by Nick Creamer,

My Hero Academia

GN 12

My Hero Academia - GN 12
All For One has returned, All Might has revealed his weakness, and the world may never be the same. In the wake of the climactic battle between these two titans, the citizens of My Hero Academia struggle for certainty, and a new chapter in the age of heroes seems about to begin. But for Midoriya and his friends, there's no time to take stock - their education continues at a breakneck speed, as they're asked to design ultimate attacks in the lead-up to their provisional license exams. Battle-tested as they may be, 1-A will now be facing down the best of the best from schools across the nation, and will need all their wits about them to triumph on this new field.

In the long run, My Hero Academia's eleventh volume may well stand as the climax to its first overall “act.” In narrative terms, that volume represented the point where the world as established across the story's early chapters was shattered entirely. All Might is no longer the unimpeachable Symbol of Peace, All For One has made his grand entrance, and the public are now actively seeking new heroes to fill that void. In character terms, volume eleven was also the point where Midoriya and his friends first acted like professional heroes - not surviving through displays of strength, but instead through necessary prudence, working hard to maintain their own safety. Even Bakugo reached a key character turn, literally and symbolically reaching out to clasp the hands of the classmates he'd spurned.

In light of that, it makes sense that volume twelve turns away from these world-shaking and character-redefining climaxes, and instead revels in some viscerally satisfying, tactics-focused action. My Hero Academia's twelfth volume essentially has two major priorities: the development of Class 1-A's “ultimate moves,” and the immediate application of those moves in the provisional hero's license exams.

At a glance, the idea that U.A.'s teachers would ask their students to develop something as arbitrary as a “ultimate move” seems ridiculous. Ultimate moves aren't natural tactical developments - they're narrative contrivances designed to build hype. But as Eraserhead and the others explain it, pursuing an “ultimate move” is less about powering up and finding one last attack within you than it is about thinking flexibly, and abandoning the preconceptions that have limited your quirk development. This segment thus turns out to be an actual highlight in its own right, as all of My Hero Academia's stars work to expand their heroic toolkits. “What if I tossed my acid blood to form a kind of shield?” “What if I directed my shadowy doppelganger to cover my own body?” Watching likable kids use unique powers in creative ways is one of My Hero Academia's greatest appeals, and this segment is essentially that style of fun incarnate.

From there, the volume jumps quickly to the provisional license exams, where Midoriya and his fellows have to compete with over a thousand other heroic high school students for just one hundred license spots. This challenge is clearly designed to immediately cash in on the tactical threads seeded by the previous chapters, and it does so wonderfully, establishing a rogue's gallery of potential new rivals along the way. Characters like Jiro, Sero, and Kaminari, who've never really gotten a chance to shine before, here take the stage for the first time, collaborating with their closest friends and pulling off beautiful action highlights. Meanwhile, the fact that the fun of this segment is so focused on the tactics of battle means all those rival introductions feel utterly natural. We don't need to know these characters as people yet, they're still mostly just opponents, and so the battle of 1-A's upgraded quirks and the rest of the world's unknown quirks becomes the entirety of their initial conversations.

Volume twelve is far from My Hero Academia's most emotionally resonant volume, and it is absolutely not trying to be. By instead embracing the tactics-based fun that's also a key part of its overall identity, it recovers from the heavy drama of its recent volumes through a segment that is simultaneously action-packed and upbeat, strategically thrilling and dramatically “safe.” And through all of this fun, Kōhei Horikoshi's artwork feels more energetic and impactful than ever. There aren't a huge number of standout spreads here, but the overall balance of smartly composed battle tableaus is astonishing. Just based on the sheer number of new characters here, along with their various quirks and costumes, this volume must have been a murderous set of chapters to draw.

It's not all good news, unfortunately. This volume's appeal is obviously slanted toward the “tactically interesting fights” corner of My Hero Academia's appeal, but beyond that, it also continues the manga's frustrating trend of favoring the male characters over the girls. Ochako gets a bit of focus, but most of that is centered around her feelings towards Deku; meanwhile, both one new and one returning character are literally introduced boobs-first, an alienating choice for anyone looking to invest in the girls' side of this cast. My Hero Academia has always had signalling that angled it as more of a “for young boys” production, but the further it leans away from those elements, the greater the universality of its storytelling can be.

That's been my persistent complaint regarding My Hero Academia though, and on the whole, this is an extremely satisfying volume. By further developing 1-A's quirks through their school training and then demonstrating those developments through the license exam, My Hero Academia puts its ensemble cast to the best use possible, offering an array of battles that all thrill in their own ways. Whether its heroes are fighting for the fate of the world or simply a passing grade, My Hero Academia knows how to make its action sing.

Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A-

+ Offers one of the most strategically thrilling battle sequences in MHA, introduces fun new characters and special attacks along the way
Sometimes reinforces My Hero Academia's frustrating boy's club tone

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Kōhei Horikoshi

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