My Hero Academia has been one of my favorite superhero comics ever since I took a chance on Vol. 1. Creator Kohei Horikoshi’s unique vision of a world where the majority of citizens have superpowers called Quirks provides ample opportunity for exploration of what it means to be a superhero, as well as what place heroes occupy in society. The series’s first spin-off manga, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, raises a new question: what place do vigilantes have in a society for there are legal pathways for becoming a hero? Vigilantes is written by Hideyuki Furuhashi and illustrated by Betten Court. The series’s first volume, published by Viz Media, collects chapters 1-5. Does this debut installment of Vigilantes live up to the high expectations set by its parent series?
Much like the original My Hero Academia, one of this spin-off’s strongest attributes is its art. Court’s line-work is impressive on multiple fronts. Characters’ facial expressions are well-rendered and this helps sell the dialogue, especially in comedic moments. The volume’s action scenes are also well-drawn, and the flow of motion is stellar throughout. The main character, Koichi Haimawari, has a Quirk that basically amounts to sliding across surfaces at semi-super speed while down on all fours. This looks both humorous and dynamic, as Koichi awkwardly zips along buildings and streets.
Speaking of Koichi, he’s easily the best of the series’s three main characters. He’s always wanted to be a hero but he doesn’t have the power or skills necessary to go pro. As a result, he ends up becoming a vigilante. His costume looks believably home-made, and the design’s homage to All Might is great. It’s an adorable nod to an already known and beloved character in the franchise, and it reflects how Koichi was inspired to pursue heroism.
Unfortunately, the volume’s other main characters are much less likable. Knuckleduster and Pop Step are Koichi’s partners in (well-intentioned) crime, and both of them are generic in terms of personality and design. Knuckleduster is a mysterious, street-hardened strongman, and Pop Step is a highly sexualized pop idol for male characters to drool over. The team’s goals in banding together aren’t explained very well, either. Knuckleduster thrusts his mentorship upon Koichi, and Pop Step joins up for reasons I’m still not sure of.
Many of the trio’s interactions are meant to be humorous, but the jokes frequently fall flat. It’s hard to laugh along with characters’ banter when the idea of them casually sitting around and talking together seems unlikely. There are also several scenes where comedy is meant to be derived from blatant sexual assault, and these uncomfortable moments quickly squander the series’s otherwise lighthearted and fun tone.
When it comes to its villains, Vigilantes is a mixed bag. Most of this volume’s antagonists are individuals who used a Quirk enhancement drug called Trigger. If you’re an X-Men fan, then you can think of the drug as basically being equivalent to Mutant Growth Hormone. Most of the Trigger users seem to have been manipulated by as yet unrevealed forces, so none of them stand out as notable foes in their own right. We finally see a villain who isn’t a one-off towards the volume’s end, which helps build hope that the second volume’s conflicts will seem more consequential.
Also worth mentioning are two of the series’s supporting cast members. There are a couple of super-powered citizens clearly modeled after the X-Men’s Cyclops and Wolverine, and the references made are delightful. The pair is frequently at each other’s throats, and their powers are altered ever so slightly from those of the characters they’re based on. While the series’s main cast and villains lack depth, scenes starring these side characters are charming and hilarious.
Ultimately, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Vol. 1 is a solid but disappointing start to the series. The artwork is great throughout, and the concepts it introduces to the My Hero Academia world are fun to ponder. One of the main characters is likable, but unfortunately the rest of the cast is generic in both design and function. There are also several instances where attempted humor falls flat or downright kills the series’s fun tone. This volume builds enough interest to make further installments worth checking out, but if it didn’t rest on the laurels of My Hero Academia proper then it would probably feel less consequential.
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