Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea

This post discusses My Hero Academia up to episode 31 focussing only on events in the anime. There are some minor spoilers if you have not watched that far.

Since the beginning of season 1, My Hero Academia has been obsessed with the idea of symbols. All Might is a symbol of justice. He is what other heroes aspire to be and villains fear him. Who All Might actually is has ceased to be important as it is the persona All Might carries when he is All Might that matters to the world he lives in.

Midoriya confronts the separation between the idea of who All Might is and the reality head on when he encounters his childhood hero in the real world. However, with Midoriya being Midoriya, he doesn’t become disillusioned but rather manages to reconcile his preconceived view of the hero with his new understanding of the man.

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But the world they live in (and the real world) does not work that way. Outside of a few of the teachers at UA, most people do not know about All Might’s current condition. He works hard to keep it a secret as he knows that if the symbol of justice ceases to be a shining and perfect symbol of justice, then the world and its balance will be irrevocably changed as villains will no longer have a reason to fear (despite all the other heroes who might do them in), and the younger generation of heroes won’t have that symbol to aspire to.

In a way, All Might’s current condition is actually more damaging than if he had died in the line of duty. If he had died in the line of duty than there could be an outpouring of grief for a hero who had done so much but he would have retained that perfect image he’d constructed until the end. Instead, if his condition as it stands becomes public knowledge, it is likely to tarnish the ideal he’s worked so hard to create (even though his current condition doesn’t change anything about what he had previously done).

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It is amazing in a way that the idea might be bullet proof and All Might’s death wouldn’t change it, but his living on and not representing the ideal people associate with him could deal significant damage. In a way, V from V for Vendetta got it right in that the only way to ensure his ideas carried forward without getting cluttered was to remove the man from the equation. With nothing ever known about the true identity of the terrorist V (at least not by the general public) he transcended the man he was and became a symbol of freedom and a voice for the people. What makes his death even more powerful was that Evey then pointed out that everyone in the crowd could project their own view upon V. He could be their brother who died, their father, their friend, coworker, lover, anyone. He could represent everything they wanted him to represent and he could never do anything to undermine their belief that how they saw him was what they intended.Which is scary because the idea is bullet proof and it is taking on a life of its own and the intended message may get overwritten and eroded in time or misappropriated for a cause it was never intended for and there is nothing anyone can do about that once the idea is out there.

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Which of course brings me to Hero Killer Stain. He has a clear ideal of what a hero should be and he was punishing those who failed to meet his expectations. We already knew that but then episode 31 gave us a bit more insight into how he became disillusioned when he dropped out of hero school and then tried to use words to convince the public that the way they saw heroes was problematic and ensured a system full of contradictions. ‘Hero’ had become a job. Having heroic qualities and a heroic mindset was not as important as results and showmanship. As the Hero Killer his acts caught the attention of many and his arrest got even more eyes locked onto him and his ‘ideas’.

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What becomes worrisome about this, or awesome depending on how the plot is handled, is that in the eyes of the public there is a link between the Hero Killer and the League of Villains. For the audience, we know that Stain outright refused to join the League of Villains as they did not live up to his standards of what a true villain should be any more than the heroes he had killed lived up to the standard of true hero. But the public do not know that. They only know that there is a connection. More importantly, how Stain was making his judgement of which heroes were true heroes and which were fake was through a deeply personal set of criteria. Any attempt to mimic of copy his ideology would result in a character coming to a very different set of judgements.

But Hero Killer Stain has been arrested. He has become the symbol of a movement and has lit a fire motivating people to action and then he has been removed from the scene. He is unable to correct perceptions (even if he was so inclined) and more importantly, unlike All Might, he’s already fallen so he can’t mar his own reputation that has taken on a life separate from himself. Admittedly, he could escape and get out and change the legend unfolding around him, but that would almost be counter productive to the movement left in his wake.

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For the League of Villains, if they are in any way able to understand how the world works, they won’t ever point out they were at odds with the Hero Killer. They’ll allow his symbol and image to draw people to them and then they will twist that message to their own ends.

However, what I find particularly interesting about this is that All Might was a constructed brand. He went out of his way to become the symbol of an idea. Whereas, Hero Killer Stain simply lived true to his own ideals. He didn’t make speeches or pompous appearances (he’d already given up on using words to change people’s minds). He acted and his actions spoke for him, though whether the true message came across is anyone’s guess and it will be interesting to see how the next generation of villains take his message and use it. But that’s why Hero Killer’s mark is going to be harder to erase than All Might’s would. Hero Killer was appealing to base impulses that people had hidden away and were just waiting for an excuse to let out and his message spread organically without anyone in particular constructing the narrative behind it and yet its momentum was undeniable.

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Of course, there’s a lot of real world parallels about how messages and branding as well as people standing in for ideals that we could get into but I’m certain that most of us have already thought about just how this works in reality and some recent examples. Even if the show doesn’t go any further into this issue, it has been an intriguing build up (please don’t spoil in the comments if you have read the manga).


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Karandi James.

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20 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea

  1. I’m sort of hoping given episode 31 really stage set this up that they do something with it and it wasn’t just a tinny alibi to trash dump more villains into the news report. For champion Aca, they would stimulate to consider of reasons why All Might would / wouldn’t proceed to interact with Deku, and how their human relationship would forward motion as it awkwardly fizzled away from educatee/mentor and Deku becomes a fully fledged fighter.

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        1. Fair enough. I avoid episode reviews until I watch the episodes of most shows (though there are a few I don’t really care whether I know what is going to happen or not). But I do enjoy finding out how other people saw the episode afterward so I like spending some time after watching and drafting my own thoughts checking out different posts on the episode.

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  2. Yes, this is most certainly one of the main forces in the narrative I find interesting. How heroes are meant to be more than people saving the day and keeping the peace, but living ideals. It’s not enough for them to defeat and villain and rescue people, but they must do so while shining a beacon of values and uphold them for the sake of maintaining a wholesome image and idea of what it means to be a hero/good person, and to spread it to the world as an ideal intended to be emulated.

    Concerning All Might, I had thought that if he died a martyr he could live on as a symbol of peace/hope/etc. for people, but since he lived I wondered how long it’d be until his secret got out (since that’s generally what happens when you keep this sort of character alive – I don’t know for sure that happens here, just going on typicality). It’d be a shame to see him die, but when you take on these sort of mantles, you place the needs of others above your own, and it’s more necessary for All Might to die preserving his image than to allow it to become tainted while he lives.

    Stain is right down the middle with his beliefs – detesting both “fake” heroes and “fake” villains. How he views “fake” heroes as these pretenders who aren’t fully dedicated to the point of self-sacrifice for their ideals, and the same for villains – as seen when he remarks on how Tomura’s goal to kill All Might is petty and childish. His philosophy is rather dangerous, but interesting nonetheless. With Stain, it’ll be interesting to see how his influence will ripple and develop the world around him – and how this will affect the heroes and the people’s view of them.

    Glad you touched on this!

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    1. Thanks for the great comment and I’m glad you liked the post. I agree with what you said about it is kind of necessary for All Might to die at this point and that kind of makes you realise how flawed the entire system is.
      I’m also really wondering what will actually happen with Stain’s influence in the next bit of the story. I’m kind of hoping given episode 31 really set this up that they do something with it and it wasn’t just a cheap excuse to dump more villains into the story.

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      1. Thank you.

        Something I forgot to mention, as a counter to All Might’s (necessary) martyrdom is his influence as a living mentor for Deku. While it could be argued the current system falls on him to die embodying his ideal presence to his last breath, there is likely more to be gained by staying alive long enough to fully pass the torch onto Deku, even if it means being exposed for his imperfections at some point.

        Because Deku is smart is quick at learning from his experiences, and I imagine he will take what he has learned from All Might and how the current way the world of heroes works with his experience fighting Stain and the villains and seeing how their influence affects people, and if it should happen for All Might to be exposed for who he truly is and people lose faith in heroes, he can learn from that as well and combine all these experiences to work out a better system for the long run.

        Deku has already been established as a phenomenal observer (and note-taker). I have a good feeling, especially considering the narration is done from the perspective of a future Deku, that he’ll be the one (with help) to bring about a change full of new ideas that may embody a compromise of many ideals.

        Whatever happens, I look forward to seeing how things play out from here.

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        1. I kind of think that the mentor role in stories has definitely leant itself to All Might dying spectacularly at some point if for no other reason than as a final lesson and motivation for Midoriya. It is kind of the path most older mentors go down when passing the torch though I’ve never really understood why narratives are so obsessed with knocking off the previous generation.

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          1. For a variety of reasons I imagine, though I share the sentiment of wanting more shows to stop leaning on it as another device for character growth in protagonists, and would like to see them try new things by keeping the characters around.

            One reason is as I mentioned, for a tool meant to add more reason and motivation for the protagonist to develop even further at a faster rate. Often this is implied to be such a strong relationship to an incredible emotional level, and has followed the path of characters acting recklessly to get revenge for their mentor’s death (since it’s usually at the hands of a dastardly villain). I doubt Deku would act out in such a way, which would be a refreshing change of pace if that is the case.

            Another reason is to do with shaking up the narrative. This generally happens when a character is presented as larger than life or incredibly important to the people/world in the narrative, and thus their death at the hands of so-and-so or because of suspicious [x reason] would be undoubtedly big and consequential. Here, All Might is presented as such a figure. So if it were caught on film or discovered he was defeated and slain at the hands of a villain (or worse a mind-controlled hero), that would mean dire consequences in the public eye and the world at large, since he is held on such a high pedestal as both a beacon of hope and ultimate protector. A lot of faith is put into All Might as someone who will show up and make everything alright, which is a terrible core dependent in a questionably unreliable system.

            And the final reason I can think of is because they simply don’t have any ideas as to what to do with these sort of characters. For Hero Aca, they would have to think of reasons why All Might would / wouldn’t continue to interact with Deku, and how their relationship would progress as it awkwardly fizzled away from student/mentor and Deku becomes a full-fledged hero.

            You could try for a flip on your head plot twist, like have Deku be the one to die instead, but I think given all the build-up and the fact he’s the main character (and this isn’t Game of Thrones), that wouldn’t pan out well or make much sense from a storytelling perspective.

            Maybe if you have a mentor like Genkai from Yuu Yuu Hakusho, the reasoning for keeping them alive is simple and easy to work around – they’re a hermit who lives out in solitude, and maybe isn’t the nicest or most social person, so it makes sense for them not to communicate often or for their to be much difference in the relationship between student/mentor.

            Phew. Okay, this is an interesting topic worthy of better discussion, but that’s all I’ve got to say about it at the moment. Hopefully that explains some of it. I know I’d certainly like to see more mentors survive their stories.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Agree that it would be awesome for more stories to try not to just take the tried and true path of killing off the mentor.
            Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’d love to talk to you more about this at a later stage.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Same!

            I always find myself learning more about these sort of things far better through discussion with others so it’s always a welcome way of bringing out thoughts and ideas like this.

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