My Hero Academia
Episode 23

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 23 of
My Hero Academia (TV 2) ?

This is the best single episode of anime I've ever reviewed for ANN. This is the point where My Hero Academia graduates from being that really well-groomed and likable Shonen Jump adventure to something that people are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives. I always believed in it, but I can't think of the last time it was so obvious that the conversation around a show was about to change as dramatically as it will here.

This is the Midoriya vs. Todoroki fight, and since last week's cliffhanger contained the formal setup, this week spends zero time getting into the action. It's an engaging conflict up front, stirring with emotional baggage as we're still fascinated by Todoroki's unresolved relationship with his father. Todoroki's role in this fight hinges on his self-inflicted rule of only using the ice half of his power, his mother's, out of spite for the fire half, his father's. As we go through the episode, we get more concrete glimpses into his childhood, visuals to aid the sad backstory he's already explained perfectly well in words.

But his opponent is our main character, and Midoriya is the one we root for at the end of the day. It's been such a long time since we've seen the full might of One For All that I almost forgot how immense it feels in the anime. Midoriya's been focusing his Quirk into tiny controllable bursts this season, but while he's still putting everything he's got into his individual fingers for this fight, the intensity is there in spades, and he's executing on those massive bursts in near-rapid succession. If adrenaline to you is watching an ambitious teenager give 110% as he pushes through the pain long enough to help his opponent find self-actualization, then boy howdy, this episode is packed with adrenaline.

There are two things that I commonly find in the most fun Shonen Jump fights: unfiltered, blood-pumping excitement (usually dependent on some kind of genuine emotional catharsis) and specific rules, often surrounding the parameters of a particular superpower. My Hero Academia has always executed well on those two things, but this is the longest and most emotional of all the fights we've seen yet, taking up an entire episode's length instead of just half. The rules here are fairly explanatory: both characters want to be the official number one hero, All Might's current position. Todoroki wants to do so without ever using his fire powers, a choice that gets challenged by both Midoriya's self-destructive defense and all-around rhetoric. Midoriya himself is limited by how much his own body can take the continued use of One For All. He's gotten strategic by using one finger at a time (and he knows he can get insta-healed to a degree after the fight) but he's only got so many fingers. Within those limitations, these two fighters put on a spectacular show, but if that's all the episode had to offer I wouldn't have been gushing so much about it.

If we were looking solely at the tournament bracket, I'd probably say we were halfway through the sports festival, but I feel confident in calling this the emotional climax of the arc based on what I can see. I think that's a smart way to sideline the audience and give them way more than they expected, to get you thinking "well they usually don't put the most important stuff here" so it can then hit you with all it's got. Like One For All, MHA is a show of incredible bursts. It has a very small window of time to really leave its mark, so if it's able to use those big, passionate moments intelligently, we're putty in its hands. The heightened experience of Midoriya finally pushing Todoroki to use his fire powers is extraordinary. We should be bitterly annoyed to see Endeavor in the stands getting excited that his son is finally doing as he's told, but in the moment itself, it's such a small piece of what that choice actually means. Way more important than any personal grudges, this becomes a fight between two absurdly talented and powerful teenagers, so the thought that one of them would hold back is almost insulting. What kind of number one hero does that?

None of that praise does any service to the production. This is clearly the episode that Studio Bones put the most care, attention, and excitement into, with Todoroki's fire explosion looking and sounding the best of all. It's also full of those bold, scratchy lines that make up a big part of the show's signature look, and I don't think there's a frame in this episode where the usually frail Midoriya doesn't look positively badass. Our main character actually looks cool! And of course, the music is as good as you've come to expect, with 'You Say Run' continuing to be the star track of the show.

There are things that I've always praised about this show, mainly how well it nails those important adrenaline-induced moments, but this week's episode felt like an entirely different beast. I never liked the passive "good at being shonen" description when it comes to MHA, or any show for that matter, because then the most it could hope for was to be impressive, right? I think the truly good stuff has to offer something its audience has never seen or felt before, to make them care in new and exciting ways. With this episode, My Hero Academia feels like it has truly arrived. It's stomping its foot on the ground, pounding its chest, and daring any of its peers to offer an emotional rollercoaster this tremendous in this way. It's saying "I am here", basically.

MHA is no longer "Naruto with superheroes" to me. MHA is MHA.

Rating: A++

My Hero Academia is currently streaming on Funimation and Crunchyroll.

Sam Leach records about One Piece for The One Piece Podcast and you can find him on Twitter @LuckyChainsaw

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