My Hero Academia 266-269 – 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:

Villainy is afoot, and gaining power by the day, yet greater society remains none the wiser. While Midoriya and Co. begin another round of work studies, to prepare them for an epic battle ahead, pro-heroes catch wind of the League growing power, having absorbed another counter society movement: The Liberation Army. In just four months society could see a level of unprecedented destruction, and the fall of heroism as they know it. Will our heroes be ready in time to save the day?

Review:

We’re on the cusp of the make or break moment for the series: Are the villains actually a threat? We’ve built right up to the all or nothing moment as Chapter 268 sees Shigaraki seemingly dead, and Kyudai screaming one of the most melodramatic lines of the manga yet. But I’ve hammered home on this point for what feels like weeks, if not months by now. I’m a bit sick of talking about it until something happens and I’d assume so is anyone reading these. So, before we find out whether Academia ever intends to give its villains actual fangs, let’s talk about some of the other stuff going on here. Namely ways in which the series has impressed, has tried and partially succeeded and others where Academia has perhaps floundered.

Hawks. I’ve talked before about how awkward his plot line is, namely the way in which we already knew he was a double agent, keeping him from offering up any fun twists or surprises normally associated with double agent/spy type characters. He’s mostly been used as a way to see into the villain’s organization, as well as the method through which the heroes are able to get the jump on the bad guys before they’re actually ready. But setting that aside, as I’ve gone over it before, I think there are other ways Hawks could’ve been realized better. There’s even signs/hints of it too. We’ve flashed back into Hawks’ past a couple times now, one such instance within this very set, where Hawks is recruited as a hero from his childhood. Being groomed into heroism feels like it could’ve given Hawks a very different view of the Hero Society in general. And thus I wish we’d spent more time with Hawks learning the league’s ideas, discussing their goals, and perhaps finding himself conflicted as to whether they were perhaps right. It could’ve tied in quite well through the relationship he forms with Twice.

There’s been an undeniable theme running through Academia, particularly in the last few arcs, that our villains aren’t entirely evil. Well, All for One is, but Shigaraki and Twice in particular are both extremely sympathetic characters. These two are tormented by childhood issues, either through intense grief or social rejection/mental health. You can’t help but feel for both of them and Twice in particular as he’s clearly a very conflicted individual. Even the very attempt to craft sympathetic villains is a step above more traditional shonen baddies, who are often evil for the sake of being evil. It reminds me a lot of what I appreciated about the Pain Arc in Naruto. That said, like a lot of Horikoshi’s themes, it feels a bit underused, particularly in the way Hawks and Twice’s relationship could have added to it.

Twice and Hawks have a few scenes together, particularly in the chapters leading up to the big fight we’re witnessing now. But those sequences felt last minute, and fleeting. There’s a lot of aspects to Academia that feel half-baked of late. It’s not often awful, but it feels like Horikoshi has prioritized plot before character, eager to ram us through to this massively epic battle, sacrificing character interaction and the exploration of themes in favor of that. It’s a shame because as Shonen go I feel like Academia has always had a little bit of HxH in it; a title that wants to maybe discuss ideas that are typically outside the genre’s wheelhouse. To explore social themes and darker ideas. Twice and Hawks is one relationship that really suffers from the barreling ahead. I can just imagine all manner of scenes between these two, like with Hawks attempting to get Twice to question his involvement with the league, or perhaps Hawks realizing that Twice’s troubled persona was a victim ripe for the kind of rhetoric that All for One offers. As I said, there’s hints of it, but I feel like so much good material was left off the page.

While Hawks and Twice’s relationship was perhaps never fully utilized, Twice as a character has otherwise been one of the stand out elements. Twice’s tragic backstory has kept him brutally sympathetic, and his demise here is one of Academia’s more memorable and emotional moments, and brings him out as one of the series’ saddest characters. If Horikoshi really has cast our villains as the protagonists of this arc, whether that’s actually working well or not, Twice’s death is absolutely a gutting moment for our ‘heroes’ and acts as a perfect catalyst to see them turn the tide and get revenge.

Dabi is another great character, one who has been teased and built up for ages. These chapters confirm his identity is absolutely meant to be shocking, seeing as his dialogue is literally blacked out so as to hide the eventual surprise. Sometimes it even feels like Dabi is a much more dangerous individual than Shigaraki, simply based on how much malice sits in his design, and his eagerness to topple the heroes. While there’s danger that Horikoshi has already given up the game on Dabi’s identity, with the fandom coalescing around one prominent theory, he remains out and out one of the most memorable and malicious members of the League.

Another stand out element of late is the art. It has been on fire since the battle started. There’s tons of detail, a more gritty and grim atmosphere, that helps to obfuscate how easily the heroes are trouncing the villains. From a purely visual standpoint the series has never looked better. Still, there’s a couple ways Horikoshi holds himself back. There’s a tendency to frame certain panels so close to the action that it’s not always crystal clear what’s happening. Also, for as high detailed as so much of the battle is, sometimes it’s a bit too much for the eye to see clearly on first view, making it a tad confusing. But Horikoshi undoubtedly has set himself with an extremely challenging task, and artistically there’s no denying it’s an overall success so far. Even our first hero death on the battlefield, despite being so much less grand than the rest of the action, feels matter of factly brutal.

Horikoshi’s design sense is also still in top form. Our Bunny hero, Mirko, truly exists as a way to hammer home how dangerous the Nomu are. They tear her to shreds throughout her efforts to stop the awakening of Shigaraki. Her design has immediately grabbed the readership, and despite the fact that we know relatively nothing about her compared to our main cast, you can’t help but be afraid for her well being. It’s a testament to Horikoshi’s talent that a character, who is little more than a bad ass design, has enthralled the readership so quickly. That said, that same ability to enthrall is also what makes it so hard to let any of our heroes actually die.

Shonen are known for wide casts of characters. Academia has a bloated cast that is only dwarfed by One Piece. The readership loves this, able to fall in love with even the more minor of characters. But because readership becomes so enthralled with these heroes it can become difficult to kill any of them, particularly as Jump Magazine prioritizes readership approval above all else. I think this crafts an atmosphere of apprehension for the author and their editor, where if they choose to kill off someone important you risk upsetting a subsection of your fan base and seeing your spot in the rankings drop. It’s why I’m dubious, despite all the commentary online from readers on the edge of their seats, that any of our big name heroes are going to die. They’re too important to Jump Magazine for continued readership approval. I can’t really dock Academia exclusively for this because I think it’s a problem of the genre in general, compounded by targeting the youth demographic, which can be notoriously fickle if the boat gets rocked too much.

Ultimately there’s a lot of ways that Academia remains one of Jump’s strongest current offerings. But as I close out here, it’s time to return to the central issue: Academia needs to make its villains a true threat. Now is the make or break moment. Dabi has Hawks down for the count, though not dead, with Fumikage coming in to save him. The rest of the league is generally routed, and Shigaraki is seemingly dead. I can see the series moving ahead in a couple different ways. Either we sub out Shigaraki as a villain for All for One’s resurrection, although I think this is unlikely, or we see Shigaraki finally become the menace he can truly be, something that’s been teased for the last year. Despite how hard I am on Academia, I’m rooting for Horikoshi finally delivering. I want to see the League kick ass, take names, and send the heroes packing. Academia is a series built upon baby steps. Every development, every lasting consequence from an arc feels like but a minor step forward. But you can’t subsist off of minor adjustments to the status quo forever. If anything I’d argue that despite how Academia talks about the league and what it could do to society, really Academia’s world is no worse off than as it was in the very first issue. Villainy has barely made a scratch. And so, after two-hundred and sixty eight chapters, I’m ready to see Society fall.

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 via Shonen Jump. Volume 22 released December 3rd, 2019.

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