Tuesday, October 8, 2019

My Hero Academia Volume 21 Review

Flame On!!

Publisher: Viz Media

Mangaka: Kohei Horikoshi
Translations: Caleb Cook
Lettering: John Hunt
Cover Price: $9.99
Release Date: October 1, 2019

Review by Luke Hollywood

(Spoilers ahead!

With 3 brand new volumes releasing and the fast-approaching (and hotly anticipated) season 4 of the anime, October seems to be a very good month indeed for My Hero Academia fans! When we last left off the main series in volume 20 the new number 1 Hero was in quite the sticky situation, as it looked like the monstrous High-End Nomu had taken him down for good. Will he be able to prove himself in a world without the Symbol of Peace? And after that, where will this volume take us next? A trip back to One For All memory lane and some action packed class 1-A Vs class 1-B training battles, you say? Count me in for that action! But, considering the season and all, will this volume be all tricks and no treats? Read on to Find out!!

Explain It!:

The first thing you'll notice upon opening up/ scrolling through this volume (besides the awesome cover art of Hawks and Endeavor) is the huge amount of chapters in this volume. Clocking in at a whopping 12 chapters, this volume has a lot more chapters than the 9-10 that we are normally used to with this series. Of course, there is a reason behind this. Looking at the contents page further you'll notice the page count for these chapters are a lot shorter than we are used to. Normally a series that is published under a weekly schedule like My Hero Academia ranges from about 17-20 pages per chapter, but a few of the chapters in this volume drop below that, which is why the extra chapters were added to ensure the volume stayed at a similar size to those we've gotten previously. Horikoshi was ill for a period of time when some of these chapters were first published, so it's understandable why some of the chapters have a shorter page count, and it's nice that we get more added to help the volume level out to the regular size. It also helps a good bit with the pacing for some chapters, but I'll get back to that later, because first we've got a Nomu to defeat! The first third of the volume is devoted to the finale of the fight that wrapped up volume 20, and boy is it satisfying. Endeavor is battered and bloody, but he is really giving it his all here. It's reminiscent of the epic showdown between All Might and All For One 10 volumes ago, and how much damage All Might took in that fight. Another way in which it's similar is the scope of the battle. We get numerous cut-aways to the U.A kids, teachers, news reporters and the crowds that have amassed to watch this brawl, but the vibe is very different to the one back in Kamino Ward all those volumes ago. The general public doesn't have the same faith in Endeavor like they did with All Might, so when he is seemingly down for the count mass panic starts to erupt from the crowds. But then we see the scarf-wearing Endeavor super-fan (who had a very funny comedy moment last volume) make a heartfelt declaration that the #1's Hero's flames aren't extinguished, forcing the crowds (and the reader) to see that Endeavor isn't out of the fight yet! This might as well be a second wind for the #1, as he himself goes beyond, Plus Ultra style, to take down the threat. With the help of a fantastic flame-feather assist from Hawks, Endeavor unleashes an almighty prominence burn that finally takes the monstrous villain down. Then to mark his victory in a final triumphant moment he raises his right arm in a pose that mirrors All Might's last act as the number one. It's a fantastic conclusion to the fight!

However, even though the High-End Nomu is down doesn't mean our heroes are out of the woods yet, as League of Villains member and Nomu operator Dabi enters the scene. There's been lots of speculation about Dabi's true identity and a possible connection to the unknown eldest brother of the Todoroki family, but this is neither confirmed or denied as Endeavor's vision is conveniently blurred following the battle. Both Endeavor and Hawks are on their last legs at this stage, so it's not looking good for our heroes, but the cavalry arrives out of nowhere in the form of the Bunny Hero, Mirko, who comes to lend a helping hand (or rather, a foot) and quickly sends Dabi packing in retreat. Finally, as the dust settles the heroes are able to recover from the battle, and then things get REALLY interesting. It turns out that Hawks is, in fact, working WITH Dabi and they both planned the Nomu attack, although Dabi went a little off-script to test Hawk's loyalty. Hawk's is trying to get in the League's good books, but Dabi makes it clear that he won't be getting to meet Shigiraki straight away. After that, things get REALLY REALLY interesting when we learn that Hawks is actually a TRIPLE agent, operating undercover as an ally to the League of Villains in order to gather intel on the group in the wake of the Kamino incident. We also get a quick glance at Hawk's childhood, which reveals that not only has he been an Endeavor fan from an early age, but he's also groomed for hero work as soon as he was discovered, which explains why someone so young could be the #2. It's a dangerous mission, but in order to achieve the relaxed hero society that he so desires, he undertakes it. 

For a character so new to this series, Hawks has quickly established himself to not only be a fan-favorite (if the popularity polls are anything to go by) but also a vitally important part of the main story for this series going forward. But what about Endeavor? after a stint in hospital he returns to the Todoroki household for a family meal, which is no doubt a rarity among this family. This scene, and the chapter that contains it, chapter 192, are a highlight of the volume and a testament to Horikoshi's strong character writing. Endeavor is certainly a polarizing character in the fanbase, and after an epic battle that shone the spotlight on his heroic qualities Horikoshi takes the time in this chapter to remind the reader of the other side of Endeavor, and how his abusive actions in the past have fractured his family to the point where some of them can't even stand to have a meal in the same room as him. As Todoroki himself says, Endeavor the Hero is an amazing guy, but it's Endeavor the Dad that needs work, and while Endeavor does seem to have reached a turning point in his life, forgiveness and redemption are battles not so easily won. It's a tense, emotional scene that is as uncomfortable to read as it is necessary, but it shows that Horikoshi hasn't forgotten the sins of Endeavor's past, and the new #1 has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to atone for them. Also, it provides the most savage noodle-slurping ever seen in comic/manga history!

We then shift gears and return the focus back to U.A and our protagonist, Izuku Midoriya. Considering that he's been absent for quite a few chapters in both this volume and the last, it's great to see him back in the spotlight, but unfortunately, his return is somewhat anti-climatic. Midoriya finds himself dreaming of the vestiges of One For All, apparitions of the former users of his Quirk that we last saw a while back during the Sports Festival, where they inadvertently helped Midoriya snap out of Shinso's mind control. Their reappearance here signals a bit of a history lesson as Midoriya gets to see more of the history of All For One and his brother firsthand, a story that was previously relayed to him (and us) by All Might. While it is neat to see some of the previous wielders of One For All, as well as more of All Might's mentor Nana Shimura, along with more focus on the relationship between All For One and his Brother, a lot of it feels like ground we've already covered, and what scant new detail we get is a little underwhelming. Midoriya learns that he's is only at 20%, and so he hasn't unlocked the full story yet. While I get playing the long game works for certain plot points, I really hope we don't have to wait this long again to see more of the history behind One for All and All for one. Don't be such a darn tease, Horikoshi! Thankfully, things start to pick up the pace after that as we begin our next lesson in Hero training, which this time happens to be a joint class battle training session with class 1-B! 

Anybody who listens to the Hero Notes podcast that I co-host with my buddy Batman Beyond Mark will know that I'm a BIG fan of class 1-B in the little snippets that we get of them here and there, so I was delighted to see them enter the fray here, as this is the perfect opportunity to give some of them the panel time they've been so sorely lacking while 1-A stole the spotlight. But they're not the only minor-league superstars that show up for the training, as fan favorite Hitoshi Shinso also makes his triumphant return, sporting new support gear to aid his brainwashing quirk! What a surprise! (Hey wait a minute, does this mean Shinso is linked to those ones For All vestiges somehow...). Anyway, it's fantastic to see Shinso back with the Hero course students once more, and his appearance adds a bit more stakes to the battles, as his performance here will be a test to see if he has what it takes to leave general studies and become a fully-fledged Hero-in-training himself. The classes are paired off into 4 teams of 4 each, with Shinso appearing once for both 1-A and 1-B  for a chance to show off his hero skills. We see two matches kick-off before the end of this volume, including a team featuring Shinso, so it's great to see him in action straight away. And while it is neat to see the 1-A and 1-B kids strategizing and teaming up to take on their opponents, this is also where the shorter page counts of the chapters kick in, so the fights really do fly by. The extra chapters included in this volume do alleviate that problem somewhat, but some of these aren't the most satisfying reads taken in isolation. However, that's not a problem when you're binge reading the whole volume, of course!

Bits and Pieces:

Volume 21 starts strong and has a strong, if somewhat rapid-fire, finish as well. The fight with Endeavor and the High-End reaches a level of scope we've not felt since the Kamino Ward incident, and wraps up in a really satisfying manner, which is impressive as this can be a stumbling block for Horikoshi at times (remember that final Overhaul fight, anybody?) Then Horikoshi succeeds in pulling the rug from under our feet not once but TWICE with that surprise Triple-Agent reveal for Hawks, making him THE character to watch going forward. The spotlight on the Todoroki household was also an absolute highlight, as well as a punch right in the feels! In comparison, beginning the new arc with battle training focusing on minor characters might initially seem like a bit of a downgrade in levels of importance after such a story focused arc, but the reintroduction of Shinso ensures that there will be a lot riding on these coming battles. And while they may indeed be short, they are also very sweet, and seeing class 1-B in the spotlight is an absolute joy for this reviewer. Apart from an underwhelming vestiges flashback midway through the volume, and a noticeable shortening in chapter-length towards the end, this volume delivers meaty action and hearty character work in spades. Delicious!


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