After nearly a full cour of nonstop action and escalation, last week represented a turning point in this big, extended (by this series’ standards) story. The minute-to-minute action slowed down considerably, and the focus largely shifted to individual character conflicts coming to a head. That’s also true of this episode, where the amount of tangible Fight Things that happens is almost too short to bother with: Toga flees her fight with Uraraka, Machia arrives at Shigaraki’s side, and a last-minute arrival shows up to potentially turn the tides. But as somebody who’s always found MHA’s character drama to be its most compelling element, this is easily the best episode of season six so far.
First is last week’s cliffhanger with Toga and Uraraka. I’ll be honest, while I like both of these characters on their own, their connection has always been one-sided, and not particularly compelling. Sure, there’s something to be drawn between how Uraraka chose to put her feelings for Deku aside vs how Toga refuses to suppress anything anymore, but they haven’t exactly had the full-court press of thematic build up that other Hero/Villain pairs have gotten, and that made this confrontation disappointing at first blush. Toga does most of the talking, while Uraraka is understandably more concerned with not getting stabbed while trying to catch the person who’s just lured her into a knife fight. For pretty much the whole scuffle, Uravity doesn’t even understand what they’re talking about. So when she gives a pretty straightforward and simple answer to all the weird half-questions Toga keeps throwing at her, it felt perfunctory. Of course the answer she’d give is that she wants to save as many people as possible – what would lead anyone to believe otherwise? But it turns out that was half the point, and ties into the increasingly complicated knot of admiration at the core of so many of our characters.
Since the sports festival, Uraraka’s wanted to be like Deku. First to have the strength to win fights like him, then to be able to save lives. But before that, her goal as a hero was just to make money. Yes, it was in service of supporting her family, but at the time she viewed heroism as a job, the same way you’d imagine most people in MHA’s world would. Her arc through the series so far, as frustrating as it’s been at times, is about her developing a deeper and more personal motivation for being a hero, and it’s here where the next step in that evolution becomes clear. For just a moment, in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, she sees Toga not as a villain or an enemy, but just another person, and she hesitates at the other girl’s tears. It’s brief, but it’s just enough to end the fight with Toga’s escape, and it leaves Uraraka with some obvious lingering questions. Much like Deku’s impulsive attempt to help Shigaraki last week, it may be occurring to Uraraka that saving as many people as possible doesn’t just include fellow heroes and bystanders. And that’s what made this whole side of the story click for me, as it starts to tie into the larger questions of what “makes” somebody a villain in this world. Yet somehow it’s still just an aperitif to the main course of the episode.
Dabi’s true identity was something fans had guessed at years ago, practically from his first appearance, to the point where I doubt this reveal took anybody by surprise. For one thing, in the subsequent weeks of this chapter of the manga, it became the worst-kept secret in online fandom. But even if you dodged all that, if you know anything about superhero stories – and especially Horikoshi’s fondness for Spider-man – you probably picked up on all the clues scattered through the last couple seasons. But a twist being obvious is usually a sign it was properly set up, and the greater consequences of this big reveal – and how Dabi goes about it – are what really makes this whole moment sing.
There’s of course the immediate, personal ramifications. Just as he’s steeling his resolve to take on Gigantomachia, puffing up his chest about taking on the responsibilities of being #1, Endeavor comes face to face with the charred and vengeful ghost of his worst actions, and it shatters him. The man spends the rest of the episode in shock, trying to get his well-done brain meat to process seeing his dead son in flesh, burned to the bone with bitter fury, all while Dabi takes sadistic glee in seeing his old man broken. More pressing is watching the rest of the family react to all of this, from Rei and the middle siblings staring aghast at Dabi’s broadcast, while Shoto has to somehow handle seeing his own brother ready to immolate him, all while daddy dearest is paralyzed with guilt. After everything else this family has gone through, old wounds have been ripped wide open and held to a flame, and it’s anyone’s guess how they’ll respond now.
Then there’s Dabi himself, who’s shown plenty of times that he’s a fan of bringing pain, but finally lets loose here. The sheer glee in his voice, the episode’s titular dance, and the energy communicated in every sadistic sneer – it’s all perfect. Even if you didn’t know the twisted history between him and his father here, you’d fully understand every ounce of simultaneous anger and joy Toya’s feeling. There is unrestrained ecstasy in all of this as he’s not only confronting the man who destroyed him, but enacting a long-simmering plan to completely annihilate the guy’s reputation in the process. Endeavor’s atonement has been a controversial element of the story for ages, but for right now no matter which side you’re on there’s something to enjoy here. If you buy into his attempts at bettering himself, then it’s shocking to see that all torn down, with Dabi dragging every nasty moment of his past into the light. And if you don’t like Endeavor, it’s got to be cathartic to see him finally face his own sins and crumble beneath the burden. Either way, it makes for some fantastic drama, building to a perfect crescendo.
Speaking of sins, those are now fully on display for the entire world, and that may just be the nail in the coffin of the Hero status quo. Sure, things were already in tatters with everything that’s happened this arc, but seeing the fetid underbelly of the top hero has to be that extra bit more demoralizing to the general public. This wasn’t a failure of duty, like the kids getting involved in the battle. This was not a mistake made in a power struggle like letting Shigaraki wake up. This was a personal, moral failure for the person that was positioned and lauded as a societal pillar, the successor to the Symbol of Peace. It is a perfectly delivered death blow to whatever trust or credibility heroes in this story once had, and it makes me all the more curious about what will happen once this fight is over.