Last week saw Horikoshi Kohei’s My Hero Academia celebrate five years of serialization. Coming from humble beginnings, the series has now become one of the biggest series in Weekly Shonen Jump and a full-blown international phenomenon. And even after such a long time in publication, the series is still going strong: with the latest, villain-focused My Villain Academia arc standing as a testament to that very fact.
Contains spoilers for the My Hero Academia manga up to chapter 237.
As you might be able to deduce from the title change, this latest arc in Horikoshi Kohei’s ongoing series shifts the focus from the heroes to the villains: the League of Villains and their leader, Tomura Shigaraki.
According to the official wiki, this arc is actually called the ‘Meta Liberation Army’ arc, but I think ‘My Villain Academia’ sounds way cooler. I mean, it’s even called so on the cover of volume 24.
Yet, even if the focus of this arc might run contrary to the title of the series, it doesn’t exactly come completely out of the left field. The League of Villains have already had a story separate from the heroes many times over the series, as the narrative prefers to take an omniscient perspective, and the story already shifted focus away from the younger heroes of the series to the older Pro Heroes for an arc focused on Endeavor not too long ago.
It’s therefore quite surprising that some have expressed discontent with the arc. Indeed, some sales data show that My Hero Academia volume 24, titled ‘All It Takes Is One Bad Day’ and collecting the majority of the chapters making up the ‘My Villain Academia’ arc, hasn’t rushed to top seller as fast as previous volumes, even losing out to the That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime manga and fellow Weekly Shonen Jump series The Promised Neverland.
But such data always depends on the source (certain websites cater to certain demographics) so such numbers should always be taken with a sizeable grain of salt. Even so, it is a fact that some are complaining about the lack of Deku et al. in favor of the villains, especially as their story has been left on a bit of a cliffhanger.
I can’t get behind this sentiment. The My Villain Academia arc is the best the series has been in a long time, and perfectly encapsulates everything I love about it.
Characters: Lifeblood of Shonen, Horikoshi’s Enduring Strength
As I discussed last week in revisiting the Dr. STONE manga, one of the most important things for any shonen manga is its characters.
Ultimately, it is the characters that keep us invested and interested in a story. Without relatable or interesting characters, even the most intricate and deep plots can be wasted, and, conversely, a weak story can always be carried by strong characters.
My Hero Academia’s biggest strength has always been its cast of characters (so much so that I would honestly be happy watching the cast do anything at all, not even fighting) and the ‘My Villain Academia’ arc is no exception.
We haven’t had much time to delve too deep into the villain characters of the series thus far (which is to be expected when your series is about heroes), so to see Horikoshi explain many of their backstories and how they became the person they are today was a welcome move.
The big reveal came, of course, with regards to Tomura Shigaraki’s backstory. Essentially, traumatic events in his childhood put him on the path of evil. But what is interesting is how these events mirror those of Deku, setting up their eventual final confrontation.
We also got to spend a little bit of time with everyone’s favorite blood-crazed highschooler, Himiko Toga. She was already a pretty interesting character before this My Villain Academia arc, but uncovering her backstory and how she too was pushed onto the path of evil by traumatic events in her life only makes her more interesting and fully realized.
But by far the most interesting character explored during the My Villain Academia arc was Twice. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t even remember him from previous arcs (blame reading something weekly over a long period of time), yet this didn’t stop his backstory from being incredibly interesting.
Twice has the superpowered ‘Quirk’ ability to duplicate himself, but suffers from a type of dissociative identity disorder. Essentially, because all of his clones look like him (obviously), he’s constantly worried that he might not actually be the original, rather a clone that somehow killed the original and took his place.
Putting on his mask helps him to overcome this, which is why he always wears one, but he was only able to fully overcome his trauma through the events of the ‘My Villain Academia’ arc.
That backstory may have only been a tiny part of the overall My Villain Academia arc, but it’s still some of the most interesting writing I’ve seen in the series thus far. I’d honestly read an entire manga about Twice and his journey; especially given his engaging, quirky personality.
The fact that Horikoshi Kohei is able to craft such interesting tidbits of story, especially after a near-constant five years of serialization, is a testament to his skill as a writer, particularly when it comes to characters. And while many may focus on the growth of Deku or Bakugo to demonstrate this, the proof is evident even in the latest arc of the series.
It must be said that I was already on board for exploring the villain characters, given how great I already knew Horikoshi’s character writing to be. But, suffice to say, Horikoshi blew my expectations out of the water with his engaging, complex writing skills that have only seemed to improve over time.
Story: Contrived but Important
Strong characters may be important for My Hero Academia and any other shonen series, but this doesn’t mean that story and narrative aren’t important. Narrative is what drives the story forward, to newer and even greater heights.
In this respect, I’m glad to say that the My Villain Academia arc has also made important steps forward in addressing some of the key narrative threads that had yet to be touched, thus fleshing out the world that these characters inhabit, and signaling their eventual fate.
The history of the My Hero Academia world has, thus far, been quite sketchy. All we really knew is that ‘Quirks’ suddenly appeared, one day, in the form of a glowing baby. Then, the world descended into chaos for a while because of villains such as All for One, only to become peaceful once more thanks to the work of the heroes and, most importantly, the wielders of One for All.
I’d imagine that the history of the world of My Hero Academia has remained sketchy up until this point, because Horikoshi himself probably didn’t even know the specifics. Sure, he’s revealed bits and pieces here and there, but it’s only been during the My Villain Academia arc that we begin to grasp a more complex picture of the world before Deku.
As Horikoshi revealed, during the initial emergence of Quirks in society, while figures such as All for One pursued the categorically evil aim of domination, groups such as the Meta Liberation Army advocated for more palatable de-regulation and free usage of Quirks for the betterment of humanity, regardless of the effects on the non-superpowered.
It is true that this important aspect to the world has only come about just now, as the villain Re-Destro suddenly revealed himself and started to target the League of Villains to gain complete domination over the villain world and fulfill his ideological aims. As some have argued, this could come off as a little contrived.
Does that even matter, though? One of the great things about long-running shonen is that authors can be more spontaneous with their writing, inserting new ideas as and when they see fit. We might have only just gotten a better understanding of the world of My Hero Academia now, during the My Villain Academia arc five years in, but that is part of the magic. In any case, I’d rather Horikoshi leave things vague until he has an interesting idea, and the Meta Liberation Army is quite an interesting one at that.
I do, however, understand the frustration at the probably overall insignificance of the Meta Liberation Army in the overall narrative. The League of Villains will probably defeat them by the end of this arc, either absorbing them into their own forces or wiping them out entirely. It will be Shigaraki, not Re-Destro, who’ll face down Deku, after all.
But Horikoshi has been clever and imbued the conflict between the League of Villains and the Meta Liberation Army with some more long-lasting narrative significance. Shigaraki is also fighting against the fearsome Gigantomachia and Re-Destro during this arc, who will only accept him as the rightful successor to All for One if he proves his worth.
Shigaraki will probably prove his worth by defeating Re-Destro, as throughout this conflict his destruction power has been developing, to the point where he can now destroy things he’s not even touching. The eventual recognition of Shigaraki by Gigantomachia through the My Villain Academia arc will be the final step that the villain needs to become a proper main antagonist, once more setting up his final clash with Deku et al.
While this latest My Villain Academia arc might not have been greeted with enthusiasm, it’s clear that it has its own strengths. Character work has been impeccable as usual, and the narrative is moving forward in interesting, if slightly contrived ways.
I’m sure that, when this arc is over and we’re back to our regularly scheduled hero goodness, people might look back at this arc to see it for what it really is: a true testament to the strengths of My Hero Academia that has carried it through five years of serialization and to the very top of Weekly Shonen Jump (next to One Piece, of course).
As bizarre as it may seem, I’m tempted to call the My Villain Academia arc the ‘Lost Children’ of My Hero Academia, referring to the often-overlooked arc from Kentaro Miura’s dark fantasy Berserk. While they may be completely different in tone, style, and narrative, both arcs act as vertical slices of what makes their respective series so interesting, even if people don’t realize it.
You can read My Hero Academia as it releases in Japan via VIZ Media’s English-language Weekly Shonen Jump.