My Hero Academia
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 78 of
My Hero Academia (TV 4) ?
Alright folks, it's that time of the season again. With the Overhaul arc finally making its exit, it's everyone's favorite quarterly Xmas presents: new opening and ending themes! First up is “Star Maker” by KANA-BOON, an infectiously peppy technicolor montage that promises plenty of fun and cheer to help us all recover from the maelstrom of the previous arc. While last cours' “Polaris” did grow on me eventually, “Star Maker” has almost instantly lodged itself in my head and refuses to leave. The opening animation also gets a ton of extra credit for finally focusing on Undisputed Best Girl, Jiro (Don't @ me). Ryoku Oushoku Shakai's “shout Baby” leaves less of an impression – it's a perfectly fine song, and the collage of school photos of the Pro-Heroes (and villains!!) is cute as heck, but it can't help but feel underwhelming having to follow up Sayuri's perfectly moody “Koukai no uta.” Maybe it'll grow on me, but 1 out of 2 isn't bad for now.
As for the actual episode, “Smoldering Flames” feels a bit stretched in all directions. It's acting as an emotional epilogue to the Overhaul arc, an introduction to the coming (and decidedly more lighthearted) School Festival arc, and also laying the seeds for the larger villain conflicts by formally introducing us to All For One's trump card: Gigantomachia. Sharp-eyed viewers may recognize the hulking giant from his brief appearance after Stain's message went viral way back in season 2, or earlier this season when he made a cameo in Kirishima's flashback. We still don't really know anything about him besides being an absolute unit and strong enough to make half a mountain disappear, but he's an imposing figure to imagine our heroes going against in a post-All Might world. For now though, he's nothing more than a distant threat that none of the 1-A kids are even close to thinking about yet.
That's partly because they're all still wrapped up in the aftershock of their first outing as Pro-Heroes. Deku's up first with an intensely awkward meeting with Mirio. With how heavy the last episode ended, you'd be forgiven for expecting Buff Tintin to be down in the dumps, but as always Mirio remains a bastion of positive thinking in the darkest of times. He's clearly still hurting from Nighteye's death, but has chosen to internalize his master's final message and smile through the pain. He's lost his Quirk and his mentor, but his future is his to grasp regardless, and that's enough to keep walking forward. Deku is decidedly less resolute, seeing only his own shortcomings in all of this and even trying to offer One For All to his senpai. He's shut down immediately, but it speaks volumes that after all the sweat and blood (so much blood) he's poured into mastering his legacy Quirk, Deku's willing to offer it to someone else. All Might's gonna really need to support this kid going forward if he's going to believe in himself enough to stand on his own.
The other kids get less focus, but what little we see manages to say a lot. Seeing the rest of 1-A tentatively crowd around them upon their return is sweet – these kids care about each other a lot, but are well over their heads when it comes to being emotional support. Still, they try their best, and moments like Kirishima admitting he's “not there yet” when asked if he's okay is actually a bit heartwarming in how he lets himself be vulnerable around his friends. Uraraka is simmering with her own regrets, chiefly the shock of seeing death up close for the first time and her own inability to make a difference. It's not enough to make up for the narrative sidelining her and the other girls for 90% of action, but it's at least an earnest reminder that all of these characters have their own interiority outside of the main narrative. Uraraka's own image of heroism has shifted considerably since she came to UA, and it's nice to be reminded of that in the midst of so much turmoil. Now just giver her a cool solo fight already, Horikoshi.
There are, however, two conspicuous absences from Deku & co's return – it turns out even when your friends have just gotten back from a life or death mission, you still have to go to summer school, and that means Bakugo and Todoroki have to turn in early. While Bakugo is his usually grumpy self about the whole remedial training thing, Todoroki has considerably more to deal with. On top of reuniting with the earnestly obnoxious Yoarashi, the flaming bag of crap that constitutes his dad is also there to observe. This is the first time we've seen Endeavor since he effectively became the new #1 hero, and his first act of screen time is to boast from the top of a staircase at the now retired All Might, so he's still the charmer we all know and hate. Still, I find myself curious about just what's going through his head now that he's ostensibly achieved the goal he tore his family apart to achieve – MHA's always been good at giving even its most despicable characters intriguingly human emotions, and much like Bakugo's crescendo in season 3, there's a lot of room to explore Endeavor as a character, even if he absolutely sucks as a person.
All in all, this episode has a lot going on, and does a decent job juggling it all without feeling too busy. Personally I'd have preferred a more focused denouement to what is effectively MHA's first onscreen death, but serialized storytelling being what it is probably necessitates seeding new stories as you harvest the old. “Smoldering Flames” does a solid job making me interested in what's to come – even if half of that is just the new OP – and if nothing else I'm down for seeing Bakugo fight literal children next episode.
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