“You’re right. I just want to destroy.”
There’s an inherent risk of ruining the magic that surrounds certain characters by answering all of the questions that contextualize them—especially when it comes to villains—but My Hero Academia has not only avoided this particular story struggle, but excelled in the territory and turned the challenge into some of the show’s most powerful episodes. They’re the perfect amount of dark and haunting without feeling exploitative or off the mark from what the series should represent.
There is no shortage of villains in the series and My Hero Academia’s “My Villain Academia” story arc has risen to the occasion by choosing some of its more vicious and unstable villains to put under the microscope. The culmination of this is of course Tomura Shigaraki, the head of the League of Villains, the series’ central antagonist, and a character who’s increasingly been positioned as Izuku Midoriya’s dark counterpoint. Previous episodes have provided flashes of Shigaraki’s grim past, but it’s nothing compared to what’s uncovered in “Tenko Shimura: Origin;” an excellent episode that, as its title suggests, there’s a lot more to Tenko “Tomura Shigaraki” Shimura than the audience realizes.
Shigaraki has commanded an air of intimidation ever since his first appearance, largely because the cluster of severed hands that decorate his face is definitely a look that would give villains like Red Skull or Two-Face pause. My Hero Academia casually dropped the bomb of backstory that these hands are actually from the members of Shigaraki’s family; a morbid badge of courage over how much he’s changed. “Tenko Shimura: Origin” is the first time that the specifics of this tragedy get unpacked and it easily ranks up there with the series’ most devastating moments.
Shigaraki’s flashbacks are so heartbreaking because there’s a real sense of calm and happiness in their normal suburban life that the audience knows will decay into ash at a moment’s notice. The complete annihilation of one’s family is enough to break even the most altruistic of heroes. There’s no scenario in which this loss feels acceptable, but “Tenko Shimura: Origin” doesn’t hold back when it comes to the fear, sadness, and shame that dominates the “birth” of Shigaraki.
The episode details that Shigaraki loses everyone–not just his mother and father, but also his grandparents and even his dog–which leaves him in a newly harash world. The most gutting collateral damage from Shigaraki’s burgeoning Quirk is his sister, Hana, who was always there for him. Even after all of this pain it’s still possible to picture a version of Shigaraki that’s able to live a healthy life–possibly even as a hero–if he still had Hana by his side for support. This isn’t a villain who had nobody for support. It’s a villain who destroyed his support and left himself with nobody.
Shigaraki’s past pain helps fuel his current fight against Re-Destro. The Meta Liberation leader inadvertently triggers an epiphany in Shigaraki that leaves him more ready than ever to set the world on fire. Re-Destro preaches over the inherent connection between an individual’s Quirk and the user’s temperament, which in Shigaraki’s case paints the picture of a villain who is only interested in destruction. Re-Destro chastises Shigaraki’s undisciplined rage and that a life full of destruction that doesn’t in turn create anything beneficial isn’t sustainable. Re-Destro isn’t necessarily wrong in this assessment, but it’s still quite powerful that the sheer nature of erasure is enough for Shigaraki. He’s treated like a character who literally has nothing to lose, unlike Re-Destro, which is one of the most terrifying things in the world.
This clash of ideals and Quirks culminates in a sprawling battle that’s beautifully animated where the whole city faces destruction. Shigaraki loses more of the ties to his past as the hands of his family also slowly get destroyed. The destruction of these keepsakes is a satisfying way to provoke Shigaraki’s memories regarding each of these hands’ corresponding family members and the role that they played in his life before he fully committed himself to evil, buried himself in pain, and evolved from Tenko Shimura to Tomura Shigaraki.
After all, satisfaction is an itch that’s very hard to scratch…