It’s a bit strange that the main character in a blockbuster anime series is a freckle-faced boy with curly green hair who cries a lot. Strange, yes, and yet My Hero Academia is simply one of the more compelling stories around today.
My Hero Academia is set in the present day, but with one difference from the real world: quirks. At the time the story begins, 80 percent of the world’s population has some form of quirk, something like a genetic mutation that makes them different from the formerly normal, quirkless people, giving them special abilities or changing them physically.
Midoriya Izuku, a young boy not yet in high school, is one of that decreasing number of people born quirkless. This has been a major obstacle in the way of his dream of becoming a superhero like his idol, All Might, Japan’s number one hero. But when All Might sees Midoriya’s heroic heart in action, despite Midoriya being quirkless, he tells the boy a secret; All Might himself was born quirkless, but was given a special quirk, one that can be passed along from one person to another, and All Might has decided that Midoriya will be the person to whom All Might will pass the quirk.
Midoriya enrolls in UA, Japan’s most prestigious high school designed to train heroes and those who support them. But school life for heroes in training isn’t just about hitting the books. Midoriya and his classmates are not just tested by school events, but also in serious ways in the real world as they learn more and more about what being a true hero really means.
The story of the fight
I’ll sometimes find a story, usually a movie, with lots of action and conflict but that still feels flat. There may be lots of gunfire, chase scenes, aliens shooting lasers, people about to fall to their deaths, and so on. But as a viewer, none of this seems to matter.
Maybe I’m being unfair, but it’s rather as if the conflicts are inserted into the story simply because that’s what the formula calls for.
My Hero Academia is a story with no shortage of fight scenes. But one thing the author does well, and which is well translated into the anime, is that almost every fight serves to develop some or all of the characters involved.
For example, one significant battle early in the series occurs during the UA Sports Festival, a match between Midoriya and his classmate Todoroki. The story focuses on Todoroki, a boy whose powerful quirk combines the quirks of both his parents. But he grew up in a family shattered by his father’s bitterness and ambitions, so he has decided to not use the part of his quirk he inherited from his father. His internal conflict plays a big part in his fight with Midoriya, and the match reveals a lot about both characters.
What is a hero?
So far, My Hero Academia has focused on the question: What is a hero?
Midoriya sees All Might as the ideal to follow. All Might is a hero who saves people while always wearing a smile, and who inspires hope in those he helps and in everyone who sees him. But at UA, Midoriya has met other heroes with very different personalities. Teese include Eraserhead, his class’s teacher, who is brooding and sometimes sarcastic, but who will fight his hardest when he thinks his students are in danger; Endeavor, an angry and sullen man whose ambitions have left his family a wreck; and the Wild Wild Pussycats, a group that focuses on rescuing people who get in trouble in the forest.
Although the series focuses mainly on battles–either between students or between heroes and criminals–it also emphasizes the less glamorous but still important aspect of rescuing people after disasters, and treats those rescue heroes respectfully.
But this world of heroes also has its questionable side. Since heroism is a career, heroes have to think about how to make a living being a hero. So their society places a lot of stress on popularity polls and public perception. To some extent, this theme stays constant in the series, but it becomes the biggest source of conflict in the brief but intense arc involving Hero Killer Stain.
Stain wages a one-man crusade to clean up hero society. His views can be summed up in his own words from episode 28:
“Hero is a title given only to those who have accomplished great deeds. There are too many … too many who act like heroes but are really money-worshippers.”
Stain targets heroes he considers to be unworthy of the name. When Midoriya and a couple of his classmates face off against Stain, the conflict is as much about questions of how heroes should act as it is the physical combat.
The only real hero
Hero-worship is something that is common, but is also very much a problem. There’s an old Christian rock classic, Steve Taylor’s Hero, that does well in telling us the problem:
Heroes died when the squealers bought ’em off
Died when the dealers got ’em off
Welcome to the “in it for the money as an idol” show
When they ain’t as big as life
When they ditch their second wife
Where’s the boy to go?1
There are things we can say about Christ that, while they may be true, they can be said in ways that make them shallow and vacuous. To say that “Jesus is my hero” is one of those things. It is true, but left to itself it’s just trite, an empty phrase that appears spiritual but says nothing, and can be about as silly as Sonseed singing “Jesus is a Friend of Mine.”
It’s only if a person takes that phrase, and fills it in with the reasons why it is true, that the phrase becomes more than a bit of thoughtless nonsense.
We were in serious trouble, we were dead in our sins, we were enemies of God, we were hopeless, and we were unable to do anything to help ourselves. We had broken every command God had given to us, we had sinned time and time again.
At the right time, God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, into the world, born of a virgin. Jesus lived his life perfectly, sinlessly keeping all of God’s laws. His death was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, a sacrificial death he died even when we were still sinners. What we could not do for ourselves, make ourselves clean from our sins and save ourselves from the just judgment of Hell, Christ has done of us and offers to us freely, as a gift.
This is how we can take the triteness out of the phrase, “Jesus is my hero,” and see the great and serious aspects of it. Jesus is our Savior, he is our Lord, he is our salvation, he is our redeemer and rescuer. In the grand story of the world’s history, a story that paints in blindingly bold colors the realities of original sin and man’s fallenness, Jesus is the only hero.
Although My Hero Academia does at times slip in some not-so-good stuff, like occasional fanservice, this story has turned out to be an excellent series. The story showcases a good mix of humor and light moments, while also able to bring sufficient weight when the story calls for it. The manga is well ahead of the anime series, and since the anime is on a bit of a pause for a few months to prepare for the next season, it’s likely the anime will continue for quite a while longer. I’ll give it a very strong recommendation.
- Lyrics from the website Sock Heaven. ↩