Despite the stakes being comparatively lower, episode sixteen of Hero Academia may very well be its high-point, where the series quite literary hits its stride. This latest episode is a free for all race, where recent life and death struggles are replaced by a battle for fame, fortune, and recognition. Theoretically, less is on the line. And yet, it is because of this reduced tension that the episode feels truly compelling. In every other conflict we’ve encountered, the outcome was written in stone. We know our hero will not fail the entrance exam, or be expelled, or ever killed. He is our hero after all. And the same stakes apply to his friends, who would never be eliminated so soon into this sort of Shonen narrative.
But now there is a real uncertainly to how the show will develop, since we’ve reached a challenge that our hero can believably fail. Also, the show has finally found a way of using its sprawling ensemble cast without the show feeling crowded or unfocused. In previous arcs, the structure felt scattered, struggling to keep all the tertiary characters interesting while focusing on the journey of our main characters. But this most recent challenge lets Hero Academia showcase everyone’s eccentricities and powers in interesting ways, while still developing its core narrative. The way the episode achieves this feat in rather clever, having Deku lag behind for most of the race, letting the spotlight wander elsewhere.
This episode of Hero Academia also solves another issue of the show, which is having an episode that feels reasonably full and complete. In other arcs, I was astonished when an episode ended, since it felt like only ten minutes of content. Meanwhile, I thought the halfway point in this episode was the end, since I was so used to episodes leaving conflicts unresolved. But instead, we get the entire race as one, self-contained event, without it ever feeling rushed.
In short, I can distill this episode into a single word: fun. Fun was what I had expected and yearned for from the very first episode, but only gotten in concentrated doses. This episode was the first time I found myself totally entertained every single second, and wishing for more so badly by the end. In summary, I can only hope that this episode is an indicator of what is to come.