Golden Week – an annual occurrence in Japan that refers to a period of time, between the end of April and the beginning of May, where a number of holidays take place. Thus, every year, manga magazines such as Weekly Shōnen Jump take an obligatory one-week break during that time.
This is one of four compulsory breaks that the magazine takes during the course of the calendar year, and as a result, this means that for this instalment of “Go Beyond” there will only be three new chapters of “My Hero Academia” to use as a basis for discussion (numbered 133 through 135). And yet, while more content of “My Hero Academia” is always desired, there is plenty to ruminate on regardless of this fact: given what has been touched upon in the recent material.
The first avenue I wish to explore is highlighted in the first of the three chapters in question: titled ‘Catch Up, Kirishima’, and will certainly serve to be an important plot point moving forward. Just prior to this chapter, we bore witness to an unnamed criminal firing off two modified bullets: with the first hitting Tamaki “Suneater” Amajiki in the arm, and the second bouncing harmlessly off of Eijirou “Red Riot” Kirishima’s hardened body (as a result of the quick activation, of his quirk). The modified bullet’s purpose is then speculated as being the destruction (or at the very least, the obstruction) of the target’s quirk: in spite of the shooter clearly being perplexed at the result of him firing off his weapon. This conclusion is reached at first, through a combination of the conversation that took place between Overhaul and Tomura Shigaraki in the previous chapter, and the inability of Suneater to utilise his quirk in apprehending the shooter. The reason that doubt is placed into the mind of the reader, in regard to the full potential of the modified bullets, is the fact that while Suneater is unable to manifest octopus tentacles from his fingertips, like he had in Chapter 132, it would appear that his quirk is still activating; just at an incredibly limited level.
Either way, the introduction of power-reducing or power-eradicating technology into the world of “My Hero Academia”, as part of Overhaul’s grand strategy, is sure to shape the story; moving forward. It must be noted though, that the mangaka (Kōhei Horikoshi) is also sure to clarify in Chapter 135 (titled ‘An Unpleasant Talk) that this technology is different to Shouta “Eraserhead” Aizawa’s ‘Erasure’ quirk, which we have seen prior to this more recent reveal. Yet this technological advancement in “My Hero Academia” isn’t the only interesting addition, in terms of a threat to the heroes and the society that they have sworn to protect. Alongside the introduction of the drug that can supposedly destroy quirks, is a danger that has already been seen by readers of the “My Hero Academia” spin-off manga series: “Vigilante – My Hero Academia: Illegals”, which is written by Hideyuki Furuhashi and illustrated by Court Betten, but still supervised by Horikoshi himself; as far as I am aware.
That other new threat is the “Weak Quirk Improvement Drug”, which is also known as “Trigger”: and is acknowledged to temporarily boost the effectiveness and potency of an individual’s quirk, whilst simultaneously weakening their sense of reason. The use of this stimulant, by minor criminals looking to improve their chances in the underworld, is central to the story of the spin-off, and as such, it is very interesting to see Horikoshi integrate that plot point into the main narrative of “My Hero Academia”. More importantly though, what it does mean, is that as of this point in the series, both quirk-suppressing and quirk-enhancing technology exists in the universe; that the mangaka has crafted thus far.
These ideas are widely recognisable however, in superhero-based media. Both Power Augmentation and Power Erasure, for example, can be seen in both Marvel and DC Comics, television shows like “Heroes” and other manga/anime series (particularly in Shōnen series, such as “Bleach”). So while the handling of these kinds of ideas, in a series like “My Hero Academia”, may be difficult for the creator and worrying for a number of the series’ fans: I have little worries over Horikoshi’s ability to knit together such plot points into an intriguing and worthwhile story. My optimism for such a future stems from Horikoshi’s past endeavours; when handling material commonly found in either of the two broader genres that “My Hero Academia” can be associated with: superhero and shōnen. Horikoshi normally handles concerns over re-treading old ground, that has been thoroughly explored by his predecessors in either field, in one of two ways: he either executes the trope near-perfectly in both an effective and appreciative way, or he simply goes beyond and exceeds expectations; dispelling all worries in the process.Continued below
And so, this idea of overcoming the fears of his audience and concurrently penning a compelling narrative is something I wish to discuss further. One aspect of shōnen series, that is almost impossible to avoid since its popularisation during the era of shows like Dragon Ball Z; is the ‘Next Tier Power-Up’. While at first this may not have been a concern in “My Hero Academia”, given the fact that each of the characters (unless they’re quirkless) had a very specific power – unlike a number of comic book series, where the superpowered individuals can have vast power sets; rather than a specific ability – this has since been explored further. Ever since the end of Chapter 71 (titled ‘Kouta’), during the start of the ‘School Trip Arc’, the possibility of upgrading quirks has been recognised. It is however, portrayed as something that can be earned rather than obtained: which is often the problem associated with power-ups in other shōnen series. In the following chapter it is explained to the heroes-in-training belonging to Class 1-A, by their homeroom teacher Eraserhead, that their quirks can be compared to muscles: in that they must be used and worn down, before they can become stronger and therefore; gain more utility. This idea, introduced relatively early-on, that your own power can be enhanced purely by the effort you yourself are willing to put in, suits the motivational and inspirational atmosphere that can easily be associated with “My Hero Academia”, and as such Horikoshi should be applauded for approaching this typically shōnen subject in such a way.
However, setting-up such an aspirational concept, and executing it with finesse later on, are two vastly different things. Nevertheless, Horikoshi is not one to disappoint: and although some mangaka may have given up and resorted to an easier method of story-telling, Horikoshi did not shy away from the challenge of crafting character development over a long-period of time; which results in a satisfying pay-off. This can clearly be seen with the growth of Red Riot as a character, and perhaps it has peaked in these most recent chapters (although with Horikoshi’s skill as a storyteller, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was ultimately more to be seen from Eijirou “Red Riot” Kirishima).
Since as early as Chapter 13, Kirishima’s inferiority complex regarding his own quirk, has been apparent. He has often complained about its lack of visual appeal, which then contributes to his trepidation regarding his future career as a hero – in a world where heroes rely on image, in order to become revered by the public: and successful in turn. His classmate Deku however, quickly dismissed this concern of Kirishima’s, and informed him that his quirk was amazing and surely worthy of a pro hero. But despite this, when it came to training his ‘Hardening’ quirk, and eventually creating ultimate moves, Kirishima still struggled with the reality that his quirk wasn’t particularly flashy. Deku though wasn’t the only one to encourage Kirishima, as during time spent training at TKL (for a brief panel, in Chapter 100), All Might advised that Kirishima forget any parlour tricks and instead devote himself to smashing through like a bulldozer. This moment must be appreciated as very clever foreshadowing by Horikoshi, as he prepares the possibility for Kirishima to eventually overcome his internal worries regarding his heroic future: with the aid and advice of his classmates and teachers.
This potential outcome, set up many chapters ago, has now been realised: particularly with the finale of Chapter 133, and the entirety of Chapter 134 (titled ‘Let’s Go, Gutsy Red Riot!). However the fight that takes place in these chapters, marking Red Riot’s debut as a hero, and the advancement to his character that accompanies it, aren’t simply justified by the single aforementioned plot thread (of him coming to terms with the limits of his power, and thereby recognising that his quirk is more suited to simple brawls than flashy fights). Horikoshi allows the readers of the series to greater appreciate this shining moment from Kirishima, by tying in two more long-standing ideas.
The first of these is Kirishima’s connection to his classmate Bakugou, and the foundation of mutual respect they have built up throughout the course of their first semester of U.A. High. In a previous arc, this relationship has aided Bakugou in escaping from the predicament he found himself in. But rather than letting this outcome rest, Horikoshi delves into this relationship further, and uses it to validate Kirishima’s growth. Bakugou’s words, from as far back as Chapter 27, in addition to those of a newer flashback, combine to resonate with Kirishima as he battles with his internal struggle over the utility of his quirk: which ultimately results in the birth of his so-called power-up; ‘Unbreakable’. The second really enhances the event of Red Riot’s debut, as he (along with Fat Gum) manages to subdue Suneater’s shooter in an urban area; all the while, defending any citizens in the vicinity. This circumstance should not be misunderstood, as it is an intelligent and well-placed nod to a comment made by Red Riot himself: as in Chapter 46, when the members of Class 1-A are looking for hero offices from which they can join to take part in workplace experience, he declares that he wants to focus on urban counter-villainism. As such, it is surely apt that he makes his debut doing exactly that.Continued below
With all these threads, cleverly brought together to enhance the readers’ experience of witnessing Red Riot’s successful debut in the hero world, along with the reveal of his ‘Unbreakable’ power-up, it really demonstrates to me the extent of Kōhei Horikoshi’s potential; with this series in particular. His love for all things superhero, and all things shōnen, really does bear fruit when writing “My Hero Academia”: as it allows him to demonstrate masterful use of unavoidable tropes from both genres, all the while exceeding expectations in other ways. This concept is especially on display during these chapters, as Horikoshi ties together all the previously mentioned material from this series whilst continuing to provide a fresh and enthralling narrative. The underlying message, which can also be taken through these chapters and Horikoshi’s nuanced interpretation of the ‘Next Tier Power-Up’ trope, is that the hard work and determination of a character like Red Riot, which has granted him a formidable new way of harnessing his power, will endlessly best those who cheat their way to new heights, such as the shooter who resorted to using the quirk-enhancing drug “Trigger” (seamlessly inserted into the story, from the spin-off manga series), rather than working to attain greater quirk utility through his own effort.
Horikoshi’s writing has a number of admirable qualities: yet this ability to not only tie together a multitude of long-standing plot points, but to utilise them effectively when looking to enhance the impact of a scene (to the extent where that impact transcends its original medium and maintains its relevance in the real world), really does speak to me. Without a doubt, this kind of development is the reason I love this series, and I look forward to seeing where Horikoshi will go from here. I hope you do too, and will join me again in a month’s time for another instalment of ‘Go Beyond’.