Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
Plans have been laid, alliances struck, and dates firmly set. After weeks of careful reconnaissance and discussion, the moment has come at last - it's time to invade the Hassaikai's yakuza compound! Along with a force comprised of countless police officers and many of the top heroes in the business, Midoriya and several of his classmates will also be joining the battle, as they accompany their work study pros into the depths of the villains' lair. But are Midoriya, Kirishima, or even the Big Three ready for this challenge? It'll take everything our heroes possess and more to survive this challenge, as they enter the fight against evil on the professional stage!
As I've mentioned in prior volume reviews, the fight between All Might and All For One was a clear turning point for My Hero Academia, representing the climax of what may eventually stand as the manga's “first act.” Like One Piece's Arlong Park or Naruto's Chunin Exams, it wrapped all of the story's ideas into one riveting, propulsive core, offering the end of one era and the beginning of another. Since then, My Hero Academia's drama has largely held on a low simmer; though there have been plenty of fights since then, the manga's overarching conflict regarding the future of society has mostly been elaborated and contextualized, not truly progressed. This latest arc aims to change that, as the superheroes make a direct assault on Chisaki's home base, upending the status quo that has persisted since All Might's retirement. Of course, this is a shounen action manga, so “narrative momentum” here means one specific thing: a whole lot of awesome fights.
In contrast with the wide-ranging drama of recent volumes, volume sixteen is entirely focused on literally the first several minutes of the assault on Chisaki's fortress. That temporal focus doesn't mean this volume feels slow, though - in fact, the rapid dancing between various strike teams actually gives this volume a wonderful sense of tension and momentum. With a specific focus on Midoriya, Kirishima, and Amajiki, we follow dozens of heroes as they storm through the yakuza gates and square off with a terrifying menagerie of quirk-bearing enemies. As heroes barrel down corridors and find themselves ambushed by all manner of enemies, volume sixteen reveals itself to be one long, thrilling boss rush.
The first and most impressive of these battles focuses on Amajiki, the self-effacing dark horse of U.A.'s Big Three. After being ambushed along with his teammates by three savage yakuza, he tells his friends to go on without him, and so begins a visually dazzling three-on-one battle against three enemies: one with the power to harden his body into diamonds, one with the power to steal anything, and one with steel jaws capable of crushing anything between them.
The execution of that battle demonstrates Kohei Horikoshi at his absolute best, while also offering some fine characterization for both Amajiki and Mirio. Though Amajiki's powers have been somewhat loosely defined in the past, his efforts here mostly focus on a combination of using octopus tentacles offensively and crab shells defensively, while his enemies work hard to coordinate their three powers for best effect. Because of this, the stakes and mechanics of this fight are tangible enough for genuine strategy to emerge, with the ebb and flow of the fight clearly echoing the tactical choices of its participants. My Hero Academia fights have at times leaned into pure emotional spectacle, but there's a welcome balance of spectacle and strategy here that gives this fight a genuine sense of back-and-forth.
Not to say this fight doesn't also succeed as spectacle, though. Between the gem-hardening power of his enemies and the wild sprawling of his own arm tentacles, Amajiki's fight here easily counts among the most visually impressive bouts that Horikoshi has ever penned. This fight's final chapter in particular may be the most stunning sequence of pages I've witnessed in My Hero Academia, as waves of tentacles and shattering gems splash against each other, each bulky movement lent weight through panels heavy with momentum and Horikoshi's characteristically thick linework. This fight is one for the history books, and I found myself actively pitying the animators who'll eventually have to find a way to convey this absurd display in movement.
Not to be outdone by such a new arrival, this volume's second half finds Kirishima and his mentor Fat Gum facing off in a two-on-two battle, a clash they themselves recognize as “spear and shield versus shield and shield.” With each of them relying on largely defensive powers, the two heroes are forced into an agonizing drag-out battle with two very compatible foes. If this volume's first battle hinges on strategy, its second hinges on grit… but not before also offering some charming insight into Kirishima's own history, complete with a hilarious cameo by the ever-heroic Mina Ashido.
If you're looking for big emotional payoffs or thoughtful worldbuilding, this isn't the volume for you. As I've said, its breadth covers only a scant few minutes, and though the insights into Kirishima and Amajiki are welcome, they're all pretty predictable origin story material. But that clarity of focus only improves a volume as single-minded and astonishingly realized as this. My Hero Academia's sixteenth volume is almost certainly its most thrilling stretch since the league of villains' camp invasion, and could well be its most visually impressive stretch ever. If you've had doubts about My Hero Academia's trajectory, this volume answers them with a giant punch straight in the face.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Art : A+
+ Dazzles with some of Horikoshi's most thrilling and visually impressive battles yet, stunning depiction of the superhero world at war
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