Real heroes make their own luck.
I love episodes that show of both how great a series is, and how great a character (especially the main character) is – and that’s exactly what this episode of Boku no Hero Academia did. BnHA is never so much about re-invention as it is about re-imagination. How do you take something as trite as a sports festival or a training arc and make it fresh and special? How do you take a plucky shounen hero and make his exploits seem valiant and inspiring when we’ve seen so many plucky shounen heroes before? Horikoshi Kouhei, that’s how. And that’s why he think he’s doing what Togashi Yoshihiro did with Yu Yu Hakusho here – re-imagine the shounen template. And why I think in his next series, Horikoshi is going to tear that template up.
As I look back through the ranks of sports festival arcs we’ve seen in shounen action series, I’m hard-pressed to remember one as good as Boku no Hero Academia‘s. Part of that is because Deku is such a relatable figure, but it’s also because Horikoshi does such a brilliant job thinking of clever twists to make the games interesting (gee, what other shounen mangaka is good at that I wonder?). He’s also great at using the festival to highlight the quirks of all the major (and some not so major) characters, making sure the spotlight shines on more than just Deku, Bakugo and Todoroki.
The first problem here is the giant robots setup as the first obstacle for the students. Todoroki has gone a long way towards helping the others get past them by freezing a whole pack, of them, bringing them down like Luke and the imperial walkers. But Todoroki isn’t so worried about what’s behind him as what’s in front of him – he’s quietly confident and not a psychotic like Kacchan, so that thinking more or less makes sense. But a hero academy is a place for extraordinary kids to do extraordinary things, and conventional logic like that isn’t always going to hold up here. Though it Todoroki’s case, it was only off by one kid.
The trailers make their way through the surviving robots, the support class making use of their tech (I guess that’s sort of fair) and Deku making use of his wits. He uses a piece of a robot Todoroki felled as a shield to fight through the rest of them – because he can’t use his quirk yet. The reality for Izuku is that no matter what All Might has implored him to do, he still can’t control One For All – it really is aptly named for him, because once he uses it he’s going to take himself out in the process. So surviving via other means is a matter of necessity, and so is being opportunistic – which really comes into play with the final obstacle.
A minefield is another clever ploy by Horikoshi here, because it especially taxes the leaders (who are Todoroki and Bakugo, who’s tunnel-visioned himself on him). They have more mines to wade through than the trailers, and the field quickly starts to bunch up like a rug. Deku is near the back of that pack, seemingly taxed just to survive the cut, any opportunity to make a splash long gone. But Deku’s greatest strength isn’t All For One, but his cleverness and fearlessness. He literally blows past the others – using his shield as a sled to ride the exploding mines he piles up into a super-mine for maximum effect.
Obviously, Bones does an unbelievable job animating and drawing all this – the only downside is that it’s a reminder of just how rare this caliber of 2-D animation is this season. But just as much, this scene is a spectacular success because of Izuku – I mean seriously, how can you not root for this guy? He’s re-defining the character type he represents as far as I’m concerned, with his authenticity and sheer chutzpah. Make a splash? Fuck yeah, he makes a splash – and I’m not sure which is more priceless, the look on his face as he enters the stadium and wins the first round, or the look on All Might’s as he watches him do it.
If Deku has a flaw, surely it’s that he doesn’t give himself enough credit in life – and chalking up his victory to luck is selling himself way, way short. There’s a fine line between too much ego and too little, and Deku is still on the wrong side of it – but he’s just a baby still, really. In any event the “reward” for his luck is another pearl of Horikoshi’s cruel brilliance. The second round (for the top 42 finishers only) is a cavalry game – but the caveat is that the value of a team’s (two to four members) scalp is based on how its participants finished the first round. And Deku is assigned a value of ten million points, effectively making anyone who takes his team out the new leaders. This is harsh on so many levels – not only is Deku the clear target of every other team, but how is he supposed to convince anyone to team up with him in the first place? Stay tuned till next week to find out…