Okay, I’ve been reading a lot of My Hero Academia posts over the last couple of weeks as my recent In Case You Missed It post kind of highlighted and what I’ve really loved about these posts is the range of issues and topics they have covered. Given how excited I’ve been about this show the last few weeks it did make me want to write about it but I’m pretty sure my thoughts are still really confused as this is a series the packs a lot of social commentary into what is otherwise a relatively simple shonen anime.
So while I’d like to delve into the school system and a few of the other issues bubbling along in this show I decided I’d start with the main point of the show and that is the idea of being a hero. When I first read the premise for season 1 of My Hero Academia and realised in the world they were creating almost everyone had a super power I couldn’t help but think of Syndrome from the Incredibles.
It seemed like by giving everyone a hero that having powers would cease to be something special and as a result things should just level out and everyone be back on the usual playing field so how would they make that setting unique. Obviously the few without powers really did get a raw deal and would probably face discrimination (kind of directly opposed to something like X-Men where it is the minority with powers who are facing continuous discrimination) and the story was going to focus on a character who wasn’t born with a power so maybe that would be something. However, they rapidly overcome that particular hurdle by transferring a power to him (admittedly one he still can’t control properly). Whichever way, back to the original point in that you have to wonder how a story where everyone has some sort of power will actually be interesting and not just a case of endless one upping.
What Syndrome’s theory fails to take into consideration is that even in the world of The Incredibles, some super heroes stand above others. This is an issue My Hero Academia takes very seriously even if it isn’t always front and centre.
The obvious example from season one is All Might (that name is so pretentious). He’s the epitome of heroism if one assumes all the typical clichés for someone being classed as a superhero hold true. From physical appearance and prowess to his courageous acts of rescues and even the way he speaks with confidence and yet just enough humility that you don’t want to smack him one for being completely egocentric. This is a very deliberately contrived persona that All Might has donned and his motives for it are clearly explained as is the consequence of his power quickly failing him. All Might is a symbol in this world. A world full of people with absolutely incredible powers and yet someone who is strong, fast, and good for the sake of being good, still stands above as an icon and something to strive toward for young people, and something to fear for villains.
But what happens when his power leaves? Midoriya, being Midoriya, has learned All Might’s secret and knows All Might’s time as a hero is limited but still looks up to and admires All Might. For Midoriya, it isn’t just that All Might was strong, it was his attitude and way of living that inspired and even the loss of his physical prowess is insufficient to snuff out Midoriya’s fan boy focus. However, I think we might all agree that Midoriya and his overall attitude is something of an anomaly in the world of My Hero Academia.
How will the rest of the world respond once All Might’s power leaves him for good, or even leaves him when he is exposed to the public? Will his many years of service and hard work be respected or will he be ridiculed and cast aside? Worse still, would he be left to the mercy of the villains who so far have been kept in check by his mere presence?
From what we’ve seen of this world and the way that it measures strength and worth, you would have to unfortunately believe that even if he wasn’t scorned he would most definitely be cast aside. Serving no further use as either a rescuer or deterrent he would literally just become another has been and fade into the dark recesses of some history book that maybe future heroes would read about. That seems a tragic ending for someone who actually served a greater good even while he built quite a good brand name for himself.
Which actually highlights the entire issue of hero culture as it is presented in My Hero Academia. There are new up and coming heroes appearing every year. The new generation of students graduating from UA and probably plenty of less well known schools that still train students to become heroes. Each one of these would-be heroes has a reason for wanting to be a hero as we’ve seen exemplified by the students in the class. They all want to be a hero but to get there and to succeed they are going to have to beat their friends, they are going to have to put themselves first, they are going to have to brand themselves, and even then they still only have a small chance of success in an already over crowded market. Essentially heroism has become the new Australia’s Got Talent (or equivalent) and ultimately just being good at being a hero isn’t going to be enough. Everyone who got into the school is potentially good at being a hero but the world doesn’t need entire classes of heroes running around. They have to stand out even at the cost of those around them and that by its very nature would lead to some fairly unheroic personalities making it through the rigorous training processes and reaching the top.
What I find interesting about this set-up is that normal people on the street have stood back and watched as fairly low level villains have committed crimes. They wait for a hero rather than taking action even though some of their own Quirks are more than capable of dealing with things. They hold the ‘heroes’ of the story in awe even as this show goes to great lengths to humanize the current group of students and to help us realise they are all just kids working toward a dream.
Heroism as a commodity isn’t a new notion in anime or any other story telling medium. Even Clark Kent made money off Superman through writing stories about him and we know Spider Man wasn’t above peddling his own acts of heroism for cash. And it is maybe this part of the story that really sums up this show’s comment about the modern world. Everything has a price and everything is for sale. Even acts of heroism, morals, and dreams.
But in case that seems a little depressing, just remember Midoriya has so far managed to defy all common sense in his optimism about more or less everything so maybe, just maybe, the seeds of change are already being spread amongst the students in his class.
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