This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers
My Hero Academia Episode 21
“Can’t wait to see how this one ends!”
In a series like My Hero Academia that can get so caught up in its action, there are many different ways to generate suspense through battle. Right after My Hero Academia’s last episode devotes the bulk of its time to a solitary battle of wits between Midoriya and Hitoshi Shinso, “Battle on, Challengers!” ambitiously crams fivematches into this installment: Shiozaki versus Kaminari; Iida versus Mei; Mina versus Aoyama; Yaoyorozu versus Tokoyami; and Tetsutetsu versus Kirishima.
The busy structure of this episode makes for a really fun, creative way to show off different quirks and battle strategies. This isn’t lost on Midoriya, who obsessively takes notes on all of the matches, much to the annoyance of the rest of his classmates. It’s a tiny scene, but it’s the perfect distillation of who Midoriya is and why we love this passionate nerd so much. His predictions on the outcomes of battles add another playful dimension to the proceedings. Since “Battle on, Challengers!” decides to throw so much at its audience, we’re going to break down the episode by going through all of its fights, from best to worst.
It’s an instance of someone from the hero course up against an individual from the support class when it comes to Iida’s fight against Mei Hatsume. These are both incredibly dedicated, intelligent fighters, so their showdown is especially exciting. It initially looks like Iida has faced a roadblock when he’s not allowed to bring his support gear into the fight, but this is actually all part of Hatsume’s plan. She intentionally uses Iida’s unflappable sense of honor against him and it’s rather satisfying.
Hatsume is not only in complete control of Iida, but she also uses him as a living, breathing commercial for what her support gear can accomplish. She doesn’t hold back with this demonstration and the “ten minutes later” gag is one of the funnier jokes that the show has ever done. It’s all rather brilliant on Hatsume’s part and if the audience didn’t know that Iida was such a professional in battle then they would really think that he’s an amateur here. He doesn’t get a single hit in on Hatsume and the fight goes completely in her favor.
Mina and her acid-based quirk don’t get their due enough in the series, but her fight against Aoyama is a great example of how useful she can be in battle. She adeptly uses her acid as a lubricant to skate her way through the ring and then launches some as a projectile to disable Aoyama’s laser navel. Aoyama may be physically stronger than Mina, but her adaptability in combat is proof of why strength isn’t everything. It’s also about time that Aoyama got his ego knocked down a few pegs.
Kaminari’s fight against Class 1-B’s Shiozaki is entertaining, but blink and you’ll miss it. The most entertaining aspect of this duel is how Shiozaki gets held up on labels and the way in which she brings the entire battle to a screeching halt because she’s incorrectly called an “assassin.” It’s the perfect introduction to her character. It’s this polite demeanor and level of etiquette that lowers Kaminari’s guard enough for Shiozaki to almost immediately incapacitate Kaminari with her vine-like hair.
Even if Shiozaki came a little more prepared, Kaminari’s vines basically cancel out his electricity quirk, so he was already at a disadvantage. A major component of “Battle on, Challengers!” is to figure out how various quirks are useful or at a disadvantage against others. There’s just as much of a focus on the science of these battles as there is on the fights themselves.
Tokoyami has proven on a number of occasions just how versatile and powerful his Dark Shadow quirk can be. Fortunately, Yaoyorozu is fully aware of this and enters their fight with the proper amount of caution. Yaoyorozu’s creation quirk is honestly one of the most powerful abilities in the whole series if it’s properly put to use. She decides to use her ability for defensive purposes, but it’s sadly the wrong choice here.
Tokoyami anticipates this strategy and just gingerly pushes Yaoyorozu out of bounds with Dark Shadow without her even realizing it. Yaoyorozu doesn’t take any physical damage, but her pride is greatly hurt due to how useless she was in her fight. The disappointment that haunts Yaoyorozu afterwards lasts longer than the actual fight.
The final fight that takes place is the exceedingly even match between Kirishima and Tetsutetsu. The episode is definitely aware of how similar their harden and metal quirks are and it plays into the humor in this. The announcer even reads identical introductions for the both of them. The majority of the fights that go down in “Battle on, Challengers!” involve a certain level of determining how these quirks will play against each other, but Kirishima and Tetsutetsu’s battle intentionally goes against this idea.
Perhaps because it strips away the more complicated aspects of these fights, what should be one of the more mundane matches turns into a surprisingly fun one. Their showdown is basically a glorified game of “shot for shot,” but their unwavering rage over who is stronger keeps them going. Unsurprisingly, it’s a tie, but the brilliant takeaway from their fight is how perfect Kirishima and Tetsutetsu would be as partners.
“Battle on, Challengers!” is one of the more satisfying episodes of My Hero Academia and it’s definitely one of the most action-filled installments. This is the sort of pacing that would give Dragon Ball Super’s Tournament of Power arc a heart attack. It’s kind of a bummer that the show doesn’t always operate with this level of focus and speed, but there’s not always a tournament or competition going on, either.
At no point do any of these fights feel derivative of each other and they all more or less get some time to breathe, too. On top of all of the bracket matches that go down, the episode’s final moments also find a tender, emotional ground as Uraraka begins to freak out over her looming battle against constant hothead, Bakugo! There’s more to this entry than just endless combat and that’s why it’s such a standout episode.
Let’s hope that Uraraka isn’t going to need a gravity-free tombstone next week.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.