This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
My Hero Academia Season 4 Episode 9
“When you’re really scared. When your life is really on the line. Your true colors show.”
It must be especially crushing to not feel special in a world where the majority of the population is blessed with an abnormality that makes them inherently special. Kirishima is a hero who’s come a long way in the time that he’s been focused on this season and even though his quirk has extreme benefits, he’s still someone that feels bland or unimportant in the grander scheme of heroes and quirks.
These past few episodes of My Hero Academia have pushed the show into a tight, action-heavy mission, but Kirishima’s insecurities over his overall worth result in “Red Riot” taking a more introspective approach. This extended character study helps gain some worthwhile insight on Kirishima, but it comes at the expense of losing the momentum that this season has recently gained.
Very early on in “Red Riot,” both Kirishima and Fat Gum find themselves stuck in a grueling battle after they selflessly jump in harm’s way to protect Aizawa. These heroic instincts pay off, but these two quickly learn that may be in over their heads here. Kirishima and Fat Gum must face off against Rappa and Tengai, two of the Shie Hassaikai’s Eight Bullet assassins. This battle starts to play out in a very satisfying way because these heroes and villains all have comparable versions of the same quirks. These pairings were determined entirely by chance, but this battle boils down to a spear and shield showcase that features the best of both defensive and offensive skills.
This fight also takes place within the bottomless void of Fat Gum’s body. This is a fun angle for everything, but it does also simplify the animation and surroundings in this episode. The fight itself looks great and the sterile, trapped nature of this environment has its charm, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pretty drab background to look at for a chunk of the installment.
Kirishima and Fat Gum both pull out all the stops early on in this fight and figure out that they’re grossly overpowered here. In act of desperation, Fat Gum pulls off an all or nothing kind of move to gain the upper hand against Rappa, but it doesn’t turn out to be the gambit that he hoped for. Fat Gum’s limits get pushed and it looks like he’ll meet his end if Kirishima can’t snap into action. The newly dubbed Red Riot is paralyzed in fear, as he feels useless in this situation. It’s this doubt that prompts a major flashback into Kirishima’s past that shows that these feelings have been prevalent through his entire life.
This whole strategy of combining a flashback into the formative moment’s of a character’s life with a major battle is a structure that works well for My Hero Academia. “Red Riot” is technically a successful example of that approach, but it’s an episode where the flashback material isn’t fulfilling enough to warrant such a lengthy deviation from the fight at hand. This season has already spent a lot of time on Kirishima, so this extensive look into his origin story doesn’t feel as thrilling since this has already been touched on in some capacity.
Perhaps the most interesting detail during this glimpse into Kirishima’s past is that he’s looked at other heroes like Mina Ashido and Midoriya as inspiration. These individuals who are now his peers are part of the reason he was finally able to push himself to go to U.A. High in the first place. Kirishima manages to overcome these heavy insecurities that have always hung over him and he pushes himself into action before it’s too late for Fat Gum. It’s nice that Kirishima can get his groove back, but this is definitely an instance where it would have been more entertaining to just watch a big two-on-two fight play out for the whole episode.
It’s also a very curious decision for My Hero Academia to devote more time to Kirishima when it’s been a while since we’ve really checked in with Deku (he’s in this episode for like a frame, if that that). Kirishima has strangely risen to the forefront this season in what’s already been a very isolated collection of episodes. As great as the snippets of this fight are, it might have been more satisfying to see Deku get pulled into Fat Gum’s void in this two-on-two battle, especially since he hasn’t fought alongside Fat Gum before.
The bulk of “Red Riot” is focused on Kirishima and his struggles, but there’s still a tiny bit of time devoted to the larger mission at hand and the gradual progress that the other heroes are making. There’s some compelling insight that’s provided from a bunch of general underlings within the Shie Hassaikai. Apparently, Chisaki threatened the life of every member who didn’t rush out of the headquarters to help aid in this massive distraction against the heroes. Furthermore, while the Hassaikai is an organization that’s always cared about honor and chivalry above everything else, Chisaki’s recent actions have been erratic and not representative of the group as a whole. Hungry for power, Chisaki continues to do whatever he pleases and the bulk of his organization are too terrified to do anything about it.
This news actually manages to generate a modicum of sympathy for these villains and they’re definitely in a more volatile situation than the antagonists involved with the League of Villains, for instance. It’s all fun and games over there and no children are being forcibly turned into weapons. All of this could possibly lead to a revolt of some kind happening down the road, but as the Shie Hassaikai and the League of Villains get further intertwined, this looks like murky territory. This look into the inner workings of the organization may be brief, but it’s one of the more satisfying aspects of the episode.
“Red Riot” gets the job done in turns of fleshing out Kirishima’s motivations and inspiring him to shake out his insecurities, but it’s not a very complex backstory. This definitely could have been a flashback that takes up half the amount of time and actually gets to showcase more of the fight before jumping back to the past. The conclusion lands, but ending this battle with a few massive blows still isn’t as gratifying as a thoughtful final act to a difficult fight. “Red Riot” isn’t My Hero Academia at its most challenging, but if these more aggressive versions of Kirishima and Fat Gum stick around, then this may have been worthwhile.
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Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.