As it has for weeks, the world of MHA continues to crumble. Heroes’ ranks winnow down with each passing day, eroding what’s left of the public’s sense of security. People are frightened, caught between clinging to the very system that failed them and being left to their own, unready devices. The previous One For All wielders say it’s much like the early days of Quirks, when All For One utilized that fear to amass power – it’s as if all those decades of progress have vanished overnight. The hero-saturated society that had held things together is gone, and it feels like the whole world is struggling to stay above water in its wake.
It’s by far the darkest time we’ve seen in the story so far, and combined with Deku’s new ’90s Spawn-looking design, it would make sense if our protagonist was in his moody Anti-hero phase. Which is exactly why I love the swerve that underneath that ragged hood, Deku’s still the caring little Keebler elf we know and love. Sure, the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket, to the point where vigilantes are attacking people for looking like “monsters” in the streets, but that’s all the more reason why our protagonist remains everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Deku. The entire idea behind his original costume was to emulate All Might’s ever-reassuring smile, and while those goofy teeth have been replaced with a metal face-guard, that spirit lives on regardless.
I focus on that idea partly because it’s adorable (Just look at him. Look at this precious boy.) but also because it’s central to MHA‘s long-standing stance on heroism, as well as this newest milestone in Deku’s journey. It’s a far less glorious debut than he might have imagined, but he’s now the full-time successor to All Might, and while that first entails defeating All For One, it also means establishing a new symbol of peace in his own way. Becoming a hero isn’t merely about being powerful, but being a trustworthy force that can assure people that things will turn out alright. Endeavor never managed that during his stint as #1, and even now can only implore the terrified masses to give him enough time to answer for his mistakes. Now that Deku has left school and taken on full-time successor duties, his compassion is going to be just as necessary to rebuilding society as his arsenal of superpowers, if not more so.
Of course, in the here-and-now those superpowers are pretty dang important, and Deku’s going to need every last one of them against his newest opponent. Lady Nagant’s arrival in the back half of this episode is sudden, and a little jumbled, but she makes a hell of an impression. I’m usually not a fan of characters whose superpower boils down to “has a gun,” but the aesthetic decisions around Nagant’s power more than compensate. Her arm doesn’t just magically poof into a sniper rifle – it juts out of the bend of her elbow, spun together with muscle tissue and skin. The image and sound of her loading a bullet into a chamber in her palm is gross as hell in the perfect way, and combined with the sheer deadly force of her attacks, she becomes an instantly menacing enemy. With Deku tricked out with half a dozen Quirks, the ruthlessly lethal Nagant feels like the perfect opponent to stress test his new abilities.
She’s also got a lot of narrative promise. According to Hawks and All For One, she’s not just a hero who turned to crime, but a former agent of the government like Hawks, and she wound up in Tartarus after killing a fellow hero. That’s a lot of backstory to devote up-front to a new character, but it raises a lot of intriguing questions about what might have led her to change allegiances. She’s also brought a delirious (and still disarmed) Overhaul with her, for reasons unknown. It’s hard to say what all of that might mean for her fight with Deku next week, but it’s a lot of compelling ideas that appear all at once to jolt the story forward.