Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
There's no time for hesitation anymore. With their attempted rescue thwarted by the arrival of All For One's mysterious wielder, Midoriya and his classmates find themselves cowering beside a clash of the titans, as All Might and his nemesis exchange blows in the ruins of their fair city. With his strength waning and his opponent already exulting in victory, whoever wins, the unblemished light of the Symbol of Peace will be darkened on this day. The world of superheroes has been carried by the strength of one man, and in that man's darkest hour, Midoriya and his friends will have to assume a mantle they are not yet equipped to bear. A shadow crosses the sun in My Hero Academia's eleventh volume!
My Hero Academia opened with Deku's perspective, offering us the beaming optimism of a boy who loves superheroes in a world where superheroes actually exist. His viewpoint gave us a gentle introduction to this world, and also a fairly myopic one, where Midoriya's own attempts to become a hero were the most important struggles imaginable. Though All Might occasionally reflected on the burden of his duty, those burdens were placed in an aspirational framing; All Might was still more of a goal than a mortal, and the difficulty of upholding the tenets of heroism was all a part of its appeal. After all, who wouldn't want to stand in All Might's shoes, saving citizens with that irrepressible smile?
Eleven volumes later, things have changed. As Midoriya has struggled and grown, the story's overarching dramatic scale has expanded to reflect on the uncertain foundations of this society, its fundamental fragility. The flash fame of the Hero Killer Stain underlined the fact that this world's moral order cannot be assumed; just as the age of the internet democratized the reach of Stain's voice, the age of superheroes has democratized everyone's capacity for mass violence. All Might has lent stability to this chaotic age, but every shaking Detroit Smash and bloody cough has demonstrated the growing weakness of this world's protector. And now he stands before his nemesis, impenetrable facade fading, the fault lines of this world clear in the furrows down his face.
Volume eleven's first half is wholly dedicated to that confrontation, as All For One and All Might collide for perhaps their final time. All the flair for impact and understanding of dynamic visual storytelling that have carried Horikoshi so far are fully on display here, as colossal figures clash in full-page spreads that effortlessly bring their intensity home. And this visual splendor is amplified by the extended battle's clear symbolic weight. With All Might's powers and even his battle form fraying, the people's faith in his message becomes both more tenuous and more necessary than ever. My Hero Academia's preoccupation with symbology and the internet age reflect its understanding of how ideology works; the story's contrast of All For One and One For All distill its understanding of the fundamental battle for society's soul.
All through this story, My Hero Academia has presented heroism as an inspiration, a lesson, a gift; heroism is reaching out and helping someone in such a way that they too are inspired, and carry that act of charity on down the line. But will society actually accept this spirit of charity, or are we fundamentally selfish creatures? Is the underlying question of life “what do we owe to each other” or “what can we gain from each other?” In the staggering clashes of All Might and his ancestral foe, this question of humanity's true nature is given the most anthemic framing imaginable. As All Might raises his fist to the sky, My Hero Academia's hard-fought optimism is clear.
It'd be hard for any volume to top that first half, but astonishingly, this volume's back half is actually just as strong. My Hero Academia's framing of heroism as a force that inspires others has always intertwined with its thoughts on the nature of parenting, and the story has very deliberately set up All Might as a sort of surrogate father for Deku. In the wake of All Might's climactic battle and the subsequent loss of faith in public security, the U.A. staff decide to move all of class 1-A to on-campus dorms, leading to a series of parent-teacher conversations that offer rich payoff for My Hero Academia's “heroism versus parenting” thread.
Midoriya's mother has spent long volumes suffering in the wake of her son's various adventures. Midoriya has routinely broken his own bones, grappled with villains again and again, and even made a spectacle of his own self-destruction throughout the athletic festival arc. After consistently emphasizing his mother's pained reactions to these terrible trials, this volume demonstrates her reaching her breaking point, and challenging All Might in a confrontation that feels as climactic in its own way as All Might's city-destroying bout. The complexity of heroism's debt is challenged here, as all the things that inspired Deku to “greatness” are now framed in terms of how much they've hurt him. Performing great acts and inspiring others isn't just a net good, but a responsibility. After an act focused on the ambiguous ways great deeds can affect society at large, My Hero Academia finds equal impact in exploring that same conflict on the smallest scale, asking what parents and mentors truly owe to their children.
Those two confrontations form the dramatic highlights of this volume, but the pages in between are littered with rewarding gifts, from the punchy tactical coordination of Midoriya and his friends in the first half to their goofy, character-celebrating contest regarding who has the coolest dorm room. There are essentially no missteps here, and the reflections on both our overall social contract and individual emotional debts are thoughtful, impactful, and rooted in conflicts and characters this manga's been building up all along. This is a payoff volume for a manga that's been both great from the start and persistently investing in its own future greatness, executing conflicts so fundamental to this story and so reflective of our overarching human nature that All Might's punches land with the weight of the world behind them. When people talk about My Hero Academia years down the line, these will be some of the scenes they return to, scenes of All Might rallying against the very essence of selfishness with all his strength. I hope they remember the selflessness he represents, the spirit of charity coded even into the contrast of All For One and One For All. Just as All Might inspired Deku to such great strength, I hope this story inspires many more with the strength to be kind.
Overall : A+
Story : A+
Art : A
+ Pays off nearly all of My Hero Academia's thematic threads with smart and theatrical confidence, presenting All Might's greatest battle as a fight for the soul of humanity itself
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