Since time immemorial (roughly around the 1940s), superheroes have grasped the hearts and minds of children and non-cynics the world over. Few, however, continue to represent the pinnacle idealism of the fictitious breed. Serving as mirrors into the struggles of mere mortals, heroes serve as examples and warnings, cross-sections into how one should treat their fellow humans, despite any differences they may hold. And that is a beautiful thing, a guidebook of social interaction that also includes a justified scrap now and then. But what happens when the original existence of a superhero is combined with the flawed personifications we have come to expect? What happens when the infallible is felled, when the image of perfection is tarnished? What happens to idealism then? Well, for those resolute enough in their champions, perfect and ideal they remain.
Since we first entered the world of My Hero Academia, All Might has stood as a bastion against the forces of evil. Though his weakened state was known to a select few, to the world he stood as justice personified, an ever-present guardian whose mere existence quelled the rise of villainy. But now they know. Now everybody knows that even the best-of-the-best have their limits and every smile is fleeting. Ending last episode with his muscular form waning, things go from bad to worse as we see All Might backed into a corner by All For One. For the first time ever, we see All Might’s true form adorned in his hero garb, truly driving home the separation we had taken for granted. Sure we’ve seen All Might switch between forms on the fly, but seeing that costume so empty is so much more disheartening. Nobody cares if a skinny guy wears a baggy white shirt and cargo pants, but for a hero costume to appear so ill-fitting…just hurts. This is on top of the simple fact that All Might was forced back into his weakened state, seemingly lacking the power to even defend against All For One. Luckily for us, fictitious and not, seemingly is a word Shown series love to undermine.
With the absolute confirmation that All Might’s power now rests within Midoriya, we are left to witness the Symbol of Peace literally fighting his greatest nemesis on nothing but fumes. With ember symbology out the wazoo, there is no grey area left to hope in, All Might’s time is fading and we are witness to the closing number. And what a number it is. Despite being able to power up only a single arm, All Might refused to give in and treats us to a fight more archetypal to Midoriya than we have ever seen from him. Twisted and bruised, his damaged arm is as horrifying as it is amazing, reminding us of the pain these heroes go through to see justice prevail. The sacrifice of said arm also gives way to the greatest attack in All Might’s arsenal, the aptly dubbed: United States of Smash. Is it cheesy? Heck to the yes, but oh how I do love it. Similar to Midoriya’s 1,000,000% Delaware Detroit Smash, it reminds us that despite the depth we can glean from these moments of exaggerated humanity, the notion of heroes is still child-like at heart and infinitely fun in practice. Still, such an assertion can be a touch hard to make when surrounded by an onslaught of brazen and heartless evil.
As stealing Quirks and controlling a vast network of villains wasn’t enough, All For One outright confirms that Shigaraki is related to All Might’s mentor, Nana Shimura’s grandson to be precise. Solely for this reason, All For One moulded Shigaraki, shaping him into a force of chaos who longed to see All Might fall…which is seriously messed up. Also, All For One killed Nana. So there’s that. It’s almost comical, in a deeply twisted sort of way, just how petty the Symbol of Evil seems to be. Though horrifically grandiose in his actions, his modus operandi seems entirely to be screwing with All Might. Though an admittedly effective technique, as we also learn that same manner of psychological assault is what allowed All For One to injure All Might all those years ago, it is a far more personal motivation than any villain thus far. Sure, All For One is a large-scope villain who plans several moves ahead, but his grudge towards the Symbol of Peace is real, most likely because of how his face is almost entirely scar tissue. I admit, that would make me pretty nettled as well. Said lack of face is also rather ironic in the grand scheme of things. Though appearing in the flesh, the villain of villains, the counter to All Might and all things good yet remains a faceless force of evil. Sure he cuts one heck of an imposing figure, but we know nothing of him. Even a name is forgone in favour of simply calling him All For One. Though no longer a mysterious flashback, he remains as enigmatic as before, which is…unsettling? I mean, it is unsettling, but it’s also so many other things that I can’t really sum it all up.
On the vague topic of flashbacks and the splintered Shimura family tree, this episode also gives way to a little glimpse into young Toshinori Yagi, the boy who would one day be known to us as All Might. Just to truly drive home the link between the Symbol of Peace and Midoriya, we see a young Toshinori spilling his heart out to the current holder of One For All, explaining what keeps a Quirkless boy striving towards his dream of being a hero. Though the Quirkless origin connection could seem a touch heavy-handed, there is enough personality to both Toshinori and Midoriya that each fated meeting feels unique. Special. Having Nana be the source of the smiling hero mentality is also surprisingly sweet, showing that it is not only One For All that is passed from mentor to student. This starkly contrasts the inverse half of this Quirk duology, wherein All For One hoards all he can and imposes his will onto others. But we all pretty much knew that, what with the evil and all.
So, a heck of a lot happened this episode didn’t it? All For One is defeated, One For All now beats in a single person and the Symbol of Peace is exposed as the human being he always has been. Still, the day has been saved, no matter how Pyrrhic the victory may seem. I also have to give some serious credit to the random masses, never once losing faith in their champion, cheering him on despite grievous injury to body, heart and environment. Seriously, that woman was almost crushed by a building and then destroyed by a pressurised wind blast and the first thing she says is, “Keep going, All Might. We need you.” If one person can inspire that level of faith, that level of trust and comfort, then maybe young Toshinori Yagi was never crazy at all. We’ve seen it ourselves, that one person can change the world by simply existing as they see fit, that a pillar of support can hold the world above the tides of evil that ebb and flow beneath it, that even stripped of all power, with every weakness exposed, there can and will ever exist the Symbol of Peace.