I recall saying last week that I was worried about MHA’s approach to depicting modern education as a subjective paradigm that, for the sake of narrative progression, favors the situation of the protagonist over the world-view with regard to “evaluating what matters most”. For one, the entrance examination of U.A. Academy did not disclose an additional factor for acceptance — the “Rescue” component — which, when you think about it, makes it more “real world” in terms of evaluative approach. But the reason why educational systems clearly state criterion for acceptance is primarily due to standards. When those standards are vague (or deliberately not disclosed), the result is a confused student who feels cheated.
Tenya reflected that sentiment somewhat when he saw the true hero in Midoriya. “True” here being a pretty charged word, because MHA has always focused on contrasting the popular worldview of heroes being “superpowered individuals” against its own proposition of a “heroic personality” that underscores heroic intention. But this “heroic personality” falls flat in the absence of “heroic action”, and so the examination clearly recognizes that the former cannot be measured by procedural duty (i.e. defeat x-number of enemies). Instead, it “measures” this personality through decision-making processes in a situation-based context (i.e. surprise enemy attack). In short, they didn’t break any rules here just to give Midoriya an excuse to enter the academy. It simply showed that Midoriya DOES have what it takes to be a hero in terms of attitude (and possibly even strength), but the one thing that he lacks at this point in time was control and resolve.
Control over the overwhelming strength of All for One without having to break all of the bones in his body in the process, basically. But control isn’t the same as restraint. Control is mastery — a clear understanding of oneself that allows the user to define the ability and not the other way around. As far as Midoriya could tell, All for One was still All Might’s power — something that was given to him in order for him to become a superhero. It was not yet his, but at the same time, it was already a part of him. But knowing that a power so much greater than you resides within you only adds to the anxiety, and so Midoriya’s power literally destroys him whenever he attempts to use it.
This week decided to zoom in on the concept of what it means to wield such power and the extent to which people exert their control over it. Their homeroom teacher Aizawa a.k.a. “the Eraser Head” begins the school year by informing his students that formalities are unnecessary in lieu of what is more important — actually using your powers. He commands all the students to do routine physical exercises but gives them the freedom to utilize their powers however which way they choose. At this point, it’s clear that all these students had lived their junior high school (middle school) years being told to restrain their powers. Now, they’re suddenly asked to go full throttle — to basically knock themselves out.
And the results are deceivingly simple scenes of body humor where the students find themselves utilizing their powers in the most ridiculous of ways to get past very simple calisthenic tests. Yuga Aoyama, for example, uses his “naval laser” as a booster of sorts in order to zip through a 50 meter dash exercise, only to discover that his short bursts of laser light can only propel him so far. These lightly comedic scenes work on the level of giving us a bird’s eye view of the different powers that these kids posses, but at the same time works on the level of showing us just how much control they have over their own abilities.
In terms of styles of education, I think this was a smart contrast to the seemingly favorable method of examination utilized in the previous episode. Educational systems today tend to focus on the idea of standardization — of fitting people within certain constraints that allow for standardized evaluation. But MHA shows us that this free-for-all-show-us-everything-you’ve-got approach expands on the idea that people have different skill sets and talents that simply won’t shine within the confines of a classroom. In fact, the decision to have the kids get out and do a little calisthenics strengthened that neo-formative educational style — that true talent blossoms when you remove restraint and get out of the classroom; mastery over one’s strength begins by realizing one’s limits.
And clearly, Midoriya knows his limits. He can’t carelessly use All for One without facing the consequences of a broken body. Aizawa is quick to the pick up and forcibly nullifies Midoriya’s powers when the latter finally decides to use it for the half-hearted reason of not wanting to be expelled from the academy. In this instance, Midoriya finally realizes what it means to control one’s powers — to have resolve. And this is a resolve that is not born from the fear of failure or expulsion from the Academy; rather, it’s a resolve born from the fact that being a hero entails being broken down — and that includes receiving the bodily injury that comes as a consequence of using All for One. But instead of troubling everyone by turning himself into human Jell-O, he channels the strength to the tip of his finger to limit the injury — a sign of mastery and of control. The results are shockingly effective, and the effect on Midoriya is a strengthened resolve. “YOU’RE SO COOL!” says All Might. Indeed, Midoriya is so cool at that moment.
This episode showed a very smart internal dialogue that works into the core values that animate Midoriya as a hero. Though the episode’s construction was rather simple, it was effective in its incidental framing of the greater need for these young heroes to control their powers, and by doing so, discover their own resolve in becoming heroes. The process to achieving that was, again, deceivingly simple — a bunch of outdoor physical education exercises. But I’ll be darned that this show really knows what it means to be a hero apart from just the superpowers.
Episode grade: A