This review contains spoilers for My Hero Academia Season 4, episode 16, “Win Those Kids’ Hearts,” aka episode 79 overall. To refresh your memory of where we left off, check out our review of MHA Season 4, episode 15.
Until now, Season 4 of My Hero Academia has neglected some of its most endearing protagonists in favour of focusing on the villain Overhaul and the hero duo of Deku and Lemillion. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s refreshing to finally have the spotlight shine on Todoroki and Bakugo, arguably the two most compelling members of Class 1-A. This excitement makes it all the more disappointing, however, when “Win Those Kids’ Hearts” turns out to be a slow and uneventful mess.
This episode is not without its merits, with themes that are intriguing and worth exploring. Todoroki and Bakugo are on their provisional hero licence training course, with Endeavor and All Might watching over them. A group of delinquent and out-of-control kids have been let loose, untamed by their teacher, and it is up to Todoroki, Bakugo, and a few members of Shiketsu High School to get through to these kids and, as the title explains, win their hearts.
This premise is solid. It leans into what My Hero Academia does best: show the multifaceted aspects of heroism and what it means to be good, to be a worthy and successful hero. Todoroki and Bakugo are both students who struggle with self-expression, with promoting confidence and assurance. They are two very different characters with similar flaws: they might be heroes with noble intentions and aspirations (yes, even Bakugo), but they don’t have a brand; an image. As pro heroes, they would not inspire faith in the citizens they would be duty-bound to protect.
And so, their task of getting through to a class of delinquent, vindictive, and wayward children is an intriguing one that should really lend itself to some interesting hurdles. And getting over those hurdles could lead to some great character growth that will take them one step closer to true heroism. The problem, at least for this episode – since there’s still more to come, is that all we have right now is that premise. It is slowly and clumsily set up, with dialogue and plotting that make it unclear exactly what is happening. And when the episode’s events get properly underway, it suffers from near cringe-inducing pacing issues.
It’s an episode that isn’t particularly eventful. But that shouldn’t be an issue; My Hero Academia often excels at still making its slower and more introspective episodes pack an emotional punch and feel like they’re worth your time. This episode lacks any of that. Instead, it seems to be paranoid about its own uneventfulness, and so relies on constant dizzying cuts that shift the action from character to character for no reason and for fear of having the audience become bored. It also suffers some dreadfully lazy comedy and corner-cutting animation throughout.
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“Win Those Kids’ Hearts” is an insecure episode, despite having a really excellent concept that it just fails to execute on. The idea of learning to be a layered and complex hero who must be able to inspire trust in people is a great one. It’s reminiscent of how, in Mockingjay, winning the war proves to be as much about propaganda as it is about actual fighting and strategizing. Being a hero here is about how you tackle ordinary people as well as villains and monsters. It’s a great approach to storytelling that amounts to nothing in its execution. But there is still more to come, so here’s hoping this plot thread finds its groove.
The presence of Endeavor is a stand-out aspect to this episode, however. The theme of hero branding is heavy-handedly but effectively doubled down on in the episode’s crowning moment: a discussion between Endeavor and All Might in which Endeavor admits that, even though he is now in the number one spot and he is stopping an enormous number of crimes, the frequency of criminal acts is still rising because the “symbol of peace” is gone. It’s Endeavor coming to understand that heroism isn’t merely about actions, but also about ideas; about branding and spreading a philosophy that permeates the very culture we live in.
All Might was the number one hero not because he was the strongest but because he was an embodiment of purity, goodwill, honesty, truth, justice – all of the things which the average person respects and admires in a hero. Endeavor coming to understand that at such a late stage in his career is a powerful emotional blow that really lands, and, in many ways, it saves the episode. It reinforces the theme and makes it clear to us what the stakes are for Todoroki and Bakugo. That said, pretty much every other scene in the episode still feels awkward and lazy in its execution.