When I reviewed the last volume of My Hero Academia, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoying the U.A. School Festival arc. I hadn’t enjoyed it from week to week in Shonen Jump, but it read better in fewer sittings. Vol. 20 is out now and it wraps up the festival, as well as marks the beginning of an Endeavor-heavy story line. Plus, Hawks makes his debut. Does the festival end on a good note, and does the new arc kick of effectively? Is My Hero Academia Vol. 20 good?
Art-wise Kohei Horikoshi and his assistants deliver more of the polished, dynamic action we’ve come to love. The inking and outlines are always crisp and pleasing to look at, and the flow of action from panel to panel is effectively rendered. Of course, the characters’ facial expressions and body language also continue to impress. From intensity in the heat of battle to holding back tears, Deku in particular has some great faces. Some new characters make their debuts in this volume, and most of their designs are awesome. Hawks is a fun spin on the idea of a winged hero, and Wash is…an adorable washing machine. Fans who follow MHA from week to week might remember chapter 182 being rough to the point of illegibility when it first came out in Jump, but thankfully it’s been cleaned up considerably and its depiction of Class 1-A’s performance is now a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the first third or so of this volume isn’t up to snuff story-wise. Horikoshi tries his best to flesh Gentle Criminal and La Brava out as characters, but it’s just not enough. We get some rushed flashbacks to their childhoods and first meetings, but very little time is spent on their actual exploits as a team. As a result their bond doesn’t seem strong enough to carry the heavy narrative weight placed upon it.
Deku also talks about the battle being the toughest he’s ever fought, which flies in the face of virtually every other arc in the series having a much more deadly showdown. Deku talks specifically about his similarities to Gentle Criminal, but again, the writing doesn’t actually build up the foundation necessary for this to work. While the new duo of villains made a decent first impression last volume, the story shoots itself in the foot by trying to hype up all the least important aspects of the conflict.
Fortunately, the rest of the book is much more well-written. The school festival itself is delightful, full of gags and the Class 1-A students just being kids and having fun. There are also some poignant interactions between Deku, Togata, and Eri. With that said, it’s the Endeavor-centric arc that’s most interesting here. Or rather, all the characters around him. Hawks brings an approach and personality to heroism unlike any other we’ve seen in the series thus far, and there are also some brief but affecting scenes involving the Todoroki family. The beginning of this arc also does a good job establishing where the series is at narratively. The fall of All Might has had huge implications which are really felt here. There’s also some foreshadowing to the arc currently running in Shonen Jump, largely through small details that could easily go unnoticed on an initial read.
All in all, My Hero Academia Vol. 20 is a good time. The Endeavor arc gets off to a good start, charming new characters debut, and the art is polished throughout. The Gentle Criminal battle may end in a disappointing fashion but there’s still a lot of fun to be had here.