Spoilers below for season six of My Hero Academia
Over its sixth season, My Hero Academia has re-established itself as one of the best shonen anime airing currently. This renewed quality is not because of its action. Instead, Kohei Horikoshi’s series finds its greatest moments through its character work and the relationships that have held the story together being pushed to their limits. We hurt for the characters not just because they’re skewered and roasted, maimed, and even killed but because of how we have come to know them, their dynamics together, and what a loss means in the greater scope of the story.
Though there were no shortcuts on the action in the loaded first cour that saw the heroes – adults and students alike – face one devastating blow after another. Season five was admittedly a slow burn, especially in the Joint Training Arc that dragged in comparison to the series’ greatest hits. Season six, however, has wasted little time in thrusting us into the heart of the action. As we barrel through an episode’s twenty-something-minute runtime, breathlessly keeping pace with characters enduring a myriad of suffering for the sake of keeping the peace, we are reminded of Bones’s ability to utilize action for the sake of greater thematic impact, raising Horikoshi’s tactile and visceral world of to dizzying new heights.
This is exemplified in the season’s beginning with Mirko, the number three ranked hero who acts as a one-woman battering ram through the underbelly of All for One’s nefarious labs. With her superb design and ferocious personality, she makes for a breakout character. But it’s not just the abrasive attitude and pinwheeling athleticism that makes her entire sequence so engaging, but how much it communicates about her and how she compares to Endeavor or Hawks, the heroes ranked above her. Her mentality in these moments resembles a militant resolve, or athlete’s determination in getting the job done no matter the wear and tear her body suffers, compared to Endeavor chasing the glory of being the Number One Hero or Hawks sacrificing his morals so that society will need fewer heroes in the future.
That her bruising sequences are the jumping-off point for season six is indicative of what will follow with no shortage of excellent, theatrical action set pieces. The best ones are tied to intricate writing because when we care, the blows the heroes reckon with collide with greater impact. My Hero Academia over its six seasons has taken great care in fleshing out the characters who decorate the screen, making sure that supporting players and visiting villains are allowed the depth that might typically be reserved for a protagonist only. It’s why Kaminari having his hero moment is just as gripping as Midoryia playing the part of decoy to get Shigaraki away from civilians. It’s why the returning figures of Overhaul and Muscular in the latest episode are just as striking as All for One rising from the pit of Tartarus.
Arguably we’ve spent too much time watching the students train to the point where they can take a stand. Still, there’s no denying the sheer payoff of it all. And, we remember the devastation villains such as Overhaul wrought, the state Midoryia was in after his battle with Muscular. We know the toll it took so with their release comes the foreboding understanding that their path to peace has been given an even greater disadvantage.
This season we’ve seen the payoff in the form of the conflicting morality of Hawks and Twice – both facing a level of ostracization from society – being pitted against one another in a crescendo of violence that ends with one of the most shocking deaths of the series. Hawks has been established as a government pawn manipulated since he was trained as a child soldier but devoted to bringing stability to the world. Twice is a similarly tragic figure, someone whose quirk tore him in two, his devotion to the League of Villains stemming from the isolation he burdened. Hawks pities Twice, and we understand why, but as one of his duplicates runs towards Toga, we’re able to unearth yet another piece of the puzzle, as he all but condemns Hawks for belittling his life, indignant in the face of Hawks’ performative compassion when Twice himself is proud of his loyalty to his friends, thankful for their time together.
Eraserhead’s determination to protect his students to the point where he’ll amputate his leg to not lose his quirk parallels his first fight with the League of Villains in season one, though now we know where the determination and grit stem from. Todoroki calls Endeavor “Dad” in the heat of battle with Dabi, his thought-to-be-dead brother, heightening an already tense standoff because he’s never referred to him that way but it escapes in a moment of absolute panic and emotional distress. As Midoriya passes out from fatigue and injury, his forlorn expression of concern for Shigaraki, possibly with forgiveness, speaks to his character while highlighting the parallel lives the two have been living since the start of the series. Midoriya’s endless compassion has empowered him to see the abandoned little boy who was failed until he was contorted into a monster.
The standout amongst standouts is Bakugo placing himself in harm’s way to save Midoriya. While their relationship has seen smaller repairs throughout the six seasons, it has never reached this level of personal sacrifice. By taking its time and being patient with Bakugo’s character growth, MHA makes the moment sing. We’re not surprised by the action because Bakugo has in fact become a hero who has been watching Deku’s back for ages now since becoming aware of his and All Might’s secret. Instead of surprise, we experience a sense of shocked acceptance, especially when he grapples with how his body just “moved on its own.”
That line harkens back to the very start of this journey, when Midoriya, quirkless, ran to save Bakugo as those around did nothing. In another series, it would be the ending note; but here it’s simply setting the stage for even greater, richer, character development. It levels the playing field, so to speak, as both have displayed acts of heroism that speak to their intrinsic natures. That it happens between the most developed, important, relationship in the series only makes it that more potent.
It’s easy to be distracted by the shiny new series that are released each season – we certainly are – but long-running shows such as My Hero Academia deserve the same level of attention, especially when they’re delivering some of the best material the series has ever had. It’s emotionally textured and the payoff of six seasons is witnessing these characters perform acts of strength and excessive willpower exemplifying its defined and rich characters. The stakes have never been higher, the foes never tougher, and the investment of time and emotion poured into Midoriya and friends have reached a pinnacle – as the dust settles following the gruesome battle just fought, the series looks to find similar beauty in the character’s ability to repair, rebuild, and grow from tragedy.
Season six of My Hero Academia is now playing on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Featured Image Courtesy of TOHO animation and Crunchyroll