It was probably only a matter of time until I’d find myself writing this article. Since its premiere back in the spring of 2016, My Hero Academia has always proven itself as a different breed of superhero shônen battler, particularly for combining its strong core thematic on the heroic attitude with its strong ensemble of character archetypes that drive this idea forward. And given its context in the academic setting, it sets itself up for a useful comparison between heroism and the intellectual model of the mind. In other words, the world of My Hero Academia is one where heroism is quantifiable in terms of both academic and social merit. This is the reason why Deku’s character resonates with us not simply due to his underdog nature, but also because of his heroic attitude that exemplifies the true qualities of the hero we all aspire to become. And by extension, we realize that regardless of our situation, we all can become heroes in our own way.
And this is the reason why Uraraka is so enamored by Deku — his tenacity to pursue a goal as lofty as becoming the no. 1 hero in spite of his own insecurities is nothing short of amazing. And though Uraraka might not be privy to the sort of circumstances that surround Deku’s own inherited quirk, she nevertheless resonates with his desire to become a hero, and so she associates herself with him if only to try and have some of that heroism rub off on her.
Which is why I believe episode 22 of My Hero Academia was the catalyst for making me put thought to screen. The heroic attitude, which I keep alluding to even in my old entries on this show, was on full display throughout the episode; it rocked my perceptions of what a shônen battler can achieve, and gave me an entirely new sense of respect for Uraraka as a whole, and the sort of message she conveys to us as viewers.
But let’s get the obvious out of the way, first. For one, it’s tempting to pick out Uraraka and Bakugo’s treatment by the audience as a sort of victim of a system schtick — and in many respects, that is true. My Hero Academia works by virtue of its ability to contrast the overarching system of the institutional framework of the hero with its own inherent philosophy on what the heroic attitude is. Simply put, it requires the use of a deliberately sexist outlook on heroism in order to make it clear that Uraraka’s own brand of heroism is a far better argument than that of the gallery. It isn’t so much that the show decides to include depictions of the “harsh reality” just for the sake of it; rather, Uraraka’s brand of heroism is meant to clash directly with our own reality in order to give it both urgency and meaning.
And that urgency is that she cannot be ignored as both a character and an individual. Regardless of the outcome, Bakugo can’t help but acknowledge Uraraka’s tenacity as a fighter, a tenacity which was clearly framed as one born out of a strong desire to help one’s family. And I think this is what is most important in this entire episode with regard to our understanding of what the meaning of being a hero is. True, we can resonate with Bakugo’s character development in recognizing Uraraka as more than just a mob character, and furthermore, acknowledging that, yes, she is NOT a frail girl. But what impacted me more was that moment when Uraraka spoke with her father after her loss and how it really solidified the entire show’s message regarding the heroic attitude:
The world of MHA defines heroism as something measurable in terms of feats of strength; of whether or not scouts can recognize your achievements in a structure of merit and gain; of quirks that are clearly meant for heroic activities and those that are simply what they are — “quirks”. But it’s this very framework that allows MHA to directly attack and disprove — to destabilize and rejuvenate — our own preconceived notions of heroism. Uraraka is not physically strong, but its her integrity and dedication to her own family that gives her the heroic attitude that Bakugo lacks — compassion.
It’s seems a bit unfair that Bakugo is used as a springboard for characters like Deku and Uraraka to express their own unique brands of heroism and the inner heroic attitude that animates each of their character archetypes. But in many ways, I believe Bakugo’s steady movement in character — his recognition of both Deku and Uraraka — give him the opportunity to search for his own sense of heroic attitude. He’s steadily realizing that the populist notion of heroism in the academic setting and the greater public sphere are ironically contrary to what they supposedly espouse. In the context of the tournament, for example, if he withholds his power to avoid hurting Uraraka, he is called out by the system as merciless; paradoxically, he is just as merciless if he “ends it quickly” by blasting her out of the arena.
And it is here that Bakugo experiences a crisis of character: to be defined by the system as powerful and, therefore, become the image of a hero that he imagined himself to be, versus the heroic attitude as exemplified by both Deku and Uraraka and how this challenges his own self-image and brand of heroism. Because at the end of the day, he is always looked at by others as the villain, even if he is simply following the prescribed rules of the system. From an objective standpoint, Bakugo is gaining all the points and winning all the battles needed to land himself the title of hero as far as the worldview of MHA is concerned. But does that really make him a hero? If strength alone were what defined a hero, then “heroes” would be no different than “villains”; hence that odd realization when jabs like this actually hit closer to home than they might have originally intended:
Because at the end of the day, the true measure of a hero lies in their inherent brand of heroism and the sort of heroic attitude that emanates from their actions. It isn’t so much that they “act the part”; rather, it is an integral component of their entire character — hence my excitement when I witnessed the revelation of Uraraka’s heroic attitude. I’ll admit that before this episode, I was just as guilty as the crowd for thinking that Uraraka was a frail female character — she often depended too much on Deku and came across as a sort of “damsel in distress” archetype.
But boy did she rise to the occasion.
Uraraka’s character is one that possesses an inner strength that inspires those who watch her. If Deku’s namesake means “to be possible” (coming from “dekiru”), then Uraraka, similarly, lives up to the name of her very own quirk: “Ukabu” (lit. “to float”), which can also mean “to inspire”. Indeed, hers is a character that need not defeat countless enemies in order to prove her own brand of heroism. Hers is a character that empowers those around her with her kindness and compassion; animated by her immense love for her own family and her desire to become a hero for them. Hers is a character that inspires us to look beyond the stereotypes and the limits that are imposed upon us by the structures that be; but at the same time, reminds us of the greater importance of being aware of the deeper motivations that drive us. That even when we are pushed to our our limits, and even if we fail, we can still regain our bearing with the help of the people who give us strength. Without such an honest depiction of heroism — a compassionate character who can declare her own heroism as boldly as she did to the point of collapse — the character of Uraraka simply wouldn’t have worked.
And hence why I can’t help but be enamored by everything that Uraraka has taught us in this single episode, alone. To me, this is a much deeper, earnest treatise on the nature of the heroic attitude than simply looking at her triumph as one born out of recognition of the accomplishments of supposedly “weaker characters”. MHA is far more earnest than that. Instead of discounting her own shortcomings — both physically and in terms of her quirk — the show embraces it in full, and elevates her failure to one of personal success. Uraraka may have lost this round, but the depiction of her unique brand of heroism and the heroic attitude it espouses is nothing short of a triumph.