My Hero Academia and Motivators

My Hero Academia is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

Just like what seems like everyone who even remotely keeps up with modern anime releases, I’ve had an eye on the runaway success that is [Boku no | My Hero] Academia. And while I may be a bit behind (haven’t started the third season yet, so the show might have progressed past the standpoint from which I’m writing), I’m still absolutely looking forward to getting back into the show.

The appeal is a lot like Digimon’s back at the turn of the century – come for the flashy action and cool character designs, stick around because the cast is so gosh-darn endearing.

A lot of that front-and-center characters start out pretty simple – the headsure-but-ineffectual Denki, too-cool-for-school Kyoka – but over a long and slow burn, the show keeps adding layers filling in details for the cast. We like these kid heroes because they’ve got a cool and inventive power set, and we love them because we empathize with their personal struggles.

And for a show about openly-acting superheroes, the goals and ideas that drive them are deeply personal.

Or rather, I should say, it’s because the show is about openly-acting superheroes. Immediately, the series can skip right past all of the requisite origin stories, on-egde vigilanteism, and nobody-can-ever-know-my-secret angst that were growing tired back when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in its infancy. In HeroAca (a conveniently curt and language-neutral contraction), (effectively) all the heroes are officially-enforced and properly-trained career workers, leaving the character drama to tackle more true-to-life struggles that happen to have a superpowered “oomph” behind the resulting conflict.

In its own way, that does a lot more to inherently get viewers on board than whatever lofty problems the A-list comic book heroes are up to much of the time.

Down-to-earth conflicts are also a huge part of why Spider-man is such a beloved hero.

Let’s run down the core cast as of the end of series five and get some hard examples of why exactly they’re in the hero-ing business:

  • Deku is probably the closest thing we have to a traditional “save-all-the-people” hero, probably because he’s the main protagonist. He’s mainly just doing what he sees to be morally right and trying to live up to a certain personal standard, which hey, I’m sure that’s a real factor for many people’s choice of lifestyle.
  • Bakugo, the rival, is in it to prove that he’s the best and rise to the top of the rankings. A bit straightforward of a goal, and Bakugo is far from the most healthy expression of it, but an awful lot of people are in their careers for a sense of constant improvement and a competitive drive.
  • Iida, the boisterous nerd, is shown to be inspired by his family history and feels a sense of obligation to carry that torch forward, Certainly not uncommon, given how many sons and daughters end up going down paths similar to their parents.
  • Todoroki is a tougher nut to crack with his familial drama, starting his career path almost out of spite for this father, but eventually coming around to a much more even-handed process of self-discovery. For such a melodramatic inception he ends up in a bit of a standard role for a Japanese high school drama, but hey, this show is partly a Japanese drama about high school students, after all.
  • Uraka, precious girl that she is, openly admits to signing up for hero work because the money is good. It’s a refreshingly honest outlook for superhero fiction, if perhaps not the most noble one – except that another part of that is a desire to lift her parents out of lower-middle-class doldrums and get her father out of his physically laborious job. It’s an odd mixture of pragmatism and a very localized, personal heroism that makes her one of the most interesting of the main cast despite having the least screen time devoted to her personal arc so far.
Our heroes,for reference. Left to right: Iida, Ochako, Deku, Bakugo, and Todoroki.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to HeroAca, to be sure. The Tick had certain shades of this ages ago, and I’d be crazy to claim that the big two comic publishers didn’t also have their own similarly self-aware takes over the years.

HeroAca leans into it, though, making it the driving force of the series’ interpersonal conflict and, as a result, the primary context informing its action. As of the end of season 2, the villains of the series aren’t directly interested in any of the school-age cast, and the students are honestly more concerned with their academics than with anything else the overwhelming majority of the time. It just so happens that they’re in a position to ground some flashy and inventive action sequences in the inward-facing conflict of deciding how you want to live your life.

For all the TV anime we constantly see coming out of the high school setting, one of the examples seemingly most interested in the actual “school” and “planning-your-life” elements is one wearing the mask of a superhero show.

How about that?

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