Here we are, five years of watching into the story that is My Hero Academia, a story that took two seasons to get up to gear and then ran face-first into a pandemic making every part of its production slow and awkward and worse but don’t worry, they had a whole manga to build off. Which means that while the execution may suffer, there was at least a solid, robust spine of storytelling to build off.
Season 5 covers three story arcs; first, there’s a chunk of time dedicated to Class 1-A doing trials in threes against Class 1-B. This gives a chance to show six characters at a time, seeing them working together, with a ringer from the other class trying to get into the hero course. This is a solid use of the combination of school and superpowers, and includes a bunch of conversations about how they use powers, how they work together, what they care about in conflict situations, and this takes up a significant chunk of the season — eleven episodes out of the twenty-five.
Then we get to a little breaky, where we follow Midoriya, Bakugo, and Todoroki as they do hero training at sigh Endeavour’s hero organisation. Something cool here is seeing that Endeavour has a whole infrastructure around him, and his mindset on being a hero, which is pretty cool and great if it was happening to someone other than Endeavour, a child abuser. And I mean that could be easier to get past if he wasn’t doing it while also repeatedly talking to one of the children he abused.
And then, the story takes this sort of direct swerve to the side, and we leave all those hero characters aside to spend a bunch of episodes examining a clash between two different ideologically aligned groups of villains; one, the Meta Liberation Army, united under the principle of unravelling Quirk regulations and instead seeing the world as one where everyone should be able to use their Quirks freely, and the League of Villains, who are united by the animating principle of Nuh-uh, Got Mine. On the one hand, this is an opportunity for the two interesting League of Villains characters to do literally anything, but on the other hand, I don’t care.
Seeing this series as a sequence of arcs is helpful. It means that I can look not at it as if it’s got some greater point it’s building to and just what it generally happens inside the one single arc, hoping that it is, in a contained way, interesting. Plus, you have specific characters you can like, and those characters’ likability can carry the story onwards. For example, Twice and Toga! These League of Villains characters are top drawer, and they have some really good superpower storytelling in this chunk. Twice’s story is about his superpower and how it affects you, that’s really great stuff! Toga shows a deeper and deeper understanding of a very reasonable thing she’s got going on, too (even if it requires some hot-butter bullshit to work).
The training doubles arc is big and varied, too; you get some really good stuff like say, Tendou and Momo having a reasonable rivalry, and… nghhh okay, I’m trying to not just complain and whine on each stage of things! But seriously, Momo’s powers are so interesting and could do cool things, and instead they get used in this sort of oh I guess that’ll do way, but! But! but but but, still, they tried. It’s also a chance to show us a festival of other characters and interesting explorations of how to use their powers interacting with one another. Like how One For All interacts with a power copier!
We get to see the expansion of One For All, which is a good idea in the way the quirk works, though it also kinda is a bit of a bummer considering that the original idea behind One For All was about aggregating power in a nebulous way, and also it implies that All Might was an idiot and – hey wait hang on, now I’m just complaining again! Am I going to always end up complaining about these things? What’s something I can uncategorically praise, hang on, hang on… oh!
We also get to see Mirko for the first time here! Mirko is cool, I like the idea of a ‘bunny girl’ who incarnates rabbit behaviour by being tenacious and kicking things really hard. That’s great!
Shame we didn’t see more of her, aw goddamnit.
First of all, obligatory: Get rid of Mineta. We have a point of a student specifically complaining about his sexual harrassment and a teacher disregarding it. This teacher sucks, this school sucks, get rid of Mineta.
Look, the whole back third of this season is boring. Redestro isn’t compelling, Shigaraki isn’t compelling, and the Meta Liberation Army are pretty boring. They tend to be more about having a particular behavioural oddity, rather than any kind of coherent character underneath them. Thinking back on it, I can remember them mostly by a behaviour they have than anything about what they did in a story.
Oh, and the one woman in the group dies.
That’s the only one who dies.
Hey, you remember how I said that this series was going to struggle with stories about characters keeping secrets over time? Like, how it keeps on introducing characters who are going to be relevant immediately before they’re going to be relevant, so betrayals and secrets kind of just happen immediately after they’re introduced? Yeah, that happens here in this season, where Hawks and sigh Slidin’ Go are meant to be part of a point of tension but also, it’s really not something the series tries to maintain.
Though I guess that’s for the best.
Ultimately, My Villain Academia is a total waste of an arc. You could do the whole thing off-screen and the only thing you’d lose is Twice’s development and a little bit of development for Toga. I guess you’d claim that you lost a lot of information about Shigaraki and All For One’s shared backstory, but there’s nothing there that you didn’t already know! The story already implied it – Shigaraki had a traumatising event where his quirk came out, he’s the grandchild of Nana Shimura, and All For One picked him up and shaped him into a monster after that point. This was all clearly known and all these two episodes really do is show A Fight, otherwise. Six episodes! Boring.
Oh, and tiniest complaint: What the hell is the big deal with mushroom powers? Everyone reacts like it’s a remarkable thing for there to be mushrooms everywhere but… they’re just fucking mushrooms!
And hey, I’m not getting through these seasons month after month. I watched all of My Hero Academia up to season 5 back in January, which I think is worth noting in that I found myself wanting to see what happened next. Not that I was necessarily excited about what was going on, but in the grand scheme of things, the fact there was more of this show to watch made it great to put on the TV and let it run.
It was also a really social experience. I could watch it with Fox and we could criticise and complain about it, pointing out the way the things the show thinks are important suck, while we demanded more focus being given to the things we did like, and it’s that formulation that I think this genre of anime has to perfectly crystallise. Bleach did this too (another Bleach reference), where about 55% of the series is ‘things I don’t care about’ but there was always the tempting promise of the 45% that I did care about bubbling up and getting attention.
Now I say that, those numbers are really optimistic for Bleach.
Anyway, at this point I’m convinced that My Hero Academia is an extremely mid show which can attain lofty highs as it crests out of its breathtaking mediocrity. Mirio fighting Onslaught? Incredible. Two episodes explaining that Shigaraki was traumatised by his upbringing and got raised by a weirdo? We knew that, you’ve told us fucking nothing. As a superhero story, I’m never going to think of My Hero Academia as a good one, I’m not going to recommend it.
But I mean, I’ve watched five seasons and a bunch of movies and I expect by the time this goes up, I’ve seen season six.
Assuming I didn’t find something better to do.