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.
34 thoughts on “The Thin Line Between Hero and Villain”
I just want to say that if it’s about Bakugou I love reading posts. He’s my #1 😭😭😭 and yes to everything you said about him!!! A lot of ppl always say hes very villain-like and I’m just like nooooooo. I guess at first appearance that’s the case tho. And hehe villain Deku is like my (not) guilty pleasure, he would really get some followers but I feel like he wouldn’t be a villain?? Also in ep 1 i think he said this was a story about him becoming the greatest hero (tho maybe he can become a villain and then come back?! Hmmm maybe not idk) lol fun post like always :3 ps i cant find the like button D: I’m on my phone so idk if that has to do with anything
This is such an adorable comment! I love it so much. Yeah evil Deku is a pretty long shot but it could be fun to see the tables get turned.
“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.”
I’ma just leave this here lol. That’s actually the reason I think he will become a villain. Honestly I think he’ll end up getting All For One at some point and temporarily become the biggest villain until Deku snaps him out of it. You make a great point though that he’s not tempted by most villainous desires such as fame or wealth. But I think his desire to be #1 will be what makes All For One so appealing to him.
But his idea of no1 is very personal. With a borrowed quirk… seems like something he would consider beneath him. Then again it’s an interesting notion…
Yeah that’s a good point. If it’s not his own power it does seem hard to believe he’d resort to it. It may just be that they keep playing him up with villainous characteristics. I think multiple teachers at this point have expressed some kind of worry about his methods, and the fact that his quirk is one of the deadlier ones.
Aaargh. The Bakugo-as-villain crowd drives me batty. Have they even watched the show?
He wants to be the Number One Hero, and all the evidence points toward him holding himself unwavering to that standard. That’s why he’s so pissed at the end of his match with Todoroki, it wasn’t a clear win taken with his own hands from an opponent doing his flat level best. *That’s his standard*. That’s there must be absolutely no way to doubt or question that he’s demonstrated and earned the right to the honor of Number One Hero.
I give and grant he’s a complete self centered self absorbed asshole – but so is Endeavour. And nobody questions his hero status.
Well I kinda did…but yeah – I’m with you!
I remember thinking, when they introduced Support in the anime, here’s a much more interesting story: quirkless Midoriya enters support, and due to his hero geekery and analytic mind-frame, is a natural at co-ordinating missions. He’s perfect for getting the right people to the right place in time. A show about the roadies rather than the stars; a show that values people who are not in the lime-light. That would have been so much more interesting for me. (And a lot of other people probably wouldn’t have cared about it at all.)
My problem is that I dislike All Might’s philosophy and his hero form (though, oddly, I like his character). And since that philosophy is idealised by the anime (or so I think), I have trouble enjoying the show to its fullest. In that sense, All that smiling to re-assure people? It might be a good thing to do in specific situations, if it calms down people who’d otherwise panic. But to hide the toll it takes? To smile as “a symbol of peace”? Give me a break. Being a hero isn’t cool; it’s a necessary(?) evil. The ideal is a world where heroes aren’t necessary: no villains, no desasters, no danger. There isn’t and will never be such a world, sure. But you don’t overplay your capabilities. You don’t pretend that heroes can take away all the world’s ills, or that it’s easier than it is to try and do that. It creates single-minded admires like Midoriya, who are so fixated on a fairy-tale dream that they’re heart breaks if they can’t be a hero, too (and repeat the cycle).
Even without a quirk, Midoriya would have done well in Support: can you imagine as a co-ordinator? A strategist? In human resources? In research? He’s got what it takes, doesn’t he? He’d be extremely useful in such a role (though he wouldn’t be making the most of his natural protector instinct). And we’d also have show that I’d personally find more interesting (of course, only, if the writer were interested in writing such a story). A story away from the lime light; about the roadies, not the stars. A show not blinded by the stupid coolness factor of heroes. (Aside: I haven’t watched more than one episode of Tiger & Bunny, but its treatment of the coolness-factor of heroes was already more interesting than what the entirety of MHA’s anime has to say on it so far.)
Bakugo isn’t blinded by the coolness-factor of heroes, it seems. Instead, he’s buying into the power-level trope. The powerful protect the weak. It’s really no wonder that Midoriya annoys him. On the one hand it’s ego and humiliation – if you accept help from someone weaker that’s humiliating. On the other thand it’s there’s the threat of upstaging the entire idea of a power hierarchy: if the weak protect the strong, and that works out, then what’s the point of it all? What am I doing instead? The former is easy to handle: I have to become stronger, and everything’s fine. But the latter challange has to get under Bakugo’s skin: if it’s not a linear, power-level thing, if it’s not about ability, then what should he strive for? What’s the yardstick of bettering himself? A doofus smile, even if you don’t feel like it? Fools rush in? Someone weak stepping in is more heroic than someone strong stepping in, right? I mean there’s more risk. It’s confusing. If powerlevels don’t determine when you step in, what does?
For Midoriya it’s simple. See someone in trouble, try to help. This should have been the end of Midoriya near the beginning of season 1, but he was lucky. For Midoriya protecting people is an instict. And it’s an instinct that can get you killed. So how do you deal with it? Learn to be smart about your limits, learn to control yourself? Nope. It’s shounen. Get a new power, learn to master it, become stronger.
Basically, whenever the writer had a choice between the well-trodden path and the interesting path, the writer chose the well-trodden path. I have no reason to believe that’s ever going to change. MHA is well-executed standard shounen. It’s so well executed that it might even serve to anchor the tropes of the genre for easy reference.
Midoriya becoming a villain? Unlikely but possible. Wouldn’t be that much of a departure, though. There are two writerly paths, here: the seduction arc (unlikely), or the despair arc (that’s definitely the arc for Midoriya). Maybe they’ll knock All Might from his pedestal for a while? (Frankly, if you gave me the pen of power, I’d reveal All Might’s secret to the public and see where that goes.) That might make a good trial arc for Midoriya. Currently, it seems they’re going for I-won’t-be-by-your-side-forever, perhaps due to a systematic downside of One for All?
As for me, I’d probably be at some institute researching quirks. That would be a sufficiently interesting job with enough variety, I think.
Actually, and I may be wrong about this of course but I think they are setting up Midoriya for a fall regarding All-Might’s philosophy. We’ve already gotten hints that it’s not as universally embraced or even as plainly beneficial as a young and naive Midoriya sees it. As the point of vue character we’re naturally shown the world from his perspective but we know a lot of heroes – some who we are shown are in fact great people, aren’t all that fond of All-Might. I think there might e a touch of foreshadowing there.
I’ve had my eye on this development from early on. I do think they’re setting up Midoriya for something, but it’s very likely to be more the usual trial arc, where you weed out some minor weaknesses, before re-affirming the philosophy – putting it on firmer ground, so to speak. I’d say All Might’s positive-role-model foil would be Eraserhead (I keep thinking of the David Lynch film…), while Recovery Girl is the voice of reason. There are other little modifications of Midoriya’s outlook, like him not understanding Gran Torino’s outlook.
Most notably, Stain is an All Might fan, which on the one hand shows up a fault-line in the inspiration model, but on the other hand points towards the dark side of professionalisation of heroism. And that then ties in with the function of the police force…
Ultimately, I think All Might’s ideal is the show’s ideal, so I think that they’re setting up Midoriya for a trial to arrive at a firmer understanding – not a fully blown fall. And its resolution is going to annoy me. I’ve been surprised before, so who knows.
Personally, I’m pretty tolerant to fluff, especially well executed fluff, so I don’t mind a standard disney ending. In any case, I’m looking forward to what’s coming up next.
I don’t mind fluff either. MHA simply hits a sore spot: I don’t like heroes.
I actually wrote about a similar topic back in August! That blog is here if you wanna check it out: https://kawaiipaperpandas.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/topic-tuesday-why-are-anime-villains-so-alluring/. I discussed villains in anime and why they appeal to us not only as the bad guy in the show but personally as well.
Yes, I remeber that post.
What a fabulous post!! (I need to stalk your blog a bit more Irina) 🙂 I still think Bakugo could go the direction of villainy due to his obsession with being number one and that number 1 = being the strongest; which is why he doesn’t like to lose fights. We’re told time and time again that Deku is the number one hero at the end of this story. Bakugo could go either way because of this fact. He could accept that he can’t BE as strong as he wants to be and finds another definition of heroism, and he can finally accept that Deku is indeed stronger OR he get’s completely enveloped with his disgust/hatred with Deku when he becomes the number 1 hero and turns away from heroism because he can’t stand the fact that he’d be ranked lower than someone weaker than him. We did see that Bakugo absolutely would not work alongside Deku in his final exam; he’d rather use Deku as a tool than work with him.
Bakugo is very smart, and well suited to battle. There’s no doubt he’s a layered character..
I feel like they’re telegraphing it too much for a heel turn (and it would feel a bit derivative of Naruto) this said it would also force some spectacular character development in Deku.
I just can’t wait for S3…
I’m with you! Season 3 can’t come soon enough! 🙂
I’ve not seen Naruto so I unfortunately can’t relate 🙁
I wish I could answer that last question for you, but unfortunately I can’t because of the fact that this series isn’t available for me 😢😢😢 I have heard so many good things about it though, and it really sounds like an anime I would thoroughly enjoy. As for the subject itself I always love villains that are a bit murky and where you can’t really decide if he or she is truly evil or had a good side as well 😀
I’M so sorry – I’m sure it will become available soon though – it’s been making the rounds!
I think that bakugo I will do a Sasuke from Naruto and what about being a vigilante??? (Get it, because of the spin off)
ooohh That’s actually really interesting. MHA hasn’t really dealt with the concept of vigilantes yet!
They have, there’s a spin-off about vigilantes
Aww really!!?? I’ve only seen the anime and for some reason I thought the vigilantes story was only a prequel. I got to get my hands on it then!
I can’t think of Bakugou as a villain at all. Something like that would require effort on his part, to have that sort of twisted mind and it’s not that Bakugou isn’t smart but he is also too straightforward. His line of thinking is sort of one directional? He wouldn’t make a interesting villain is what I’m saying.
I’m sort of interested in Shinsou. They have noted his ability is villain like but he chooses to be a hero. So, what if he does get tired one day of being constantly thought of as a suspicious person?
Shinsou could work – his powerful but very limited quirk would be interesting to see tested on the field but on a practical note – the show already has a lot of central characters to develop, I’m not sure they are up for adding even more. Then again, It could be a great way to center a third season.
Oh man, Bakugo as a villain? I think his character, to me, speaks for something more basic. He is flawed, to be flawed is human yet to rise above it is being a “hero”. Yes, the anime explores heroism in so many levels, but the human element is ever present in each and everyone of them. Even Almight, smiling through adversities, bleeds like a human. xD
it’s also just damn good storytelling. If he is the Sasuke of this anime then I think he really might turn heel, but we shall see. :3
I’m just spitballing here. I think I read four reviews in a roll calling Bakugo more of a villain than a hero and I decided to make a thought experiment out of it.
he evokes a villainous type, so you do have a point. after the stain fight ending in such a short pace though, i think the author likes to subvert expectations so midori might actually turn villain first, imo. xD
Don’t worry I would probably be a lunch lady too! I like the idea of Midoriya becoming a villain (he needs to stop crying first). This show has a lot of potential so I hope that it will continue to show us those strong characters.
I don’t know an fragile emotional crybaby villain could work…