One of my favorite new animes in recent history is My Hero Academia. I know, controversial stance!
I know why I like MHA, and probably why most of you like it. It’s a cookie cutter shounen, respectfully espousing all the tropes of the genre, in the best way possible. It’s an extremely well made series which uses tremendously well liked stereotypes as its basis and has therefore tapped into a certain “instant classic” formula which it exploits expertly. I hope it continues to do so for a long time to come.
But I’m not here to rehash what MHA is, we all know right? Today, I’d like to take a look at what it could be.
There is a subtle underlying trend that has echoed through both season of My Hero Academia so far. A question that’s been whispered, then repeated, then yelled, but has yet to be answered. What in essence is a hero? Should the series choose to actually tackle this age old debate, with clear eyes and within its capitalist Hero as a job context, it has the chance to go beyond being a superbly executed and thoroughly enjoyable shounen, and actually become one of the more interesting and compelling deconstructions of the genre. So far, the classic tropes have all been lovingly embraced but the seeds of subversion are there and quite visible.
Season 1 clearly established the idea that the MHA brand of heroism is, for lack of a better word, genetic. The cosmic luck of the draw saddles you with a random quirk and from there on everything depends on it. Essentially it’s eugenics to an extreme. Midoriya is brave, smart, almost inhumanely analytical, optimistic kind and driven to help all those around him. Yet, if it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with All-Might, Midoriya would never had become a hero, no matter how well suited he is. On the other hand, someone whose only qualification is a strong quirk but is otherwise selfish, slow witted and lazy, would have been thrust into the role without a single hurdle to overcome. The very nature of heroism in MHA, is unjust.
Season 2 expanded on the idea by presenting us with Stain, a horrific, frightening and cruel villain who was by all accounts, a noble man once, disheartened and disgusted by a system the seemed utterly uninterested in actual justice or righteousness. Contrast this with Endeavour, one of the top super heroes and primed to take on the mantle of Symbol of Justice should a new one be needed. This uncontested and widely admired hero is an objective monster. He has no qualms about using those around him to further his own goals (his personal reputation and his ultimate legacy being the only goals that interest him) and he will not hesitate to use force to get his way, even on his own wife and 5 year old child. He’s shown no remorse and comeuppance is nowhere in sight.
But no matter who these people are, what their motivations and feelings may be, at the end of the day, one goes out and kills people in the night and the other risks his life to protect them. One is a villain and one is a hero. But what exactly separates them, what happens when situations aren’t so clear cut. This is where season 3 could take a sharp left turn out of the superhero/shonen lane and become something new.
I have been trying to put together how this scenario would go in my head. Midoriya seems too naive and blinded for this particular narrative and Todoroki’s daddy issues are bound to get in the way of deeper philosophical points. Iida could be an interesting candidate but as far as I can tell, he hasn’t quite captured the audience so far and I doubt they will suddenly give him a starring role.
This brings us to the frustration that is Bakugo. I, like many many of you judging by the douj…social studies documents I’ve been reading, really like this character. He’s still rather rough and they go a bit heavy on the psycho side but when he calms down he can be fascinating and much like the show itself, he’s a character full of potential still free to take any direction he wants.
Many reviews and think pieces have speculated on how Bakugo’s personality is more suited to villany. One this I strongly disagree. Bakugo’s driving force seems to be a disproportionate sense of pride mixed in with a desperate sort of insecurity. What makes him endearing though, and possibly why Deku remains so enraptured by him, is that Bakugo isn’t particularly interested in being recognized as strong, he wants to actually BE strong. The only person he’s trying to prove himself to is, himself, and he seems to be failing. This particular type of pride is unassailable. He isn’t likely to get disgusted by society and take a dark turn like Stain because he doesn’t care about society. He won’t be tempted by riches or fame because he considers both worthless. He won’t be swayed into taking shortcuts or overlooking rules because his own pride won’t allow it. He’s not a villain because he says he’s not, and for Bakugo that might as well be an absolute. This is why in my opinion, of all the characters, he’s the least likely to do a heel turn.
And this sort of highly subjective and inflexible morality is also a great device from which to really get into the question of Heroism and the somewhat arbitrary assignation of right and wrong. Someone like Bakugo can accept that Heroism is just as much about profit margins and public relations as it is about Justice, without immediately becoming disillusioned. He also has the type of independent personality to work in such a system without becoming assimilated. We know that he’s in fact highly intelligent and analytical, more than capable of grasping the subtleties of a situation and the wide-ranging consequences of his actions. This is a narrator that can truly, and fairly, give us a complete view of the moral structure of MHA. That is if he stops screaming for like just one minute…..
Look, I don’t know if MHA will choose to go in this direction, they might decided to drop the thread and move onto something better. And maybe they will eventually make Bakugo into a villain, they might even manage to make it interesting. I trust them, they’ve done a good job so far. Although, if they really want to make it interesting, they should make Midoriya turn to the dark side. A fanatical ideologue like him would certainly be the perfect candidate for harsh disillusionment.
So what do you guys think. Who would be most likely to become a villain in the MHA universe? Would you still root for them if they did? Would YOU be a villain or a hero? I would be a lunch lady.