May
31
2021
0

My Hero Academia ‒ Episode 98

I’ll admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Monoma. In casual discussions I have been known to call him things like “that asshole” or “a mealy mouthed turd in a cheap suit” and occasionally “he is definitely the traitor who everyone forgot about after the Training Camp invasion.” Harsh? Perhaps, but with the exception of Mineta, Mr. Copycat has been one of the most obnoxious and unlikable personalities in MHA for years, and the only thing that’s made his smack-talking tolerable this arc was waiting for the chance to see Deku slug him right in the nose.

We don’t get that – yet – but we do get a bit of a look into just who this trash-talking poop homunculus is inside. In a brief but illuminating bit of dialogue with Shinso, he opens this episode lamenting the fact that they’re both aspiring heroes who nonetheless have pre-existing reps for villainy just for their quirks. Shinso of course has a bit of a complex about that, but his insecurities pale in comparison to Monoma, who has an entire speech at the ready about the irony of having to act the villain in order to achieve his dreams of heroism. On its face, it’s a pretty solid summary of who he is when he’s not goading 1-A into petty pissing competitions, but it’s also just a tad ominous, and Shinso himself isn’t really sure how to react to this sudden attempt at camaraderie. It’s also just piling more fuel into my “Monoma is the Mole” theory, so good work bucko.

Speaking of ominous, we’ve known for weeks that something is going on with One For All, but nobody still alive seems to know what it is. Gran Torino only has a hazy memory of NANA saying her own foreboding dream said “the time has not yet come,” which isn’t much help. Meanwhile we get a creepy stop-in with a still-imprisoned All For One, mentioning with his ever-present sociopath smile that he can hear his younger brother’s voice. All of this quickly takes away from the actual match, which is a shame because we see the beginnings of a pretty neat strategy from Team B, combining multiple quirks for a long-distance fight that gives them the advantage while Monoma uses the toilet ditch he calls a mouth to egg Deku into a fight. But all of that goes to hell when our hero leaps in for an attack and finds his arm swirling with a mass of dark energy, lashing out in all directions and hurling him through walls.

The resulting struggle is surprisingly tense, for how short it is. The tendrils attack indiscriminately, barrel Deku through debris and buildings without control, and just the sight of the struggle leaves rookie Shinso frozen up. And I gotta say, while I still have plenty to complain about with how MHA has handled her character up until now, it was pretty edifying to see Uraraka be the first to jump straight into all this to help Deku. Her brief flashback tells us exactly why she’d be the first to move, and her quick thinking – along with Shinso finding the guts to act – is what keeps things from totally falling apart. It’s a fast but solid action sequence that lets characters who have been either underutilized or totally irrelevant make an immediate difference, and whatever the match has yet to offer, it’s kind of justified itself for me just with this.

Though of course before we get back to the match, we have to talk about the big, burly, Madworld character hanging out inside Deku’s brain, and the rather big news he brings with him. First we get confirmation that the vestiges we’ve glimpsed across the season aren’t just specters of OFA users. They’re fully aware and sentient consciousnesses that have been biding their time to reveal the other big secret: One For All hasn’t just been passing down each user’s accumulated strength, but also silently handing off their own unique Quirks to the next user. Those tendrils that nearly wrecked Deku were in fact Mr. Mad Max’s “Blackwhip” and, if my math is right, there are another five powers lying in wait, discounting the otherwise quirkless 1st user and All Might. It makes sense – One For All was born from the First’s quirk transfer power – but it’s a huge shift in one of the earliest and most fundamental elements of this story.

As of yet, I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, offering Deku a presumably broader set of powers could make for some interesting fights. OFA as a superpower has always worked better as a thematic anchor than a particularly interesting power. It’s a great yardstick for Deku’s growth, the central metaphor for the show’s thesis on heroism, but also extremely simple compared to most of the other characters. There’s only so much utility you can get out of bursts of super-strength, and managing nearly 100 episodes with it is pretty remarkable, but giving Deku more to do than just punch, kick, and air-punch could make for some exciting and thrilling fights down the line. A Deku who’s not just a mobile powerhouse, but capable of greater finesse or trickier fighting is certainly an interesting possibility.

On the other hand, one of MHA‘s strengths has been how its characters’ power-ups have never really been about unlocking new abilities, but rather figuring out new and clever ways to apply what they can already do. Sure, training and practice have allowed some of them to overcome drawbacks that previously hampered them, but generally characters in this show have gotten better by using their heads and thinking laterally. So to have potentially six new powers just offered up to our main protagonist threatens to feel like an unearned upgrade for the sake of keeping him relevant if done poorly. It doesn’t help that I’m fresh off of rereading Naruto and am angry all over again at the amount of unearned new powers dropped into Sasuke Uchiha’s increasingly overdesigned eyeballs, so my anxiety over this choice is at an all-time high.

That’s where we’re left at the end of this episode. There’s still some more of this training battle to go, but it can’t help but feel overshadowed by the implications of its own central reveal, and what it might mean for the story going forward. MHA has handled itself with enough finesse that I’m willing to see where it goes with this, but much like the ongoing storyline with Endeavor I feel like sooner or later there has to be a tipping point to decide whether or not the show can keep up with its own ideas and execute them properly. That day is coming closer and closer, and this new development makes the question marks that much bigger.

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My Hero Academia is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.


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