If last week’s episode of Boku no Hero Academia was all about filling in the spaces between the big moments of action, this one was all about the action. Yet even so, Horikoshi-sensei has an unusual way of going about those moments. True, the faceoff between Izuku and Shinso Hitoshi wasn’t one of the big headliners the series has been building towards, but it was still a big moment for Deku. And like another well-known shounen mangaka, Horikoshi tends to like confrontations that are at least as much a mental as physical battle.
Despite the best warnings of Ojiro-kun, Izuku has indeed allowed himself to be drawn into Shinso’s trap – a reminder that for all that he’s a bit of a strategic genius, Deku is still very much a kid. By rising to the bait and responding to Shinso’s dig at Ojiro (which if you ask me was basically on-point), Deku has triggered Shinso’s quirk – one that wasn’t good enough to get him into the hero program, but poses considerable challenges for anyone who draws him as an opponent in a single combat competition like this one.
One compliment I often see directed at Boku no Hero Academia is that Horikoshi has an ability to make even peripheral characters distinct – no one feels like an extra, even the extras. This is very much the case, and the most obvious reason is Horikoshi’s remarkable skill at character design (there are a few better artists in the shounen manga world, but not many are Horikoshi’s equal at designing characters). It also comes down to writing – one senses that Horikoshi writes a full backstory for even his minor characters, even if we never see it – but the design is critical. That’s why it was so important to see a top-flight studio like Bones adapt this series to do the distinctiveness of those characters justice, and see that their personalities not be lost in translation.
Well, mission accomplished. One can see the deep-seated frustration in Shinso – clearly, this is a boy who’s been carrying a great deal of resentment on his narrow shoulders. Eraserhead is absolutely right that the entrance exam is seriously flawed, biased towards physical combat enhancement quirks – it’s to Shinso’s credit that he accepted the truth and applied to the general studies program too. This is a rare case where it’s his quirk and not his guile and grit that saves Deku – at least in part. One For All saves him, in fact – a “trace” of those that have wielded the quirk before, a spark which allows Deku to regain enough control of his body to injure himself (two fingers, no ice) and shock himself back into control.
Once Deku has regained control of his body, the result of the battle is a fait accompli – a “boring fight” as present mic calls it. Except it’s not boring, because as good shounen mangaka know, good mind games are never boring. The real battle here is between Izuku and himself, and he’s the one that ends up winning it – One For All only gives him a little push. Deku has trained himself physically and mentally to be strong even when he doesn’t lean on his quirk, and even with an injured hand he’s still more than a match for Shinso once the quirk battle is set aside. Deku feels sympathy for Shinso – he understands what it’s like to be dismissed and belittled as unfit to be a hero. But while Deku is inherently kind and decent, he still has the resolve to be hard when it’s necessary to achieve the ultimate goal.
As for the other battle, between two Class 1-A kids in Todoroki and Sero, there’s a reason it only takes a few moments of the episode. To say that the result was never in doubt is an understatement – and that Todoroki continues to dominate as he does while he’s tied one hand behind his back is a little frightening. Frightening, too, is what happens when he loses his temper and in doing so, his control – we got a taste of it in the cavalry battle when Izuku attacked him, and even more starkly when Sero gives it his best shot. We’ve seen only a fraction of what Todoroki can do, and he’s the colossus that awaits Izuku in the quarter-finals. Talking of big headliners, that matchup most certainly qualifies…