My Hero Academia: School Briefs, Vol. 6

By Kouhei Horikoshi and Anri Yoshi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Caleb Cook.

I’m not sure if this is the final volume of School Briefs. But it’s certainly the last one to date, coming out in Japan in October 2021. The stories take place in that nebulous period after the internship with Endeavor but before the massive war that takes up the rest of the series. If there is another volume, it may wait till after the main series has ended, as light and fluffy stories really don’t fit with the current plotline, and there’s no “gap” to put them. If this is the final volume, it has the strengths and weaknesses of most MHA spinoffs. It tries to focus on characters who get less attention but doesn’t succeed that often, it can’t really affect any of the canon plotlines or characterization so tends to be fairly pointless, and it’s still trying to get us to like Mineta, which is simply not going to happen, sorry. That sad, there are a few stories here that proved to be a decent read, and that’s all you can ask for with a spinoff.

The stories are: 1) as part of a setsubun-themed training exercise, Bakugo is ordered to make friends with Eri, which requires him to not be a constant boiling cloud of rage, something that is very difficult for him; 2) The 1-A girls are making Valentine’s Chocolate, but are waylaid by a girl who wants them to give chocolate to 1-A’s Prince Charming”… whoever that is; 3) Several of the guys decide to use some of their break to go mountain climbing, since U-A happens to have its own snowy mountain range; 4) Eri has never celebrated Shichi-go-san day, and the desire to celebrate wars with her wavering sense of self-worth. Can Shinso and a cat help? 5) the business course students are making promo videos, and 1-A and 1-B are asked to act in them… much to their horror; 6) The UA teachers have a final drinking party and the book reminds us that Midnight is about to be killed.

I despised the Mineta chapter, partly as it got in the way of some (theoretical) Valentine’s shipping, but mostly as it wants us to find Mineta being a sexist creep funny. The best chapters were the ones that were allowed to focus on character, unsurprisingly. Eri’s attempts to be useful to her new family are heartwarming but also painful to see, reminding us of the trauma she’s been through in the past. Bakugo also does very well here, finally being forced to understand that Izuku reaching out his hand to help is not meant to be some sort of pity thing, but just who he is. This is a good setup for Bakugo’s eventual apology in the main series. As for the “video” chapter, it went on far too long, and was not all that funny, but we did manage to see Kodai say more words in this book than she has in the entire series. Likely as her video had to do with a magical girl team, which is lightly related to her sentai obsessions.

As noted, the novel ends with a bittersweet chapter showing Midnight giving everyone some expensive sake she bought, and reminding the reader that this is the end of the light, fluffy stuff. It lends gravitas to an otherwise up-and-down book.

My Hero Academia: School Briefs, Vol. 5

By Kouhei Horikoshi and Anri Yoshi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Caleb Cook.

There is a certain give and take with adaptations like these. The author of these light novels is Anri Yoshi, not Kouhei Horikoshi, and they are allowed to do some things but not others because, well, this is an ongoing manga and there is a limit to what one can do in a side story that won’t break the main story. Thus, in the last volume we saw Shinso look disparagingly at Mineta and wonder why he wasn’t expelled yet, but that’s all he did because the actual answer is Horikoshi has admitted he loves to write Mineta. This volume dances around the many revelations about the Todoroki family we’ve had since the last one, but does not actually allow the family to meet up in full again, because, well, the manga covers those times. That said, there’s still good stuff here. We see Izuku and Bakugo bond as much as they’re ever going to. We see the reader struggling to remember which classmate Shoji is. Oh yes, and we see Monoma straight up almost murder 3/4 of the cast, then try to cover it up.

The book has 5 larger stories interspersed with short vignettes of Jiro, Asui, Uraraka, and Yaoyorozu going home for the holidays. These are mostly short but cute, with some ship tease (and ship sinking) and a brief horror when you realize Momo’s parents are even worse than she is in regards to money sense. In the main stories: a) ida, Kirishima, Shoji and Tokoyami explore an underground dungeon under UA, filled with weird traps; b) The faculty all try to give Eri Christmas presents at the same time without waking her up; c) The Todoroki siblings get together for New Year’s, and Shoto realizes he is a terrible cook; d) Izuku and Bakugou try to mend the relationship between two fighting kids which is a mirror of their own; and e) after the 1-A hot pot party begins (as seen in the manga), 1-B show up and the party becomes a competition, then a yamanabe party… with potentially fatal consequences.

The stories get better as they go along, with the start of the book being the weaker side. The best are the stories with our “main three” heroes, as they dig into the deeper characterization we’ve seen from the manga and examine the tortured relationship Endeavor still has with his family (and the book does not shy away from using the word abuse). Bakugo too is very well used here, still angry at Izuku for anything and everything but realizing that this is mostly on him and trying not to actually make it worse. The most bonkers story is the last one, where Monoma accidentally feeds poison mushrooms to 3/4 of the cast, then the ones not affected have to go out into a blizzard and find the antidote. It’s good development for Kaminari, and has the best joke in the entire book (Shiozaki’s ingredient for the yamanabe), but I felt the author had trouble finding the balance Monoma desperately needs to be fun and not irritating, and the “please cover this up” ending left me slapping my head.

Still, overall I thought this was a decent volume in the series, which can never be as good as its source but is good enough.

My Hero Academia: School Briefs, Vol. 4

By Kouhei Horikoshi and Anri Yoshi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Caleb Cook.

These books have gotten stronger as they go on, which is a good thing, and also expected of a tie-in series – they’ve gotten better at character development as there’s been more in the main series, and the novel author has more to draw on. The book takes place, with one exception (the first chapter takes place during Vol. 15) around the school festival arc, which conveniently makes it tie into the current anime as well. We get chapters showing the preparations, we get to actually read about Class 1-B’s play instead of just having it be a gag, we get a prequel for the beauty pageant, and we see cooldown post-festival for both students and teachers. I’ve talked before about how the series narrates events Horikoshi didn’t have time to write into the main series, and that feels especially true with this book, as a lot of these feel very in character. (That said, the art is more minimal and reused than usual – I think he was very busy at this time.)

The first chapter is not a school festival chapter, but does have Fatgum, Kirishima and Amajiki patrolling an Osakan float festival, where Kirishima meets a cartwright who is having seconds thoughts because of a past accident, something which makes Kirishima recall his own past with Ashido. We then see Shinso walking around campus during festival prep, seeing how the other classes are doing while trying to figure out how to tell his friends in the General Studies class he’s putting in for a transfer. We then get the 1-B play in all its glory, followed by a story just before the beauty pageant, which is from Kendo’s POV. We end with a few scenes showing Izuku’s candy apple prep and some other 1-A antics, and finally see the teachers having an alcohol-fueled after party.

The character work is the main reason this is so good. Shinso and Kendo get some excellent development here, getting inside their heads. Shinso still feels a little guilty and shamed about his own quirk, though this has improved post-Sports Festival, and eavesdrops on some folks who make him feel better. Kendo was even more fascinating, as we see her struggling with being the beauty contest competitor even as she’s uncomfortable with her own gender dynamics, feeling out-of-place in a dress and preferring activities most would say were for men. While she does say that she’s definitely a girl, it would not be a very broad leap to see her as a bit agender. I also really enjoyed the 1-B play, both for its copyringht-dodging elements and also for making Monoma look less obnoxious (always a hard task). Even the beauty pageant girl Bibimi Kenranzaki, written entirely as a one-panel gag by Horikoshi, gets to drive a tank and bond with Mei Hatsume (whose not bathing is the running gag of the chapter).

Flaws? Mineta is still in this, though less so than previous books, and Shinso wonders (as do we all) why he hasn’t been expelled yet. The teacher’s chapter at the end is also a bit weaker than the others, and Midnight’s whipping talents jar a bit given the rest of the book is easily accessible to 10-13 year olds. Still, overall this is the strongest entry in the series to date. We’re also caught up with Japan, so a new volume will be a bit.