My Hero Academia
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 22 of
My Hero Academia (TV 2) ?
For being the main rival of the series and one of the more fascinating faces from season one, Bakugo has slunk into the background by comparison in season two. He's still a big deal, but the story has focused much more on Todoroki in our explodey-brained rival's stead, so I almost forgot how much this story was partially about Bakugo for a moment. This episode centers around his fight with Ochako, and it'll likely go down as one of the fan favorite showdowns of the sports festival.
This is the first match of the tournament between two of the major 1-A students. Bakugo and Ochako are among the few I would describe as "main" characters, so this comes off as a pretty important stepping stone for our leads' development. Naturally, we're all rooting for Ochako, both as the underdog and as the more sympathetic personality of the two. Going from last episode, there's the angle that she needs to prove herself, since she turned down Midoriya's offer for advice and strategy. By the end, this is a fight that Ochako loses, but the effort she puts in earns her the other characters' respect.
One thing that's easy to forget in the hype leading up to major fights in this series is how shockingly swift they tend to be. Midoriya vs. Shinso and now Bakugo vs. Ochako are the most substantial of the tournament so far, but both of them only play out in the first half of their respective episodes. There are only a handful of major beats in the fights, which makes their hard-to-describe immersive quality all the more fascinating. I'm still asking myself the same questions like, "How do these fights come off so satisfying? Why can't I think of anything to compare them to?" Nothing feels the way that a good MHA fight feels. Even as the rest of the episode dillydallies before setting up the next round with Midoriya and Todoroki, there's an afterglow to this fight that's easy to admire.
Ochako's an incredibly likable character, and the way the show depicts Bakugo against people who aren't Midoriya demonstrates a lot more dimension than people give the character credit for. As for Ochako and how she uses her gravity powers to try and get an edge over his explosion Quirk, the show runs into the classic shonen problem of "how do we give the female characters fights within our given parameters?", which is a valid concern, depending on the world at hand. Every series seems to have a different answer. (ANN's Rose Bridges happened to write a pretty relevant piece on how the similarly exciting Attack on Titan tackles its female characters.) Even with her strategy, did Ochako's abilities ever give her a chance against Bakugo's explosions and brawn? Probably not. Are heroines in this genre stuck aiming for "at least they tried" status? Preferably not, but this episode isn't exactly challenging that idea.
It's a question worth exploring because leading up to this fight in last week's episode, the characters kept asking each other if Bakugo would go easy on her just because she's a girl. The answer is no, and there's a genuine attempt on the show's behalf to hammer home how meaningful it is that he doesn't. "Thank you Bakugo, for keeping your eyes focused on me," she says in a pretty kick-ass moment where it's revealed she had been using her gravity to lift the debris left over from Bakugo's explosions. He took her seriously as an opponent, let her face off against a force stronger than she's likely to face even after becoming a working hero, and she was able to take advantage of that power as part of her plan. It's a pretty smart way to give her an audience-winning move, even if it ends up failing in the end.
Bakugo himself also comes out of this fight looking pretty good. He's a character who has the viewers at home booing out of frustration due to his lifelong bullying of Midoriya. But it's always felt like there's a little more to him than his worst moments (even if those worst moments compose most of his waking life). For all intents and purposes, he's the Sasuke Uchiha of this series, and yet there are frequent reminders that his story is not one of eventually turning to the dark side. He doesn't want revenge or anything specific beyond being the #1 hero, and his story is a push and pull between his ego and his slow realization that achieving his goals includes taking other people more seriously. The way he treats Ochako and respects her as a serious opponent has little to do with Ochako herself, and more to do with where his treatment of others has gotten him up until this point. It hasn't exactly worked out for him to disregard people, and he's learning that ever so slowly.
If there's one slight issue I have with this episode, it's how different its two halves are. The first half is the fight, and it's beautifully succinct, but because there's just enough story to cover elsewhere and they want to save Midoriya vs. Todoroki for its own episode, the second half is a lot of sitting around and talking. It ultimately works to give the tournament a structure of fight followed by reflection, but I'd be lying if I said I was enthusiastic for the episode's entire runtime.
Otherwise, this is another stand-out fight in the tournament, probably the most personal one yet. Both characters get to step a little further in their ultimate character arcs for completely different, yet perfectly harmonious reasons. There's such a thing as characters having chemistry, but this time it's their own personal dramas that dance well together. Action is storytelling, and I'd point to this as an especially elegant example of that.
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