Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
It's time for final exams! Having weathered multiple run-ins with villains and survived the athletic festival, Class 1-A are now presented with even greater foes: their own heroic teachers. Paired up and set against instructors perfectly chosen to highlight their weaknesses, Midoriya and his classmates will have to think quickly if they want to escape their first semester unscathed. And even if Midoriya is ready for this challenge, is it really possible for him to cooperate with Bakugo?
The average My Hero Academia arc generally lasts for somewhere between one to two volumes worth of content, with only the U.A. Sports Festival really stretching that standard. The manga doesn't waste any time - while other shounen manga might happily devote several chapters or even a volume to just one fight, Academia's bouts are rarely longer than a single chapter. At times, like in the recent Hero Killer arc, this speedy pacing can feel like a bit of a detriment - it can be hard to build up much tension in just a chapter or two of setup. But for its eighth volume, My Hero Academia doubles down on its speedy pacing, barreling through Class 1-A's final exams, preparations for summer, a new encounter with Tomura Shigaraki, and even the first challenges of their summer training. There's barely a moment to breathe in these relentlessly fast-paced chapters.
The downsides of this speedy pacing become obvious very quickly. While Yaoyorozu and Todoroki's battle with their teacher Eraserhead is afforded two full chapters to acquire some dramatic weight and emotional consequence, the rest of the class's fights are reduced to just a couple of pages, squandering what could easily be some of the story's most thrilling battles yet. It's easy for shounen battles to drag into padded territory, but the opposite can be just as frustrating. There isn't enough time here to really feel much of anything about many of these fights. Hurdles are presented and then dismantled within just a few panels, and Midoriya is forced to exposit many of the tactical challenges just because there isn't time for them to reveal themselves naturally.
That said, the priorities of any story are always a balancing act, and My Hero Academia's choice to rush through these fights reflects its own distinctive focus. Though showing awesome clashes between wild powers is one of My Hero Academia's great pleasures, this is also a story about things - it has dramatic and thematic places it wants to go, and skipping over battles that are ultimately just showcase matches is a valid way to get there faster. It's a testament to how fun My Hero Academia's fights are that I felt cheated out of seeing a bunch of fights that never really had serious stakes in the first place.
And of course, the rest of this volume is filled with its own thrills. After learning the results of their final exams, the students of 1-A end up making a group shopping trip to prepare for summer, where Midoriya finds himself taken hostage by My Hero Academia's irrepressible “man-child,” Tomura Shigaraki. Their encounter is the most tense segment of this whole volume, drawing great tension out of the mere threat of violence. In a story about powerful superheroes, it'd be easy for such a small-scale encounter to come off as inconsequential, and it's a testament to Kōhei Horikoshi's terrific paneling and expression work that Shigaraki's menace feels so palpable throughout. Shigaraki's reappearance also gives My Hero Academia an opportunity to reflect on some of its favorite themes - the question of what inspires us to action, and the ways our public achievements impact society.
Shigaraki himself is a great villain for My Hero Academia. In contrast with people like the violent but emotionally comprehensible Bakugo and the ideal-driven Hero Killer, Shigaraki is essentially this story's version of the Joker. There's no deeper meaning lurking behind his actions - in fact, the main reason he confronts Midoriya is because he himself doesn't understand what drives him. Shigaraki is simply a cruel, selfish, and immature person, and sometimes cruel, selfish, and immature people get their hands on a whole lot of power.
My Hero Academia spends a great deal of its time articulating how even those we don't immediately understand often have a fully developed and internally coherent worldview that offers a sense of justice and rightness to their actions. Shigaraki's existence reflects the fact that seeking to understand others won't always be enough. There is injustice in this world that is not born of a misguided sense of justice, and fighting that injustice can't just take place on a personal level, but also on the level of societal symbols.
Outside of that, this volume is also stuffed with plenty of the great offhand character moments, larger emotional turns, and fun tactical choices that make this story such a consistent pleasure. Yaoyorozu gets a great focus segment during the final exams, and plenty of her classmates get to at least show off some keen strategic chops. The pacing I mentioned at the start does limit how exciting or clever this volume's fights seem, but even if the action is a bit below par, the cast is as strong as ever. My Hero Academia may be barreling through its own story, but with a story this good, it's very worth hanging on for the ride.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Plenty of great character moments, some exciting battles in the first half, and a thrilling confrontation with Midoriya's greatest foe
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