After a brief detour through some lighter original material, Boku no Hero Academia gets right back on the horse this week, and it doesn’t mess around. While nominally a setup episode, this one covers some very important ground – about as canonical as it gets. There haven’t been a great many occasions where as a manga reader I’ve felt I had to be careful while writing about this series, which I suppose is a testament to how good the execution has been at giving us stuff to talk about. But this is a time for discretion both on my part and that of any commenters who’ve read the series – both Horikoshi-sensei and Nagasaki-sensei have their reasons for telling the audience what they tell them and when, and that ought to be respected.
In the aftermath of the Hosu incident, we’re back in class, and everyone is happy to be there. But as hinted at, some (like Kaminari) have found the exploits of Stain “cool” – which is obviously uncomfortable for Deku, Iida and Shouto. Also uncomfortable – especially for the latter – is the cover story of Endeavor having saved them, which the boys must stick with in order to protect themselves from sanction by the authorities. Life isn’t fair, of course – and in general, that could be a pretty good theme for the events of this episode.
Things start off innocently enough, with All Might welcoming the grommets of 1-A back with a “rescue race” through a spaghetti-like maze of factory equipment. As ever, All Might’s manner with the kids is irreplaceable – Horikoshi’s decision to make this icon of manly heroism so childlike and dorky is one of the great moments of genius in shounen character design. The main purpose of this sequence is to show off Deku’s newfound mastery of One For All – though perhaps “mastery” is too strong a word, it’s certainly progress. He manages to use his 5% solution as a means of hopping along the pipes at great speed (for Bakugo, this looks way too familiar), though there are obviously still a few kinks to be worked out.
The crucial element of this is that Toshinori sees Izuku in action, and it’s the obvious progress the boy has made under Gran Torino’s tutelage that prompts the master to finally come clean to the student about the nature of their shared destiny. It begins, more or less, with a history lesson – One For All is a quirk unlike any other. That much Deku knows, but he needs to hear how it came to be, too – the story of the man who came to dominate the world after the advent of quirks threw it into chaos, and of the younger brother who started the line of succession that leads all the way to All Might (and Deku himself).
This, I feel, is where I have to tread lightly. What we see on-screen is interesting enough, but I never feel confident in these situations that what seems to have been obviously implied would seem that way if I’d watched with no foreknowledge. I can say this much – this is more detail than BnHA has ever given us about the world at the dawn of superpowers, and certainly about the genesis of One For All – a genesis that, in fact, springs from its dark avatar, All For One. Unlike One For All, All For One is also the name of the man who carries it – and we’ve seen already that he was the shadow leader of the Villain Alliance, the man behind Shigaraki. It’s sort of ironic that he’s played by Ohtsuka Akio, because he was one of the seiyuu (along with Ishizuka Unshou) I imagined as All Might before this adaptation began (though in hindsight I have no complaints whatsoever).
I so wish I could say more, but I really can’t – not in good conscience. I just know that when Boku no Hero Academia wants to break your heart, it’s frighteningly good at it. I’ve spoken before about how alike Tonshinori and Izuku are (Gran Torino has certainly noticed this too), but when we see them in moments like this – especially given the absence of Izuku’s father – it’s almost too much pathos to bear. In my mind’s eye, I see All Might as the face Toshinori shows the world, and this as the result of the burdens he’s been forced to carry. Imagine the feelings in this kind, noble man’s heart at the idea that he’s passing those burdens along to the boy he’s come to love as a son – though in truth, for him I’m sure it feels as if it wasn’t a choice at all, but a responsibility…