There are a lot of names for this new story arc. The official name is either “Dark Hero” or “Black Hero” depending on who you ask, but before that was decided, fans took to calling this the “Vigilante Deku” arc. Personally I don’t think any of those quite work, since Deku isn’t technically a vigilante by the show’s own parlance, and “dark hero” suggests a level of anti-hero angst that our green beacon of empathy just isn’t capable of. So I think we need a new, more accurate name. Consider Deku’s ragged, almost inhuman appearance in his costume. Many people catch glimpses of him, and are certain he exists, but nobody ever gets a clear look at him, left only with the tale of a mysterious creature with multiple quirks who rushes in and saves the day before vanishing just as quickly. This is the Cryptid Deku arc.
Though before our hero can be captured in blurry photographs for weirdos online to play detective over, we catch up with some unexpected returning characters. Despite Shindo’s inexplicable popularity at one point (he somehow ranked in the Top 10 of the manga’s seventh popularity poll) I doubt fans were clamoring for him or the other members of Ms. Joke’s class to get a cameo. Yet he winds up being the perfect choice for introducing this episode’s opening conflict.
MHA has to walk a delicate line with how it portrays the larger populace, especially those who are most critical of heroes, so bringing back a character known for being two-faced is a smart call. If the vigilante hold-outs we meet this week just shouted down Iida or Uraraka, we’d be inclined to side with those familiar and trustworthy characters reflexively. But since we know that Shindo’s nice guy routine is mostly a front, it’s pretty understandable that they wouldn’t be swayed by his words. These people have seen their entire society’s systems of power – institutions meant to keep their daily lives safe – fall apart in a matter of days. Of course they aren’t in the mood to be talked down to by a teenager who insists he knows better than them just because he’s wearing a fancy costume. Like in the license exam, it’s not until he sets aside the honeyed words and puts himself on the line that Shindo’s actual heroic side is visible, convincing his distrustful audience that he’s worth listening to. That’s likely to be a theme of this arc, now that the Pro Heroes have lost the public’s trust.
Of course, it’s not Shindo that ends the fight, but rather our little chupacabra of a protagonist, and that battle is a treat for a lot of reasons. It’s a great introduction to what Deku can do now that he’s combining the Quirk arsenal of his predecessors, using the Sixth’s smokescreen to control the battlefield while combining Blackwhip and Float to become the Amazing Spider-Deku. Having him fight Muscular, the first villain to damn near kill our hero back in season three, is a great way to show just how far our boy has come without resorting to anything so arbitrary as power levels. Everything we need to know about Deku’s strength is clear as day when he one-shots an opponent who once took 1,000,000 percent to take down. It tells us immediately that Deku has progressed far beyond what he once was, and promises even greater heights as he further develops these new skills.
I also love his design here. Trying to make this green chipmunk into an imposing, edgy presence should not work – especially not with the goofy rabbit ears his costume has always sported. Yet the frayed ears of his mask and the tiny pupils visible beneath them make it work exceptionally well, delivering something straight out of a 90s’ superhero comic. Moreover, I love the little details built into it, like Deku’s eyes resembling All Might’s – tiny but fierce, shining out from the gaunt darkness surrounding them. Gran Torino’s cape acts as a nice flourish, but also a constant reminder of the legacy and burden Deku is quite literally carrying on his shoulders wherever he goes. The new arm gauntlets help pull the look together, and I’m about 90% sure they’re a sideways reference to the hero tool Melissa made in The Two Heroes. There are even some anime-original callbacks, putting this new pseudo-solo Deku in the spot All Might once occupied.
Of course, this is MHA‘s depression era, so this isn’t only a cool fight and new look for our protagonist. His costume is only that ragged and reinforced because he’s leaping from one fight to the next without pause, desperate to keep others from being pulled into any potential attacks on him. Deku has always been the type to put others before himself, and now he has a mandate to do just that, leaving his friends and family (How dare you make your mom cry again, Deku? How DARE?) behind to do so. Sure, he has All Might with him, but that may just be putting more fuel on the fire, considering All Might is perhaps the one living person who’s done more self-sacrificing than Deku in this story. It’s just enough dramatic tension to temper what would otherwise be a straightforward episode showing off our hero’s new power set, and when you combine that with stellar action and delivery, this new arc is off to a great start.