My Hero Academia 208-210 – 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 finds 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. Shortly after Midoriya has a vision, where he sees the past wielders of All for One, and talk of an oncoming “singularity”. Before he can achieve greater understanding Midoriya and Class A are pitted against rival Class B in a team face off to see who has improved the most over the last few months.

Review:

We need to talk about Bakugo. Chapters 208-209 focus near entirely on Bakugo’s team battle against Class B and showcase a number of problems I have with the way Horikoshi is handling his more problematic characters. I mentioned last time the issue I had with using Endeavor, an abusive father, for comic relief. Bakugo is another character I have misgivings with. At the start of the series Bakugo amounts to little more than a bully, and it’s only as the series continues that Horikoshi has transitioned him from Midoriya’s tormentor to a prickly Vegeta-esque friend.

Yet Bakugo hasn’t shown a lot of redemption. We have seen him get incredibly frustrated and torn up over his inability to be the hero he so desperately sees himself becoming, and we have seen him soften (sort of) towards Midoriya and other characters, but in truth he hasn’t really repented. Rather we’ve swept a lot of that poor behavior under the rug. While there’s always time to deal with that later, the Team match up here, and Bakugo’s incredible victory, don’t give me a lot of faith.

In Chapters 208-209 we see Bakugo go up against Class B, specifically a team led by Setsuna Tokage. During this match Bakugo displays ‘surprising levels of team work,’ utilizing his teammates quirks, and forcing them to keep up with his onslaught-approach that ultimately secures him a win. While it’s all well and good the cast is driving home this character development for Bakugo– it’s not really anything to write home about.

The match started in 207, where the manga makes note that many of his teammates are of the impression that Bakugo hasn’t changed since the sports festival. From there he ‘surprises’ everyone by saving his teammates, as if they note a significant shift in his persona. But Bakugo continues to belittle his teammates at the same time, referring to them as minions, barking out orders, giving them unflattering nicknames, etc. If anything all 207 displays when he saves his teammates is that Bakugo has his sights set on total victory, and understands the mechanics of team battle required to win. He’s a smart guy, but he’s not moved one inch in terms of addressing his personalities’ true flaws. In fact the lines below about character development, and putting in on the line for someone else, ring hollow, when Bakugo’s victory is on the line. He has nothing to lose by following the rules and putting his teammates first. In fact he has to, in order to secure his total victory. In fact the next panel after that has him declaring total victory, 4-0, and that the ‘strong’ don’t settle for anything less. None of this displays any real growth, his focus is still ‘me, me, me, me and me’ a self-obsessed individual who amounts to no true aspects of heroism outside of forced lip-service to the idea.

Frustratingly even the very idea of ‘teamwork’ or Bakugo’s version of, isn’t new, despite what the characters say. Bakugo in fact displayed the aptitude for team work (or exploitation of his teammates abilities) back during the Sports Festival Cavalry Battle. This feels almost like a retcon then, an attempt to make Bakugo seem like he’s changed significantly when the truth is he’s essentially the most stagnant member of our main cast. It would be like Goku and Co. declaring that Vegeta had changed during the Android Saga.

I use Vegeta as a comparison for two reasons: 1. Dragon Ball is one of my favorite shonen and thus I am very, very comfortable talking about its ins and outs since I have watched and read it multiple times. 2. Because Bakugo has a similar trajectory. While Bakugo didn’t straight up murder people let alone entire civilizations, he was a menace to Midoriya early on. Bakugo starts as a bully, a direct threat and tormentor for Midoriya, before being saved by him and beginning a path to redemption (one he hasn’t walked down all that far.)

Vegeta has a similar trajectory. He begins as a villain and then gradually displays sympathetic aspects to his character. Namely during the Frieza arc we see Vegeta’s cold exterior break when faced with utter defeat. This aspect to his character is entirely selfish, focused on his own failings and inability, rather than pain at someone else’s misfortune. That’s the same with Bakugo when he blames himself for All Might having to retire. It’s all about him. Not All Might, not self-reflection, but utter frustration that he’s not the bad ass he thinks he is. With Vegeta, it’s not truly until the end of the Cell Saga, when he goes berserk with grief over his son’s death, that we see Vegeta undergo a massive change. That moment marks when Vegeta truly evolves as a character, and becomes someone you can better sympathize with. Bakugo hasn’t had that moment yet. He hasn’t shown intense grief for another’s misfortune, or perhaps reflection on his utterly reprehensible attitude towards Midoriya.

And to be fair, Vegeta’s redemption takes a long time. It takes over 150 chapters just to get to his character’s major shift (The end of the Cell saga) and another 50 or so to finally achieve actual redemption. But what makes Vegeta taking so long okay is that outside of Goku, Bulma and Trunks, most everyone else remains wary of Vegeta. They’re mistrusting, not terribly friendly with him, and not so pally pal. Bakugo conversely is treated like a member of the gang, and while part of that stems from the high school setting, it doesn’t feel like it’s taking Bakugo’s bullying, obnoxious nature all that seriously.

Todoroki has changed, moving along the path of self-acceptance. Iida has changed, growing into more and more of a leader figure. Tsuyu, Momo, and of course Midoriya as well (although he does suffer from stagnant protagonist syndrome a bit, but moving on). Bakugo has generally remained the same character through and through and while it’s always portrayed that there’s more beneath his prickly persona, it’s never much and always feels like it’s the same ‘one step out of his shell’ every time. Sure there’s something to be said for the fact that we’re only 200 or so chapters in, but this is maybe where Academia’s fast paced arcs hinder it. A lot has happened to our characters, but at the same time, not nearly as much has changed for some of them. Academia does operate under ‘the devil is in the details’ and Horikoshi is potentially playing a long game here, but at the same time Bakugo getting heaped in praise in these chapters gives me pause that we’ll ever actually see the character evolve.

Part of me wonders if part of this stagnation for the character is due to his extreme popularity. There’s no denying that a very vocal chunk of the fandom adores this character. I’ve always wondered how much the character poll surveys influence authors, and I’m feeling like Bakugo remaining his prickly self, with nary an apology for his behavior, and all the praised heaped upon him for such minor improvements to his character, largely stems from Horikoshi’s desire to not lose a good thing when he’s got it. I don’t think Horikoshi will suddenly shift all attention to Bakugo, but he has no incentive to develop Bakugo further, not when he pulls in such dedication from the fans. They love him for who he is, even if other parts of the fandom find his portrayal frustrating.

So where does this leave us? Wrapping around to the start I feel like this is a sign that Horikoshi maybe doesn’t have the deepest interest in addressing the darker elements to his story. I feel like they’re there to lend emotional weight to proceedings (Todoroki’s strained relationship with his dad, Bakugo’s prickly attitude and initial bullying) but hardly topics Horikoshi really wants to delve into. While Academia has toyed with the idea of some nuance and grey to the hero association (Endeavor being a hero but doing awful things to his family) I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t all lip-service, and at the end of the day Academia is really just a tale of good vs evil, with a serving of moral ambiguity on the side. Understand I would love to be proven wrong, as despite what some may think, the reason this discussion is so long is because I actually like the series a lot, and am critical of it because of that.

Ending on a positive note, I love chapter 210. It moves a little too quick as Midoriya’s team find themselves out-maneuvered with their backs to the wall, but it’s otherwise solid build up to the surprise cliff-hanger; Midoriya’s power going berserk. It was always a likely development for this arc (seeing as it was mentioned right at the start), but it remains a strong way to subvert expectations for the final match. There’s also a tease near the end of Chapter 209 (hinting at All for One’s escape perhaps?) that has me dying to see where that goes.

Problems with Bakugo aside, Academia has stood tall as one of Jump’s stronger offerings. It helps that it has such a massive cast, that even if you don’t take to one of the big three, there’s plenty of side-characters to gravitate towards.

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 at Shonen Jump. Volume 15 released on October 2nd, 2018. Chapters discussed today will be collected and released sometime next year (or maybe even next next year?)

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