This review contains spoilers for My Hero Academia Season 4, episode 15, “Smoldering Flames,” aka episode 78 overall. To refresh your memory of where we left off, check out our review of MHA Season 4, episode 14.
At its midpoint, episode 14, “Bright Future”, abandoned the clean-up and the aftermath of the raid on Shie Hassaikai HQ to place the spotlight on Shigaraki in a scene that was soaked in dread and gave him back some of the terror that once defined him. Episode 15, “Smoldering Flames” took us back to that scene in its opening, recounting it more or less as it happened and giving Shigaraki the equivalent of the action movie money shot where the hero walks away from an explosion, carefree in the face of chaos. It’s a serviceable intro to the episode that reminds us there is still – always – a threat to face.
“Smoldering Flames” also reveals My Hero Academia’s new OP, and what an utter delight it is. The show has never had an OP like this: one that foregoes any action shots at all, barely gives screen time to any character who isn’t in Class 1-A, and could easily convince us that this is a high school slice-of-life anime, rather than a shonen battle anime. Casual clothes, happy banter, pop-art colours, and a bouncy accompanying melody all work together to encourage fans to kick back and enjoy the light-hearted antics of Class 1-A that it promises. A final funny touch added to this OP is that, once again, Deku enjoys all the sakuga and yet doesn’t actually do anything action-heavy with it. Is this Bones trolling us? Maybe, but it’s hilarious.
As for the episode itself, it is cleverly bookended by scenes that advance the arc, centred around Gran Torino and the legacy of All For One. But everything in-between is intimate, character-focused introspection that drifts through a fog of gentle optimism for the future. The OP implies that this next arc will be a light-hearted one, but this episode doesn’t throw us into that atmosphere in a jarring manner, after the events of the first half of the season. Instead, it begins in the same sombre place that episode 14 left off from, and slowly builds to an optimistic place by the end.
The bulk of the episode’s perspective rests on Deku and his interactions with his classmates. In the first half, he visits Mirio in his room, with the two sharing a layered heart-to-heart as Deku grapples with projecting an outward positivity and trying to understand and process the real dark aftereffects of their fight. In fact, the entire episode, in one way or another, is about how this fight with Overhaul will have lasting repercussions on everyone who was involved in it.
That’s something My Hero Academia excels at: From the scars on Deku’s hands that never go away to the permanent physical and emotional changes we see in characters like All Might and now Mirio, change in My Hero Academia is lasting and carries real consequences.
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This episode really allows fans to take stock of this, as we see more than once how Deku has changed and grown so far. The fights he has won or lost and the people he has worked with have actively changed his personality, his view of the world, and even his body.
The episode might not be an action-heavy one, and it might not do much to set up a new arc, but it is an intimate and moving installment that celebrates the show’s core strengths. In its second half, we enjoy a reunion between the members of Class 1-A who were in the heat of the fight (Midoriya, Ochako, Tsuyu, and Kirishima) and the rest of the class. It’s here that we get to see such a broad blend of emotion on display.
Both Bakugo and Todoroki, for example, are keeping everyone at arm’s length and acting aloof. While the rest of the class seems confused by this, it’s clear to us that they’re jealous and feeling a lot of pent-up impotence from not getting the chance to flex their own hero muscles in the recent arc. It’s clever characterisation of two boys we’ve barely seen a peep from all season long – though it’s clear that’s all about to change.