I need to get something off my chest.
This show is good. It’s really good.
It’s so good that I was tempted to do episodic essays instead of a weekly review because I found the show so compelling, literally overflowing with great ideas and awesome character moments. From its core philosophies, to its incidental framing of subtle character traits, all the way down to its lush visual flourishes — this is a great show even at just two episodes in.
My Hero Academia begins its story with a playground scuffle — the ostensible protagonist standing up for a beaten friend and mocked for “pretending to be a hero”. His oppressors clearly possess superhuman powers, but in the end, the boy who tried to protect his friend was beaten just the same. The story then shifts and presents us with the world of My Hero Academia: a world where almost everyone possesses a super power called a “Quirk” and where it’s commonplace to see heroes fight against the forces of evil. Izuki Midoriya is one of those rare “abnormal” humans born without a Quirk, but he has an insatiable desire to become a great hero just like his idol: All Might. But of course reality is a bitch, as Midoriya is often ridiculed and discouraged time and time again from pursuing his dream.
It sounds like the story of an underdog, but the show has a more ambitious question beneath all this premise. What defines a hero? What does it take to become a hero?
Society in My Hero Academia makes it appear that a hero is expected to have a quirk. Students in Midoriya’s class more or less see themselves as heroes no matter how ridiculous their Quirk is (and a lot of them DO have ridiculous Quirks). Active duty heroes also possess public identities as illustrated with personalized moves and “fan clubs”. In short, heroes are an ICON of sorts for the people that inhabit the world of My Hero Academia. And Midoriya knows that for a fact — he idolizes All Might, after all. But Midoriya’s own insecurities for not having a Quirk and the constant ridicule he receives from his classroom bullies causes him to be oblivious to a thematic truth regarding heroes: that a hero is someone who inspires others.
But My Hero Academia goes further in differentiating inspiration from expectation. When it is revealed that All Might is only a shell of what he once was after receiving a near-fatal blow, his image as an indomintable presence is shattered in front of Midoriya. Midoriya’s expectations and personal image of All Might is put to the test. Here, we see another truth about heroes: that a hero is someone who is responsible. All Might doesn’t patronize Midoriya by telling him he can grab his dreams if he tries his best despite not having a quirk. He gives the cold truth: that being a hero implies meeting expectations, putting your life at risk, and knowing the consequences of having your own image tarnished in front of the people who look up to him. Midoriya at that point was proof of that — he looks down at All Might and even doubts the fact that it’s even him. If it disheartened Midoriya, what more other people? The loss of an icon of inspiration was too big a risk for All Might. It was a cross he had to bear, not a source of pride he could wave around.
I would have been content with this amount of insight, but no. My Hero Academia isn’t done just yet. After that discouraging meeting, a monster captured by All Might accidentally escapes and wrecks havoc in a local shopping center. Unable to do anything about it, the all-powerful All Might is powerless to do anything. It’s an ironic scene. All the other heroes present are powerless in spite of their own powers as well. Midoriya, on the other hand, meanders throughout the city and inadvertently finds himself at the said shopping center. His mind rationalizes his life decisions thus far, but his body has already started to move before he even realizes it. He’s running to save his friend.
And at that moment, Midoriya acted out a third truth about heroes: that a hero is someone with integrity. Midoriya is a person who simply wants to do what is right. He’s been doing it since he was a kid. He’s earnest. He’s kind-hearted. Despite being bullied to death, Midoriya has always seen Kacchan as his friend, both in the way he calls him (using a familiar ‘chan’ suffix) and in the way he admonishes him for even suggesting that he commit suicide. Midoriya’s sense of integrity is something that Kacchan cannot stomach because he lacks a self-image outside of his own power, and because of that he lashes out on Midoriya. But Midoriya doesn’t care about that. He’s only out to do what is right, hence he runs towards his “friend” without a plan.
And just like that, Midoriya becomes a hero. He inspires All Might to step out of his own self-pity — to stop moping around and go beyond his limitations — to walk the walk and actually risk his life to do what is right. All this because Midoriya was being himself. Sure, you can move people if you have the charisma, but sometimes it’s not about the number of followers or how grandiose your feats of strength are. After the fires died out, news reports showed only the faces of All Might and Kacchan. No recognition for the Quirkless brat who was reprimanded for doing something so foolhardy. But at that moment, Midoriya gained one of the greatest followers he could ever wish for — something that could not be valued in terms of numbers. In the eyes of the strongest man in the world, Midoriya — the boy without a Quirk — was a hero.
This thematic coherence is so well executed in just the first two episodes that I’m thoroughly convinced that My Hero Academia is more than “just another superhero shounen show”. I spent much of this article analyzing the core themes that I haven’t even gotten into other aspects like animation, composition, and music. But even if I were to nitpick on these little details, it’s not enough to dampen the spirit of heroism that is celebrated in this wonderful show.
My Hero Academia is off to a tremendously good start. It’s a classic superhero show full of zany and colorful characters, but is also blessed with a solid core philosophy that adds a refreshing perspective to the concept of superheroes. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again, even at just two episodes in: this is one damn fine show.
Episode rating: A