Among the pantheon of shonen super powers, One For All has been one of my favorites since its introduction. It’s not that the power was inventive in a utilitarian sense – super strength is about the most bog standard power imaginable for a superhero. Rather, it being a power handed down from one generation to the next makes it the perfect thematic fulcrum for My Hero Academia. In a story where the very first moral was that acting in the face of danger inspires bravery in others, what better power is there than one that changes hands, accumulating and carrying on the spirit of all who carry it? More than simply a cool power for our protagonist to wield, One For All is a key part of the story’s foundational ethos, so it’s only fitting to get an episode dedicated to hashing out its nature and purpose.
Unfortunately, One For All – and the characters attached to it – has gotten bogged down in a whole lot of gobbledygook along the way. We saw it before during the OFA vs AFO tug of war, where explaining the made-up science behind Quirk factors dragged the conflict to a screeching halt, and that happens again at the start of this episode. Finally seeing all of the previous wielders together should be a momentous occasion, but we start off with a way-too-long explanation of simple and self-evident story ideas, all for the sake of couching them in vague in-universe terminology. I think any audience in 2023 is savvy enough to just roll with the idea that parts of the previous OFA wielders have carried over with the power. We really don’t need a whole conversation to reiterate that, especially when there are far more pressing and critical matters to get to.
Thankfully all that talking is in service of a good hook, as it’s revealed that Deku is, realistically, the last viable host of this power. That’s important because it puts a pretty hard cap on how much longer this generations-spanning battle with AFO can last. Even if they managed another stalemate like All Might did, there’s no longer a theoretical “out” where Deku can pass this power onto somebody else to continue the fight. If he can’t end this war, then they’ll have finally lost for good. It’s a heavy burden to place on the boy’s already buckling shoulders, but one he doesn’t even consider regretting. Moreover, it’s what he chooses to do with that responsibility that saves this episode for me.
There are doubtlessly viewers who think Deku’s desire to save Shigaraki is naive, or misguided, or maybe just object to it on principle. I get that, and I think the show partially anticipates those reactions. The boy himself even says that what Shigaraki has done – both to the people closest to him and the countless others he’s killed – isn’t something that can be forgiven or redeemed. Shigaraki isn’t a friend who has fallen to the dark side and just needs to be saved by the power of friendship, nor is he a soft or sympathetic enough character to casually join the good guys after all the fighting is over. He’s done lasting damage and shown nothing even resembling regret over it, save for how it’s led to AFO trying to subsume his consciousness. I imagine even he would balk at anyone trying to “save” him from any of this.
Yet that’s exactly why Deku’s choice means something here. If Shigaraki were a blameless pawn or a misguided friend, trying to save him would be the easy, obvious choice. By focusing on the crying, lonely child instead of the twisted hatred surrounding him, Deku’s proposing something radically empathetic; an act that may just be the key to a better future for MHA’s world at large. For eight generations, One For All was a power cultivated to defeat its fraternal nemesis. Its users have trained, fought, and died in that service. Yet in all that time it has undeniably saved lives, and offered protection or salvation to people in desperate need, including the boy who now wields it. With hero society in a smoldering heap, that secondary purpose may be exactly what the world needs.
It’s a big moment, and that’s not even getting into the choice Deku makes after that, bringing this post-war epilogue to a close. It’s certainly a daring move for a show with “Academia” in its title to have its main character drop out, but it feels like an important step as we enter “The Final Act”. The characters have had enough to time to sift through the rubble and find their footing, however shaky, and it’s time to see what’s next.
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