My Hero Academia
Episode 38

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 38 of
My Hero Academia (TV 2) ?

It's been difficult for me to engage with the villains of this show sometimes, especially the more it digs into themes of ideology. Core desires like greed and revenge always make sense to me, but the more complicated a belief becomes, the further away it gets from my understanding of the human spirit. The balancing act that the villains of My Hero Academia usually play involves a certain level of both complexity and pettiness. Sure, that's something that feels real to me, but one of my issues with Stain is that I thought part of his scariness factor came from the fear that he was a little bit right—something that doesn't land in a world that has never shown the consequences of "fake" heroes causing harm.

But on the flip side, Stain still works because he's not the only villain in town. In this episode, Shigaraki stalks Midoriya on a trip to the mall to have a big long talk with him, basically making sure the audience knows exactly what's up with the villains in this series. He describes himself and Stain as opposites, and he's frustrated with Stain for the same reason he is All Might: they present versions of ideological purity, despite being human. Shigaraki can't stand the idea of somebody being inspired by a fake smile, no matter how useful it might be to others. This is a case where the pettiness of villainy makes sense to me, as does the passion behind it. For my money, that level of insecurity still has to come from somewhere else, but there will be plenty of time in the future to keep asking that question.

For an episode that mostly consists of a single conversation, I was really into it. This is the clearest that the hero-villain dynamic has ever been in the series, and Shigaraki holding his finger to Midoriya's throat while they pretend to be old buds is exceptionally suspenseful. There's also something alarming about seeing Shigaraki in casual clothes, without his disembodied hands. Even with his scary zombie face, he almost looks like a regular teen boy. This is also a pretty strong turning point for his character, as his conversation with Midoriya is framed as almost therapeutic. By talking things out, he realizes what makes him so angry about the various Stain and All Might related "problems" in the world. It's like "Aha! Now I know why I want to kill everybody! Thanks a lot!" He's only going to get more threatening after this.

This is the last episode of the season, and it fittingly caps us off with hijinks of the students hanging out at the mall, juxtaposed with the foreboding nature of the bigger picture. When we're not looking at the terrifying Shigaraki, we're watching Ochako get adorably flustered over her growing crush on Midoriya. Both the feel-good and the feel-bad stuff of this episode hit their marks, and we end with All Might becoming more worn-down by the demands of the world and its villains. I really liked seeing Shigaraki complain about All Might being incapable of saving everybody, followed by All Might himself affirming that this is why he puts on his brave face all the time. Of course he can't save everybody. Who would ask that of him? Villains, that's who.

It's episodes like this that remind us My Hero Academia is just getting started telling its real story. Back when season one was airing, there was a lot of conversation around whether it successfully went above and beyond its shonen template, but when you're a fan of the long-running stuff, you know that thirteen episodes is like the first paragraph of something much bigger. Season two has been a season of immense highs, and you can feel the conversation around it exploding as it starts to truly earn the torch-passing it received from past hit series. This show is the good stuff.

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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