Lessons in Power from My Hero Academia
All Might's not the only one who can teach us how to be a hero.
October 26, 2018 at 9:00 am
What is power?
Superheroes in modern-day superhero films definitely have power; but don’t demonstrate what it means to possess it. While those heroes do their work in order to save us — the little guy — their stories are usually dedicated to their eternal struggles with baddies like Thanos and the Joker. Or in Iron Man’s case, we got an old man who steals Tony Stark’s technology, a Tony Stark wannabe who’s also pretty dumb, a Tony Stark wannabe who’s actually kinda smart, and an evil robot with the personality of Tony Stark.
Kind of an inward experience, don’t you think? The Marvel and DC movies teach us how to fight evil megalomaniacs who are usually white businessmen — but generally neglect what it means to be a hero. What it means to sacrifice your happiness to ensure that happiness for others. What it means to feel scared of your own power.
On the flippity, My Hero Academia does examine those themes, all within a fantastical world that feels like it was imagined by a child but given structure by an adult. The show carries with it a surprising amount of nuance for something so fun. Each hero, from their character design to their personality to their power, tells us a different story about what it means to be a hero, and what it means to have power.
Power is duty.
Unlike, for example, Superman for example, going from Regular Guy to The World’s #1 Hero isn’t as easy for All Might as pulling off the goofy glasses and ripping open his suit. This is because the wounds All Might carries make it painful for him to even stay in his superhero form and smile.
But no matter the struggle, he always manages to smile. While All Might’s smile initially seems like a cheesy aspect of the courageous hero, we later learn that he takes this responsibility very seriously. Rather than allowing his pain to seep through his cheerful facade until those he protects can see it, All Might compartmentalizes the pain just to hold that iconic grin. It’s his reminder to all that lay eyes on him that no matter how alone they might feel, someone is out there fighting for them.
While obviously he has the power to school pretty much anyone in a fight, that’s not what makes All Might who he is. All Might’s power, like his mentee Midoriya’s, is his iron will. He holds it together, literally and figuratively, not just because he wants to, but because he has bound himself to that principle. No decision he makes is chosen lightly; everything is calculated.
All Might is a hero because he knows that his immeasurable power comes with consequences. If he were to shirk his duty, his special One-For-All Power — a power handed down from hero to hero for generations — would die. Therefore, it is imperative that he fights not just for himself, but for the future.
Power is legacy.
Tenya Iida is introduced to us as something of a stickler; he’s very proud and one of the few students who actually takes the classroom aspect of U.A. School seriously. He ends up as the Class Rep, and he takes those duties on with gusto. When his classmates are attacked by villains, he carries the weight of getting help on his shoulders.
Yet despite his reputation as something of a goody two shoes and a teacher’s pet, Iida surprises us time and time again. During the school’s battle royale tournament — an annual opportunity for aspiring heroes to showcase their abilities to professional heroes through a nationally televised contest — Iida surprises Midoriya and Uraraka by declining the opportunity to join their team. He does so with stunning charm, stating that while he loves them as friends, this is not a moment for him to be with them; he needs to win on his own rather than continue to rely on his friends to back him up For him to achieve his goals and be his best self, he needs to do what is right for him. While this could be considered part of a Top 10 Anime Betrayals Youtube compilation, he handles the situation well and does so without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Growing up as the younger brother of an already very established hero, Iida forgoes his youth to be as great and as noble as his brother. But Iida’s fast-track into responsibility and herodom make it hard for him to understand when he needs help. When his brother is forever paralyzed by Hero Killer Stain, he takes on his bro’s hero name, Ingenium, and positions himself into an internship where he can keep a very close eye on Stain. But upon fighting the hero-killing mastermind, he realizes that to fight with such malice in his heart betrays the justice his brother inspired.
A goofy character with a surprising dark side, Iida reminds us that even though times may get tough, we always have the ability to affect change even when we feel bogged down in tragedy.when the going gets tough, it helps to turn to the light that once inspired us to fight the good fight.we can’t forget what inspired us to start the good work to begin with.
Power is not a right.
Bakugo kinda sucks.
Very early in the show, he tells Midoriya that because has no Quirk, he might as well kill himself. So overtly proud of his own Quirk (the ability to blow shit up), Bakugo comes into the hero school headstrong with no doubt in his mind that he will become the hero to end all heroes. And he’s no Draco Malfoy either; Bakugo is a top tier student with fantastic grades who puts in the work. While King Explosion Murder may be a brutish inconsiderate jerk, he remains calculated and on numerous occasions, he outwits many of his opponents.
When he faces off against Midoriya — the childhood friend he deemed worthless — in the middle of the first season, he vastly underestimates his opponent and just barely loses. Once the all-star, Bakugo becomes overshadowed by Midoriya and shrinks in his shadow. This only fuels his anger more, driving him down a dangerous path. In his arrogance during the Season 2 tournament, he promises the entire audience that he will have an undisputed first place victory; and then he follows through on it.
Winning the tournament wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be; his final opponent was too in the middle of an emotional crisis to provide him with the challenge everyone else received. He feels cheated, because his victory came so easily. He later finds himself humiliated when he is awarded his trophy while strapped to a table, Hannibal Lector style, due to his completely unstable emotions. As the show moves forward, his outbursts are framed as more comical, a joke on his toxic masculinity.
But really, Bakugo has a crippling inferiority complex that leads to his off-putting and scary anger. His motivation is lodged in his self-hatred, which is unfortunate because Bakugo does all the physical and mental prep it takes to become a hero. He stands his ground on fighting for what’s right and giving everything he’s got. Objectively, he’s a fantastic candidate for being a superhero. But throughout the whole process, he forgets that his opportunity to be great is not something he was ever entitled to; it was a gift that made him who he is.
If he can ever find the empathy one needs to protect others, he could be great. Until then, he will need to keep learning and relearning the same lessons.
Power is only limited by your imagination.
Despite her bubbly demeanor, Ochaco Uraraka is in it for money. Born to an economically humble family, Ochaco wants to use her Quirk to become a hero that can raise a boat load of money to support her parents. Surprisingly fierce when the going gets tough, she will stop at nothing. Her love for her family enables her to do incredible things.
Giving her humdrum upbringing, she’s a pragmatist and doesn’t waste time complaining when she could be finding a way out. When she goes toe-to-toe with Bakugo in the dueling tournament, she makes the best out of a not-so-great situation while being outmatched, and manages to draw out the fight with her inspired strategy. She loses the duel, but still manages an impressive and imaginative showcase of her powers and iron will.
Superheroes in My Hero Academia are celebrities and hustle as much as any actor who just took a road trip to Los Angeles. Ochaco knows this, and is aware that her Quirk can lead her down this path. It’s the most practical route to what she wants. Ochaco uses her surprising call to heroism as a means for protecting the people she loves.
Power doesn’t always mean one singular thing like it does for All Might. It can also be a creative solution to a complicated problem, and Ochaco is a reminder that we can always choose our path.
Power is pain.
Shoto Todoroki’s dual powers of fire and ice seems awesome at first, but they come with the tremendous weight of receiving them as a result of his birth through the super-powered version of breeding. His father, Endeavor, the second fiddle to the famous All Might, engineered Todoroki’s birth to be the beginnings of the ultimate hero.
Psychologically manipulated and imprisoned, Todoroki’s mother is a mere pawn in Endeavor’s masterplan. She sees her children as a curse and one day, in a fit of paranoia, attacks and scars Todoroki with boiling water. Endeavor institutionalizes her soon after, and Todoroki is torn from one of the few who can really understand him.
But Todoroki is smart enough to understand that the oppressor here isn’t really his mother, but his father. As a result, he swears off using his fire abilities in defiance. Of course, strategically, this isn’t the brightest move, and in fact could easily put him in danger. But because his power comes from such a deep place of trauma, he feels compromised. To use the fire and ice powers is to almost side with the abuse. To play the role his father cast him in.
Every move comes from a battle with that toxic idea of the ultimate hero, and his actions towards heroism will only fuel his dad’s hunger for power.
Like All Might, Todoroki has a responsibility to uphold and a pain that he cannot allow himself to show.
Power is privilege.
Though born without powers, Izuku Midoriya (or “Deku,” as Bakugo nicknames him) finds strength under the tutelage of All Might. Living under his own personal raincloud through his Quirkless childhood, Midoriya jumps at the opportunity to have a Quirk — but almost instantaneously learns a harsh lesson in what it means to be powerful. His emotions fluctuating like roaring flames, he is unable to keep himself in check and continuously wrecks his body through his use of One-For-All.
This ironically leads to him tip-toeing across situations to avoid using his powers at all costs, essentially rendering him still Quirkless at the beginning, despite having the dopest Quirk of them all. Until he can give into the full throw of his power, Midoriya remains a bit of a scrappy fighter at times, proving himself to be ungodly resourceful.
All Might recognizes Midoriya’s potential when he watches him dive into a deathly danger even other superheroes backed down. It’s from this courage that Midoriya is chosen and entrusted with his Quirk, One For All. This is a special Quirk that has been secretly passed down over generations of heroes to those that express outstanding moral fiber. It doesn’t make Midoriya any more or less worthwhile; it’s an extra opportunity to do good, and Midoriya understands this being someone who once had no Quirk.
My Hero Academia reminds us of the nobility of being a hero. As All Might says, it’s meddling when you don’t need to. While the characters in the show are almost entirely superpowered beings, My Hero Academia manages to stay in touch with its humanity by creating characters that are grappling with what it means to have powers. The lessons they learn along their way are all things we can attribute to our own lives.
Like in My Hero Academia, some of us are born into power — or rather, with privileges. And for those of us who are not, we have to fight a lot harder to attain certain things. When we are blessed enough to have an advantage, we must not take that power lightly.