This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
My Hero Academia Season 4 Episode 22
“My love…My love wasn’t enough.”
Values and convictions are incredibly powerful and they’re often what drive heroes and villains to do the outrageous things that they do. This is incredibly pertinent in “School Festival Start!!”, which is an episode that’s just about characters fighting for what they believe in as they refuse to give up.
There are about a half dozen moments where both Midoriya and Gentle are seemingly defeated in this installment, only for them to drag themselves up and keep fighting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Midoriya work harder in a fight and what’s incredible here is that the stakes couldn’t possibly be lower. This is all over an infiltration of a school festival. This isn’t a plot to assassinate the teaching staff, take over the world, or eliminate everyone’s quirks.
This is just a quest where a man wants to be noticed and a child who wants to let his friends have fun. It’s remarkable that all of the energy that everyone radiates in this episode is more over values and personal validation, but it’s because of this that “School Festival Start!!” turns into one of the more satisfying battles of the series and an unexpected triumph.
The previous installment of My Hero Academia truly made it clear how much of a threat Gentle Criminal is, but “School Festival Start!!” really explores that tension and how it affects Midoriya as he plunges into crisis. This episode gets to really play with fire as time quickly runs out for Deku as he navigates this isolated mission to maintain the peace at U.A. High, save the school festival, and prove to Eri that the world isn’t a broken, hate-filled place. Midoriya has a very full plate in this episode of My Hero Academia, but the growing hero proves that he’s very up to the challenge here. Unfortunately, so are his adversaries.
It’s been very hard to get a proper read on Gentle Criminal and even harder to figure out his fighting style—if he even has one. This help lends itself to what’s one of the better developed and paced fights from the entire series as it goes all over the place in terms of who’s in control. Initially it seems like Midoriya easily and efficiently disposes of Gentle and La Brava. He brilliantly uses the lingering effects of Gentle’s own Quirk against him and makes a series of smart plays that lead to his speedy victory.
These past few episodes have featured plenty of La Brava, Gentle Criminal’s sidekick, but she’s been guarded as an even larger mystery than him. As these two consider their losses, the episode really turns into more of a look at both La Brava and Gentle Criminal’s pasts and what they mean to each other as they watch their lover suffer defeat. Before she was La Brava, the plucky villainess was Manami Aiba, a deeply passionate—perhaps too passionate—girl who gets humiliated once and it throws her into a darkness that she feels like she’ll never escape. It’s during this depression that Aiba comes across Gentle Criminal’s videos and they speak to her soul in a way that she’s never experienced before.
This isn’t the deepest backstory for La Brava’s character, but it’s still an emotional ride that connects. Gentle Criminal unconditionally accepts La Brava in a way that she’s never experienced before and it gives her life purpose. Her desire to love and support someone is just as intense as Gentle’s need to be noticed. Together these two are less a team of evil geniuses and more like a damaged couple who have been able to help each other during times of need. It’s almost like the supervillain getups are more just an elaborate form of roleplay for them to express their appreciation for each other before they were ready to admit it. This is never more obvious than when Midoriya catches the two of them and they’re reduced to their most raw states.
The conclusion of the last My Hero Academia episode teased that La Brava has a powerful Quirk that she’s reluctant to use due to its strength. She lets it loose here and it’s one of the more creative Quirks to show up in the series. Basically if La Brava feels intense love for someone, that love will considerably power them up. Furthermore, it’s not a conditional boost, but rather the more intense La Brava’s love is the more drastic the power-up is as a result. Gentle Criminal in Lover Mode allows him to overpower Midoriya and it looks like he’ll be able to escape with La Brava, but goddamn if Midoriya doesn’t prove just how determined her is over all of this. Deku continues to hand on and their fight truly gets to begin after Gentle experiences this upgrade.
While this fight rages on, La Brava goes into a bit of a crisis that for the first time her love isn’t enough to save Gentle from defeat. Even after the dust has settled from this showdown it feels like this revelation that she won’t always be enough for Gentle to be victorious is something that will sadly eat away at her. Both she and Gentle are incredibly fragile and vulnerable characters, despite their strengths. Gentle and Midoriya’s battle takes another turn and as the power shifts again Gentle’s backstory gets revealed and holy cow is it a depressing tale.
Even before Gentle’s life takes a cosmically tragic turn, he’s still painted to be a sadly pathetic character. He’s honestly like My Hero Academia’s equivalent to Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. He’s someone who’s long past his expiration date without realizing it as he hopelessly pursues the goal of becoming a hero while everyone in the world tells him to give up. Then, in a situation where Gentle’s Quirk actually would be helpful in saving someone’s life, a sad mix of events results in him ruining a hero’s rescue effort and seriously injuring an innocent person’s life in the process.
It’s an incredibly dark turn of events that understandably sends Gentle into a tailspin of depression and self-pity. His concerns about growing older and fading into irrelevancy are very easy to empathize with, even if that doesn’t condone his shift towards supervillainy. It’s not at all the sort of origin story I expected for this jovial character, but it only makes his bond with La Brava all the more significant. They’re these two misfits who have been rejected by everyone else but each other.
The finale of Midoriya and Gentle Criminal’s fight is draining in a way that no other fight in the series has been. They understand that they’re both not that different. They’re just passionate in different ways, yet they still find a strange respect for each other. In spite of how Gentle is in the wrong here, it’s sad to see him go out how he does. These are just two characters who got in over their heads and chose the wrong way to express themselves when everything else shut them out. It’s a victory for the good guys, but one that feels almost hollow. It’s hard to imagine Midoriya truly enjoying Class 1-B’s play at the school festival as thoughts of Gentle rattle around in his head. Somehow he’s now got to stay focused on effects work for the dance team.
“School Festival Start!!” wisely spends most of its time with Midoriya, Gentle Criminal, and La Brava, but there’s some background flavor provided with antics at U.A. High that help alleviate the tension and also provide a firm reminder of the very stakes at hand. Overall the episode makes for a highly satisfying conclusion to the saga of Gentle Criminal and La Brava. It’s very refreshing for My Hero Academia to deliver a mini villain arc that gets wrapped up in a handful of episodes, but can still carry the same weight of some of their longer stories. My Hero Academia will probably take it easy for the final three episodes of the season, but hopefully they can sneak in a few more surprises that are on the same level of Gentle Criminal.
Pour a glass of tea out in his honor.