My Hero Academia 180-184 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Izuku Midoriya has wanted to be a hero all his life. He lives in a world where people are born innately with quirks, and if so chose, can go down the path of becoming a hero, choosing to fight those who would use their birth given abilities for evil rather than good. It’s a difficult path for anyone, but near impossible for Izuku, who was born quirkless, without any innate powers of his own. He’s mocked by his classmates, who rudely nickname him Deku, but Izuku holds onto his dream no matter what.
Izuku’s life is forever changed however, when he has a fated encounter with All Might, the mightiest super hero of them all. Through this encounter, Izuku found his path towards becoming a super hero, a path not easy by any means.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
Now, having fought several villains seeking to defeat All Might, and learned to properly control his quirk, Midoriya and the rest of his class became targets by the league of villains, culminating in a battle against All Might’s nemesis, All for One. All Might managed to defeat this great evil, but at the cost of his powers, now no longer able to act as the symbol of peace. With a shift in the status quo, Midoriya and Co. took to the streets as provisional license heroes, only to go toe to toe with the deadly Yakuza villain, Overhaul. Suffering casualties, our heroes could use a pick me up and there’s nothing like a school festival to do the job. Unfortunately one villain sees that as his stage to success.
And so the Gentle arc comes to a close, rounding out an arc that feels overall meant to be a lighter experience than the battle with Overhaul. While the fights look great, and Eri’s story remains endearing, pulling at the heartstrings, I can’t help but feel like a few greater issues with Academia are illuminated here.
One issue I have with this arc in particular, although it kind of extends to other aspects of the series, is tonal whiplash. We see a lot of snapping between the more jovial elements and emotionally impactful ones. At the same time we’re supposed to be giddy with excitement over the school festival, we’re also supposed to be enraptured and moved by the battle between Midoriya and Gentle. And I actually think Academia doesn’t really succeed at this. The shifts are so jarring between emotional moments and silly ones that sometimes Academia almost feels manic in presentation. Part of my realization with this has to do with the way the anime has adapted content in the build up to the battle between All Might and All for One. Moments in the manga that were captured with intense art, edgy dialogue boxes and an overall feel meant to really instill angst and upset, are toned down. While Academia is still a very emotionally charged series, the anime soothes some of the harsher edges, to keep the tone more even and consistent. Here I find the manga jumping between two extremes, and the more it does that the more I find myself pulled out of the story, unable to keep up between whether I’m meant to be excited and joyful, or enraptured with suspense and the feels.
It’s a little frustrating, as I think in a vacuum either still tone works. Gentle and La Brava’s story is a heartbreaking one, and speaks to another side of hero society, namely failure and loss, that Academia has mostly avoided up till now. Even Vigilantes, the spin off, struggled to capture this sense of rejection, something I very much wanted out of a series focused on characters outside the system. At the same time seeing our characters enjoy a reprieve, and focus on school life, is enjoyable in and of itself, letting us decompress from an arc bathed in a darker tone. Together I find myself perhaps a bit confused as to which tone is supposed to win out. Maybe it’s less of a problem in the week to week, but I wonder how Academia will hold up upon rereading, when audiences can consume entire volumes at a time.
Another issue I find myself dwelling on is how Midoriya gets to have his cake and eat it too. Not only does he manage his first ever solo win (which is great, seeing as this boy is behind freaking Naruto, the king of absurdly slow development. Well, former king I guess.) but it doesn’t come at the cost of anything. There’s this whole plot about Gentle’s attack potentially ruining the school festival, but when the adults find out what Midoriya’s been up to, they really just hand wave the whole thing away, and there’s no consequences to be had. It speaks to a grander issue I have with Shonen in general, not just Academia, and something I’ve talked about before: Heroes need to lose.
An excellent example of this is done right is One Piece: During the Alabasta arc. Luffy is utterly defeated, and while he does go on to save the day (This isn’t a spoiler, heroes always ultimate save the day.) Luffy is seemingly down for the count and the bad guy feels absolutely, monstrously powerful. Even insurmountable. Another example is when Goku is totally pummeled and defeated by King Piccolo. Heroes need to lose for their victories to feel worthwhile. And while this is Midoriya’s first win, our villains have never gotten a true, honest to god, victory over him and U.A.
This is where it feels like Academia perhaps diverges from other, traditional Shonen. While other titles might feel entirely devoid of value should the villains always feel like chumps (A hero is only as good as his villain.) Academia seems to be trying to put more focus on the emotional, character focused impact of developments. Meaning that for Academia, the greater value is in that personal victory for Midoriya, or that discovery of Gentle’s tragic past, or in seeing Eri smile and be free of Overhaul’s lingering influence. And while that’s all well and good, and even something I appreciate, I cannot help but think back to the Fall of All Might, something the anime is just on the cusp of giving us in animated form. There’s so much talk about the upheaval of the status quo, losing him as the symbol of peace, and yet it continues to feel like, outside of shifting roles to cover all the bases, the villains still have no hope of winning.
We’d had a death there, a death here, but always characters that appeared in the arc for the first time, or exist as little more than background assets. I’m still waiting for that sign that without All Might things are truly going to get increasingly difficult, forcing Midoriya to rise to action, but the longer and longer it takes to get there, the less I believe it’ll ever happen.
Perhaps this speaks to Academia’s pacing. One thing I do still absolutely adore about Academia is how fast it moves. Arcs aren’t multi-year long efforts like One Piece, managing to get us into a narrative and out within a fairly acceptable time frame. But I do wonder if sometimes Academia moves too quickly. Comparing the anime to the manga, so much incidental visualization of the summer training camp arc is added. The entire rush through the woods against one of the Pussy Cat’s quirk monsters? Little more than a couple panels in the manga, but a whole showcase in the anime. It’s moments like that where I wonder if Academia would feel stronger to me if we got a little more room to breath, a little more time to suck in the details, the art, the events and such. As it is, sometimes it feels like we’re rushing through, and that can be detrimental.
For example Kyoka Jiro (Earjack girl). While everyone focused on the unfinished art (a shame to be sure) Kyoka’s character moment is sort of jammed in last minute. We spend some time with her early on in this arc, but never enough to really drive home the emotional catharsis the series is going for with her flashback to her musically inclined parents and her desire to be a hero. Kyoka’s backstory feels like an ever so slight variation on Uraraka’s, “You guys are doing ___ as a job, but I wanna be a hero.” It’s here I feel like if we slowed down, spent some more time fleshing her out, that moment would’ve meant so much more. As I feel now it’s little more than “nice to know” information.
This brings me to my other issue: Academia’s bloated cast. One thing Academia tries to do is produce a wealth of unique characters. And I can admire that. I know when I was first growing up on Naruto it always bugged me how so many of the background Ninjas really just looked the same, not so much individuals, but clearly a wall of insignificant nobodies. It lacked that honesty about the real world at large: everyone is unique. And so I admire Academia for wanting to produce a wealth of quirky (literally) characters that are all memorable and unique in their own way, capturing a person’s individual wealth in eye-catching design. Unfortunately I think that creates an overly bloated cast. Just look at the anime to see how every episode is littered with on screen text reminders as to everyone’s name and quirk. Without that I imagine most viewers would be absolutely lost, save for remembering the most relevant of names. But a bigger issue I feel is it creates this false expectation that all these characters are going to matter. I think Kyoka is an excellent example of what to really to expect. Most of these characters will be lucky to get a chapter exploring their desire to be a hero, let alone significant character growth and development. That would be fine, but I get the sense that Horikoshi desperately wants to make good on fan expectations, trying to appeal to his massive readership and give something for everyone.
And maybe that’s doable, but not at this pace. The manga moves just too quickly for that. This school festival would’ve been the perfect time to really delve into a slew of the more minor members of Class-A, or even other characters in the school. But we rushed through it, focused on new villains, and largely left that opportunity untouched. Kyoka’s story feels more like a ham-fisted, quickly inserted peace offering forced between the Gentle story and this notion that Class-A needs to mend things with the rest of the school. (Which is sort of underdone in and of itself.)
For all my knocking of Academia, do remember I actually like the series. It’s still one of my favorite Shonen titles and as I grow older I’m becoming a harder and harder reader to please. Yet it still manages to enthrall me and make me want to see where the story is going next. But I do feel fandom needs to voice criticism, and make point where the series could be stronger, could be better. Horikoshi says as much in one of the collected volumes, where he actively apologizes for confusion suffered from one of the Summer Training Camp’s biggest moments that even some anime fans got stumbled by. Artists get better when they’re offered different perspectives and it’s because I love Academia that maybe I’m a tad hard on it.
In summary, I think Gentle’s story was great, and seeing him and La Brava get a chance to reform is another high point of these chapters. Seeing our heroes unwind is also great too, and Eri becoming a regular character, now free of Overhaul’s shadow, is another thing I’m actively excited to see. Academia could be better, but it’s still one of only two Shonen titles I eagerly want to talk about.
That’s it for today. Please let me know what your thoughts are on these chapters in the comments below!
My Hero Academia is published weekly in Shonen Jump. Volume 11 released on February 2nd, 2018. Chapters discussed today will be collected and released sometime next year (or maybe even next next year?)