My Hero Academia
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 49 of
My Hero Academia (TV 3) ?
All Might is a good dude.
I really hope I don't see the day that people start to take My Hero Academia for granted. It's alluring to measure it against other series in its genre, be it long-running shonen or American superhero comics, but I want to appreciate how much it has to offer independent from any of that. Every series has its high points that you beg your friends to keep watching, just so they can see that one part, but MHA's highs are a new breed. I can't think of another series that makes me feel the way that an episode like this does. MHA has so much say about heroism and so many stories to tell about its characters that I remain, as always, in awe of its scope.
Episode 49 continues and finishes the battle between All Might and his arch-nemesis, All For One. All Might reaches his limit quickly, as the timer on his Quirk is running out and he's forced to fight in a hybrid state between his scrawny and buff forms. The media is all over this battle, broadcasting to people around the city. The public has never heard about All Might's weak form, so it comes as quite a surprise and nobody's sure how to feel. Whether this emaciated skeleton of a man can inspire people just as much as the sculpted hunk of muscle proves to be the first obstacle for All Might to overcome in this battle.
I think the dichotomy between All Might's two forms is the strongest statement My Hero Academia has to offer the broader conversation of heroism. Publicly, he's playing a character. He puts on that smile and pretends to be the perfect Superman so people can have someone to look up to and the villains can have someone to fear. But All Might isn't really that person. The real All Might has a time limit, and even he admits that he can only save those who are within arm's reach. The 'idea' of All Might is a gift that he gave the world at a time when he thought we needed him. He was probably right, but what's to be gained now that the truth is out? What's the value of something that's merely a symbol?
Seeing him fight so hard for that symbol sucks the air right out of my lungs. This is an episode centered around one big battle, but it also introduces us to NANA Shimura, All Might's late mentor. This episode paces its fight out partly by flashbacking through All Might's memories, so NANA feels just as present as anybody else in the cast. NANA was the woman who had One For All before him, and she imparted her belief of always smiling in order to give people a glimmer of hope. However, the Symbol of Peace idea was entirely All Might's plan to reach the largest number of people possible. NANA talks about him as if this is some crazy idea, though that feels like a stretch. The idea on its own is perfectly easy to wrap your mind around, but the dedication to making it real, and the other characters' cries of support, is where the true magic lies. The Symbol of Peace is something we can share, and we're all responsible for nurturing it.
It was unavoidable that this was going to be a beautiful episode. That bloodied-up All Might is striking in either form, and you can tell they pulled out all the stops in making the big hits as intense and crazy as possible. From a pacing perspective, I'm really pleased with how this Bakugo Rescue arc played out. The audience had no way of knowing we were barreling into All Might's final job as a hero, so everything about this episode from the tone to the attention of a massive audience feels like an appropriate response to All For One's hijacking of the story.
I knew this episode was coming. Even as a person with only cursory knowledge of what's next for the anime, I knew how meaningful this fight would be to the growing popularity of this series. Even knowing the broad strokes, however, I had no idea about the twist revealing Shigaraki to be NANA's grandson. It turns out that All For One took him in explicitly to groom him and make All Might fight him. NANA's dead; we don't know the full story yet, but now there's a promised backstory serving as the impetus for everything that would eventually happen in the modern day. I'm interested in learning more about All For One's specific grudge, because he's so emotionally invested in being as grotesquely creepy about his crusade against All Might as possible.
In turn, one aspect of this episode that shouldn't be overlooked is the horrifying undertone that sits at its core beneath all the hope and justice. This doesn't end at the villains' twisted scheming, either. Understanding the gravity of All Might's sacrifice (his ability to use One For All fizzles out after the grand finale) makes Midoriya's aspirations of heroism sound more and more dangerous. So few people are capable of giving it their all like that. Despite the triumphant music and the world's overwhelming support of All Might in these final moments, you can't shake the feeling that being that kind of hero hurts. A lot. You can see it in Midoriya's eyes when he interprets All Might's message to the camera, "You're Next," with trepidation.
This is My Hero Academia's proudest moment in the spotlight. Not only does it continue to be the darling of modern Shonen Jump with one of the mostly perfectly tuned anime adaptations a long-running series has ever received, this is an accomplishment of storytelling across the board. At a time in the world where people are wondering how best to apply themselves to being the best they can be, MHA manages to have something new to say. It has a message of hope and willpower that feels raw and sincere. It makes one of the most impassioned arguments I've ever seen for putting all of yourself into a belief of heroism, and it demonstrates what humans are capable of. Toshinori Yagi, a.k.a. All Might, is a man privileged with strength that very few are, and he put every last drop of it into his role as number one hero.
I think the man's earned his vacation.
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