by Nick Creamer,

My Hero Academia

GN 5

My Hero Academia GN 5
With the group stage completed and races run, the U.A. High sports festival concludes on that most classic of competitions: a one-on-one, single-elimination fighting tournament. Many of Class A's heroes are still in the running, including Uraraka, Midoriya, Bakugo, and the deeply conflicted Todoroki. As powers clash and fists fly, these heroes will be tested against each other, each of them fighting not just for victory, but for the dreams that brought them to this school. All of these students are worthy heroes, and all of them have something to prove, but there can only be one champion.

What does it mean to stand in the shadow of those who've come before you? None of My Hero Academia's stars can avoid those shadows. Be it familial duty or simply the pro heroes chanting from the crowds, their past, present, and futures are all on display in the tourney ring. For Midoriya, that shadow manifests as a debt of gratitude - All Might gave him the chance to be a hero, and now he must prove his merit on the world stage. For Uraraka, it's pragmatism and familial love; her family supported her the best they could, and now she wants to shine in a way that can support them. Bakugo swipes angrily at his shadows, denying his debts and friendships with an explosive temper. But his anger seems trivial compared to Todoroki's struggle, as he's driven forward by the need to leave his father behind.

Todoroki's father is the closest thing to an antagonist in this volume of My Hero Academia. All of the actual competitors have worked hard and earned their places; there are no devious gimmicks or secret ringers left, and every hero left standing is someone we've come to understand as a fully fleshed-out person. And so, as all of My Hero Academia's stars pair off in thrilling, tactically diverse duels, the emotional drama centers on the relationships between these characters and the people who brought them here.

This volume's layering of action and emotional conflict has to be seen to be believed. Every fight is satisfying; from Uraraka to Midoriya to even Bakugo, all of My Hero Academia's stars manage to find new tricks, exploiting their powers for a variety of unexpected tactical advantages. The first fight, between Uraraka and Bakugo, is defined by quick twists - Uraraka doesn't stand a chance against Bakugo physically, so she's forced to rely on a sequence of trump cards based on clever applications of her power. Later, Midoriya's duel against Todoroki bristles with body-horror crunch, as Midoriya treats his fingers and limbs like ammunition to be expended and tossed aside. And through it all, Kōhei Horikoshi's robust art seethes with anger and impact and emotional release. From the heavy blacks and fluid curves of his explosions to the thick lines and tortured expressions of his characters, Horikoshi sells the substance of these collisions again and again.

Even more impressive than this volume's merits as an action tableau are its cathartic emotional peaks. Shonen manga often use battles as a venue for emotional growth, because tethering a fight to an emotional shift makes the physical beats land that much harder. Here, every single battle is elevated through its emotional significance; you can really feel the desperation of Uraraka in her final attacks or the bitterness of Todoroki in his standoffish approach to fighting. My Hero Academia's heroes are simultaneously presented as self-motivated individuals and vessels of their parents' guidance, making moments like Uraraka's post-match conversation with her father some of the absolute highlights.

At the center of this volume's focus on influence and legacy is the contrast between Midoriya and Todoroki. Midoriya has expectations placed on him, but they are ones he wants to fulfill - All Might has essentially become his surrogate father, giving him the tools and confidence he needs to succeed. While Midoriya cherishes and hopes to live up to the powers instilled in him, Todoroki is the opposite; treated as a tool to fulfill his father's ambitions, he spurns his father's influence by refusing to use his physical legacy. When the two collide, Midoriya can't help but see a goal more important than his own victory. Todoroki is trapped by his father's shadow; although he sees avoiding his father's power as denying his father's legacy, he's also denying his own identity. Todoroki's refusal to use his fire powers ultimately reflects an understandable self-hatred - the fear that it was not his father, but himself who drove his mother away.

Midoriya doesn't know about that psychological wall; all he sees is someone who's hurting and looks like they need to be saved. Their battle simultaneously functions as a thrilling physical confrontation and an emotional rescue, as Midoriya tries to provoke Todoroki to find a greater peace with himself. Victory and defeat become secondary to Midoriya's true great strength, the strength that even inspired All Might. Tying this volume's specific focus on mentors into the manga's overall philosophy of heroism, the message seems to be that inspiring others to heroic action (be that simple kindness or the courage to seek out an absent parent) is ultimately the only victory worth seeking.

My Hero Academia's fifth volume manages to turn a classic tournament arc into a thematically cohesive meditation on parents and children, acknowledging the many ways we reflect our influences and our ultimate ability to rise above them. It's equally impressive as a display of action drama and refined character writing - each punch and tear feels earned and impactful, each passionate conversation layered with backstory and personality. It's an astonishing new peak for a series that seems determined to outdo itself with every volume. My Hero Academia is a classic in the making.

Production Info:
Overall : A+
Story : A+
Art : A

+ My Hero Academia's most dramatically satisfying volume yet, gracefully framing its climactic tournament arc as a meditation on parenting and identity
Leans too heavily on climactic explosions over more diverse confrontations (thanks Bakugo)

Story & Art: Kōhei Horikoshi

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