My Hero Academia: Vigilantes Volume 1 // Review
Every once in a blue moon, an anime or manga franchise comes along that proves to be so universally enjoyable that it also becomes huge in the United States. Things like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Attack on Titan enjoy some incredible popularity between Japan and the USA. One of the most recent ones to reach that level of popularity is Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia.
Focusing on young hero fanboy Izuku Midoriya, My Hero Academia shows off his antics in a world of super-powered people, like if the X-Men weren’t shunned or hated for their powers. Known as Quirks, a person’s power can manifest in all sorts of bizarre ways - ranging from having a laser-shooting belly button to making explosions through the sweat on their hands. My Hero Academia winds up being a High School and Super Hero action-adventure with tons of quirky characters and fantastic action, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see a spinoff book…except that most manga publications never do that, much less with a different creative team running at the same time!
Coming out of left field, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes is written by Hideyuki Furuhashi with art by Betten Court. Rather than focusing on the adventures of high schoolers with incredible powers becoming officially licensed heroes by the government, Furuhashi and Betten Court focus on a set of heroes with less than useful powers on the unlicensed hero side of things.
The main character of Vigilantes is Koichi Haimwari, a 19 year old college student. His Quirk, known as Slide and Glide, allows him to skitter Along any surface at up to 10 Miles an hour, so long as three of his limbs are touching any surface. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that great for being a hero, despite Koichi’s desires. So instead of becoming a licensed hero, he strikes out at night as Mr. Nice Guy!
However, his hobby of being a hero is interrupted once the brutal hero Knuckleduster stops a more serious crime in front of him. With that simple chance meeting, Koichi’s story truly begins. Drafted to become a better hero whether he likes it or not, Koichi and Knuckleduster are joined by another illegal hero, Pop Step, a pop idol who can bounce really high.
The entire concept would work incredibly well as a solo series, but the connections to the core series My Hero Academia actually make for a stronger story. This is akin to the Defenders shows running on Netflix vs the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and takes effort to show what the equivalent of street level heroes are for the MHA universe.
As an American reader will also notice, there are a lot of tributes to American superheroes - as well as tributes to heroes from Japan. Mr Nice Guy evolves into The Crawler, a non-insect tribute to Spider-Man. Knuckleduster is an homage to Batman, and was specifically created to be the rival to Superman’s counterpart in All Might. Pop Step actually comes from an obscure Japanese heroine named Shadow Lady, while a pair of recurring delinquents are literally hooligan versions of Cyclops and Wolverine of the X-Men. The authors aren’t trying to hide this, and freely admit such during the character profile pages. Luckily, it’s all in the execution rather than the concept that these tributes become actual characters.
The writing here is top-notch. Koichi is a lovable loser lacking the angst of many modern heroes, but also lacking the intense desire to do good that made Izuku Midoriya a typical manga hero. Since this is the opening volume, much of the storyline is a series of single chapters introducing characters and slowly revealing the first threat, ‘instant villains’ created by the drug, Trigger. It’s an interesting concept, and a nice spin on artificial powers. Overall, the execution is great and takes what could have been a very boring or redundant concept and makes it enjoyable.
The art is where this book really shines. Despite working in a different art style from Kohei Horikoshi, all the new characters look like they could belong in the main book. Once the prerequisite guest-stars show up from the main series, they look like they were taken right from the original manga. However, the combat is a little more dirty, a little more rushed, and gives off the feel of a character who doesn’t really want to fight. This helps make Vigilantes feel like it’s own creation, despite using the same world as the main Academia book.
This is one of those rare spin off books that can appeal to people who may not like the original. A different cast with different writers makes for a different flavor on the same experience. In this way, Vigilantes is the chocolate ice cream to My Hero Academia’s vanilla: both are great, but someone is going to prefer one over the other.