By this point, we’ve seen plenty of Hero society’s failings: the way it engendered complacency and homogeneity within the populace, how the cultural ideal of heroism created a rigid definition of villainy that isolated people who needed help the most. Yet those have mostly been broad, unintended consequences of well-meaning people inhabiting the complex system of an interconnected world. MHA’s perspective on its of its super-powered world has doubtlessly grown more cynical over its run, but it’s never presented the current system as outright, intentionally malicious – until now.
Enter Lady Nagant, who hasn’t just seen the dark side of being a “good guy”, but actively served it as a government-sponsored assassin. Like Hawks, she was hand-picked by the Safety Commission to become their own personal hero, ready to do their wetwork, all in the name of preserving the immaculate appearance of peace. While All Might and other heroes stood before the public, conquering disasters with reassuring smiles and indomitable strength, Nagant was snuffing out any evidence to the contrary; corrupt heroes, conspiring villains, and doubtlessly anyone else the government deemed a threat to the world’s carefully manufactured order. She wanted to be a hero, but instead became an exterminator, propping up a version of the world so fragile and artificial it might as well be painted on glass.
It’s an extremely heavy topic to bring up, even for this exceedingly heavy arc, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I appreciate that the series isn’t holding any punches in tearing down its own premise, and doing so in a way that’s far more robust than typical “dark” superhero stories. Yet I’m also doubtful that it has the time or scope to really unpack all the baggage that a government assassinating civilians brings with it. Deku’s got an unbreakable heroic spirit and an empathetic heart, but he’s not a character equipped to fundamentally reform or overthrow a corrupt government, y’know? Technically the Safety Commission is out of commission (heh) at the moment, but there’s nothing to suggest it won’t be back and up to the same tactics if the heroes ultimately prevail. MHA has managed to thread the needle on a lot of difficult topics, but I fear this one might be more than the story can tackle while preserving the mold of a shonen battle series.
That’s most likely why this episode chooses to zero in on Nagant’s personal conflict. Nagant is so jaded, so understandably disillusioned with the world she bloodied her hand trying to preserve, that she’s resigned herself to helping AFO. At least his malice is upfront and honest. If the world is going to be rotten, better to pull back the curtain and let everyone see the violence that’s been just out of view of the whole time, if only to keep some other starry-eyed kid from being tricked like she was. It’s little wonder why she sees Deku’s heroism as the naive lip service of a child with more power than understanding. After all, she was once the same way, had the same dream of helping the whole world, only to have that dream exploited, twisted, and fed into a meat grinder for the sake of a hypocritical greater good.
That drama is really what sells this fight, as the actual battle is pretty simple, and over shockingly quickly. There’s certainly tension, with just how fast and dangerous Nagant’s bullets are, but it mostly amounts to a broader showcase of Deku’s mix & match Quirk loadout. It’s cool to see Deku still learning, and his Faux 100% moves feature some standout animation cuts, but without the flashbacks this fight would just be five minutes of Deku implementing some genius combat tactics and getting grazed with bullets. On top of that, Fa Jin is kind of disappointing in its redundancy, providing a narrow and situational boost that feels way less unique than the other new Quirks. At least it looks cool.
It’s what Deku does after the fight that really matters, though. Nagant might see him as the hero-worshiping kid he was at the start of the series, but the audience knows his desire to help others has been battle-tested again and again. If he’s willing to reach out a hand to Shigaraki, then it’s no surprise at all that he would do the same for Nagant, grasping that blood-soaked, deadly right arm without a second thought, and reminding her that no matter how badly she’s been misled, no matter how dark the world around her is, her wish to help others was always true and still worth preserving now. Deku’s not the kind of person that can institute fundamental governmental reform, but he can most certainly offer help to those within his reach.
There’s somebody else within reach now, too. Disarmed (badumtish) as he is, Chisaki was never going to be a threat in this fight, so he instead serves as a stress test for Deku’s philosophy. The guy’s in a miserable state now, but when he had power he abused it in unfathomably awful ways. If there’s any villain besides AFO that the audience would want to see bite it, it’s him. Yet Deku saves Overhaul without a moment’s hesitation, utilizing the same speed and power he once used to pummel him into the pavement. Even when the dust settles, he makes it clear that he’s willing to help the man reverse what he did to the old Shie Hassaikai boss – so long as he’s willing to atone for his crimes against Eri as well. His help is not offered unconditionally, but it’s still an offer few of us would consider for even a moment.
That’s a whole lot to pack into an episode, and while I have my misgivings, it nonetheless makes for riveting television. Deku’s on his own now, trying to take on the world’s greatest threat, and trying to save his mortal enemy at the same time. He’s doubtlessly going to be tested on both his strength and resolve, and if this episode is any indication, that road will only get harder as he moves forward.