My Hero Academia
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 42 of
My Hero Academia (TV 3) ?
Since we've been easing into a new story arc, it was a pleasant surprise for me to learn that one of My Hero Academia's Big Exciting Moments(tm) was already just around the corner. The Vanguard Action Squad's attack on the training grounds commences, but it quickly becomes apparent that the story is mostly about Kota and Midoriya's fight with a single member of the villain group who arrives on the scene unceremoniously.
The member in question is a tall and strong-looking guy who Kota immediately recognizes as the murderer of his parents. This mystery man appears to be using the League of Villains as a means to an end, because he likes using his Quirk to kill people, which will tie into the episode's themes of heroes and villains wonderfully. The Quirk in question is super strength, not unlike Midoriya and All Might's, but his particular power involves all the gross sinewy fibers of his muscles exploding from his body, making for a much more threatening display than One For All that forces Midoriya to push himself harder than we've ever seen before.
I think season three is when I've really started to appreciate MHA's hero theming. I've never been especially drawn to the superhero aesthetic or ethos; as a playground for stories about chasing your dreams, I've always preferred the anarchy of One Piece's pirate world. But episodes like this do an incredible job of finding the beauty in what it means to be a hero, and MHA digs much deeper than anything I've personally seen from Western media. "I just wanted to kill, and those two wanted to stop me. It was a result of all of us doing what we wanted," is how the villain explains to Kota that there should be no hard feelings about the whole dead parents thing. Comparing this again to One Piece—a series whose protagonist is openly ambivalent about being seen as a hero—this sounds exactly like the kind of logic a villain would use to justify their misdeeds just before Luffy punches them in the face, not out of the goodness of his heart, but because he's got to stand up for his friends.
I believe the common prevalence of this protagonist-antagonist dichotomy in Shonen Jump is what allows My Hero Academia to find a new angle on it. We've already established that our main characters harbor some insecurity about being "fake heroes", which is a weakness just waiting to be exploited by villains like Stain or Shigaraki. Making "Number One Hero" a dream that characters can compete for does implicitly remove the sense of duty and responsibility that heroism ought to be about, and while heroes are often depicted as petty in this world, they're never been portrayed as unreliable beyond the understandable limits of their fragility. You can be the Pirate King and owe the world nothing, but if you want to call yourself a Hero, you have to put your money where your mouth is at some point and make sacrifices for others. This conflict feels especially organic this week by focusing on Kota, a kid who's lost faith in the concept of heroism. Because of his parents' deaths, he can only see the imminent pain that comes with a hero's broken promise, so if someone like Midoriya's ever going to restore that faith, he has to step up in ways that others haven't.
The big finisher where Midoriya nearly blows his own arm off three times trying to use One For All at full power against a relentless villain gets so insanely messy that it's almost avant-garde in terms of visuals. This enemy's muscle quirk allows for an intense and scrambled fight, and Midoriya's final stand is a remarkable experience of sight and sound. If you remember his fight with Todoroki, where he had to strategically sacrifice his own body, destroying each of his fingers over and over, this feels like an evolution of that idea that now uses his full arm, as he delivers successive punches that meld his own flesh with his opponent's.
This fight is going to be the one that gets everybody talking again, and for good reason. However, as a full episode it also highlights the series' occasionally limp structural instincts. This villain really feels like he comes out of nowhere, and if you told me last week that we'd immediately be jumping to such a massive emotional high involving a character we'd never met, I would have been shocked. Maybe that's just the speedier pace of the show, since it does allow a major conflict to be contained within a single episode, but it still doesn't feel quite right. It takes about half the episode to get into the fight in the first place, yet the time spent with the side characters fighting the other League members doesn't serve as build-up to this conflict either. It's really weird.
But that's such a minor nitpick in the face of an otherwise extraordinary episode. We're three for three on new MHA episodes really knocking my socks off, and this is easily the most I've ever been invested in the world and characters of this story so far. The title of this episode is "My Hero," and it fittingly manages to lend new meaning to the series' title. Kota has someone to look up to now in Midoriya, and that last shot of our broken and exhausted green son roaring with victory hits hard. Winning the battle isn't the part that feels good this time, it's hearing the word "hero".
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