This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
My Hero Academia Season 5 Episode 20
“‘Villain’ means one who turns nonsense into action.”
Perspective is everything.
One of the most satisfying aspects of My Hero Academia is that it doesn’t shy away from the fine line that can differentiate heroes and villains. The anime, by nature, makes Midoriya and the other burgeoning heroes at U.A. High its priority, but the powerful individuals within the League of Villains have also been present from the very start. Tomura Shigaraki is an intimidating threat who’s spent a good deal of time hiding away in the shadows, but some of the strongest moments from the series are when his growth as a major villain is juxtaposed to Deku’s development as a hero.
Shigaraki hasn’t received as much attention, but he’s very clearly meant to function as a dark parallel to Midoriya. The growing chaos that surrounds the Paranormal Liberation War progressively seems to be catering towards a massive showdown between these two apex individuals. The first half of season five has been illuminating in response to Midoriya’s growing powers and the additional Quirks that he acquires through the vestiges of One For All. These episodes argue that Midoriya is now in a league of his own, but “My Villain Academia” elegantly explores how Shigaraki has been doing his own substantial soul searching and growth behind the scenes.
Just like with every effective hero, a truly successful villain requires a satisfying origin story. Many of the details surrounding Tomura Shigaraki’s past and the circumstances around his Quirk have remained a mystery, which makes the answers that are provided in “My Villain Academia” both enlightening and devastating. Shigaraki began his life as Tenko Shimura, but his existence was filled with an unbearable emptiness before he was taken in by the League of Villains who gave him a true purpose.
It’s casually addressed, but Shigaraki also has what’s arguably one of the most grim backgrounds out of any character in My Hero Academia. As a child, Shigaraki used his unrefined Decay Quirk to erase his entire family, which is a level of trauma that would transform even the most altruistic of heroes into a villain. This progresses into the current version of Shigaraki who is impossible to sate and even complete victory over hero society still wouldn’t be enough to bring him peace.
There’s a level of frightening desperation that comes out of this admission since Shigaraki acts as if his condition will only grow more unstable. Deku has a clear goal for what he wants to accomplish and where he wants to end up as a hero, but any mission for Shigaraki is merely a means to an end before he decides to just burn everything down. The tragic, warped opera theme that accompanies Shigaraki’s devastating flashback is also just perfect. It properly conveys the emotion of the moment, but it’s warbling and unpredictable nature also functions as an excellent metaphor for the twisted trajectory that Shigaraki’s life has taken.
Season five of My Hero Academia has been building towards a massive conflict, but “My Villain Academia” goes back in time two months to properly cover the villains’ outlook on this growing war. The first rite of passage for Shigaraki’s ascent to maximum villainy involves taming the mighty behemoth that is Gigantomachia. Gigantomachia has always been one of the more compelling and nebulous villains in My Hero Academia, but it’s not until now that his true value is clear. Shigaraki needs someone to pick up the slack following Kurogiri’s induction into Tartarus, which means he must prove to Gigantomachia that he’s worthy enough to receive his support.
In many ways Gigantomachia is the perfect blunt guinea pig to handle a villain’s dirty work, which is something that All For One seems to have understood. There’s also a slew of High End Nomus that get introduced to the League of Villains to better expand their resources. There’s no real sense of danger to these battle sequences, but the war against this giant does lead to some effective moments of unity between the villains, particularly Toga, Gecko, and Twice.
“My Villain Academia” also plants the seed for Re-Destro, the leader of the Meta Liberation Army who are currently the League of Villains’ primary opposing force when it comes to who runs the racket on evil in society. They’ve amassed over 110,000 devoted followers who are just itching to launch an attack and preach their radical ideology. This imminent conflict benefits from how “My Villain Academia” expands upon Shigaraki’s character and portrays him as this revolutionary figure that’s capable of toppling hundreds of thousands of dissenters.
“My Villain Academia’s” shift in perspective kicks off the final run of episodes in My Hero Academia’s fifth season with an increased sense of urgency that pushes the narrative to consider some compelling questions. However, this season–or the next–could have become even more interesting if it decided to take a page out of Attack on Titan’s book and present the first portion of the season from the villains’ point of view. This would better manipulate who the audience should empathize with, even if the forces of good and evil are much more black and white in My Hero Academia than they are in Attack on Titan. It could trigger a fascinating exercise in storytelling and structure.
My Hero Academia doesn’t completely rewrite its story with “My Villain Academia,” but it still represents one of the more exciting and substantial turns that the series has taken. There’s a newfound level of empathy in the series’ most ruthless killers that creates an unpredictable feeling of danger and apprehension that threatens to disrupt the series’ status quo. It’s unlikely that Shigaraki and company will best the heroes, but much like the recruits that Shigaraki and All For One manipulate, they’re likely to have much more support by the time the season ends.
Oh, and Himiko Toga’s duffel coat looks just great. Not even League of Villains members should have to go around in last year’s fashion…