My Hero Academia
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 87 of
My Hero Academia (TV 4) ?
Well, we're finally here. Through all the ups and downs of MHA's fourth season I've known there was a bridge we'd have to cross eventually. Anime-only viewers may already know what I'm talking about, given the subtle cues in the latest opening alluding to it, but for better or worse it's arrived. It's time to talk about a certain father.
Aizawa! Okay he isn't technically Eri's father, but seeing that he's become her defacto guardian and that she'll be living at UA for the foreseeable future I'm gonna call him a dad anyway. It's a darn good fit for him too – Eraserhead is the strict but nurturing mentor figure to Class 1-A, so just the idea of seeing him fumble his way through caring for a small child is too adorable to handle. There's even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke in the “Star Maker” OP where Eri rejects the ugly-cute sweater he got for her! It's precious and I would happily take a full spinoff series about single dad Aizawa trying to relate to Eri and having to ask his students for advice.
But of course this episode isn't just about cute domestic shenanigans, it's about the titular Hero Billboard Chart. And that means we've finally got to address the #2 Hero of MHA's Japan.
Hawks! Hawks became a big fan favorite soon after his introduction in the manga, and it's easy to see why with his debut here. He's young and confident in a very smooth way, making all his actions seem totally effortless no matter how complex. Over the course of a casual walk down the street we see him save pets from being run over, help the elderly, and stop an attempted villain attack in the same breath. Yet to a casual observer it would seem like he didn't even break a sweat, and that's what makes Hawks such an intriguing character. There's something to his overall attitude (and Yūichi Nakamura's vocal performance) that always has you second guessing just how much he's paying attention – is he really as laid-back as he seems, or is that just what he wants everyone to think? Only time will tell, but he makes for an immediately intriguing new character even this late into the season, and I already want to know more about him.
Though for as engaging as our new #2 Hero is, we do have more important fish to fry. With All Might's retirement there's been a huge shake up in the cultural landscape, and as weird as it seems to have a Billboard Hot 100 for superheroes, it's nonetheless important to see who's at the top, and the new status quo is sure to be controversial.
I mean come on, Ryukyu dropping to 10th place? I know it's because Kamui Woods made his debut but it just seems like a raw deal. The number 9 is literally in her name! Now that pun doesn't even make sense, you've really bungled that one Horikoshi. Besides, ranking her below a guy dressed as a washing machine? Sure, keeping your lights and darks separated is important but does that really count as a superpower? At least Mirko is in the Top 5, but it's pretty bogus that Best Jeanist stays in the Top 3 despite being inactive since the AFO fight. They can talk about his public approval numbers all they want but personally I think the Hero Association just wanted to keep him there because he's marketable.
Ok, ok, enough stalling. Let's talk about Endeavor. From the moment we learned his name, Todoroki's father has functioned as an embodiment of the darker side of MHA's hero society. Sure, most Pro heroes seem like pretty stand-up individuals, and even the more self-serving will still hold their ground in a pinch, like Mt. Lady helping the students escape in season 3. But so long as superheroism carries the badge of celebrity, there will always be some people who go into the profession for their own gratification. While Endeavor doesn't seem the type to want product endorsements or merchandise with his face on it, like Bakugo he was obsessed with proving his own superiority no matter the cost. Unlike Bakugo he didn't get a 3-season long character arc to humble him and encourage him to better himself. Instead Endeavor committed some light eugenics, then abused his wife and son to leave both with literal and metaphorical scars that have taken years to even begin healing.
So it's intensely uncomfortable whenever he's on screen and other characters praise him or prop him up as he officially becomes Japan's #1 Pro Hero. Which isn't necessarily a criticism of the writing – very few characters know about Endeavor's history as an abuser, and considering how many real world people of power and status were outed as monsters in their personal lives it's certainly fertile ground to explore. MHA's broached thorny topics before, and Bakugo's story has shown Horikoshi is capable of making believable redemption arcs for awful people without disrespecting those they hurt to facilitate it. But at the same time anime in general has a long, tiresome history of granting abusive parents clemency through even a single act of selflessness, so it's hard not to feel wary at the prospect of trying to redeem Endeavor.
The point, I suppose, is that I don't think a story where Endeavor does some honest-to-god soul searching and comes out of it less of a bastard is an inherently bad idea. But I can't deny an uneasiness at seeing Hawks metaphorically place the crown of superhuman society on his fiery forehead. There's potential here to craft a complicated, emotionally complex character study that's rarely seen in shonen storytelling, but there's equal room for a clumsy and misguided try at turning a monstrous character good by simply showing he's capable of not being a jerk sometimes. That all leaves me rather ambivalent about this episode, even as a cool new villain comes crashing into the picture in its closing minutes. MHA is absolutely playing with fire right now, but we'll just have to wait until next week's season finale to know if we're about to get burned.
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