It has always been evident that MHA is heavily influenced by western superhero comics. Although it is also based on the tried and tested Shonen Fighting Tropics, everything from its aesthetics to its textual sound effects is deliberately reminiscent of DC and Marvel Comics from all eras. Less obvious is how the show’s approach to world formation – intentional or not – has reflected the evolution of superhero stories over the decades. Cape comics have been – and generally still are – considered children’s entertainment for most of the last century by both their creators and the general population. But as the years went by and these kids grew into adults making the comics themselves, the approach to writing began to mature and become more complex. Among many other changes, the creators began to shape the fantastic universes their characters existed in, creating alternative stories for their works to separate from and comment on the real world. Now it’s up to the MHA to do the same by taking what was previously “modern but superpowered” and writing a much deeper backstory with the Meta Liberation Army.
So far we have had only vague notions of what the Liberation Army is about. Their manifesto supposedly focuses on personal responsibility and the right hierarchy of society, but in Revival Party we get a full glimpse of their concerns. “Not oppression, but liberation” is their credo towards Quirks – or “Meta Powers” as they seem to prefer. And as a popular response to the cross-generational spread of superpowers, it certainly makes sense. These are, by and large, skills that every human being is born with. So is it only up to a government to limit how or whether it can use it? Why should only professional heroes, actually weapons of the state and keepers of the status quo, be the only ones allowed to practice their quirks without fear of retaliation? You might not necessarily agree with their stance, but it’s an understandable and believable point of view for people as a whole to look at a world like MHA’s, and the bigger questions and implications surrounding this cold open add a lot of depth to this story.
As always, the devil is in the details. It is unclear how the original Liberation Army handled itself or achieved its goals, but its current incarnation is clearly more about domination than liberation. Even if they didn’t take hostages (and maimed them) to lure the League of Villains, it is clear from this episode that the organization’s superiors are more than happy to mess with anyone who stands in their way, regardless of ideology . Because actually the league – or rather the imaginary version of it, which is in the public consciousness tied to Stain’s ideals – should at least partially agree with Re-Destro’s goal of the Quirk revolution, but there is no attempt at diplomacy here. This is the extermination of a group considered harmful to their cause and an opportunity for good press by destroying the public’s greatest fear.
That’s a lot on its own and convenient enough to fill an entire episode if the show really wanted to put it, but this week MHA decided to step on the gas and push full force into a dozen loaded, overlapping ideas. So we get our first matchup between League and Liberators – Himiko Toga vs Curious. What follows is a short bout full of subtexts that I could sift through for weeks, which is intimidating to say the least. So please be patient with me while I try to be coherent.
First there is Toga herself. Paradoxically, she is the member of the League we have seen most of without first knowing about her. We know she uses blood to transform and that one of her greatest wishes is to become the people she loves. We also know from her rap sheet that said desire made her kill those loved ones for draining so much of their blood. And we know that their love is not segregated by gender, as both Deku and Uraraka have struck her positively since they first met them. She also defends those she loves and is ruthless towards those she despises and enjoys the chance to screw up Overhaul after he kills Magne. But that’s all observable behavior that tells us nothing about how she came to be what she is, and it’s curious about all of the people who divulge this information.
Curious, on the other hand, is an open book. In a few minutes we learn that she has been a journalist for years, has been committed to the cause of the Liberation Army and has taken Re-Destro’s message of “stories with a human heart” to the logical extreme. She is the propaganda wing of liberation and will do anything to find personal human stories to spread to support her cause. That’s the key here: Curious is looking for stories not to share their truth but to create ammunition, and her coming to terms with Toga’s past is an act of hurt, not investigative journalism. She sees Toga not as a person who could find solace or support in the goals of the Liberation Army, but as a face to be embedded in a convenient narrative – one that is literally tortured for the cause.
This idea is less of a loaded weapon than an armed nuclear missile, and the audience asks the audience to look at toga from the opposite perspective. It’s no secret that her character’s immediate attraction stems from the now-typical Yandere archetype, with love, obsession, and murder. But it’s hard here not to see toga from a more grounded, human perspective and to ask if she’s really “crazy”. Because yes, a child with a fascination / admiration for consuming blood is unusual, shocking, and possibly even unsettling, and certainly unsanitary, but not inherently dangerous. Toga was still a child who explored the world as her developing mind and body urged, and with proper understanding she could have been a quirky but perfectly kind person. Instead, she was considered a deviant, a “demon child” because her psychological state made it uncomfortable or uncomfortable to deal with, and so repressed it until the dam finally broke and she became the villain they believed her to be. Back in season three, Twice said the villains of this world are people who slipped through the cracks of a world they can’t tolerate, and now we know exactly what he meant.
The great thing about it all is that toga doesn’t contradict Curious’s assessment until the woman tries to turn it into a tragedy. She totally rejects that. She realizes that living the way she does is difficult, that it turns her into a rejection, but it’s worth living true to who she is – and who she wants to be. There are a billion different theories as to why her quirk develops right now – death threat, late puberty, narrative ease – but for Toga, it’s an affirmation that she can stay who she is and strive to get closer to her loved ones . It is only hinted at what interests them about Ochaco, Deku or Stain, but I think in a way they admire their willingness to stand up for what is important to them, be it against a dangerous opponent or the Hero Society itself. It It’s just a stunning picture to see a terrified and desperate facsimile of our main heroine using her power to kill dozens of people at once while the bloody, smiling face of one of our most iconic villains peeks out from underneath.
Really, the whole episode is packed with powerful, haunting imagery that lasts for a moment, and if I have one criticism of this episode, it is that besides Toga’s struggle, so much is packed that it threatens to split the focus. The big scene is when Shigaraki seems to find his own power-up, lost in a haze of exhaustion, repressed memories, and wanton violence, only to turn a whole crowd to dust with one touch. Dabi also conveniently ends up fighting an Ice user because I don’t think anyone in the Liberation Army understands type advantages. It’s not that this other material is bad, and it clearly builds on the next few confrontations on this arc, but Toga’s story on its own was convincing enough to warrant an entire episode with no time to share.
Ultimately, however, this is an exciting, gripping and multi-layered piece of character drama that challenges the established world and the ideas of MHA in an evocative and fascinating way. One could not wish for a stronger statement about the actual beginning of My Villain Academia.
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