Tuesday, February 11, 2020

My Hero Academia Volume 23 Review

Breaking Bad!

Publisher: Viz Media 
Story and Art: Kohei Horikoshi
Translations: Caleb Cook
Lettering: John Hunt
Cover Price: $9.99
Release Date: February 04, 2020

Review by Luke Hollywood

Make sure to listen to Luke and Mark on the Hero Notes Podcast HERE!

(Spoilers ahead!

It's a new year, another 12 months of My Hero Academia goodness! While January was a bit of a slow start, this month sees a lot of new releases for our favorite heroes in training, including a second film releasing across the West (which is coincidentally mentioned in one of the chapter page breaks) along with new volumes of both the main series and it's comedy spin-off, Smash!! I can barely keep up! Volume 23 also marks the end of Viz's increased publishing rate to play catch up with the Japanese volumes, meaning the wait for the next release is going to be a little longer than what we're currently used to for this series. So will this volume prove to be a satisfying enough read to tide us over that little bit longer? Read on to find out!

Explain It!:

It's another case of 12 shorter chapters bundled into this volume, which seems will be the case going forward. We've already discussed the ins and outs of this in previous volume reviews, but in terms of this volume, the shorter page count results in some pretty quick and breezy reads, especially in the first half of the volume. Though for some chapters that aren't necessarily a plus. For example, we kick things off immediately where we left in the last volume with Midoriya encountering the angry bald man in the mysterious and ambiguous One-for-All Astral Plane. We learn that the bald dude is a previous wielder of the mighty quirk, and all the weird black lightning erupting from Deku was, in fact, his quirk, Black Whip (albeit with a One-For-All boosted power-up) As neat as it is to get a sliver of background around One-For-All, the problem is that a sliver isn't a whole lot to sink our teeth into. This sequence is far too brief for my liking, and considering it's such a big moment for Midoriya in unlocking a potential boatload of new abilities, having it all wrap up suddenly in less than a chapter to rush back to nearly 3 chapters worth of fighting was a letdown. The timing of it also raises questions. This whole thing started after Monoma said some naughty things about Bakugo, and Midoriya got real mad, triggering the Black Whip debut. I get that it's tied to his emotions, but surely Deku has had previous encounters with life-threatening villains where a new power sure would've come in handy? Where were the former wielders when Midoriya was going up against Overhaul? On a One-For-All tea break? It just seems like a very sudden and significant development in the midst of a somewhat insignificant story arc. 

Anyway, once Midoriya snaps out of the trance we continue with the final fight of the 1-A VS 1-B battles, which gets a little bit more page time to shine. In particular, it's nice to see Uraraka rock her Gunhead Martial Arts skills once and again, as she makes short work of half of the opposing team by herself. It kinda seems like Horikoshi just wanted to wrap up these fights at this stage, but the way that the 1-B members are so effortlessly dispatched is a little disappointing. We do get confirmation that Shinso will be joining the Hero Course as a result of his efforts in each of his battles, which is nice, as is the little character moments he shares with Midoriya throughout these chapters, but when all is said and done I'm glad to see this arc come to an end and for us all to move on to something fresh.

The next batch of chapters serves to tie up a few loose ends we've had dangling for a while and set the stage for a quite significant story departure later in the volume. A nice respite from all the action comes with Aizawa bringing Monoma to Eri in an attempt to help her train her quirk a bit. It doesn't end up working, but Horikoshi ends up pulling double duty by covering his bases for future stories and giving both Mirio and Eri more panel time, which will always get two thumbs up from me. We also get an all too brief cameo from everybody's favorite misfits from the Hero license remedial course as they finally get their cards, and in the case of both Bakugo and Todoroki, they get to utilize them out on the field quite promptly in a short but intense villain encounter. More importantly, it's during these chapters that we get properly introduced with Detnerat, a company that makes lifestyle support items for the quirk-filled society of My Hero Academia, and has recently started making moves on the Hero support item industry. A nice bit of world-building, sure, but why should we care? Well, it turns out that Company President Rikiya Yotsubashi, on top of having the ability to pull off a pretty convincing Joker cosplay if he so desired, has a very... strong viewpoint on how exactly society should be. As the son of the famous revolutionary Destro, Yotsubashi upholds his Father's mantra of a free quirk use in a society mangled by suppressive rules, and as the secret head of the Meta Liberation Army, he intends to make that liberating society a reality. To do this Yotsubashi and his army will have to clear the game board of any potential opposing parties ahead of their grand plan. One of which just so happens to be a certain League of Villains that we may be familiar with!

While we have had sprinkles of them and minor appearances over the last few arcs, the League of Villains, as the primary antagonist group for this series, has been noticeably absent for a while. Well, that all changes this volume. With the striking wordless opening to chapter 220, consisting of the villainous Shigiraki dismantling the series logo with his decay quirk, we immediately understand that what follows is going to be new and uncharted territory. In a bold move, Horikoshi shifts the story focus entirely to the League of Villains. Sure, we've had shorter arcs that shift the focus away from our main protagonist, such as the recent focus on Endeavor and Hawks with their high-end Nomu battle in volume 22, but we've never had such a focused departure from the heroes to this extent before. It's exciting new territory no doubt, but what's interesting is upon closer examination of these chapters that departure from heroics to villainy might not be as extreme as on initial thought. Now, I'm not saying we suddenly teleported to Earth-3 and our bad guys are good all of a sudden, but they're definitely portrayed in a more sympathetic light. Firstly, we see them taking on a bunch of quirk bigots in the form in the Creature Rejection Clan, and it's not hard to look decent when compared to those losers. An added level of sympathy comes when we see that they're struggling to make ends meet with their former leader out of the picture, but then when a couple of shady characters from All for One's past show up they are suddenly faced with a formidable challenge: Win over the brutish former bodyguard to get the creepy quirk doctor and his deadly Nomu army on their side. Our little League of Villains are becoming quite the underdogs, huh? No pressure, League!

As if that wasn't enough of a challenge in itself, things get really tricky for the League when they get the news that they're broker friend Giran has been kidnapped by this new Meta Liberation Army, and if they want him back they'll have to come to get him at the  Army's stronghold. Now how's that for a heroic mission? Rescue the innocent hostage (okay, innocent might be a stretch) from the enemy leader and their evil army? Throw in a castle and a couple of goombas and that sounds like a pretty good videogame! With this setup, as well as a bit more insight into each of the league members' thoughts and feelings on their current situation (the spotlight chapter on minor character Spinner is a particular highlight) You really do feel like rooting for the baddies, at least for now. Even Horikoshi admits it when he unveils the first Villain character page, a feature usually reserved for the heroes and students, as he admits he wanted them to remain "terrifying" to his readers. And while there is still no doubting their no good Ne'er-do-well deeds, for a short time it's looking like it just might be okay to be the Bad Guy! (Where's Billie Eilish when you need her?)

Bits and Pieces:

I was definitively more positive about the 1-A and 1-B battles last volume than I was this time around. The rushed feel of Midoriya's mind meeting with angry bald One For All dude, as well as the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion to the 1-A VS 1-B fights (no hating on Shinso fans) left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Imagine my surprise then, when the Villains return to steal the show! This fresh focus on the League of Villains exploits injects new vitality into this volume, while simultaneously establishing a new power player in the form of the Meta Liberation Army. Putting the League on the back foot here, as well as giving us a little insight into their internal thoughts, really does help you sympathize with their current hurdles, and Horikoshi does a great job establishing the group as a bunch of ragtag underdogs against a formidable and organized opponents The Heroes might be nowhere in sight, but for now, I am very excited to see what happens to Shigiraki and his bunch of heartwarming hooligans next!


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