There’s an awful lot to unpack in this episode of Boku no Hero Academia. On the surface it acts as a bridge between the two most anticipated battles of the series so far, but it’s at these moments when Horikoshi tends to sneak in the stuff that’s really important. It’s not that he doesn’t employ legitimate breather chapters or even mini-arcs (though most of them are later) – he certainly does, because with a story this dense they’re absolutely needed. But Boku no Hero is a series you want to be paying attention to all the time, because Horikoshi is very good at hiding pivotal developments in between the bursts of shock and awe.
If last week’s ep was all about the intensity of the moment – the Midoriya-Todoroki showdown and all its subtext – this one is intense because so much different stuff is happening. For my money none of it is more significant than the scene in Recovery Girl’s office, because it calls out some very harsh realities about Deku and All Might’s relationship. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but Boku no Hero Academia is a series that sweats the details. At heart this is a reflection of a world where heroism is a business, not a character trait. And as such, the use (and abuse) of powers has consequences both for the victim and the wielder (who aren’t always different people).
Recovery Girl’s words here struck me immediately the first time I read them: “To push and light a fire under a child who would destroy his body this much for what he yearns for… I don’t like it.” In fact, after telling Deku his arm will “never be the same” she announces that she’ll never heal these kinds of self-inflicted wounds again. This is harsh medicine indeed, but she’s doing what she has to. All Might has a huge heart, and he loves Izuku like a son. Yet he’s allowed the boy to do this kind of damage to himself in pursuit of his dream, in the name of passing on One For All to him.
I really think the problem here is that All Might and Deku are so much alike – yet that’s also the reason their bond is so powerful. It goes beyond All Might having been quirkless – though it certainly impacts Deku when he learns that. They’re both innocents, both fools for love – of their friends, their family, and humanity in general. They think too little of their own welfare. yet again contradictorily, that’s what makes them true heroes. But All Might is the direct cause of Deku’s pain – the “gift” he gave him has allowed Deku to injure his body permanently, and that in a school-sanctioned exhibition. Recovery Girl has drawn the line, because she’s not convinced Deku and All Might can be selfish enough to do the right thing themselves – this has to end. Being a hero is dangerous enough as it is.
Meanwhile, things move at a blazing pace for the rest of the principals. Shouto is still wrestling with the reality of what happened in his match with Izuku, but it’s quite revealing that he tells Endeavor that the moment he was able to use his left side, it was because he “forgot” about him. That was the gift Deku gave him, but Shouto is still struggling to understand what it means. The remaining matches are dealt with rather quickly – Iida and Tokoyami eventually join Todoroki and Bakugo in the semi-finals, but in truth these are not results which one feels are much in doubt.
Once Deku has lost, there’s never any question of what the final will be. For Tokoyami, it’s simply a question of a badly-matched battle of quirks – which wouldn’t matter so much if Kacchan wasn’t smart enough to have figured out his weakness. Iida does manage one solid blow on Todoroki, but Shouto wins by reaching into his bag of tricks and clogging Iida’s muffler with ice. That Shouto wins without using fire is significant – both in terms of his own psyche, and as a reflection of just how huge the gap between his power and everyone else’s is. For now, these two boys stand far above everyone else at Yuuei – and for Deku, who carries the weight of One For All and the expectations that come with it, that’s a harsh reminder of the challenge he faces.
That’s a lot to take in – but you know, for all the shounen power on display here this is really just a game. The “real” world of BnHA rolls on, and it’s a harsh and violent one. Tenya’s beloved aniki Tensei (Kitada Masamichi) is the hero Ingenium, and he’s engaged in a fight for his life as Tenya focuses on the tournament. We’ve seen the menace that lays Iida Tensei low once before, oh so briefly – but he’s out there, focused like a laser on All Might. The “Hero Killer” Stain (Inoue Go) – this is the other face of this world of quirks, the harsh reality of Boku no Hero Academia. As brutal as Yuuei Academy can seem at times (and Deku’s injuries are testament to that) it’s still a sheltered playground compared to what awaits its students once they complete their training. And don’t think for a moment that their instructors forget that.