Admittedly, Boku no Hero Academia is a funny sort of series for me. It’s one of the first where I can say I was an early backer and it went on to become truly huge. I was there when it was part of the “next gen” of WSJ (which is a term that gets recycled every couple of years). And now it’s part of the old guard, following in the footsteps of stuff like Bleach and Naruto (One Piece is truly in its own category). Kaiju have started and ended during HeroAca’s run, and it remains one itself (it was #1 in U.S. manga sales last year, and #4 in Japan).
For all that, what really strikes me is this: HeroAca is just better than these newer, trendier upstarts. Admittedly it has its ups and downs, as all long-running shounen (apart from what I could count on one hand with digits to spare) do. Maybe it’s a victim of its own success, maybe of an excessively high bar its set, or an excessively negative fanbase. Or maybe I’m just biased. But comparing BnHA at the level the anime is at now (especially with Bones full-on flexing the way they are) with the upstart blockbusters of the last few years, it delivers more. More pathos, more irony, more character depth, more emotional intensity. It isn’t always this good (much of S4 sure wasn’t) but its top end still puts those pretenders to shame.
There’s plenty of drama happening along both fronts of the Paranormal Liberation War, and the big three remain completely absent from the narrative. At the villa, Hawks is facing his worst nightmare – a matchup against an enemy perfectly tailored to exploit his weaknesses. Not only that, Dabi knows his true name – one which he hasn’t used since he was a small boy drafted into an intense hero-preparation program. There’s a big reveal (though not the last, one suspects) about Dabi here – he’s a devotee of Stain, the Hero Killer. Stain remains the greatest Horikoshi creation, at least on the villain side – even this brief cameo brings a thrill to my heart.
It’s always been obvious that Dabi didn’t really give a flip about the League, or Shigaraki, or any of them. Now we have part of the reason why, though none of that particularly matters to Hawks as he stares into the maw of defeat. Meanwhile, it’s back at the hospital where the bulk of the big-ticket drama takes place this week. Mirko continues to be turned into rabbit stew by the High End nomus, as she desperately tries to make a raid on Garaki’s inner sanctum (and they try and keep her away). Mirko is absolutely relentless and absolutely fearless – to the point where one wonders if she has any sense of self-preservation.
Aizawa-sensei is in many respects the key to this entire raid. He’s always uniquely important as a hero because his quirk is, well- unique. It’s always a potent weapon but especially in the face of what the nomus bring to the table. We’ve seen Eraser at the heart of the action many times, but for Present Mic this surely represents his most intense passage of the entire series to date. Yamada Hizashi is largely a comic relief character in the Yuuei setting and his quirk doesn’t seem all that powerful, but it too has a unique value in this specific engagement. Not only that, Mic has a very personal stake in this battle – and he packs a serious punch above and beyond vocally.
The truth of it is, this is a battle on a scale where every hero has to be all-in. Someone like Crust with his “Shield” quirk has constantly been on the front lines, and it’s the little-seen X-Less who winds up being at Present Mic’s side when the heroes finally reach the lab where Shigaraki’s bacta tank is. Endeavor is stuck doing battle with the top dogs of the High Ends – and cauterizing Mirko’s terrible wounds – and Eraser can’t move forward and release the three High Ends he’s currently neutralizing. Mirko has damaged Shigaraki’s tank enough to where Mic’s sound waves can shatter it, and he captures the hysterical Garaki while X-Less stays behind with the apparently dead Shigaraki.
Well, Shigaraki not being dead is no surprise to anyone – even if only 75% of All For One’s quirk has been pumped into him. Indeed, that’s what Garaki was on about in there. Shigaraki has All For One (its namesake kept a copy), and All For One has Garaki’s “Lifeforce”, which doubles its owners lifespan – with Garaki having a copy. All this has been playing out with the greatest weapon in the villain arsenal out of commission, but Shigaraki’s return to action surely changes everything in a profound and terrifying way.