Who’s ready to rock?!?
It’s hardly uncommon for manga artists to patch up their work for the volume compilations, be it fixing egregious mistakes or tinkering with stylistic preferences. While casual fans are typically none the wiser, even the most inattentive Shonen Jump reader would wince at a more rarer phenomenon: sketchy, slapdash rough drafts slapped together the eleventh-hour grind that is weekly serialization. Sadly, My Hero Academia’s Kohei Horikoshi has proven himself especially susceptible to this gruel process, with the worst case arriving last year: an indecipherable mess spilled over a dozen pages, grotesquely fluxing between clean designs and rough outlines. The chapter in question? A climatic show-stopper in U.A. High School’s festival concert — the in-universe vindication for Class 1-A’s troubled reputation.
As evidenced by his Page 96 apology, this embarrassing fiasco weighed heavily on poor Horikoshi — not that his pride as an artist would allow otherwise, let alone his duty to My Hero Academia‘s readers to deliver his very best work. We’ll spare the lecture on Weekly Shonen Jump’s unhealthy work crunch and instead illustrate why this moment was so pivotal. Aside from thrusting musically-inclined Jiro Kyouka into the spotlight, let’s not forget Class 1-A doesn’t have the best reputation around — with the constant villain attacks and kidnappings and whatnot, it’s only natural their fellow students treat them with spite; after all, what if their penchant for drama could hinder their own hero aspirations?
On the surface, this school festival direction initially comes across as derivative, but Class 1-A’s dance performance isn’t just therapeutic for our young heroes; why, the smile of traumatized little Eri’s at stake, and that’s how Horikoshi wonderfully balances Deku’s fight with Gentle Criminal in elevating not-so-high stakes — a ne’er-do-well aiming to crash U.A. High’s much-anticipated school festival, even at the expense of indirectly damaging a young girl’s recovery — all the while crafting the series’ most sympathetic villain yet. There’s no sobriety in groomed orphans or exhilaration in bloodthirsty vigilantes; nay, Danjuro Tobita was merely a man with a dream — one down on his luck, ostracized by his parents and, out of desperation from aimless poverty, turns to live-streaming petty crimes.
Hence why the parallel between Deku and Gentle is so effective: whereas Tomura and Deku’s relationship is twisted perversion of student-mentor, Gentle’s failures are instantly relatable, for all the passion in the world can’t make your dreams come true; indeed, reality can, and will, crack its knuckles and cruelly dash your hopes, as we witnessed at the very beginning with Deku. True to his alias, Gentle’s far too benign to commit to any heinous villainy — he’s certainly walking the wrong path, but no matter how much he dresses up his actions with flowery platitudes and falls back upon La Brava’s endless love and support, this gentleman criminal’s nothing more than a pitiful loser. One we certainly wish to see redeemed, mind — that panel depicting his walking out on his parents was just too cruel — but how My Hero Academia‘s hero-led society could possibly find a use for him remains an enticing mystery.
Anyone else really dig this cover?
And then, the concert — going back to the term “vindication” for a moment, I’ll admit even with Horikoshi cleaning up the relevant chapter, I still found the Quirk-powered mechanics behind it a tad hard to follow; thankfully, the energy behind Class 1-A’s performance not only carries it through, but we can finally and parse out the multiple themes at play; Class 1-A’s redemption, wherein their critics fail to resist the class’s spectacular light show/Jiro’s vocals; Jiro Kyoka, finally embracing the duality of heroism in hero-work and sharing one’s passion with the world; Eri, whose star-struck enthusiasm beckons the first step in ridding herself of Chisaki’s shadow. What began as a litmus test for MHA’s brand of comedy concludes as its most humbling message on heroism: rescue may be the first step to recovery, but you don’t need muscle-work to save someone. (And even then, I dunno how anyone could hate Togata’s adorable mimicking of Eri; clearly, he seems to be taking his quirk loss in stride.)
As the festivities come to an end, we catch up on what’s going on in the pro-hero world — with Todoroki’s father in Endeavor reluctantly taking on the mantle of No. 1 Hero, he’s still left soul-searching after the whole “abusive father who forges a family for the sake of eugenics” thing didn’t work out. Heated encounters with a cocky upstart in Hawks — a young prodigy who’s already made the Top 10 at age 22 — and a deadly Nomu further lay the groundwork for his redemption, although both his family and My Hero Academia‘s readers had a mixed reception towards this goal; after all, it’d leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth with his superhero deeds obscuring the pain he’s caused his family.
We’ll dive more into that controversial direction for the next volume, but personally, I’d like to know what’s the deal behind Wash: the “Laundry Hero” who dons a washing machine costume — or is it a costume? With all those kooky quirks altering body-shapes and whatnot, you never know. Even if I never get the answer to that question, My Hero Academia‘s held my rapt attention for twenty volumes now, and it’s not about to let up anytime soon. (Especially with Season 4 of the anime just around the corner; man, I’ve been dying to see Togata’s antics animated!)
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.