With its third season well underway, and the theatrical release of its first feature film pending, My Hero Academia is undoubtedly one of today’s most popular anime. My Hero has an intoxicating premise (who doesn’t love an underdog’s origin story?), and reels viewers in with high-stakes fights against friends and villains alike. But its greatest strength is its commitment to its characters’ emotions and healthy approach to internal battles.
[Ed. note: this piece contains spoilers for season three]
My Hero takes place in a universe where most people have abilities called “Quirks” — everyone, it feels like, except Izuku Midoriya, who longs to be a great hero in spite of his Quirklessness. What Izuku lacks in a Quirk he makes up for with a strong sense of emotional honesty and passion.
Despite the odds, he demonstrates his zeal, usually with tears running down his face. A chance encounter with All Might, his idol, and a rush rescue attempt lets Izuku in on a powerful secret: All Might’s Quirk, One For All, can be passed to new users, and the number one hero just chose his successor.
In Shōnen anime, teenage boys face or even become ultimate beings and unwittingly determine the fate of the world. They also confront their emotions, crying because their father figure’s soul is dead or because they can’t even save a little girl. And while Shōnen protagonists live in impossible worlds and experience unrealistic circumstances, their emotions, when done right, resonate tremendously with viewers. My Hero Academia takes its characters’ emotions a step further, dedicating entire episodes and plots to anxiety, confusion or anger. And like a true Shōnen protagonist, Izuku’s own emotional honesty directly influences — and often transforms — his peers.
Season three’s most pivotal event thus far, All Might’s all-out battle against ultimate-level villain All For One and subsequent retirement (S3E11, “One For All”), puts a heavy burden on Izuku. However, Izuku’s foremost rivals, Katsuki Bakugo and Shoto Todoroki, are also affected as the hierarchy of hero society alters before their eyes. Their poor handle on their emotions holds them back as My Hero Academia continues into its hero-license exam arc.
With All Might effectively retired, the top slot defaults to the number two hero and Shoto’s abusive father, the flame hero Endeavor. Back in season two, Shoto reveals he was bred to surpass All Might right before he and Izuku face each other in UA’s sports festival. (His Quirk, Half-Cold, Half-Hot is a combination of his parents’ abilities.) In the heat of their fight, Izuku manages to convince Shoto that his Quirk is his and that he isn’t his father, and Shoto realizes he can use fire without obeying the path Endeavor forced upon him. However, with All Might out of business, Endeavor’s sudden rise to the top makes it harder for Shoto to separate himself from his father — no matter what, he is still Endeavor’s son.
So after the provisional exam’s first half, when Shiketsu High student Inasa Yoarashi approaches Shoto and straight-up says he dislikes him for resembling Endeavor, it hits a nerve. As a child, Endeavor dismissed an approach from Inasa, ordering the kid to get out of his way. Years later, at the UA entrance exam, Shoto responds to Inasa’s enthusiasm with the same message. Inasa’s childhood encounter with Endeavor solidifies everything we know about him so far: he’s a powerful hero, but he’s also obsessed with surpassing All Might. Endeavor is the opposite of everything Inasa stands for, and even his image twists Inasa’s ideals. But to Shoto, it’s the same judgment employed by his mother, which triggers the burden he’s fled for so long.
The two decide to take it out on each other in the middle of the exam’s rescue stage, negating separate attacks on the test’s “villain” Gang Orca. Not only are they shirking their task, but they’re also further endangering victims and other hopeful heroes. Izuku has to make an extreme intervention and rescue another threatened student before Shoto and Inasa register their selfishness, and the two collaborate to incapacitate Gang Orca. However, their damage is done, and it costs them both their provisional licenses.
Katsuki Bakugo, meanwhile, has paraded his explosive temper since My Hero Academia’s beginning, routinely bullying Izuku over the course of at least a decade. Katsuki has no problem vocalizing his frustration, but refuses to verbally identify its root: the “Quirkless loser” Izuku now has immense power that rivals his own. And in Katsuki’s eyes, as Izuku becomes stronger, his own potential wanes. Additionally, he has no idea how One For All works (All Might’s power has weakened ever since it began transferring to Izuku), and blames himself for All Might’s retirement — in his mother’s own words, Katsuki was abducted because he’s weak; if he were stronger, the League wouldn’t have kidnapped him and the world would still have its Symbol of Peace. No matter how much Katsuki succeeds, he’s plagued by his own failure. And now, he’s realized what ties his idol to his rival and grasps the confession Izuku gave back in season one.
Katsuki begins to grasp Izuku’s secret in the aftermath of All Might’s final battle, as the now-defunct hero broadcasts a message to his successor: “Now, it’s your turn.” Katsuki pries All Might about his relationship with Izuku, but gets a non-answer, so he sulks on the periphery until the provisional license exam. He and Izuku both pass the first round, and Kasuki gives a sinister compliment: “You really made that power your own, huh? That borrowed power.”
Now, Katsuki isn’t stupid — he’s one of Class 1-A’s top students and a brilliant battle strategist — but as a hotheaded teenager, he can’t address his outbursts as a symptom of a deep psychological problem. And if he’s ever going to progress as a hero, he’s going to have to recognize others’ power. As much as the thought disgusts him, it’d do him some good if he were a little more like his rival.
Sarra Sedghi mostly writes about restaurants and snack culture. She also writes about anime, but her mom won’t read those stories. She’s based in Georgia (but soon to be Alabama) and tweets at @SarraSedghi.