– by Kyle Lesniewicz

I’ll cut to the chase: volume eleven is the pinnacle of My Hero Academia to date. The characters have been properly introduced and are progressing toward their goals. The lair of the big bads has been breached, and it’s time either for their stunning takedown, or one blistering reality check. Or, if you’re a storyteller with the gusto of one Kohei Horikoshi, both.

I haven’t done the research, but I’m positive that this volume has the least text in the series to date. “End of the Beginning, Beginning of the End” is brimming with splashes and two-page spreads. From dramatically destroyed landscapes to acutely choreographed exchanges of might, there’s no shortage of masterful artwork in this book. Unlike was the case in my last review, the minimal use of white space here is appropriately bleak, the hopelessness of those moments only made possible by the wealth of detail that precedes them.

All For One takes the stage as the old guard’s pillar of evil. Despite his decrepit state, he tactically wields the powers of every hero that has fallen by his hands, amplifying and combining them into an ever-evolving chimera of imposing dread. His appearance signals a pivotal moment in history, and so appropriately he can’t help himself but to taunt All Might into losing his composure. The tension in the panels between All Might and All For One speaks for itself, but peppered between blows is a tantalizing trail of their decorated rivalry. It was All For One that dealt All Might the wound that has rapidly been dwindling the flame of One For All, yet until now he has reserved a trump card: a disturbing truth withheld from All Might for years, patiently kept until this precise moment to break his spirit.

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The psychological angle of All For One cannot be understated. For a character who gets such a comparatively small window of the spotlight in this series, I found his calculations haunting. Despite the outcome, the villain speaks frankly about the stories we tell: for a hero to succeed, he must have a tragic past to overcome. Acknowledging this cliché, and pinning All Might’s failure to complete his “purpose” as a mentor, nearly breaks the fourth wall. In the end, who truly has prevailed when in conventional terms it is All For One who has succeeded in putting Shigaraki on the path to revenge?

Midoriya and company take something of a backseat for this ride, but the volume would not be complete without their hero worship. All Might represents the symbol of peace for mankind: the plight of nameless characters whose lives depend upon his victory here is touching. Yet this can’t compare to the tremendous emotional toll that watching his role model made low takes upon Midoriya. He watches his mentor fight for his life knowing that not only is it his last, but that the changing of the guard has abruptly come and he isn’t ready. The most moving panels of this volume are those juxtaposing Midoriya’s desperation with Bakugo’s, for though the duo are usually at each other’s throats, at the end of the day All Might is the reason that both of them became heroes.

If I have one real gripe about this volume, it’s not really on Horikoshi himself, but on the decision to begin this volume with chapter ninety and end with ninety-nine. This obviously follows the pattern of previous releases, but I wish that this arc had been better anticipated, for if volume eleven had begun with chapter eighty-eight and ended with ninety-seven then I think it would have been a perfect standalone narrative. All Might versus All For One really begins with his appearance at the hideout, and I really wanted to put the book down, exhale, and let the conclusion of this bout sink in rather than read two comic relief chapters about dormitories.

If your interest in My Hero Academia fell off before this point, I guarantee volume eleven will pull you back in. It’s the grand finale to a story we only brushed with, but at the same time pulls the curtain on an even grander story to come, laying the lore and foundation of the stage for the greatest hero’s journey. There’s little more I could ask for from a comic.

Grade: A

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