Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
With the attack on Chisaki's fortress now well behind them, the students of Class 1-A are gearing up for a very different kind of battle - U.A.'s school festival! From student plays to maid cafes and everything in between, these superheroic students are at last getting a chance to enjoy the lighter side of academia, and indulging in a few of their non-heroism-related talents along the way. But far in the distance, a new villain is concocting a plan to disrupt the school festival, and turn 1-A's downtime into fuel for his own rise to glory. Just who is this new villain, and what will his plans mean for our gallant young heroes!?
My Hero Academia has expanded in a variety of new directions in the wake of its post-All Might turning point, from its increasing focus on adult heroes to its broader emphasis on how law and justice work in a superheroic society. But in the course of all that expansion, some of the show's original fundamentals have receded into the background. It's been a long time since we've checked in with the secondary members of Class 1-A, and longer still since it's felt like they're actually students in any meaningful way. Here in volume nineteen, Kōhei Horikoshi seems determined to make up for that neglect, in a lighthearted volume that embraces both My Hero Academia's ensemble and scholastic appeals. It's time to get ready for U.A.'s school festival!
Preparations for the school festival make up the bulk of this volume's chapters, and provide many welcome opportunities for underutilized members of 1-A to finally get their chance to shine. After fiercely debating a variety of potential class activities, 1-A settles on a combination concert-dance party that puts both Jiro and Mina in genuine leadership positions. Over the course of their discussions and training programs, these chapters demonstrate new sides of many of 1-A's stars, putting prior volumes' characterization to work in order to better convey the sense of a diverse group of friends with unique interests, variable bonds, and a whole bunch of surprising talents.
A great part of this volume's strength comes from how well it takes advantage of My Hero Academia's expanded A-list roster. Early on in this manga, Midoriya was essentially the only character we knew particularly well, and thus all of the conversations we witnessed were in some way tied to his perspective. Now, with Bakugo, Todoroki, Yaoyorozu, Ochako, Iida, and Kirishima all having served some time as the manga's perspective characters, Midoriya is able to recede into the background and let his classmates' voices shine.
Conversations between 1-A regulars feel far more natural now, untethered from the need to directly advance Midoriya's story. These incidental conversations and consistent debates go a long way towards elevating 1-A's back roster from vague character concepts into sympathetic people, addressing an issue that has long hindered My Hero Academia in a graceful and rewarding way. I never expected to see Bakugo of all people offering words of encouragement to a classmate like Jiro, but this volume doesn't just pull off unexpected beats like that, it actually sells them as the natural outcome of genuine friendships.
While much of this volume is dedicated to embracing a resource My Hero Academia has long held in reserve, the rest of it is dedicated to introducing a new pair of villains: the gallant Gentle and enthusiastic La Brava, a pair of so-called villains whose goals mostly seem to revolve around improving their youtube views. Horikoshi mentions in this volume's comments that he's found himself fascinated by streamers, who he sees as doing their best to spread joy in a manner very similar to heroes. That fond respect for the field comes through clearly in this profoundly endearing pair.
In the wake of Chisaki, one of the most ruthless and unsympathetic villains imaginable, Gentle and La Brava serve as a goofy, charming change of pace. Gentle essentially sees himself as a modern-day gentleman thief, whose exploits are mostly intended to highlight existing ills within society. Unfortunately, his choices of societal ills tend to be either trivial or totally esoteric, meaning the only one who really believes in his mission is his sidekick-slash-social-media-manager La Brava. The two are highly lovable idiots, and it's a testament to the strength of their introduction that I hope they end up somehow joining the manga's regular cast.
On the whole, My Hero Academia's nineteenth volume serves as an unexpected but welcome demonstration of strengths the manga has left long dormant. The renewed emphasis on 1-A's less-appreciated stars is a much-appreciated choice, and benefits tremendously from the work the manga has done in fleshing out Midoriya's various companions. Meanwhile, Gentle and La Brava immediately prove themselves to be two of the manga's most endearing and genuinely hilarious characters, with their lofty goals, inept plans, and goofy designs all selling the heck out of their grand debut. My Hero Academia tends to shine the brightest when it comes to the major action setpieces, but this volume demonstrates that Horikoshi can sell the silly, charming stuff just as well.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Renewed emphasis on 1-A's full roster helps bring the whole class to life, Gentle and La Brava prove to be great additions to the cast
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