Of all of My Hero Academia’s strengths, the colorful and diverse cast of Class 1-A has always been its greatest. The newest arc doubles down on that power with the attack of the Vanguard Action Squad, introducing a group of antagonists to rival the UA students not only in power, but also personality. Not content to make a rogue’s gallery of one dimensional villains, Horikoshi constructed a cast of enemies who are the dark reflection of his hopeful heroes, talented young rookies with idols, enemies, and big goals. A new group so compelling that taking sides in the upcoming conflict might become a harder decision than you thought.
While a few of the members like Muscular and Moonfish are definitely just in it for the violence, you get the distinct impression that may of those heading off the forest attack have come together for a greater purpose. Inspired by Stain, they rallied to Shigarakis call for a coalition of villains. Each definitely leaves an impression with Horikoshi’s trademark charming character designs and eccentric personalities, but there’s something even more insidious that makes these no villains so fascinating and sets them up as true adversaries to the heroes. They believe they’re in the right.
Many of the Vanguard see themselves as victims, unfairly constrained by societal rules they never agreed to. Although complaints like wanting to taste other peoples blood or commit acts of violence are less than sympathetic, they perceive that they have been treated unfairly and, in a world we’ve already discovered has its considerable imperfections, it’s hard to imagine all of them have arrived at villainy without some legitimate complaints. No matter their circumstances, they’ve united under a single banner in what they see as a righteous revolution against authoritarian rule.
To them, the true villains are the so-called heroes and, depending upon who you ask, All Might may either be public enemy number one and a symbol for tyranny or the only hero truly worthy of that mantle. Regardless of where they land on that subject these villains hate heroes and not without reason. The pro heroes have their share of corruption, from everything about Endeavor to heroes that leverage their fame to amass their own personal wealth. With some heroes abusing their positions of responsibility and the rest turning a blind eye, it’s no surprise they some have trouble looking upon the heroes entrusted with protecting the world with anything but disdain.
As with the UA students, the Vanguard also have their inspirational figures. The group was almost universally drawn together by Stain’s speech and Shigaraki’s call to arms. Himiko, Dabi, and Spinner all unabashedly idolize Stain just as the UA class idolize All Might, as more than an individual but a larger-than-life ideal. Rather than villainous goals, they were rallied by the same idea, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world and it cannot be fixed until the heroes who uphold the current order are defeated. Even Shigaraki, the least ideological of the group, hates what All Might Represents and has found a role model in his benefactor
They also care for their own. The villains are few and any like-minded individuals represent potential allies. Even if Shigaraki is using them all as pawns, the Vanguard themselves seem to genuinely value each other. They have made a concerted efforts to go back for their fallen and, if Mr. Compress is to be believed, want to capture Bakugo specifically because they think he’s underserved and unfulfilled being a hero. Considering his temperment, it’s hard to fault them for believing he might deserve the chance to switch sides. While they disagree and have all arrived on together under different circumstances, you can see an organized team forming among their ranks.
It’s all a little crazy, but it makes a strange kind of sense. We’ve already seen how the world might push someone to villainy despite their best intentions. Stain himself aspired to become a hero before finding he couldn’t abide the corruption of his peers. Shinso was introduced as a character with similar tragic misgivings. His Quirk is one most people would associate with villainy, so he was pushed away and even feared by his classmates. Although he truly wants to become a hero like All Might, it’s easy to see how Shinso’s aspirations might transform into resentment if his deeds can’t overcome those preconceptions. Many of the Vanguard feel like they shared his story and met with a bad ending.
Perhaps most importantly, they’re all quirky. This may seem like a strange addition, but the amount of thought put into each of the villains narrative weight. With a great character design, a outlandish personality, and a set of goals that makes them port of a living, breathing world, it’s hard to see them dropping out of the story any time soon. That alone makes them feel dangerous. Dabi and Himiko aren’t Nomu to add some muscle to a single attack. They’re going to be back again and again, and it’s hard to believe they won't be getting stronger right alongside the UA students.
They’re most definitely in the wrong, but their personalities and dedication to their cause make the Vanguard team a fantastic addition to My Hero Academia’s cast. Horikoshi has built them up as counterpoints to the UA students, in doing so, made a group of villains that feel like a genuine threat. Just as Deku and his friends want to protect the world, the villains want to free it, and have as much fun as they can along the way. They have inspirations to chase, enemies to defeat, and they’re so likeable that you might even find yourself rooting for them.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll, author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight, writer for Anime Academy, and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterFobian.