I’ve been wanting to write a bit more about My Hero Academia for awhile now but have been tossing up how to approach it. The last time I explored this issue I looked at the idea’s characters such as All Might and Stain represented within the context of My Hero Academia in Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea.
And after much contemplation I’ve returned to All Might, because as of episode 15 in season 3, the main theme that continues to capture my attention in My Hero Academia is this idea of what happens when a society is built around a single pillar and that pillar cracks or falls.
In my previous post I looked at the fact that All Might’s deteriorating condition was ultimately worse than if he took a fatal hit. While dying in the line of duty would be tragic for All Might and those close to him, for the world it would leave a lasting symbol that could not be tarnished by reality. However, season three chooses to push further with the idea of revealing to the world the very human weakness of All Might and his final moments as a hero are put on display in the most public of ways.
This serves multiple purposes outside of just being another plot point on the road to Midoriya rising as a hero.
Firstly, the audience is already aware of All Might’s condition the consequences of him using his power the way he does in the fight with All For one. The audience, and Midoriya, have been in on this secret for two and half seasons and finally all of the characters inside the My Hero Academia world are in on it too. And their reactions are interesting.
For the police and law enforcement it immediately becomes a crisis of how to keep things standing when the central pillar has been removed. We see the awareness that they now have that the way their society was structured, around a single individual held up as a larger than life symbol, was inherently flawed. Something that should have been obvious from the beginning given even All Might had admitted he couldn’t save everyone because he couldn’t get to everyone, and yet the basic premise of this society is that All Might’s mere existence kept villains in check.
The reaction of the public initially was more positive than anticipated, mostly because of the feat All Might had just pulled off and the fact that the public weren’t yet aware that All Might wouldn’t be fighting again. However, the ongoing reaction to this change in the world has yet to be seen, though if My Hero Academia’s history can be counted on, I’m certain that we’ll eventually see this idea explored further.
For the students with their ambitions to be heroes it brought home the reality they were entering into. While Midoriya was already aware of All Might’s secret, the sheer weight that fell on his shoulders in All Might’s final moments was phenomenal and while the other characters in the series may not be fully aware of the implications of All Might’s ambiguous message, Midoriya certainly was.
And let’s consider that message. All Might wasn’t just talking to Midoriya, even though his message to Midoriya was clear. For his whole life, All Might has lived as a symbol, and even at the end he passed the torch of preserving the peace not just to Midoriya, but to everyone who was watching and everyone who had ever been inspired by him. He made a call to action to uphold the justice he had protected for so long and he made it in one of the most dramatic ways possible on the battlefield with the dust barely settled.
Now, All Might’s survival at this point contradicts the basic idea of passing the torch and the like in that as a mentor you would think his role was pretty much done and in most shonen or fantasy stories it would be. He had found his successor who had that one quality he was seeking. He had set that student on their path. While the student wasn’t yet ready, All Might’s death would definitely have stirred Midoriya to greater heights and levels of determination and it would have been a nice clean break.
We should have known My Hero Academia would take the general mentor archetype and push it that little bit further. Because what do you do with a living legend who has outlived their use as a symbol? What do you do with someone who was once the greatest who is now essentially without a quirk and weak?
In the follow up episodes to All Might’s chilling victory, we see that he himself is working to find a new place in the world for himself. He isn’t just passing a torch to Midoriya and checking out. He is aware of how far the road still is for the young student and he is determined to help him all the way. And it isn’t just Midoriya. Again we see that All Might really does have a wide view of people and it is all of the students that All Might has turned his attention to, even while he does still work to see Midoriya master his quirk.
One of the very nice touches amidst training episodes was when All Might visited the training centre and spoke with each student. He didn’t give direct answers but used his vast experience as a hero to guide each student in small ways to an answer. This by itself was a great moment as it showed us exactly what All Might does have still to offer in this world: knowledge of what it is like to be a hero. However, once again My Hero Academia didn’t leave this moment at just this, it then showed us through Aizawa that All Might had a book in his back pocket about teaching.
It is a small detail and a very small scene in a much larger narrative and yet it speaks volumes. All Might himself is at a loss after a lifetime of being a hero. He knows what he wants to do now and that is to prepare these kids for a future that is looking bleaker by the minute, but it is a different skill set to the one he is used to using. But All Might isn’t afraid to look at his own weaknesses and work to overcome them. While he may now be physically weak (and I’m still guessing that at some point he is going to pass on) his mental fortitude and resilience are top notch. He’s finding other ways to contribute and to meet his goals.
Despite that, very soon after Bakugo unleashes an attack that sends a rock hurtling toward All Might. While he is defended by Midoriya, the reality that he is now someone who people feel the need to protect hits home. We see a very small All Might standing alone as this realisation really sinks in. While he doesn’t see himself as weak, he realises that this is how he is now viewed and while he doesn’t resent being rescued, it is a hard mental shift to make.
All Might’s fate is something that I’m watching very closely because I really am curious to see how this world will react to their fallen symbol in the long-term. I’m curious as to whether All Might can maintain his optimism and continue to focus on the future without succumbing to bitterness at what he has lost. I’m curious as to how his colleagues will react to him as he is a living reminder of their own human frailty.
All Might’s character journey has so far been one of the truly stand out things about My Hero Academia. While a shallow glance at this character might make him seem like a Superman rip-off there’s some complexities to his character that make him truly interesting. However the best thing about All Might is that even when he was the symbol of peace, the audience was always in on his hidden secret and that made him always seem very human. And it is the human aspect of his character, rather than the heroic ones, that make him memorable as he continues on his journey however long or brief that journey may be (no spoilers if you’ve read the source).
What do you think of All Might’s journey as a character over the two and a half seasons of My Hero Academia?
Thanks for reading.
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