Why Bakugo Isn’t a Mary Sue

This week will be a slight departure from my usual character studies. We’re not only going to take a look at Bakugo but at his cofounding and frustrating character and the creative process behind it. I hope you enjoy the post!

What makes a good, engaging, character? It’s a riddle that’s kept authors guessing since we first invented stories. To a character lover such as myself, filling your story with interesting people can mean the difference between a boring unmemorable shamble and an all-time favourite. I feel like those two may be a bit too extreme, I need to find a better middle ground, guys.

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This is going to turn into a Katsuki gallery – By Liyuchen1126

I was recently discussing a show with a friend (I know I’m still in shock too) and described one of the leading characters as a Mary Sue (I think I actually used Manny Sue as it was a male character). Unfortunately, seeing as a lot of my friends are French, they were not familiar with the expression and me mangling it into unnecessary genderbent only made things worse. as such, having to actually explain “Mary Sue” to someone else for the first time, I decided to look it up.

This is how I found out that 1) I’ve been mistakenly combining Mary Sue and Pollyanna into a super land overacrhetype, and 2) a Mary Sue is a character of unlikely skill, talent and merits who is capable of such feats that the narrative doesn’t offer any true challenge. For instance, they tend to perform better than most with little experience or training and are so great that they can even upstage/save the main character.

 

I was pretty psyched to learn something new but it was short lived. My brain did that thing where it kicked me by casually throwing in a thought I didn’t want to have. Wasn’t that definition essentially Katsuki Bakugo of My Hero Academia? Not only is he more or less the best at everything naturally, it’s an in-universe character trait, he regularly outshines Midoriya, even with the latter’s overpowered quirk. Heck Baku overstates the other characters on a meta level too, regularly taking the top spot in popularity polls and being the prime subject of fan works. As you can clearly see…

 

Boku.no.Hero.Academia Baku

I love this composition by Taro-k

Was my favourite Baku (what can I say, I’m basic. I also like super popular characters sometimes) really be nothing but a Mary Sue? Is his popularity due to him being a conveniently awesome vessel for the audience to insert themselves into? Surely that couldn’t be so?  People hate Mary Sue characters, right? They wouldn’t consistently choose one as their favourite.

Besides, Bakugo isn’t really a Mary Sue character, he has faults. He has a horrible temper and is quick to anger **except when it’s actually important for him to keep his head, then he’s cool and composed as a cucumber..shut up inner voice, no one asked you! And what even is composed as a cucumber?** He does have actual downfalls. Charmingly he’s often the damsel in distress promoting Deku to save him not once but twice, both of which are very significant plot moments.

 

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so fun, by Taro-k again

More importantly, he’s a literal bully. A ruthless one at that. It seems fairly obvious that none of us would like a Bakugo-like character in real life. Well, some might but not many and only as long as we ourselves aren’t Deku’s. And this is where things get really interesting. Why is Bakugo such a successful character? If he really is a mashup of a generally dull archetype with a plain unlikable veneer, how is it working so well both as an integral part of a large ensemble cast and in the eyes of viewers? I believe figuring this out is the key to crafting generally great characters.

In my opinion, the biggest factor here is: balance. Forget elaborate backstories and deviously complex motivations. Don’t try to hard to make a character people will relate to, like or dislike. Rather than crafting a person for the specific role of eliciting a specific reaction from the audience, make one that could create a greater variety of reactions because their traits are complementary.

 

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sometimes simple is best, by りいた。

Bakugo is confident to the point of arrogance however he’s also genuinely talented which makes the arrogance understandable and a disciplined and hard worker which makes the confidence feel earned. We don’t have to like his haughtiness but we do *get it*. His violent tendencies, as well as his history of picking on those weaker than him, are a bit Harder to explain away though.

Let me start with the bullying. I’ve called Bakugo a bully before. He certainly fits the mould, at least at first glance. But something’s a little off. Katsuki isn’t just a bully, he’s specifically Deku’s bully. We’ve never really seen him torment anyone else. He can be rather rude to just about everyone but those he considers weaker or beneath him, he tends to ignore. It’s only Deku that ignites his wrath. Narratively this is a common tool. A main cast character that can also serve as a rival or antagonist when needed to add some conflict is very useful. But if I were to think of him on a higher level, then it would seem that there’s a reason why Bakugo would single out Deku.

 

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Alternate universe Baku has a dragon seems OP – by Mikan (Pixiv 603442)

Maybe because they’ve known each other for so long and Bakugo is both frustrated that someone would take the job of hero so lightly that they would want to attempt it even without a quirk or seeing someone pursue such a futile dream for so long just annoyed him. In any case, he laid off a lot since Deku got his quirk, even showing occasional is extremely begrudging respect.

Balance again. None of this excuses Bakugo’s behaviour in the least, in fact, he is rather unrepentant about it, but it offers an explanation that is so much more interesting and compelling than simply having him be a jerk for contrast. It also keeps the viewer on their toes. This slow but marked change in the character’s disposition means we can’t take anything for granted. The character is evolving along with the story and therefore there’s still a lot of potentials there. Potential that would not be as present in a character that’s more or less ideal from the start.

 

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go see the amazing gif by 招き猫

Having the qualities of your character be at odds with their faults opens the door to have them react in a wide variety of ways without it becoming out of character. This, in turn, means your character is less likely to quickly become overly predictable and boring.

I chose Bakugo because he’s *big*. As in exaggerated. His gifts are many and flagrant. His failings are just as impossible to ignore. Like I said, someone like him would be extremely difficult to put up with in real life. Those huge reactions to could go either way and the power behind them would be frightening or at least exhausting. But that’s what makes him work as a fictional person in my opinion. And less extreme examples of this are present all over anime.

 

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daawww   by Byeolmu

It often seems that anime (manga) authors are less interested in having heir characters be beloved or even popular than in other forms of media I’ve seen lately. This is why you don’t tend to end up as often with quippy smart arse rich playboys (or gods) who need to get over their hubris or tortured antiheroes. You have a bit more range. Let’s face it, a character like Bakugo who you’re still supposed to see as one of the protagonists wouldn’t be very easy to find outside of anime. And that makes him great.

What do you think? What makes a character great? Do you see different trends in character development in different forms of media?

Bakugou.Katsuki.6

nice hair – by Miyuu

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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27 Responses

  1. Redgeek says:

    Excellent blog post!
    My take on Bakugo bullying Deku is that Deku broke his illusion of what a hero is. When Deku tried helping Bakugo when they were kids and when Deku stood up to Bakugo and his childhood cronies it forced a part of him to consider that being a hero isn’t just about your quirk. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a kid admired by everyone for his own quirk. Basically, Strong Quirk=Hero was Bakugo’s mantra but Deku showed that having a good heart matters too, and Bakugo hated him for it. That’s also why Bakugo admired All Might, not because he was smiling or rescuing people, but because he had an uber strong quirk and never lost.

    As for why people love a character like Bakugo? That’s a social thing I don’t think I’m fully equipped to understand. But, from what I can tell It’s the same reason why loud, aggressive people are well-liked in real life. it’s the assumption that if you’re loud or aggressive you know what you’re talking about and that Passion=Truth.

    But, for Bakugo specifically, you made great points about how he has the power to backup his claims but is showed to have vulnerability too. That’s makes him seem like a fully realized person and people are more willing to forgive if it looks like you’re acknowledging your faults and trying to improve, albeit slowly.

    Again, fantastic article.

  2. Kapodaco says:

    I read the title of this post and initially thought, “People consider Bakugo a Mary Sue…? Who? When?”

    While the definition (if any official one should exist… internet lingo is tricky) of “Mary Sue” absolutely includes one of a character who succeeds at anything without prior training or effort, I think there’s more of a narrative significance, too. Mary Sues tend to be characters that, while not always easy to tell, are an author’s favorite, or a gratuitous self-insert. Characters that never seem to face any complex conflicts or have their images tarnished in the long-run because they’re molded into an image of perfection. To say that Bakugo is a Mary Sue would almost be like ignoring the development and trials he’s faced all throughout the show. I did like your interpretation here, and I enjoyed reading the post.

    Also, while everything is unofficial, I always saw the male interpretation of “Mary Sue” to be “Gary Stu.”

  3. Personally I’m more of a Midoriya and Todoroki fan. I did not like Bakugo in the least when I first started reading/watching MHA, but he has grown on me over time. I still want him to own up to all his bullying ways, but I feel that’ll be a long way off after some more necessary personal growth. Great post!

  4. Bakugo has to hands down me one of my favorite characters in the show! This is saying something in a lot of ways since he is slightly almost “cliche” but I feel like you made so many awesome points here for why I like him so much. I especially enjoy the relationship between him and Deku because it just seems so realistic. All the art used in this post is absolutely incredible by the way! ✌🏻

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    If you see MHA as All Might fan fiction, then Midoriya is clearly the show’s Mary Sue. That, or maybe he’s not really quirkless. His quirk’s called “Fools Rush In”, and it means that as long as he’s true to his hero ideals he will succeed.

    Bakugo instinctively feels that something’s off, so he’s naturally grumpy, but there’s no escaping Midoriya’s Mary-Sue quirk, which bends the universe so that he can be the main character, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

    The big twist will be that Midoriya’s quirk made him an unwitting villain – accelerated All Mights deterioration, made villains do bad things so he could save the day, etc. And Bakugo instinctively felt this all along, but because of Midoriya’s quirk it always came out bully-like and mean.

    Bakugo is the real hero, and Midoriya the final boss. There. I called it.

    (I wonder who here knows that I don’t much like MHA?)

  6. I like how you create a paradigm of discussion that almost nobody else is having and that you probably don’t want. xD

    • Irina says:

      I’m going to go with Thank You!

      • I just meant that you brought up a negative discussion around a character you like that I do not believe many others were considering.. ‘xD

        • Irina says:

          I understood. The character is actually just an example for the greater idea of how we define Mary Sue a term that gets thorwn around a lot and just general character craftmanship in anime. However it’s one of the few characters that most people I’ve talked to actually know and hos traits are exaggerated for effect which is why I thought he would make a good general example. A lesser known character would have to be explained as would a more subtle one and I’m not that skilled.

          • Regardless of skill it would still have to be explained. Which is a pain. I probably would’ve explained Bakugou’s character anyways because i’m way too definitive in my writing style. And yeah, I was wondering about the term… I personally feel it is a little arbitrary. Deus Ex Machina, for ex., has a clear description but Mary Sue seems like whoever is the strongest character, at the time, can just be labeled “Mary Sue”.

  7. Lumi says:

    I wasn’t aware people even saw him as one, that is ridiculous. Your points above disprove that quite clearly, but also, Mary Sues tend to be main protagonists. Bakugo is important to the narrative but even in the story, he hasn’t really done anything major in the overarching plot than get kidnapped. That alone already makes him vulnerable and believable, as opposed to a Mary Sue.

    • Irina says:

      I think using Baku as someone who needs to be saved is one of the most interesting things the narrative has done with him. It’s a great subversion and subtle too. I like it a lot

  8. Cytrus says:

    Well, as far as popularity polls and the like are concerned, Bakugo’s strength comes from him being the top MHA fujoshi bait. He’s part of both the top pairings.

    However, he’s not even close to being a Mary Sue. The critical part of a Mary Sue is how convenient the character is. As long as you can identify with a Mary Sue character, you can live your fantasies through them. Power fantasy is the commonly used term, but Mary Sues can be blessed in many different areas. There is no problem in creating even a powerless damsel-in-distress Mary Sue, if every powerful demon lord in the setting is head-over-heels for her and at her beck and call, rendering the power thing a no-issue. Faux shortcomings don’t protect a character from Mary Sue status. The character needs to experience distress and inconvenience.

    In those terms, Bakugo is a far cry from a Mary Sue. In fact, he’s effectively screwed in his own setting as he is right now. He has to live with the awareness that he had the opportunity to, but failed to become the chosen one by his ideal (All MIght). And getting completely surpassed by MIdoriya also seems like an inevitability, a matter of time. So Bakugo is under a lot of stress and frustration. Sure, you can say that he could become much happier if he just learns to understand the many (objective) blessings he has. But that would be character development, and Mary Sues don’t undergo genuine character development. They cannot have flaws they could be confronted with and forced to grow.

  9. Jenchaos says:

    My daughter LOVES Him and Sebastian from Black Butler

  10. Lynn says:

    Yeah, I hate Bakugo. He’s first notable action was to tell Deku to jump off the roof so that he could be reincarnated as someone with a quirk. Since that point he’s not nearly done enough to make up for that.
    Sure, it’s funny when he’s brushing his teeth and yelling die to the bacteria, but I can’t understand his popularity, especially in a series with so many varied and interesting characters.
    I do wonder how well he would have been received if he looked like Mineta.

    • Irina says:

      That would have been interesting. Changes the character dynamic mind you. A bully that physically diminutive tends to be viewed as more harmless so people tend to be less annoyed by their bad attitude but of course a less traditionally attractive design is going to be less popular.

  11. Wooderon says:

    I used to hate Bakugo during the first series, but after the 3rd season ended he was way, way up there in my estimation. I don’t think he’s a mary sue at all. As you went to great pains to point out, he has too many glaring character flaws for that.

    *spoilers*
    Him and Todiroki both being the sole failures of the class during the provisional licence exam; the two characters who have been hailed as the most promise new heroes of their year, thanks to their flaws as characters.

    Sometimes I think people confuse being overpowered with being a mary sue in shonen anime. Giorno Giovanna on the other, he’s a Mary Sue to me.

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