God damn, Horikoshi is good.
It’s hard to say which is more impressive – the titanic showdown episodes of Boku no Hero Academia, or the reflective ones in-between. They both make their case in profound fashion, and both make a major impact (just a different sort). This is something the heavy-hitters of elemental shounen – Hunter X Hunter, Rurouni Kenshin (especially the Kyoto Arc), et al – seem to have in common. Shounen who are only adept at one or the other can be very good series indeed, but unless they can excel at both (and very, very few can) I don’t think they can be considered great.
For whatever reason, the hospital scenes in this section of the story are ones that stayed with me quite distinctly – among all the moments in the manga I remember them among the most clearly. I think it’s because seeing the three kids bandaged and patched together, the hero artifice all stripped away in exchange for simple hospital gowns, really accentuated just how absurdly young and vulnerable they are. The contrast with their freakish strength in battle is almost comically absurd, yet it isn’t remotely funny – more like tragic. These are the real Deku, Tenya and Shouto – not the overpowered figures in spandex and jet packs. Scratch any hero and they bleed just like anyone else, and the future facing these boys is one that’s surely drenched in blood.
I just can’t help but admire the elegance with which Horikoshi-sensei patches together all of this – the hero’s journey, the web of villainy, the sly twist on superhero comics through the lens of media obsession. This is the real education our young heroes are receiving – not what they learn in the classroom or the arena, but from events like the visit from the Hosu chief of police (wan!). He tells the boys the hard truth – by fighting and capturing Stain in unauthorized fashion they’ve violated the rules, and called down harsh punishment on themselves. But then he tells them effectively that he’s willing to whitewash it – to let the public believe Endeavor was the real hero and spare the boys any legal sanction. Effectively, they can choose public adulation and be stripped of their right to be heroes – or they can choose relative anonymity and let someone else take the credit.
It’s easy to dismiss the chief – and the system – as unfair and corrupt. And while that’s not totally wrong, it’s worth considering just how anyone is supposed to try and fight off chaos in a world where so many – even children as young as these three – are capable of wreaking ridiculous havoc. The system as it exists in Boku no Hero Academia is deeply flawed, trying to turn heroism into something mundane and bureaucratic and reducing it into just another media circus and money grab. The problem is, I’m not sure I can think of one that’s any better.
This conundrum is what gives rise to the likes of Stain, and what makes him so insidiously dangerous. What makes Stain’s ideas so hard to dismiss is that there’s truth at their core (even Iida admits this). And what makes Stain himself such a threat is captured by Gran Torino – charisma. He’s the perfect spokesman for those disillusioned romantics who hate what happens when heroism collides headlong with reality. Gran Torino drops quite a few Easter eggs in this conversation with All Might (oh, how I love that ringtone) – talking of Toshinori’s predecessor (Shimura) and of the man who killed him and “put that hole” in All Might’s stomach. The man he says may be on the move again – All For One.
There’s great irony in the way the Stain aftermath is playing out. Because this is age of Youtube, someone has naturally captured Stain’s unbelievably GAR defiance against Endeavor and it’s gone viral – the authorities unable to keep a lid on it. This galls Shigaraki to no end, because not only has Stain not been forgotten but he’s the headline story, with the noumu barely getting a mention. But in point of fact, this is working to the League of Villains’ advantage because the media is portraying them as an extension of Stain’s ideology – which could hardly be less true from Shigaraki’s perspective. But is it possible that Shigaraki’s unseen boss and mentor has foreseen this, and was thinking several moves ahead?
It’s interesting that Bones has chosen this point to insert an original story – an episode detailing the internship experiences of the other students of Class 1-A (especially Froppy, perhaps), and also interesting that they’ve come right out and announced it. Horikoshi himself has sometimes inserted sidebar chapters, providing a much-needed break from the intensity of the main story. I think it’s just that much more evidence that the production committee is taking extreme care with this adaptation, thinking long-term – and I (all?) for one am glad of it. I’d like the Boku no Hero anime to be around for a long time, and I think as long as the manga is ongoing, the anime will be right behind it.