This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
My Hero Academia Season 6 Episode 22
“People who experience setbacks in life are called villains.”
There’s no clear roadmap on how to become a hero and there are endless paths that lead to the same goal. My Hero Academia features a diverse cast of heroes with eclectic backstories and motivations, but it’s a series that always celebrates teamwork, celebration, and how people are strongest when they work together rather than isolate themselves. Some of My Hero Academia’s most powerful moments are battle climaxes where two characters deliver the finishing blow in tandem. There’s no victory in My Hero Academia that’s not stronger when shared with a friend. Deku continues to head down a dark and dangerous path, but “Friend” is an emotional installment that attempts to remind the hero about what’s important before it’s too late.
Hot off the heels of Lady Nagant’s explosive news, Midoriya fearlessly forges forward to make any headway with his hunt for All For One. It’s really quite an inspirational image when Midoriya leads the pack of all of these adult Pro Heroes. Midoriya is actively eager to encounter All For One, all while he ignores the guidance of Endeavor and other mentors who he’s spent his life in awe over. In the past, the slightest criticism from these teachers would have caused Deku to fold and give in. Now it’s all just extraneous background noise as he heads closer towards his goal and strives to give multiple generations of One For All closure. Midoriya’s march is deeply heroic, but the level of obsession that he’s begun to display for this cause starts to mirror All For One’s own mania to acquire One For All and reshape society. Midoriya and All For One come from completely opposed extremes, but they move in lockstep towards their seismic causes.
A good portion of “Friend” is devoted to Deku’s tireless efforts to take out as many of All For One’s assassins as possible. Dictator is an ancillary threat who possesses an advantageous puppet master Quirk. He’s a compelling character who could have been a serious threat back in My Hero Academia’s second or third season. Six seasons in, Dictator amounts to a temporary nuisance who helps pad out the episode. However, Dictator’s Quirk also holds some powerful thematic resonance as he controls an army of unwilling slaves to do his bidding. On some level, Deku is caught in the same scenario as he mindlessly acts in tandem with the previous One For All vestiges, or like how Shigaraki continues to be pulled by All For One’s strings. Not much of a battle breaks out around Dictator and it’s clear from the start that he stands no chance against the new-and-improved Deku. Even still, this villain’s specific powers reflect the grander themes that are in play this season. He’s a satisfying figure to bring into the tail-end of this war who helps underscore everything that’s been in motion.
Similar feelings of malaise and helplessness are experienced through the episode’s reflection on Death Arms’ retirement. The sound of one “boo” can deafen a crowd of cheers and sour the whole experience of heroism. It’s an earnest turning point for this supporting Pro Hero, but his actions reverberate through the rest of society. It’s easy to imagine other heroes–many of whom lack a Quirk as dangerous as Death Arms–finding solace in a similar philosophy. The rush of heroism isn’t helping these crimefighters like how it once did. It’s increasingly easy to focus on pain and loss, especially when All For One’s support grows stronger and Endeavor and the rest of the Pro Heroes spin their wheels.
This fear prompts a deeper discussion on Deku’s pivotal role in all of this and if coming clean to society about his power would put him in greater danger. The heroes also wonder why All For One hasn’t just exposed Midoriya’s secret and made him a palpable target that all of society–villain or hero–can focus on. The heroes’ compulsion to figure out a plan amidst this chaos is so All For One doesn’t pull this trigger and leave them with even fewer options. Midoriya grows frustrated that All For One’s resources continue to grow greater while he’s forced to make sacrifices.
Midoriya’s growing independence reaches its apex once he’s finally able to confidently tell All Might, “I am here,” after years of living in the Pro Hero’s shadow. It’s a moment that All Might has been waiting for since the start of My Hero Academia, so it’s slightly heartbreaking that Deku’s epiphany happens under compromised circumstances. Midoriya officially surpasses All Might and no longer needs him, but All Might tries to desperately cling onto their old paradigm. It’s brutal that All Might tries to take care of Deku, only for Deku to cut this guardian out of his life. Not because he doesn’t need or love him, but because he’s terrified that All Might will get hurt in his crossfire.
“Friend” demonstrates how the public have grown to fear Deku and that rumors stem around him that have turned him into this apocryphal legend, not unlike how Hero Killer: Stain was viewed in the past. Some even suspect that Midoriya is some lab-made Nomu, which speaks volume for his eclectic Quirks and society’s relationship with these marvels. There’s a moment during one of Deku’s raids when lightning flashes and his eyes get illuminated where he straight-up looks like a devil. He’s temporarily far more frightening than Stain, Overhaul, or Shigaraki. It’s so haunting that this public hero becomes society’s boogeyman, not because he wants to intimidate, but because it’s the necessary role to play in order to win this war and keep his loved ones safe.
This mentality leads into what’s not only the best scene from “Friend,” but there’s a strong case to be made that it’s one of the top sequences from all of My Hero Academia. “Friend” taps into Spider-Man 2 levels of greatness as an overwhelmed Deku is nearly de-masked until an entourage of support, led by Bakugo, comes to his aid. “Friend” spends so much time on Midoriya as an individual and why it’s important for him to be a lone wolf in order to keep his friends safe. In the end, Midoriya needs those very friends to survive. His reliance on these individuals isn’t a weakness, but it’s a cardinal difference between heroes and villains, as well as what it means to be human.
Ironically enough, Midoriya’s whole “Dark Deku” routine isn’t him actually flirting with the idea of being a villain, but the way in which he isolates himself and cuts off crucial support might have ended up pushing him down a path that’s much closer to All For One than Deku would have liked. Midoriya may still need to deliver the final blow against All For One by himself, but he’ll surely be in the position to deliver this attack because of the help that his friends provided along the way. That’s what My Hero Academia is all about. It tells the journey of Deku becoming the Number One Pro Hero, but also the remarkable heroes that he inspires to fight by his side. One For All, indeed.
“Friend” progresses several of My Hero Academia’s recent ideas as the end of the season becomes within arm’s reach. There are certain elements that feel a little perfunctory, like the battle that’s set to ensue between Deku and his former classmates, but the moments that do connect contain some of this season’s strongest material. It’s unclear if a proper rematch against Dabi or Shigaraki is in the cards before season six is over. Fortunately, Deku’s journey of self-discovery and internal conflict is proving to be just as thrilling as any physical fight.