My Hero Academia has gotten quite the backlash recently, hasn’t it? It seemed like the series could do no wrong a few years ago, but with Season 4, it feels like everyone and their grandma thinks it sucks now. The most recent arc in the anime, the Shie Hassaikai/Overhaul Arc, has gotten a lot of criticism for its slower pacing and a perceived drop in animation quality from previous seasons. And while I do think those complaints are valid, to be honest… they don’t bother me all that much. I think the Shie Hassaikai Arc of My Hero Academia is a fantastic addition to an already grand and emotional story. It takes the series in a darker path than it’s ever been before, introduces a ton of great new characters with fascinating Quirks, and has (arguably) the best damn fight scene in the entire anime thus far.
SPOILERS for Season 4 of My Hero Academia incoming!
To talk about what makes this story arc so fascinating to me, I think we should start with its villain: Kai Chisaki, aka Overhaul. Because to be honest, this guy has not been given nearly enough credit for how complex and terrifying of a character he is. Almost all the baddies in My Hero up to this point have been in the League of Villains, but Chisaki’s from different stock – he’s a Yakuza boss who grew up on the streets until the leader of the Hassaikai took him in. He hates the hero society for causing the Yakuza to die off, and believes he owes a debt to his leader – the closest thing he had to a father – to help the Hassaikai control the world again. Basically, he’s Michael Corleone from The Godfather with superpowers. He holds a critical lens up to the hypocrisy of hero society, and is brutally cold and evil while still believing he’s doing the right thing.
But what makes Chisaki so utterly terrifying is how he uses his power to control and harm an innocent child. He physically and emotionally abuses his surrogate daughter, Eri, blaming her Quirk for hurting others and locking her in a dark room for days on end. Even though he claims to be her father, it’s clear he’s only using her for her Quirk. It’s an awful situation, and it makes the stakes much more real and personal. I don’t really know of anyone like, say, All for One in real life – but I know there’s a lot of people out there like Chisaki. Even his boss calls him out for his cruelty and hypocrisy:
Chisaki is far from the only new character to shine in this arc. All of the new characters are as well-developed and fun to watch as any of the main cast. Eri is a girl trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation, and clearly shows signs of trauma from her abuse – giving Deku and Mirio that much more of a reason to help her. Suneater has a unique Quirk that makes his fights a lot of fun to watch, and Nighteye is a master of wit and deadpan humor. Even Kirishima comes into his own this season, going from just being “Bakugo’s friend with the weird teeth” to one of the best heroes in Class 1-A this season.
But the breakout star of this arc, by far, is Mirio. He is the leader of the Big Three, and was chosen to be the inheritor of One For All before Deku showed up. The two form a close bond throughout the arc: Mirio admires Deku’s boundless idealism, while Deku sees Mirio as the strong and pragmatic hero he aspires to be. Mirio is a hero with boundless potential and could easily be the main character in his own series – which makes his loss of his Quirk and near-death at the hands of Overhaul that much more tragic. And hell, even when he’s Quirkless and about to pass out from blood loss, he still tries his damndest to make sure Eri is safe. That’s some real inspiring shit, y’all!
The Shie Hassaikai arc of My Hero is dark, dense, and like nothing the series has done before. I’d compare it to the Chimera Ant Arc of Hunter x Hunter, which brought a ton of great new heroes to the forefront to defeat a seemingly unstoppable enemy. It’s also a slow burn: the first few episodes have little action, and there’s a lot of time spent on the new characters’ backstory and motivation. Sure, it is a bit much to include so many long flashbacks in the middle of big, climactic fights, but I don’t believe that slow pacing in an action series is necessarily a bad thing. It gets a chance to build up new characters that we haven’t seen before and adds to the dramatic stakes of the entire story. And it makes the eventual payoff – the final fight between Deku and Overhaul – arguably the most thrilling and emotionally-charged fights in the entire series.
At this point in the story, Deku is still a relative newbie. He’s still in his first year at UA, and he’s still struggling to control One for All without breaking half the bones in his body. He’s got a lot of potential, but he struggles to keep up with more experienced heroes like Mirio, Nighteye or even Fat Gum. (Fat Gum? That’s the worst superhero name ever! OK, I digress.). All of that changes once Deku finally fights Overhaul. Mirio has lost his Quirk, Nighteye is dying, and no one else can even come close to Overhaul’s power. Deku is the only person who can stop him. He gives everything he has in this fight, but he can’t possibly match Overhaul’s power and brutality. So what does he do? He asks Eri, the young girl who he was tasked with saving, for help.
This is Deku’s Super Saiyan moment. This is what the entire goddamn series has been building up to! In that one moment, Deku and Eri turn Chisaki’s most formidable weapon against him, and together they give Deku the strength to use One For All Infinite 100% for the first time. Deku gains strength not by finding a newfound power within himself, but by humbly admitting he can’t do it all alone. He and Eri fight together, using their Quirks in tandem to save themselves and each other. And the powered-up fight is absolutely gorgeous, with some incredible sakuga animation and a heart-wrenching vocal version of “You Say Run”. To anyone who was complaining about a drop in animation quality this season, I just wanna say… did you watch this?
I worry that the anime community these days has become too impatient and fickle. It feels like one minute, they love a series, and the next they think it’s garbage. Or they don’t even make it three episodes before complaining about a lack of action or slow pacing. My Hero Academia may be a popular shonen anime aimed at young audiences, but it’s not meant to be quickly consumed and discarded like the many seasonal shows that come out these days. It’s a modern-day epic, and one that rewards those who have stuck with the series this long. And I think the story, characters, and worldbuilding are a lot deeper and more compelling than most people give it credit for.
The Shie Hassaikai Arc is far from perfect – it does go overboard with the flashbacks at times, and kinda shafts its female heroes in favor of the male characters’ development. (Seriously, where were Tsuyu and Ochaco this entire arc?). And I get that not everybody has the patience to sit through so many seasons, or wants to dig so deep into a story that’s marketed as an escapist power fantasy for young people. But for my money, there’s no other long-running battle shonen that is as rich, exciting, and just plain wonderful as My Hero Academia, and this arc is proof of that.
(Okay, I still think Hunter x Hunter is better, but only slightly.)