My Hero Academia 217-220 – 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. With Class A triumphing, it now seems new evils at beginning to move, bringing about greater threats to society.
Chapters 217-220 seek to do a couple things. 217 itself is all about closing up holes. We open with Bakugo sparring against Midoriya in a fervent attempt to get the new quirk Midoriya manifested to pop out again. Bakugo learned Midoriya’s big secret some time ago, and this chapter helps to dredge that part of the story back up, while reestablishing Bakugo as not simply someone who is aware of the secret, but an active confidant. From there we reaffirm that Midoriya’s new quirk isn’t going to pop up again soon, acting mostly as a tease for the future.
Closing off additional nagging plot threads, the chapter swings to Eri and Monoma as Eraser Head attempts to use Monoma’s copy quirk to make use of Eri’s powerful, yet dangerous ability to turn back the clock. Making sure audiences don’t wonder if this could be used to give
Buff Tintin Mirio his power back. It’s ultimately a short chapter (as most tend to be these days), and doesn’t really progress the story so much as offer answers to lingering questions. Another example is Todoroki calling out Midoriya for yelling at him not to hold back over 150 chapters ago during the Sports Festival, yet seemingly keeping this new quirk in secret.
Despite its short page count, this chapter isn’t tight either. Randomly Class B comes to hang out with Class A, yet nothing comes of this besides a couple one panel gags. As much as I’d like to see Class B get more development, usage like this speaks more to placating reader’s with quick and dirty appearances than offering up proper, meaty usage for these loved, yet often sidelined, cast members.
Chapter’s 218-220 begin the dance towards a new arc. We’re introduced to a sinister new villain, Detnerat Company CEO, secretly the new leader of the long thought dead, Meta Liberation Army, hellbent on applying Destro’s grand ideals to modern MHA society. While the CEO’s introduction is fairly strong, murdering his assistant the minute he realizes the poor young man does not share in his ideals, their immediate focus is placed upon series whipping boys, The League of Villains. The rest of Detnerat’s introduction is quite sound, offering up some great action as newly licensed heroes Bakugo and Todoroki take out a band of common villains secretly backed by Detnerat, seeking to play villains against heroes in the name of research for the greater good.
But what I really want to talk about is Academia’s usage of the League of Villains. Chapter 218-220 best exemplify why Horikoshi has been using them the way he has up to this point. I don’t honestly remember if I’ve beat this particular drum before, but I think it’s worth bringing up in light of the League’s current conditions. Chapter 220 finds the League on the cusp of defeat, yet these individuals are supposed to be our greatest of bads, the true nemesis that Midoriya will one day have to overcome. But Horikoshi has kind of painted himself into a corner with their early introduction.
Most of the Modern, Top, Shonen Titles have nebulous goals. One Piece sees Luffy aim to be ‘King of the Pirates.’ Naruto sees Naruto desiring to become Hokage. Goku in Dragon Ball just wants to fight strong guys, and all Toriyama need do is introduce an endless supply of ever stronger opponents and the story need never end. All these goals are tied more so to ideas than actual characters. The problem Academia has is that Midoriya’s goal of becoming a hero has become intrinsically tied to defeating All Might’s ultimate nemesis, All for One, or more specifically, All for One’s proxy, Tomura Shigaraki, leader of the League of Villains. The trouble with tying your goal to a character, particularly one you’ve chosen to introduce, is that you can end up boxing yourself into a corner.
Some series have done this successfully. Hunter x Hunter is a perfect example. Gon is out to meet his dad, but the series gets away with it because we know nothing of his father. Gon’s dad also isn’t a villain. He’s not an immediate obstacle to Gon’s goals, besides, you know, being a trash absentee father. But even Hunter x Hunter can’t stretch that narrative out forever. The 2011 anime ends right where Gon meets his dad, effectively capping off the series. While the manga’s still going, it’s not hard to find reader’s who accept Gon meeting his father as a proper end point, and feel little pull to continue with Hiatus x Hiatus.
What this means is that Shigaraki only remains effective if he seems out and out unstoppable, with Midoriya having a long journey ahead to find himself as Shigaraki’s equal. But Academia has a deeper problem compounding its usage of Shigaraki as Midoriya’s prime villain: The World of MHA itself. MHA showcases a world that has aged well past the early days of quirks. Society has adjusted, beaten its worst villains, and sits as more, or less, a utopia. MHA doesn’t exactly describe it as such, but when it comes to combating crime, villainy is having a devil of a time actually gaining a foot hold. Because MHA’s society is so effective at combating villainy there’s no way for Shigaraki to gain a foothold and eek out a win. This could be overcome by simply allowing society to fall to villainy. Have a few heroes die, the League gain a foothold, and an ongoing war over society to take hold. The problem is there’s very few ways to do that without initiating a sort of “end game” arc where we’re barreling towards the end of the series. The only other true option is to allow society to fall to villainy and make Midoriya and Co. the rebel underdogs. But it’s clear that Horikoshi doesn’t want to go that route, as maintaining society’s status quo allows for frequent slice of life pit stops that the readership has become accustomed to.
So what is a villain to do? Chapter 220 shows us that it’s not a lot. Shigaraki and Co. are barely hanging on and even prone to infighting. Because Shigaraki can’t be allowed a win he needs to remain an underdog until Horikoshi is ready to wrap up the story. Sure Shigaraki can have a little victory here, or there, but with the world Horikoshi has crafted being so effective at dealing with super villains there’s really no opportunity to get a decisive win. Here we see Horikoshi perhaps trying to answer that conundrum by offering up Shigaraki a chance to grow, evolve and become stronger out of sight. This might be the best usage of this cast of characters, if they simply retire for awhile before popping up again down the road. As otherwise every appearance of theirs suffers greater and greater diminishing returns. Last time we’d seen the League they were trouncing a beaten Overhaul, yet nothing much came of that. Or perhaps Toga getting a sample of Midoriya’s blood. That plot strand ultimately never goes anywhere significant, with Toga transforming into Midoriya sparingly. The league can never end up doing anything too prevalent, otherwise MHA’s hero society comes crashing down on them. They also can’t get caught. If they go to jail, Horikoshi runs the risk of losing readers who might take that a sign that Shigaraki and Co. are truly done (even if they’d break out just a few arcs later.)
I think it would be best if Shigaraki and Co. went their own way, through some wild ‘training arc’ that allowed them to grow more and more powerful near completely divorced from the main story. This would allow them to periodically pop up to satisfy reader’s who love the characters, while allowing Academia’s story to focus on more immediate villains. Maybe send them to a country struggling with crime and let them wreak havoc there? A series if often only as good as its villains, and if our baddies don’t get a chance to shine, and even remain punching bags for everyone else, then Shigaraki and Co. are in real danger of suffering a similar fate to Class B: largely irrelevant and worthless against Midoriya and Co. If we don’t believe our heroes have somebody they’d struggle to win against, then where is the tension?
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?)