So, uh, awkward confession from yours truly: for whatever reason, components of My Hero Academia in everything from character deaths to cast members slip from memory easily — can you believe there was a time I forgot Tokoyami existed? — and having read through Volume 16 for this review, I gradually recognized the same had transpired for much of the Overhaul arc. Whether this is the fault of the series’ snappy, to-the-point pacing or neglectful attention, I cannot say – at the very least, I’d hate to think it’s a lack of engagement, because I most certainly adore Kohei Horikoshi’s manga– and yet, given how much the Overhaul arc dragged on, I can’t necessarily point to the former here.
However, these careless lapses in memory may be a blessing in disguise, for I much preferred this volume than the previous iteration’s sloppy set-up for the mafia raid. True, there were some frustrating reminders – Uraraka and Tsuyu’s engagement with a hulking gate guard renders them non-existent for the rest of the arc – but the personal development and focus on Eijiro “Red Riot” Kirishima and Tamaki “Suneater” Amajiki rendered Volume 16 an intimate read. Whether or not these are ultimately stopgaps into the series’ most divided arc remains to be seen, but for the moment, they set the proper tracks in place.
First and foremost, let’s admit this is very much My Hero Academia’s first initiation of a common shonen trope: the Chase Sequence, where the heroes are rushing towards a unified goal – be it rescue or taking down the big bad – and subtract their numbers one by one to fend off incoming villains. While a common genre staple in everything from the latter half of One Piece’s Dressrosa to Naruto’s Sasuke Retrieval arc, it’s not always well received – their emphasis on linearity makes for rigid storytelling not prone for enticing deviation, and the former was especially criticized for protracted pacing and juggling an ever-expanding cast – but I admit they provide an innate appeal to shonen: executed well, there’s hardly anything more cathartic in the genre than the cast achieving their hard-won goal, and the juxtaposition of uncertain tension and unshakable trust hearten us and keep us turning page after page.
In the case of raiding Overhaul’s yakuza hideout, both Kirishima and Tamaki appeal to the finest elements of this trope; as in, their respective battles provide a springboard to tackle their respective insecurities as budding heroes. Both characters operate on different ends of the spectrum — Kirishima is a go-getting rookie already hitting an insurmountable wall, while Tamaki struggles in maintaining his place at the top – but both subscribe to the same goal: properly committing themselves to the hero duty, which extends far beyond exuding bravado and defeating a dangerous villain.
For the past couple several volumes, Tamaki’s been notably subdued relative to his show-stealing teammates – the guy cracks under public pressure, often mumbles in solitary embarassment, and frequently retreats via awkward anti-social behavior – and we now begin recognizing the obvious behind his shyness: his quirk isn’t very, well, hero-like. Unlike the instant flashiness of exploding fists or super-speed, “producing the qualities of whatever you’ve recently eaten” isn’t very well-suited for hero work, and it’s only through his friendly rivalry with Togata that doesn’t just push him to properly hone his Manifest quirk — within actual duty, it gives him the courage to stay behind and overcome Overhaul’s ragtag bunch, whose misguided faith cleverly play as a foil. Like everyone else, Togata remains my favorite of the Big Three, but I’m already rooting for Suneater’s hero debut.
You’re the real MVP, kiddo.
Yet in what’s often designated as the arc’s highlight, Kirishima faces an even tougher hurdle in being hopelessly outmatched by his opponents. Even with a Pro Hero’s backing in Fat Gum, it takes just one attack from a battle-crazy villain to penetrate his Hardening quirk and take him out of commission. Having just upgraded his powers, made front-page news in repelling a drug-enhanced goon, and — however unintentionally — been the key to deciphering Overhaul’s drug-dealing motives, killing his spirit will surely terminate his recent string of successes…or does it? What ensues is a different solution from Tamaki’s, as his being inability to defeat the enemy doesn’t mean there isn’t anything left to do.
The following flashback renders the battle’s end all the sweeter – Kirishima once made the very same mistake Shinso did in his U.A. Sports Festival match with Midoriya, assuming our protagonist rose to the occasion whenever necessary. Obviously, our formerly Quirk-less wonder experienced more than his fair share of trial and tribulations into making it this far, and now it’s time for Kirishima to achieve his ideal of chivalry — forging ahead even in fear. His one solitary act paves the way for a gratifying victory, with his earning the respect of his respective villain Red Riot’s first true step into becoming a hero. (Granted, said villain still wants to kill him, but uh, take what you can get, I guess.)
Concluding on the theme of solid first steps, the Overhaul arc’s first action phase successfully plays into My Hero Academia‘s modus operandi — aspiring youth overcoming self-doubt for the greater good. Whether or not this revisit will maintain this momentum remains to be seen – while I wasn’t half as exhausted with Overhaul as I was with One Piece’s concurrent Whole Cake Island arc, there was still a gradual drag that cast a shadow over the whole thing; heck, for all wretched inattentiveness, I’m not quite sure if Mimic’s someone I’ve merely forgotten or is the product of poor explanation (putting his quirk aside, he was the tiny plague suit guy all along?). Regardless, this superb blend of action and character development’s more than enough to wash out the unsatisfying taste of last volume.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.