Poison wafts through the forest as the League of Villains makes their attack, and I fear that poison may have already reached my heart. There was a time when My Hero Academia represented a refinement of genre tropes and concepts, and that was more than enough. Increasingly, the tropes are feeling less refined and the concepts less worthy of recycling. My once-racing heart seizes as Deku (Daiki Yamashita) sprints toward the mountain, laying footsteps on some of the most well trod ground in all of action anime.
What if a young boy did not believe in heroes? What if a slightly older boy believed in heroes a whole bunch? These aren’t questions I would leap to ask, but they are questions that so many series are desperate to answer. At some point, every earnest protagonist encounters a kid with a tragic backstory who, through new peril, learns the trite lesson: actually, heroism is good. It’s inescapable, and–unless something wild happens next week–there’s no fresh twist on it, here.
Hiding away at his little mountaintop retreat (that even his caretakers don’t know about), angsty beyond his years Kota (Michiru Yamazaki) is ambushed. A hulking slab of a man–literally named “Muscular” (Kosuke Takaguchi)–removes his mask and cloak, revealing his missing eye and grotesque Quirk. When muscles aren’t enough, more muscles will do the trick, or at least that seems to be the idea behind Muscular. He sprouts an external layer of muscle over his skin, granting him increased strength and speed. With that strength and speed, he swings to crush Kota. If only Muscular knew that Kota was marked to learn the true value of heroic sacrifice.
Instead of being blissfully crushed, Kota is swept away from Muscular’s attack by a timely Izuku Midoriya. The pumped up hero and villain trade blows, but it’s an uneven exchange. Deku’s punches land without weight, and every punch from Muscular is devastating. Caught flat footed, Deku tries to block one of these hits, but the impact shatters his arm and sends him sailing into the mountainside. Desperate, he leans back on his old faithful trump card: a fully charged, arm ruining, All Might strength Smash. Somehow, even this isn’t fast enough or powerful enough. Muscular blocks the punch easily, and now both of Deku’s arms lie limp.
In a panic, Deku shrieks for Kota to make a run for it, but memories are overwhelming the child. As… fate? (Contrivance? Cliche?) would have it, Muscular is the villain who killed Kota’s parents, and they’re the ones responsible for taking the muscle man’s eye. The ingredients of the trope alchemy finally coalesce. Through witnessing Deku’s sacrifice and recalling that of his parents, Kota finally understands why heroism matters. He summons his Quirk, and splashes Muscular with some water.
The splash is only a brief distraction, but it’s enough. In that moment, Deku calls on the collective power of All For One at a level heretofore unseen: 1,000,000%. Channeling generations of strength into his busted arm, Deku lays into Muscular, and this time the villain feels it.
Back on the ground, the adults are trying to usher their students away from the battle. This move seems to have been anticipated by the villains, as they take every opportunity to disable the chaperones, first. A lizard-man and a guy with a big magnet move to disable the Wild, Wild Pussycats while the flame-spouting Dabi (Hiro Shimono) takes on Aizawa. The academically struggling students are left under Vlad King’s (Shuuhei Matsuda) care. In the forest, students wander through the poison gas looking for a way out, or for Ragdoll (Meiko Kawasaki), who would have marked the half-way point.
Momo Yaoyorozu (Marina Inoue) distributes gas masks to most of her schoolmates, but some were a bit further ahead of the pack and have to make-do without. Those over achievers are, of course, Katsuki Bakugo (Nobuhiko Okamoto) and Shoto Todoroki (Yuki Kaji). The boys know they must be near the half-way point, but could they see the darkened reception desk, they’d notice the blood splatter. Instead, they see a creep right out of Hellraiser–a rictus mouth in head to toe leather bondage–devouring a human arm.
This side of the world of Heroes seems way less likely to stir the heart of a traumatized child like Kota.