Well, so much for my line about not having characters or themes to chew over.
Sure, there is still a larger battle going on this week, especially with the second front of the heroes’ raid starting up, and there’s a few cool moments for the extended cast. Edgeshot, Midnight, and Kamui Woods all get in a cool move. Tokoyami and Dark Shadow get to show off a rad ultimate attack that they named “RAGNAROK” because of course they did. My editor clearly bribed the creators for some extra mushroom-service via Kinoko. My favorite is probably Suneater pulling out a new Chimera form, just for the visual of a crowd of militant revolutionaries getting conked out with pineapples wielded by a gawky, bashful centaur boy. All of these are small moments in a larger battle, but they do a good job of highlighting some fan favorites without taking up too much time. Because the rest of that time is dedicated to a single showdown, and it’s here where MHA starts digging into some of the juiciest questions it’s been setting up for the last couple seasons.
Like a lot of superhero media, MHA has rather purposefully kept its hero and villain monikers nice and straightforward. Even heroes who are shitty people in their personal lives (coughEndeavorcough) have generally been forces of good in terms of societal stability. Villains have largely been similarly straightforward forces for chaos and damage, ranging from cartoonish bank robbers to organized criminals. The only real break from that dynamic was Gentle Criminal, but his greatest crime was chasing clout, hardly the type of person most of us would think to call a villain. But ever since My Villain Academia, there’s been some heavy questions bubbling up in the background. Through its narrative framing and presentation, MHA clearly wants us to see at least some of the League of Villains as sympathetic people – as much the products of the world around them as their own choices. The same society, in fact, that our heroes are so adamantly defending. If we can acknowledge and sympathize with Toga or Twice or Shigaraki’s origins, it begs for a more complicated and nuanced answer than our heroes just overpowering them and calling it a day. So how can the narrative reconcile stopping people from doing the wrong thing for the right – or at least sympathetic – reasons?
It doesn’t really, at least not yet, but it certainly invites the audience to think about it through the story of Twice. From the perspective of a random schlub in MHA’s world, Twice is a terrifying threat; a literal 1-man army who could topple society at large overnight. But we the audience know that Jin Bubaigawara isn’t a monster, nor was he even inclined to crime until the forces of the world shoved him through the cracks and left him with little choice. More personally, we know that he’s a genuinely compassionate guy who would do anything for his friends – it just so happens his friends are all largely cool with murder and at least one was raised to be the antichrist. So even as we can acknowledge that stopping Twice is the right move from Hawks’ point of view, it can’t help but feel like a betrayal as the guy who was once just a wacky Deadpool homage is bawling on the ground, realizing he’s unwittingly put the people he loves in danger again.
Hell, even Hawks feels pretty bad about it, though he’s still willing to go through with what amounts to execution. It’s clear through his own justification-laden speech and his multiple attempts to end things non-lethally that even he recognizes what he’s doing is only “justice” in the most cold-blooded sense of the word. But he’s still a Hero, a force for the relative status quo that spit Twice out like chewed gum and is in the process of tearing apart the man’s only support system. There was never any chance of a shonen redemption arc here no matter how earnestly Hawks might offer it. That door closed a long, long time ago for Twice, and he would never try to open it again if it meant leaving Toga and the others behind. In the end, he chose the people closest to him over some vague greater good or easy platitudes about “starting over.” I can’t fault him for it.
Then there’s that final scene, just to really twist the knife. When granted a narrow chance to act by Dabi, Jin doesn’t choose to turn the tide of the battle, or even fight back against Hawks. All he can think to do with his last moments is to protect his friends, and return that small act of kindness Toga paid him so long ago. It really is a perfect gut punch, as the man at the center of all these big questions about justice and order rejects the whole thing and simply affirms that at the end, he was happy to find people to trust. It hits like a truck, and sets up a much stronger precedent for this arc than any high-flying battle could.
There’s a lot of complicated ideas swirling around in all this, with much larger thematic implications than just the outcome of even this war. It also reminds us that there’s as much emotion on the “bad guys” side as there is for our heroes, and ratchets the stakes of this all that much higher. From here on out, the real war is on.
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