Have you ever stopped to consider how many characters there are in My Hero Academia? A lot, the answer is A LOT! And most of them are given at least a modicum of development. Just enough to make you think they’re more than just set pieces and actually do continue existing once the main characters leave the room. I have to assume that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the show so much. And as such, it’s pretty baffling I’ve never taken the time to explore any of said characters in my posts!
How about we fix that today?
One of the basic elements of any hero centric narrative is the villain. Without a strong and/or interesting antagonist to stand in our Hero’s way, the story can get pretty boring, pretty quickly. However, in three whole seasons and roughly 63 episodes, we’ve yet to learn much at all about Tomura Shigaraki, ostensibly the main antagonist of the entire series since day 1.
For such a deliberately character driven narrative, this seems rather odd. So why does it work so well?
It should be noted that I’m not against an “unknowable evil” as a plot device. Some huge oppressive force that’s just out for destructions and whose motives and inclinations are never explored because they are so far beyond our understanding. But this isn’t the case here. My Hero Academia has been slowly and deliberately building a universe in which the difference between hero and villain is at times almost arbitrary, and that’s part of what’s fascinating about it. In the end, everyone is a flawed individual, victims to their own demons and limitations.
Within these particular constraints, Shigaraki should only work if he is humanized. However, the only inkling of backstory we’ve gotten so far came only this last season, and it was to establish a previously unknown connection to All Might and hint at a difficult childhood. Otherwise, he’s just a guy with a very interesting character design that seems hellbent on bringing down the hero system for…reasons…
He’s allegiance to his own side even seems suspect at times as he’s shown to be impatient and somewhat disillusioned with the League and All for One’s plans. He’s not some unparallel destructive force either. He has a powerful quirk but he’s hardly the only one and in any given direct confrontation, he’s by no means guaranteed a victory. There was a reasonable chance that even Bakugo could hold his own one on one. His strategic powers haven’t been put to the test either, as he hasn’t had the chance to be a true mastermind and doesn’t seem to inspire that much loyalty in others either.
Yet he remains both menacing and effective as an antagonist (at least to me) and this deserves some praise. When thinking about it, on a personal level, I believe that his failings as a villain are part of his strength as a character. Personally, I tend to be much more intimidated by the everyman bad guy. It’s because Shigaraki is just a random dude with quite a few weaknesses that he’s so much more flexible as a character. He’s path isn’t dictated by his strength. Heck, he could even decide all of this is just too much trouble and go become a surfing instructor in Hawaii or something. I really want to see that particular beach episode, I think it would be a hoot. And this aspect is what makes him tangible to me. He’s not an ideal, he’s a person. Villains are straightforward, people are tricky.
And the fact that the narrative itself seems to be pointedly ignoring him, makes him a loose cannon. I honestly don’t know what he’s going to do next. But I know he’s definitely going to do something. Up until now, My Hero Academia has imbued most of its characters with a purpose and drive. Minor students we only see for an episode or two have hang ups they need to work through, or specific reasons they want to prove themselves. Quickly disposed of villains have backstories and disappointments that have driven them to a life of crime. As far as the plot is concerned, Shigaraki seems to have appeared out of nowhere and we are not given any clues as to where he will go next. That’s really scary.
It’s way too early to assume that he’s merely underdeveloped. In fact, I am certain that his lack of development is on purpose (I haven’t read the manga yet, please don’t spoil it for me). So this means, that the plot is keeping secrets from us. That makes me suspicious. It also means the Shigaraki is proof that there’s more going on than meets the eye. His entire existence within the story in his current state is a warning to not take things at face value. I’m sure there’s some foreshadowing going on that’s sailing miles above my head right now.
I’ve read a lot of My Hero Academia posts and very few dwell on Shigaraki at all. In my opinion, we are all playing right into their hands here. Mark my words, overlooking this character will come back to bite us just as it will our heroes!
Consider yourselves warned.