We hate to be judged.
We hate to be placed in a strict rubric of standards that dictates our worth and what it is we are capable of achieving.
That’s the goal of standardization. Or at least in the context of MHA episode 4, the goal of standardized examinations. And you can’t help but accept the fact that standards are necessary in order to maintain a certain level of quality. Variation is difficult; conformity is desired. To a certain extent, it makes sense — both in the academic sense and even more so in the heroic sense. The practical examination in the U.A. entrance exams basically distills the “essential” qualities needed for heroes in high-tension situations in a quantifiable manner that can serve to rank students for acceptance.
As a member of the academe, I understand this process of selection. It’s engrained into the machinery of the educational system as far back as the Renaissance period where it was fashioned after the model of the industrial revolution. So far, MHA has been playing along with the rules and allowed its student-candidates to show their stuff and prove their worth to become students at one of the most prestigious hero academies in Japan.
And then they go ahead and throw in a big ass enemy that the examinees simply cannot defeat.
It just so happens that the enemy worth zero points that was hinted at in the last episode is actually a very large robot that would require the power of a quirk way beyond that of an examinee’s capabilities. It’s the ostensible wild card; the question from left field that is designed to deliberately torment an examinee. For the educator, these type of questions doesn’t help us gain insight on a student’s understanding on a certain subject — and in a practical examination context, it just serves to highlight their ignorance. But MHA utilizes this wild card in a slightly different way by making it serve as the “real-world-situation within the clinical walls of the structured exam”.
In some ways it seems unfair. And in some other ways it also feels a little forced, given the scene was even complete with a “damsel in distress” in the form of Ochaco — the girl who helped out Midoriya at the gates of U.A. Academy. But Midoriya plays his usual shtick and decides to give it a whack anyway, effectively defeating the enemy but earning no points in the process.
He obviously fails the practical exam, and after an agonizing week of no response from the academy, he finally receives word that he was granted admittance to the prestigious university. Apparently, abandoning the premise of the practical exam and saving someone regardless was also part of the criteria of grading, and so Midoriya earned enough points to pass the examinations.
Of course he had to pass. It almost feels like it was a pseudo-set back in order to get some good screwed-up faces from Midoriya. But I believe the point of this digression was made clear by Tenya, who was the first to realize the true nature of the examination. Whilst everyone was flabbergasted at the awesome show of power from the unlikely Midoriya, Tenya realizes his own hypocrisy when he tells himself that he would’ve saved Ochaco had he not been in an exam.
And it’s for this reason that I think the lesson in this episode is a little different. When we look past the seemingly contrived reason as to how Midoriya got accepted — that unrealistic “bending of the rules” that favors the MC whenever their narrative progress is threatened — we realize that it never really was about the exmaination at all. When we live in a society that is so focused on the game that we can’t even stop to see others calling out to us for help, what does that have to say about us? Is the exam really all that matters? Is it worth gathering points for the sake of our personal ambition when we end up discovering that we’re lying to the very values that define who we are?
Midoriya acted as he always does because he’s a living expression of the virtues of a hero. We have to come to grips with the fact that his character espouses those virtues, and so it comes naturally that he’ll jump into the fray with nothing but the impulse to do what is right. Only this time he’s different. He has the strength to actually carry out that conviction — to become a hero with a Quirk given to him out of sheer effort. But his conviction is rewarded with a shattered body that could not withstand the raw strength of All Might’s powers. Midoriya blames himself for being conceited, but the reality is that he is simply not there yet. He’s a work in progress. And as much as we’d like to believe that he will become a “true” hero some day, this scene pulls us back to earth and makes us realize that he actually still has a long, long way to go.
In the end, Episode 4 just barely manages to skirt the issue of test manipulation ℅ of a certain All Might. Midoriya is now allowed to join the ranks of other to-be-heroes as students at U.A. Academy, but whether or not those other students will accept this kind of shoddy reasoning for his acceptance is the next issue at hand. Although there was nothing shoddy at all in Midoriya’s actions, there’s still that that he has to deal with. It’s one thing to agree with the non-standard method of acceptance, but it’s another thing when people who are so used to the status-quo have to come to grips with this very accommodating standard.
People hate to be judged, and yet Midoriya will likely be the object of further judgement as a result of this twist. This was an interesting route for MHA to take, but it will now have to juggle several more layers of dynamics between its characters if it wants to maintain consistency. Otherwise, this whole escapade of “almost not making it into U.A. Academy” will have become just another narrative trick to increase the tension — and all at the expense of thematic coherence. Still, I’m quite optimistic for MHA.
Other elements like pacing is still as you’d expect. They wrapped up the exam nicely, and it’s good to see that we’ll now start to see all the other student heroes make their appearance next week. Episode 4 may have been a little iffy for some, and true it was a little weaker because of that, but it still remained true to its core values regarding the essence of a hero.
Episode ranking: B