My Hero Academia Season 4 Episode 21 Review: Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal

Danger unexpectedly strikes when Deku gets a taste of Gentle Criminal’s strength in a very entertaining and surprising episode

My Hero Academia Season 4 Episode 21
Photo: Hulu

This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.

My Hero Academia Season 4 Episode 21

“Don’t make a move on my school!”

The School Festival arc has been a fun change of pace for My Hero Academia, but it definitely hasn’t feature the most thrilling installments. However, if the last few episodes have felt more like K-On!, Love Live!,  or some Saturday morning cartoon, then “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” seems like it takes a page from out of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s book and delivers a very satisfying episode that works so well entirely because of how laid back the previous episodes have been. “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” is able to use the lighter tone of these episodes to establish expectations for how this episode will play out, only for it to take a major turn and break its pattern. It’s a pacing and structural choice for this season that pays off in a big way.

When this episode begins, it looks like Midoriya’s biggest obstacle is going to be his quest to acquire rope before the School Festival begins. That’s considerably tame fare for these heroes, but My Hero Academia has been on a run of lighter episodes that are more concerned about having fun and character growth than nail-biting action. It’s very business as usual as the episode begins and Midoriya’s biggest concern is getting back from the hardware store in time for the start of the School Festival. Danger spontaneously happens upon Midoriya during his mundane journey and this surprise encounter turns “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” into one of the best episodes since the Overhaul material.

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Another strength to this installment is that “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” implements a ticking clock element as the respective time gets frequently shown on screen. This creates inherent tension and makes events feel more boiled down and important, even if it’s not yet clear why. This structure is one of the most entertaining aspects of the episode and it makes it feel like the climax of a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure episode, which is high praise. 

These JoJo parallels become even stronger when Midoriya and Gentle Criminal randomly encounter each other in the wild and there’s a battle of wits that occurs where subtext is everything. These two need to quickly think on their feet and suddenly their inevitable battle happens right away. It’s a strategy that My Hero Academia hasn’t really turned to before, but it works so well here, not only as a reflection of Midoriya’s growth as a hero, but also in contrast to the lower stakes that have preceded it. 

It’s incredibly gratifying that My Hero Academia doesn’t just tease things and have Midoriya and Gentle part ways without actually calling each other out. “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” doesn’t cheat the audience and it immediately delivers on this animosity. This quick response to battle also makes a lot of sense since Midoriya clearly still carries baggage over how he initially let Eri go the first time he encountered her with Overhaul. Midoriya’s learned from his past and he doesn’t want to let passivity lead to another criminal getting away, even if that means the School Festival has to suffer in the process. It also provides a fun and valid excuse for Midoriya to show off his new toys, courtesy of Hatsume.

It’s been already hinted at in previous episodes, but Gentle Criminal confirms that his Quirk is elasticity, but it can even manipulate elements like air to bend to his whims. Gentle Criminal continues to entertain. In spite of how powerful and adept he is he’s still completely terrified and tries to run away from battle when he realizes who he’s up against. He’s simultaneously clumsy and competent, which makes for a strange, albeit fun dichotomy of sensibilities. His theme music that plays throughout his moments in the spotlight is the perfect touch to it all. 

This fight between Deku and Gentle is really entertaining because of how against type it is. In the past, Gentle’s efforts to retreat would be successful, but Midoriya just won’t let him get away here and that furious devotion to victory really gives this battle a strong atmosphere. Midoriya is always a passionate fighter, but that’s especially evident here as the entire enjoyment of U.A. High, Eri included, is on the line. 

It’s very touching when Midoriya thinks of all the people who have invested so much time and energy into the School Festival and how all of that will not only be ruined, but their lives could be put at risk if Gentle and La Brava escape and are able to bring their plan to fruition. It’s a touching sequence and it gets to act as the impetus for Midoriya’s shiny new “Delaware Smash Air Force” projectile.

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The setting of the steel beam tower at the construction site is also a very creative environment for this showdown to take place. Another very satisfying touch is that Midoriya is able to use skills that he’s learned from people like Ashido or Hatsume for the School Festival, but apply them in natural ways to his fighting. It’s actually a clever way to give this School Festival material a lot more importance. If Midoriya wasn’t spending so much time learning dance moves then perhaps Gentle might have been even more successful. 

The finale to Midoriya’s fight against Gentle is brutal because in spite of how well Midoriya handles the situation, Gentle is still able to get the upper hand and make his play for U.A. High. What’s still so unusual about all of this is that Gentle makes it clear that he doesn’t want to attack or cause any actual damage to the School Festival, but simply prove that he’s able to successfully sneak into the event and “outsmart” everyone. 

This of course could result in a larger problem where if Gentle disables the school’s security system then other villains may inadvertently get in too and cause some real damage. In spite of how Gentle claims to not be any real threat, the way that he handles himself with Midoriya is enough proof that he’s still considerably dangerous, even if he doesn’t consider himself to be. The final tease that La Brava possesses a Quirk that’s more powerful than the lot of them becomes yet another tantalizing wrinkle to all of this as a bigger battle looms in the future.

Midoriya’s impromptu battle occupies most of this episode, but there are still some cuter and more lighthearted moments that occur during the first half of “Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal.” Hatsume’s enthusiasm towards her gift to Midoriya is wonderful, as is All Might’s fascination with Deku’s new tools. He discusses how much support enhancements have improved over the years and if he had the opportunity for such sleek and compact tools, maybe he would have also developed a fighting technique that learned to adapt to them. It’s hardly important material, but these tinier moments where characters get a chance to reflect on how this world of superheroes has evolved and changed over time are sometimes the scenes that hit the hardest.

“Deku Vs. Gentle Criminal” gets My Hero Academia back on track in a very big way. It’s a fantastic piece that showcases both action and character and it very effectively highlights more of Gentle Criminal and his style more than ever before, which doesn’t disappoint. The prospect of a manic and furious Midoriya who’s on the hunt for these powerful weirdoes while all of his friends are carefree and having fun is a great angle to head into these final episodes of the season. 

Midoriya has recently become much stronger and accomplished a lot, but there’s still a sense of danger here as he may be out of his league for what lies ahead. That’s a very exciting feeling that I wasn’t expecting to get with these last few episodes of the season. There’s still time for this season to end on just as big and impressive of a note as the one that it began on. Gentle Criminal’s account can’t afford to lose any more subscribers.

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Hopefully Aoyama’s disco ball presentation can get by without new rope.

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4 out of 5