. Stage one is solved via willpower, allowing Midoriya to trigger One For All and break his own fingers, since being "shocked" while entranced will break the spell. There is a bit of mystery lingering over how this works, as a later scene in the infirmary between Midoriya and All Might seems designed to throw us off. Midoriya believes he saw the souls (?) of One For All users past, but All Might assures him that regardless of their presence, the power came from himself.
The physical half of the Shinsou fight is where the adrenaline and the compassionate perspective on the characters comes in. I've always considered the music to be a big part of what gets my blood pumping in MHA's action scenes. However, it's pretty subdued here, yet I felt the excitement all the same. It's as Shinso's losing that we get some insight into his motivations and how he dreams of becoming an important hero, explaining why his place outside of the Hero Course is such a burden despite his otherwise powerful abilities. His creepy appearance and even creepier Quirk make his dream an ironic twist, but I guess those are things he can't really help. At no point in this sequence does the "scary guy has a heart of gold" trope come across as too cute. It all feels just right. That Shinsou guy is okay in my book.
The finale of the episode then is the short-lived fight between Todoroki and Sero (the tape dispenser elbow kid), which serves as the most satisfying payoff for Todoroki's father issues so far. Right before the fight, Todoroki's dad is telling him the limits of exclusively using his ice powers in battle, and that he should embrace his fire side. The resulting match ends immediately when Todoroki creates a massive explosion of ice and locks his opponent in place, winning the match. The animation here gets intense, giving Todoroki a few sick Attack on Titan faces to tie the whole episode together. There's both an aggression and a sadness to this moment that the show does a good job of driving home. It's also an exhilarating cherry on top of what was already a great episode.
This is undoubtedly one of the best episodes of MHA yet, and easily the best of season two so far. We had already begun to tiptoe back into the heart-soaring action that season one was so good at, and this week just seals the deal. Since My Hero Academia is so comfortable as a generic Shonen Jump adventure on the surface, there's always that fear that it won't feel genuine or earned once the emotional stuff kicks in, but that's clearly not the case this week. Both Shinsou and Todoroki's stuff in this episode land with immense grace, and the series is just getting started proving itself as things start to get real.
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