Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 4

Alright, now we’ve hit our stride, we’ve done most of the set-up stuff required to have stories and character information all out there. The major characters are all laid out, we have a villain on the horizon waiting to happen to people, and we just had an introduction of some new boundary characters, so it’s time to immediately do something with all of those. This is a series that has got a handle on the basic ideas of what it’s going to do, and each season can be snapped apart into a few short story arcs you can consider on their own.

There’s something to the experience of enjoying My Hero Academia, season to season. It’s got all the joy of a catchy pop song, popcorn playful and full of classic shonen anime battle feelings, but this pop song also includes a few slurs? And probably says something condescending about women. Basically, I’m enjoying it but I’m sure as hell not going to defend it.

What we get in this season is some high drama with a big battle, one of those stories that focus on the characters in the setting dicking around with the infrastructure that exists to deal with the commonality of superpowers, and then an absolute top-tier banger of a story arc about excellent nearly-zero-stakes hero bullshit.

I’m going to talk more about it and that’s going to involve spoilers, so, below the fold!

The first arc (the Shie Hassaikai arc) is a real solid rendition of something the genre does well. It’s a villain that gets attention and then the heroes who can be mustered quickly engage with it. It’s got a good personal connection to the inciting incident, with Mirio and Midoriya meeting Eri and needing to get involved. It’s got an escalation of the threat, and the enemy organisation is presented as exactly that — an organisation of people, with limited communication and means to take advantage of one another.

This was a mix of good and bad parts. There’s a bunch of questions of like ‘hey, why are you here?’ characters – like Bubble and Nighteyes – and a bunch of ‘hey, they’re here, this rules,’ – like Twice and Toga and Mirio and Ryuuki. The final villain fight even ended earlier than I thought it would, and put some real serious pathos into how it handled Mirio losing his powers. Like it’s very ‘boo hoo, I don’t get to be a superhero any more’ in a setting like that, but it’s still showing something of a serious loss of a character.

The second arc (the Remedial License Arc) continues the way this universe seems to think you don’t get to be taught things before you’re tested on them. The way Bakugo and Todoroki react to being asked to do things in a class environment makes it seem like it’s the first time they’ve heard the idea mentioned, and that either makes them poor students (and they’re not, Todoroki scores very well) or it means their class is failing them in a big, fundamental way. The idea here is great — show you can command trust and respect. I like that!

The biggest concern here is the focus on Endeavour and his inner life, because Endeavour sucks.

The third arc (the Gentle Villain Arc) is about an ancient, withered husk of a man who starts his youtube career in the silvery fragility of his eldest days, ie, in his thirties, and speaking as someone who did that, yeah, it feels really pointless. But this arc is about a single self-styled gentleman villain who wants to try and breach the UA campus because he believes that villains are the ones who change the world and heroes react to improve the world because of them — he’s charming as hell. Meanwhile, Deku wants to make sure this doesn’t become an incident because if it does then the whole school fair that’s about to happen gets shut down, and that means Eri doesn’t get to have a normal school day and candy apples and learning to smile.

The Gentle Hero arc represents two things this series has direly lacked: Something where the stakes are vitally important to our protagonists, and something where the stakes for the world are not dire. It shows a story where being a superhero means your solutions to problems get to be big, high scale things like rubberised buildings bouncing people off the walls and love-powered sandwiches of air, but the core of what they’re addressing are still things like saving one little girl’s smile. Good! Stuff!

By the way, if you’re curious, La Brava is 21, and Gentle is 32. It’s a gap but it’s also not nearly as bad as it looks considering La Brava looks like you asked a porn artist to design a lawn gnome.

The idea of having to break a hero’s spirit resulting in explaining things in combat is a good one. Fatgum explains it to Red Riot at one point, that the reason heroes talk about their powers, the reason they explain to enemies what won’t work is to cut off their options and to bring fights to a close quicker. It can demoralise an enemy, it can make sure they know what won’t work, and force them to confront what they can’t get away with. It’s good! It’s good because it also fulfills an important thing in the context of a story that’s about how and why interesting combat abilities interact, by letting you, the viewer, find out what is going on, what those combat abilities are and what they do without pulling the story to a halt and presenting an essay on combat stuff.

Oh, while we’re heaping praise for how it depicts and explains powers? Mirio’s powers are dope as shit, he doesn’t need One For All! He just needs to keep doing good! Oh wait, hang on, that didn’t work out so well. But still, the loss of his powers is the loss of something meaningful: His powers were cool, he worked hard on them, and they let him do something he wanted to do that we can look at as a fundamental good!

Twice and Toga showed up in the first arc here, and they’re still great, but not only are they great, but they did two things I really liked. One, they got super mad at Overhaul for misgendering Magne after her death, and two, the second they weren’t having fun dealing with the yakuza, they bounced. It was really nice because it plays with the idea of these characters having their own inner lives, and I think the fact we see those is why I think those two characters are amongst the best villains. We know what they think, and why they think it. We have an idea of their values, that’s cool.

Finally, and this isn’t really a thing the series is doing, just something I personally find funny, Nighteyes sucks and dies, and the last thing he learns as he dies, is that he was totally wrong about how his powers worked for his entire life. Like, how many plans and positions and projects did he dissuade people from trying because he was so sure that his power was right and there was only one way the future could work out, only to find that it turns out, nope! The future is yet unwritten and his powers didn’t work the way he thought they did.

Wait, though, hang on, it can’t just be an unalloyed good, right? Well, of course not, no as the fact I was delighting in the death of All Might’s former sidekick with a vibe of ‘eat shit and die.’ There’s a bunch of stuff in this season that builds on previous bad decisions, and the introduction of some new, equally bad decisions. Mineta is still here, for example, and he’s not changing — the closest you can claim to some kind of redemption or adjustment to the character is how he said something, just one thing in this whole season, which wasn’t revolting. It’s still a series where Bakugo, Todoroki and Midoriya are central, important characters who act on the world and who we’re meant to be invested in, and their powers all boil down to a form of punch a guy.

The story still features almost nothing for women to do on their own, even women with amazing and cool powers, because they are simply not chosen by the story to do the important things, and it’s just a coincidence that women do not have powers that can be simplified to punching a guy. There’s sexual harrassment (you do not get to put your coworkers in bondage equipment when they are explicitly asking not to) which is framed as a quirky thing for a particular ideological position and not, y’know, a crime.

This season is still fundamentally just My Hero Academia, and it’s just not going to do anything to change that.

There are still however two special things in this season that really ticked me off and I wanted to highlight them. First of all, this season spent more time focusing on Endeavour. I can’t say for sure but I’m pretty confident that this is the first time we’ve been seeing things from Endeavour’s perspective, with his inner life presented to us as a relatable position, and that’s a thing that suggests that this story thinks that this guy is a guy we should be able to empathise with. Sure, whatever, of course, this series seems to think that whatever it was he did wasn’t that bad and therefore the whole physical and emotional abuse of his wife and children is a thing that you can be redeemed from.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this, particularly in that there’s a lot of effort being put into making Endeavour relatable, to make his pain and the complexity it represents important to the audience, and none of that effort is being put into, say, giving Creati or Froppy a second thing to do. It’s a demonstration of what the story thinks of as engaging, what it thinks is worth using its setting and its superheroics to highlight.

It thinks Endeavour is interesting and it thinks say, Ryuuki isn’t.

There was another special boo tomatoes tomatoes I am throwing tomatoes moment, which was the fight between Rappa Kendo and Fatgum. Fatgum is already a character hovering on the edge of being a problem right there (I mean his title is ‘the BMI hero’, come on), but I appreciated the way the story treated the goofy character as if he had some room to be a cool hero. What I wasn’t wild about was the way that his framing was that to be powerful, he had to stop being fat, and that’s rotten. Like commit to it, don’t go ‘boom, surprise, he’s actually conventionally hot when he’s being powerful!’

I was real close to liking how they handled Fatgum and then I found myself incredibly disappointed.

This isn’t a story about school or superheroes. We don’t generally see the students talking about subjects in class, listening to or discussing complex topics of morality and ethics or public responsibility. We already know that they have to learn ideas like ‘protect people’ from the exams themselves, without seemingly any education about it ahead of time.

It really is the anime version of a superhero comic; superhero comics are famously sprawling, with many different characters in many different stories having a variety of different starts and finishes that can make tuning in at any given point a challenge, My Hero Academia is a lot more linear. The end of the last season introduced you to Mirio and Nighteyes; this season features Mirio and Nighteyes. There’s not a lot of distance between plant and payoff in this series, which can mean that the story is a bit easier to handle, but it also can make it feel a bit obvious; at the end of the season, there’s a focus on Endeavour and Hawks, and I’m going to take a wild swing that those two characters are going to be focal in the next season.

You can consider this as a good thing or a bad thing: I don’t particularly like the way that it follows the simple pattern of introducing a thing, then telling a story about that thing, because it does tend towards making narratives a little predictable and does make the world feel smaller. A character is introduced, and then we immediately learn about them because there’s nothing to focus on about them until after we already know. This runs the risk of being a real deflating move if they try and do an arc about (say) traitors or hidden instigators, which I think they’re going to want to do, since there are at least two characters introduced who can impersonate other people.

On the other hand, who cares? This is a series about feeling very big and hitting things very hard, it’s not really a series about smart superheroes outwitting people or standing on principle. I wish it was, but I can wish all I want and it’ll never be the thing I wish for.

See, superhero fiction doesn’t make sense unless you force it to.

Season 5