Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
Midoriya has successfully entered the hero academy he'd dreamed of, but that's only the beginning of his struggles. This school values hands-on experience, and that means he'll have to learn to master the powers of his teacher All Might before him or someone else gets seriously hurt. Even his own classmates present tough hurdles, like his old “friend” Bakugo, who's harboring a serious chip on his shoulder. And if the trials of hero school weren't enough, it's looking like class might soon be interrupted by the real deal - true villains, bent on either destroying All Might or at least crushing some of his precious students.
My Hero Academia barreled out of the gate with an extremely polished first volume, featuring sharp, dynamic art and confident (if very genre-conservative) storytelling. The manga didn't lack polish, but it did feel possibly a bit impersonal - what with it going through the classic motions of big dreams, training montages, and hero exams, it didn't necessarily feel like the story had quite grown into its own personality yet.
In its second volume, those concerns dwindle to nothing in the face of a confident, inventive, and ever-thrilling series of battles and character moments and dramatic confrontations. Having largely dispensed with the setup, the manga is free to do what it does best - throwing a wild gaggle of superheroes with diverse powers against each other, and reveling in the fireworks.
This volume opens with Midoriya's class engaging in some “Indoor Antipersonnel Battle Training,” where Midoriya and his upbeat classmate Uraraka are pitted against hotheaded Bakugo and glasses-pushing Ida. These chapters are a wild sprawl of thundering punches and near-miss explosions, with Kohei Horikoshi's stellar art making each clash its own reward. Nearly everything about Horikoshi's art is a positive, from the unique character designs to the angular, thick-lined setpiece frames to the control of panel flow in battle. It's very easy to follow the flow of momentum in battle, and stylistic flourishes like the strong use of heavy blacks or All Might's unique character aesthetic give the manga a very clear visual personality. The art generally feels a bit more purposeful than evocative, meaning there's little tonal variation created through the artwork alone (though one particular full-page spread for a villain introduction nails a creepiness I'd love to see more of), but it's difficult to complain about art that does The Action Thing so very well.
That art is buoyed by having a great set of characters and conflicts to play with. While the first volume felt like it played by the Shonen Jump numbers, this one is given more room to breathe and establish its own personality. The specific character types here feel like a welcome changeup from the usual archetypes. Midoriya is timid but a great strategist, meaning his battles are generally focused on reading the opponent and then picking one perfect moment to employ his quirk trump card. In spite of not being a particularly showy guy, he's actually well-liked by his class - and not in a “Midoriya inspires me” sort of way, just in the way good kids value people who try hard and remain positive. Uraraka's character is similarly naturally written, an upbeat, self-assured girl who never falls into tsundere, ditzy, or love-struck cliche. Outside of classic hotheaded rival Bakugo, almost all of the characters in Midoriya's class end up coming off as reasonable people, the kind of people who'd have the confidence and self-control to actually get into such a prestigious institution.
Those characters are put to great use in this volume's second half, when a gang of nefarious villains interrupt Midoriya's class trip. These chapters feature a dizzying run of desperate plans and near-death experiences and wild power debuts, formally introducing many of Midoriya's other classmates over the course of a half-dozen distinct fights. Things get thrilling and stay there, with Midoriya's classmates already working together to make best use of their powers in concert. There's no time for petty adolescent fights between these kids - they're aiming to be professionals, and they've got villains to face.
Overall, My Hero Academia's second volume represents a welcome consolidation of personality and craft, maintaining all of the first volume's aesthetic and narrative polish while running through a far more unique and compelling series of adventures. The manga runs on excitement, and plays into its strengths - the characters seem almost intentionally reasonable relative to many shonen heroes, because they're not here to figure out who they are, they're here to get a job done. My Hero Academia isn't elevated by quirky comedy or colored by hints of melancholy or grounded in meditations on the nature of heroism - it wants to punch face, and it punches face very well.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A
+ An extremely confident and very polished action manga; strong art and propulsive storytelling make for an eminently page-turnable experience.
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