No Man is an Island”
The sixth season of the best Weekly Shounen Jump series of its generation comes to a close, with a seventh already booked. That Boku no Hero Academia is the best seems is clear-cut to me, among the battle shounen anyway. A more complicated question is whether this was the best season of HeroAca. I’m inclined to think so. There are individual cours that could give it a run for its money, but in my view no other season has been as consistently superb from start to finish. Every season has made the LiA year-end Top Ten (though S5 needed weak competition to do it), and I can confidently say it would take 2023 being among the best anime years ever for S6 not to keep that perfect record alive.
That this season is so good – and is now viewed as such, despite a great wall of resistance from the fanbase – is a triumph. I knew it would happen and said so – not only was the material to be covered uniformly great, all the pitfalls that tormented Season 5 were removed. Still, it’s a fine feeling to be right, and to see a property that’s been around as long as BnHA reach new heights. Even the manga has seen a considerable spike in sales this past year, which is almost unheard of for a franchise at this point in its life cycle. Now or later, Horikoshi is going to be lauded for the remarkable things he’s accomplishing with this series.
The latter part of this season has mostly chronicled Deku’s descent into isolation and despair, but much of this episode focused on two very complicated adults. All Might is and has been probably the great tragic figure of Boku no Hero Academia. All he was (apart from thoroughly noble and decent) has been taken from him. He feels as if he’s failed in the one great task still given to him, to mentor Izuku – that he’s been “holding him back”. When the world needs him most, when his disciple needs him most, Toshinori Yagi feels helpless.
Enter Stain – though “re-enter” is more accurate. Let me circle back to something I said about him way back in Season 2, as he headlined what I still consider HeroAca’s finest single arc:
The most dangerous madmen (and fascinating villains) are not the moustache-twirling sociopaths, but the ones whose madness is rooted in a truth and justice that’s warped into something terrible (see: Shishio, Makoto).
Stain is utterly fascinating, this series’ finest antagonist without a doubt. He’s many things, among them a cutting commentary on Japan’s idol culture and its terrifying dark side. Stain is what happens when you love something too much, when you hold the world up to standards it can’t possibly live up to. Stain exposed everything that was false and rotten about hero culture, and rubbed salt in that wound by resorting to heinous crimes in order to punish the world for its imperfection. And this was possible because he not weak or stupid, but brilliant and charismatic – and possessed of seemingly limitless reserves of will and strength. It didn’t matter that his actual quirk was rather weak, because his self-belief and determination was stronger than anyone else’s.
At the heart of all that – and why he matters now – is that Stain is a true idealist. His ideals are mostly warped, but he believes in them absolutely. He cannot accept an All Might falling into self-pity and navel gazing as the world crumbles around him. Stain never had any use for Shigaraki (the feeling was mutual, of course) or the League, or villainy for its own sake. When the opportunity came to free himself, Stain took it – and he was a detail the ever-meticulous All For One seems to have let slip through the cracks. “I am a beast… who is on the side of a just world”. Stain always did have a way with words (and so does the guy who puts them there).
Stain delivers what he’s taken from Tartarus to Toshinori, a kind of benediction to the man he was, along with a final request – when it’s all done, to come and “end me”. Stain has no illusions about the acts he committed – he knows that the just world he holds up as his ideal holds no place for him. In his mind Stain was sacrificing himself by becoming the hero killer, a willing martyr to a just cause. What he did certainly must be punished, but he did it because it had to be done and no one else would or could. It’s twisted, but it’s consistent.
Meanwhile, Izuku is back in the bosom of the friends who love him. Who promptly strip him down and throw him into the bath (I was right, he must have stunk pretty badly by this point). What weighs most heavily on kind Izuku now is how he left things with All Might, who he loves unconditionally. Toshinori’s weakness is the elephant in the room in their relationship – the protector has become the protected, and neither of them are comfortable with that. Fortunately Toshinori returns to the dorm and gives Izuku the chance to make things right between them. The coming fight, he tells the kids, is going to be so serious that even he will have to be a part of it.
The gist of that info that Stain smuggled out of Tartarus is that the completion of Shigaraki’s recovery, which the interrogation of Garaku and intelligence reports had placed at two months, may take only 38 days. Which gives the good guys only three days to pre-emptively strike at the enemy before Shigaraki can strike at them with his full force. All Might calls in his stature to ask the U.N. to deploy the world’s top heroes to Japan immediately – something their host countries are reluctant to do when they’re facing deep unrest (fueled by AFO’s agents) themselves. But one hasn’t even bothered to wait to be deployed – America’s top hero and All Might’s disciple, Star and Stripe (Paku Romi).
And there, after a brief coda where Izuku finally allows himself to lean into the support of his Yuuei family, is where Season 6 leaves things. As noted, S7 has already been officially announced (even before this episode aired), though that obviously stands as one of the all-time foregone conclusions in anime. Horikoshi-sensei has declared that the “final arc” is already in progress in the manga – though we have no indication just how long it will last – but the seventh certainly won’t be the final season. The material to follow is more contentious among fans than this season’s, but I expect the overall level of Boku no Hero Academia to remain extremely high. It’s at the top of the WSJ pyramid, and Bones (as you’d expect) continues to do it justice.
I will need to rewatch previous seasons to tell if this is the actual best season, and that’s not from lack of confidence in the fans. I am sick and tired of people expecting the entire story to be more about the pro heroes and the outside world and the politics of herodom in this universe, than lowly high schooler Deku and his rowdy classmates that until now had absolutely no affect on the big themes here. Season 6 is the first time Deku’s themes of connections and selflessness had any kind of impact on the story. That is not a flaw! Horikoshi meant for that to happen, but I do think even his editor didn’t figure that out due to this point of the storyline being written at a faster pace so he could “end it already”. Would anyone think Harry Potter would be better if it wasn’t about Harry Potter!??
I’m really curious as to how they approach next season and future seasons. Without giving much away, these next two arcs are short and probably not even long enough together for a single cour. The arc right after meanwhile is still ongoing and would take more than a 2 cour series to cover just for what is available now.
Unless they opt for a very long final season, it makes me wonder if they’re going to end a season right in the middle of a big event.
The part where the lady, who was All Might last rescue, risking her life to clean the All Might statue and silently cheering him on brought a tear to my eye. All Might light did bring shadows in the world, but his impact has left a lasting impression on those that come after and inspire a world where the ideal may be possible.